Weeknote: 18 May 2024 – AI(EEEEE) edition

AI, Lego T. rex, RetroArch and ARc Search

Published stuff

For Stuff, I explain why Google AI will help you – but kill the web as we know it. This one features cameos by Arc Search, Retro Dodo and an actual dodo. I also updated my upcoming Lego sets round-up. Apologies to your bank account.

Over at TapSmart, I wrote about the best alternatives to Safari for iPhone and what I want to see at WWDC 2024. Somehow, the latter wasn’t just ‘an off switch for the Home indicator’ and ‘for Apple to FINALLY let you sync photos to iCloud without you having to manually trigger uploads because the iPhone only has 93% of its battery charge left’.

Other stuff

Apple’s emulation rules remain fuzzy, but RetroArch made it to the App Store. I never thought I’d see the day. Although it is cut down – many cores are missing, either because Apple won’t allow JIT, or because it’s pissing around with other developers and the RetroArch dev was being cautious. (Apple reportedly keeps rejecting MAME4iOS for spam, much to the chagrin of the MAME4iOS creator.) 

Unsurprisingly, RetroArch’s appearance on iOS kicked off yet more ‘emulation is illegal’ rubbishEmulators are legal. Yes, a great many files people load into them may not be legit but that doesn’t make the tech itself illegal, just as it doesn’t make e-readers, music players and video players illegal. Of course, that doesn’t stop people arguing otherwise. (Personally, I wish more effort was expended by games companies and individuals to provide legal routes to play – and buy – old games than spreading rubbish about emulators.)

It also made very clear broader reporting on emulators is crap. As I said on Threads, articles should make it clear that emulators are not always straightforward to use. People assume they’ll be like Spotify, when at best they’re more like VLC. Even for seasoned emulation fans, RetroArch is a UX nightmare.

Personally, I use it often – but usually with a front-end on Linux. As-is on iPhone, it’s trying. And I fear for the people who spend time setting the thing up on Apple TV, only for tvOS to one day randomly flush the cache and crush all their efforts.

Speaking of crushing, Apple’s terrible advert continues to cause fallout. Ken Segall has a great piece on it. And Samsung tried to capitalise on it with its own ad. “Creativity cannot be crushed” was the theme. A few tiny snags, however.

First, while the ad has more humanity than Apple’s, it lacks creativity. Secondly, ‘with Galaxy AI’ is mentioned at the end, for… some reason. And thirdly, the actual product – a high-end tablet – does nothing more than display sheet music the guitarist in the advert barely looks at. If anything, that neatly sums up the depressing state of the app ecosystem on Android, which Google crushed all enthusiasm for long ago.

Finally, Quinn Nelson showed off a new iPad hover trick. Some will doubtless dismiss this as gimmickry. But this subtle effect surely has potential benefits, in providing another visual cue regarding a tool that doesn’t exist in reality, including its orientation. Previously, just the mark was previewed. Now, the shape of the tool itself can also be seen. It’d be interesting to hear from digital artists whether they find this useful.

May 18, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 11 May 2024 – now even iPad Proier

iPad home button, iPad with macOS Finder icon, and Zzap!64 logo

Published stuff

I wrote two columns for Stuff on the recent Apple event. The first celebrates the Home button going away, and the second has my take on the iPad Pro running macOS – namely that it doesn’t need to

Over at TapSmart, I was also on the Let Loose beat, rapidly exploring 11 talking points from the event.

Other stuff

Apple apologised for an ad in which it crushed creative and cultural objects in a gigantic press, the output of which was an iPad Pro. I get what the company was going for – all these things can be squeezed into a super-thin tablet. But the execution was… bad.

The company in the past has been capable of whimsy and fun. Perhaps it could have leveraged animation, ‘sucking’ those objects into the iPad, like apps into the Mac Dock. Regardless, a clinical metal press crushing terrified toys and beautiful instruments wasn’t the best direction.

I’ve seen people excusing Apple on the basis culture has changed. Apple is bigger now. People are increasingly annoyed about digital tools due to AI. So years back, this ad would have been fine. I’m not convinced. I don’t think people would have cheered an advert where vinyl collections, record players, CDs and tapes were crushed, only to reveal an iPod.

There are also grumbles that the iPad Pro isn’t pro enough. I get it. Apple has long wrestled with how far to push the device, while balancing its need to not impact on the Mac. For years, external display support for iPad was laughable. And today, it’s a device that is fantastic for consumption, excellent for certain creative tasks, but sub-optimal for others.

I do wonder, though, how much of the frustration stems from YouTubers, programmers, or tech pundits griping that the iPad Pro isn’t perfect for them in quite specific ways, and ignoring the bigger picture, where lots of people happily use one every day, preferring it to a Mac. 

On Mastodon, mcc wrote about how map apps are incapable of routing when you’re on public transport. This is a frustration of mine. When I’m in a car or on foot, my map app will instantly outline how long it’ll be until I reach my destination. When I’m on a train, it has no idea what’s happening and attempts to route me as if I at that second just got catapulted out of the window.

Finally, over at The Guardian, Keith Stuart braved the deadly waters of retro gaming by outlining the best video game magazines ever. At least, if you’re British.

Unusually for a list like this, I was in broad agreement – although omitting Wireframe even from the honourable mentions was a pity. Also, I wouldn’t personally top the list with Edge, but I get why it was done here. And it was great to see Newsfield remembered so fondly.

I’m not sure what the boring Commodore User was doing twinned with the far superior Your Sinclair, though. And Retro Gamer got short-changed down at #14. At the very least, that mag – which is still going – deserved to be above Future’s weird ACE and Edge wannabe games™.

Still, a good feature from Keith, who I hope hasn’t met his untimely demise after being set upon by a horde of furious Amstrad fans armed with sharpened copies of Amstrad Action.

May 11, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 4 May 2024 – with-ad plans are bad plans

Published stuff

I got an email from Netflix this week, telling me my plan was going to be 35% cheaper. The twist? Well, you already know it. But I wrote about it anyway for Stuff: Sorry, Netflix: I don’t want your ‘with adverts’ plan – here’s why.

One of my passions is the preservation of old games, and I got to write about that too: Beyond Space Invaders: why preserving forgotten arcade games matters. This digs into the new Quarter Arcades, which are moving beyond the likes of Space Invaders and Pac-Man to preserve more niche fare.

For Stuff, I also did my annual revamp to The best Star Wars Lego sets to celebrate May the 4th and updated Best upcoming Lego sets 2024: this year’s top new Lego releases.

Over at TapSmart, I wrote about allergy tracking apps for iPhone (which, given my own personal collection of allergies, was a great thing to get down), the pros and cons of an iPhone 16 Capture button, and the wonderful Cs Music Pro, which is the latest addition to my classics series.

Other stuff

Screen Time continues to be awful. I needed to disable it temporarily on the youngling’s iPad, to sign out of iCloud. When I signed back in, Screen Time inferred the set-up had been wiped and made me go through it from scratch. Additions were then – Surprise! – merged with the old set-up, but all the block set-ups were gone. Dreadful.

It feels like no-one sufficiently senior at Apple has kids, looks after kids, or cares about how much Screen Time their kids have. I’ve written before about how the system lacks a kill switch. It also doesn’t allow you to zero out an app, game or website but allow permission to be asked later. (The workaround is to allow a single minute, which is ridiculous.) Someone on Mastodon also noted it doesn’t even work on tvOS either. Perhaps WWDC or iOS 18 will bring meaningful updates, but I won’t hold my breath.

On Threads, writer Kurt Andersen drew attention to the fact that half of US vinyl buyers don’t own record players. He called this “some seriously loony late-capitalist activity”. I disagree. 

Just because you don’t have a record player today, that doesn’t mean you won’t ever have one. But if you have a record collection, it’s always there with you. By comparison, the second you stop a streaming subscription, all the music is ripped away from you. 

As long as you don’t get obsessive about it in a manner that derails other aspects of your life, what’s the harm in collecting records? And rather than ridiculing people for buying into physical media and supporting artists, shouldn’t we be encouraging those things?

(I don’t own many records myself – loads of CDs, but little vinyl. But I do have Wire’s three classic EMI albums on my office wall. I don’t feel weird about that in the slightest. Those albums mean a lot to me, and having them always visible makes me happy.)

Dave Mark posted about the Internet Archive’s problems. It really is on shaky ground now, and I find that a huge pity, because it does such fantastic work – and has put everything at risk by going hard on blatant book piracy. Technically, a lot of the other archiving the organisation does is IP infringement too – even Wayback Machine. But that is doing something no-one else is, preserving an ephemeral medium. It is important. I’d also argue some other archival work – digital files; out-of-print magazines – has real value. But the book thing was a massive overstep and showcased a certain ideology over even the slightest notions of realism and pragmatism.

Finally, my RGB30 saga continues. I swapped out the OS and am now running ArkOS. That appears to have solved the battery drain issue, but ArkOS is clunky and ugly compared to Rocknix. Bleh. Not sure which way I’m going to go with this one. I don’t regret buying the device, though. I’m still having a ball with Pico-8 on it.

May 4, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 27 April 2024 – thinking about milestones

Game Boy, Swipe app logo, robot emoji representing AI, and Game Boy Mario jumping

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week is: Just say no: not every piece of tech needs subscriptions and AI. And last Sunday, I apparently traumatised several people by reminding them of their age as I wrote about the Game Boy turning 35. Still: it could be worse. My first computer was released in 1979

For TapSmart, I mull over where Apple will be in 2030 and add Tiny Wings to my classics series.

Other stuff

First up, Swipe magazine has hit the milestone of 300(!) issues. This iPhone-first indie mag (essentially the extended app version of TapSmart) is packed with app recommendations, tips and features. There’s a free trial if you’d like to check it out, and then it’s just a couple of bucks per month for two issues and back issue access, to support our work.

I wasn’t there quite from the start – I was brought on board with issue 17. But I’m now wondering if I’ve written for more issues of any other mag. Regardless, it’s been a privilege to be a part of Swipe, and I do hope it’s around for many issues more.

RGB30 running Pico-8

Elsewhere, I’ve been continuing to discover the idiosyncrasies of the Powkiddy RBG30. The company has a reputation for cutting corners, but I was seduced by the 1:1 720p display, which I thought would be fantastic for Pico-8. (Pico-8 is a fantasy console, with intentionally limited specs, for which developers have created a slew of amazing old-school games.)

I was dead-on about the display. As a real-world Pico-8, the RGB30 is hard to beat. And that’s even taking into account the iffy D-pad. That screen, though: so good. And ideal for Game Boy, NES and SNES too, along with vertical arcade titles. (Some 4:3 games also work well in 8:7, if you’re prepared to ignore slight distortion.)

Where the RGB30 falls into baffling territory is in how it charges. A hardware issue means it doesn’t recognise USB-C cables. But even when I use USB-A to USB-C, the device needs to be on to successfully charge. And if I shut it down in software, the battery continues to drain in a manner I’ve never seen before. Fortunately, turning off RGB30 by holding the power button down for several seconds reduces that drain significantly – or even eliminates it. I’m not quite sure which, though, because the battery indicator’s quality appears to be on par with the charging system’s.

April 27, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 13 April 2024 – Things that matter

Dead hard drive in old-school Mac style, Amstrad CPC, and an RGB30.

Published stuff

For Stuff this week, I wrote about the Amstrad CPC’s 40th anniversary. I don’t think anything else I’ve ever posted to LinkedIn has got so much traction. Mastodon and Bluesky users shared the piece a lot too. But not Threads users. Maybe those guys are Oric fans.

My column this week is: Apple, Google and others don’t care about your data and photos – but you should. It’s a tale of woe and data loss – and also how safeguarding all your data is becoming increasingly tricky. 

Just one piece for TapSmart this week, looking into gardening and plant care apps for iPhone. Sneakily, one of them is actually a game.

Upcoming stuff

Summer holidays are on the horizon, and so I’m starting to look into apps for use at airports and when on a plane. I do wonder when ‘download everything for offline use’ will seem as archaic as stuffing a backpack full of books. Or perhaps in-flight Wi-Fi will always remain rubbish and expensive. Who knows?

More retro stuff is on the way too. A couple of interviews looking into lesser-known games. And also some ‘modern retro’, exploring Pico-8.

Other stuff

I broke and bought an RGB30. Because I didn’t already have enough little consoles. And it’s everything I expected: not-great D-pad; cheap feel; finicky charging; but fantastic for Pico-8 because of the unconventional 1:1 aspect 720p display. I’m also enjoying using it for vertical arcade games.

I recently spotted my Duolingo icon looked haggard and old. Turns out this was the icon equivalent of clickbait. It’s been a big win from a business perspective, bringing people back to the app. But I question it in other ways. I cannot override this icon, despite being a paying Duolingo user. And lapsed users returning don’t see the icon change once they start learning again. I’ve also seen folks suggest it could be seen as poor framing from a mental health issue. Personally, my main takeaway is that I hate the idea clickbait has now reached home screens.

Finally, AI sucks, part 431,876. I spotted a dodgy eBay listing, looking to charge a huge sum of money for a Kickstarter the seller isn’t anything to do with and that’s not due for over a year. That annoyed me, because I care very much about the success of this particular kickstarter. So I reported it. eBay’s response: “We looked into your report and didn’t find the listing to be in violation of our policy. This determination was made using automation or artificial intelligence.” Last time I bother doing that, then.

April 13, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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