Tag Archives: apple

Here It Goes Again (E3 2016 and WWDC 2016)

On Monday at 10a PDT (1p EDT), Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) kicks off with the as-usual keynote speech by Apple CEO, Tim Cook. It’s been a tradition for a long time that the early-summer conference reveals the software upgrades to Apple’s iOS and Mac OS X systems, and this year adds watchOS to the lineup. As a dyed-in-the-wool Appleologist (hail our Eternal Leader, the Jobs), this has always been something for me to look forward to, and this year is no exception– but for a completely different reason. We’ll get to that in a moment.

On the flip side of the equation, though, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) also starts on June 14th (Tuesday) this year; much like last year, when the two events converged. Even though E3 proper doesn’t start until Tuesday, two of the Big Three– Microsoft and Sony– typically have their major announcement events on the day before. Microsoft begins the coverage at 9:30a PDT (12:30p EDT), with Sony starting at 6p PDT (9p EDT). Nintendo isn’t doing a major event, but will instead be running their Treehouse Live stream all day on Tuesday starting at 9a PDT (12p EDT). E3 has been winding down as a major show since the “pause” it went through after 2006 (incidentally, the only one I ever went to– and yes, I do bring that up more often than I should), with more companies either front-loading the majority of their announcements in their own venues, or simply skipping the show altogether in favor of more “open” events such as PAX or Awesome Games Done Quick. 

Still, it’s been a tradition for the years that I’ve been blogging to go over each company and make some predictions, assertions, and otherwise look like a total nerd. Who am I to argue with a tradition that I set myself up for? To save space, though, and to have them all in the same place, I’m going to go over both WWDC and E3 in this post. Buckle up, kids, this is gonna get geeky.

Apple: iOS hits a major milestone this year with the inevitable release of version 10. The annual refresh cycle of the force behind Apple’s outstanding growth post-iPhone is not expected to be the revolutionary leaps forward that iOS 4 or 9 were; instead, Apple is focusing on usability and minor tweaks across the board. Siri– Apple’s long-parodied digital assistant who often requires assistance herself– is slated to get an API for third-party developers, allowing users to command Siri to handle tasks in apps beyond the default ones. Honestly, being able to ask Siri when my next bus arrives will be a godsend, as right now I need to tap on an incredibly unresponsive watch interface to get that info without digging out my phone. Speaking of the Apple Watch, watchOS 3 is slated to become more independent of the iPhone– a few months back, Apple began mandating watch apps be able to do something without requiring communications with the phone. This will be a blessing, particularly if it’s not limited to the next iteration of the hardware (but who am I kidding). Siri is also coming to the Mac, as Apple sunsets the clunky OS X name in favor of MacOS– incidentally, that’s what they used to call the operating system after System 7 but before OS X. Beyond that, I can’t really think of anything that I’d want from Apple this year. Honestly, if the rumors that this year’s iPhone hardware is going to be of minimal improvement compared to the 6/6s come true– which I’m more than willing to believe– I may end up breaking my every-two-year upgrade pattern and waiting for the 2017 device, which is supposedly going to be a significant departure. We shall see.

Sony: PlayStation VR, Sony’s answer to the Oculus Rift and suchlike, is scheduled to make its full debut next week. One of the major things that both Sony and Microsoft have been fending off has been the rumors of a hardware refresh for the relatively young PS4 and Xbox One, respectively. In the PS4’s case, I can see that happening if only to incorporate the PSVR’s “booster box” (additional hardware that sits between the headset and the console) into the console as an all-in-one unit. I don’t think Sony is going to make a big deal out of it, but it would be interesting to see if they announce the new hardware alongside other titles in their Monday evening event. (By the by, I’m still salty that I didn’t get tickets for the Fathom Events-powered theater experience. I had completed the registration, on time, twice, and got error pages. Kinda thinking Sony might want to consider a better way to get those tickets distributed.) In terms of software, we’re going to see a lot of third-party stuff highlighted, but Sony might reveal a new Gran Turismo title that works with the VR headset. I would love nothing more, in terms of ludicrously out-there wishes, for the PSP to be officially sunsetted and its software added to PS Now (their streaming rental service), along with a completion of the PSP’s catalog on digital; it is criminal that some of the system’s best games (Brave Story: New Traveler, the Star Ocean remakes, Valkyrie Profile Lenneth, Tactics Ogre…) are still physical-only.

Microsoft: And here’s where I kinda fall down, because I don’t yet have an Xbox One, and so far I have seen nothing to make me want one. Cuphead looks kinda cool, but I’m willing to bet that’s just a timed exclusive. Rock Band 4 was literally only on my short list because of the sunk-cost fallacy (read: all my DLC was on the 360). I could honestly not care less about the Halo games, and there are no other exclusives on the horizon that have me interested. Not even the system’s precipitous price drops over the last few months could sway me (even if I had the money). The cynic in me says that the price drops are due to a hardware refresh coming, but that makes little sense because unlike the PSVR, there’s no reason for the Xbox One to become more powerful than it already is. I think we’ve hit the wall of diminishing returns in terms of graphics, and that’s okay. What I want to see is MS embracing its “it can’t get worse” status at the moment and start taking risks with games and ideas that might not be conventional, but might be hits in hiding. Really, I want MS to become the company that they were in 2007, when I picked the 360 over the PS3.

(As a side note to Microsoft’s thing, I want to give a mention to one of the people who became one of my personal heroes while he was at Microsoft, Stephen Tolouse. His blog is full of incredible insights on the state of the video game industry from the perspective of one of its giants. Please check it out.)

Nintendo: Okay, first things first: we’re not gonna see the NX this year. Period. Not gonna happen. Whether or not that’s because Nintendo is adding VR to the system or just because it’s not entirely ready is up for speculation, but it is going to remain under wraps until next March at the earliest. For good or for ill, we’re stuck with the Wii U and 3DS for at least one more year. In my opinion, that’s in the “good” column. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of what either of those systems can do, particularly the New 3DS– though that particular machine is a victim of being too late for its own good. Nintendo is going to make Pokemon Sun and Moon the focus of its Treehouse Live show, along with Kirby Planet Robobot (releasing today). There’s also been rumors that a new DLC pack is coming for Mario Kart 8. Beyond that, quite frankly, there is no telling whatsoever as to what Nintendo will show. We might hear about some paid DLC/expansions for Splatoon and Super Mario Maker, and we may also see a few more indie darlings like Freedom Planet 2 and whatever Yacht Club Games is doing to follow up Shovel Knight. We might see a new, proper Metroid game. We might finally see Nintendo dig deep into its back catalog and reboot some series– the Wii’s preview slides back in 2005 teased a “Gumshoe” remake, which would probably be much cooler than it has any right to be. My pie in the sky wish is that Nintendo buckles and finally remakes Gyromite with an augmented-reality ROB, possibly through the New 3DS. You can’t tell me that the thought of ROB coming back wouldn’t be cool. (Oh, and Mother 3, but that’s less of a silly hope now that it’s the only one left.)

Square-Enix: We already know about the HD Remaster of Final Fantasy XII, titled The Zodiac Age. There was a comparison video released earlier which shows off some of the graphical upgrades; that’s not the reason I’m excited for the game. No, the fact that it’s based on the improvements made in the International Zodiac Job Edition that has me excited. Beyond that, we’re probably going to see only a few minor things announced; Final Fantasy XV is nearing release, which is nice, but eh. (I know it sounds like sacrilege that I’m not excited about a mainline FF game, but… eh. It just looks so… run of the mill.) We might see a few more clips of the FF VII remake, which is slightly less eh; I’m interested in seeing how the game changes as it shifts towards a more episodic format. It really seems like Nintendo is getting the best of the Dragon Quest series, but it also seems like North America isn’t. SE is also thinking about the Mana series, which hasn’t been done justice in North America since Legend of Mana in 2000; it’s entirely possible we could see a compilation release, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Kingdom Hearts 3 is also probably on the list. For a major surprise, we might see the first glimpse of the 4.0 expansion for Final Fantasy XIV– particularly now that the 3.3 patch landed last week– which may involve the liberation of Ala Mhigo, giving players the first opportunity to go on the offensive against the forces of darkness. Of course, if SE were to consider re-making Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales, too, I wouldn’t complain (best damn beginner RPG since Super Mario RPG).

Blizzard: Don’t expect a whole lot here. They just released Overwatch– which I should be playing instead of writing this– so they’re going on a bit of a break. I honestly don’t know what they have left beyond continuing World of Warcraft expansions. 

Atlus: Persona Persona Persona Persona. Social Links Social Links Social Links SOCIAL LINKS

Sega (and Atlus): I forgot Sega bought them. Seriously, outside of P5, Sega doesn’t have much on its slate that has me really excited, except maybe Sonic Boom (which I still believe in) and Dawn of War III. I’m going to insist that Sega try to bring Puyo Puyo Tetris out in the West, but that never happens.

Valve: More Team Fortress hats. Still no Half-Life 3.

GungHo Online: More Puzzle & Dragons, hopefully announcing a localization of the new 3DS game. 

Bushiroad: give Cardfight Online pls

With that, I think we’re set on what’s coming next week. I’m probably going to be completely wrong on a lot of these, but that’s actually a good thing. I like surprises.

Incessation

I’m giving serious thought to getting the iOS Developer membership for a year, just to mess around with Swift. I still don’t have much of a real idea for an app, but I do feel better about how the one idea I do have. Objective-C was the major obstacle in my original plan due to its silly and convoluted data structure rules, but Swift seems to solve most of those. I’m actually interested in perhaps writing some libraries for use in other projects.

But I’m still not going to be a professional programmer any more. This is strictly tinkering and hobbyist-level, at best.

4tune Smiles

I’ve had a few days to go over the iPhone 4’s features and such, and I feel reasonably confident in giving a review of the device.

The short version is that I feel this is the best smartphone on the market right now.

Okay, let me start with the things that I dislike about it. First: yes, there is an issue with the antennas. It puzzles me that Apple didn’t think to put a thin nonconductive coating on the case edge, but when viewed from the perspective of their metal fetish of late it makes perfect sense that they’d leave it exposed. However, for my part, I can’t reliably replicate the issue except in areas where the reception was spotty or crappy on the old 3G anyway. There are conflicting reports as to what permanent solution Apple is going to provide about the issue (besides the inappropriate “buy a bumper case”– I don’t want to buy a bumper case because then I can’t dock the phone in it), but signs are pointing to a better bar-discovery algorithm or faster frequency-switching inside the phone. If a hardware issue can be overcome in software, that’s a pretty damn good thing– but I still have to wonder why this issue left Cupertino to begin with. Maybe that’s what Gray Davis was supposed to be testing.

Next, and this is IMO equally on both Apple and third-party developers, but the behavior of apps not yet optimized for the 4.0 OS is not exactly ideal. I’ll admit that I didn’t expect everything to be perfect, but the multitasking features are completely unusable when even one of the apps you want to use isn’t ready for 4.0. Case in point: The last.fm player is a great tool that I’ve perennially got a lot of use out of, particularly with the fact that I still have the unlimited data plan (and it was really low of AT&T to force their customers to choose between unlimited data and tethering). However, it’s still only working with the 3.0 APIs. This means that if I want to tweet a thought, or take a photo, while I’m getting my vocal trance fix, I have to stop the music, do what I wanted, then wait a few seconds for last.fm to start from absolute scratch. I’m not asking for a whole lot, but Apple could have alleviated this by keeping a “sandbox” area open for 3.0 apps. The sandbox would have allowed a 3.0 app to stay loaded, but non-operational, for a few seconds or so or until the memory was needed, so that it could give the illusion of the seamless switching that most 4.0 apps have. Sort of like how the PowerPC/Intel switch was handled.

Finally, the phone is not terribly comfortable to hold in the hand while talking. I don’t use it without a headset very often, but the fact is, for impromptu conversations, my hand was cramping up after ten minutes or so, and sometimes those talks can go for over an hour. The included earbuds are better than before, but I still prefer an in-ear pair, or even better a Bluetooth stereo headset. (Oh, incidentally, the phone still doesn’t support AVRCP.)

That said, I still think it’s the best pick on the block.

One of the first things you notice about the phone is that the display is very, very sharp. I’m far from a graphics whore but in all honesty this is the kind of display that I’ve always wanted. The pixel density is sufficient to trigger in some way an “uncanny valley” effect: it’s clear enough that it looks weird when you realize it’s as manipulable as pixelated text. Again, though, the effect is most shown in 3.0-level apps as those render text using the crisp display and images get scaled up and look slightly chunky (the last.fm app’s loading screen best shows this).

Next, it’s fast. Really fast. Apps load in record time, and if they’re fast-switch enabled they load in time measured in eyeblinks. The exemplar here is Plants Vs. Zombies and Echofon. Plants Vs. Zombies is a Popcap game and drags a ton of data into RAM with it on initial startup, but once that load is done you can jump out and into the app in literally less than a second. It’s not just limited to loading and unloading, either: data connections are far faster and more responsive. Echofon used to take its time starting up and loading the updated tweet timeline, whereas now new tweets show up before I realize the app has even loaded. Everything about the phone is faster, and it’s a welcome refresh.

The cameras have received the lion’s share of attention in terms of the hardware, and while I still don’t think a phone camera will ever replace a dedicated device for capturing stills or video, the iPhone 4’s cameras are pretty damn good in a pinch. You’ve seen the image quality for the front-facing camera on Thursday’s Bailout vid, but the primary camera’s got a decent set of lenses on it as well. I used it to record some video of the bathroom leak yesterday, and it looked gorgeous. More to the point, the flash worked great, too: it wasn’t underpowered or weak at all, though it does tend to tinge everything ever-so-slightly blue (LEDs tend to do that). It’s still going to serve its primary purpose of being a portable information-capture device– say, snapping photos of pricetags and the like– but if I want to grab some video on the fly, the end result isn’t going to look like a mess. (If it does, it’s probably not the fault of the hardware.)

Finally, and what I think is the biggest and most welcomed improvement: the battery life. I tweeted on Friday or so that I ‘trust’ a numerical percentage of life left more than I do an imprecise battery icon, but the real reason is that I tend to view icons like that as working on gas-tank rules. Full means full, Empty means you’ve got about 50 miles left, and once you get below Full the needle plunges like a rock. Apple’s battery estimates are usually better than that, but I’ve still traditionally kept the phone docked and charging whenever possible because the 3G liked to suck down power quickly, even in standby mode. In comparison, the 4, if it were a car, would be the kind where you’d have to stick your mouth on the exhaust to even know if it was running. It consumes so little power on standby and so little power even on relatively heavy usage that I’m willing to believe I don’t have to obsessively carry charge cabling everywhere. I’m still going to carry the cables, of course– who do you really think I am– but it’s nice to know I’m less likely to be in dire need of them. I spent yesterday and, so far, today going from departure undock to returning home and the power level never dropped below 50% even on heavy usage (streaming audio over Wi-Fi, some streaming over 3G).

I’m not going to say that the iPhone 4 is for everyone looking at a smartphone. Some of the choices Apple’s made, in contrast with Google and Android, are not going to be terribly welcome– I’m still concerned with the whole closed-platform thing, though there’s a lot of FUD being thrown around about that. And some people just are opposed to, what they see, as giving Apple and AT&T control over “their” data. I’m going to be honest, now that I have a “live” device the only thing stopping me from jailbreaking the old 3G and tinkering with that is the lack of a full-functionality jailbreak for iOS 4 right now. I like Android, and I have an Android device that I use on an almost-daily basis (the Nook). I don’t want to tell anyone already using Android that they shouldn’t buy an updated Android phone, if they’re sure that that phone is what they want (or if they’re unwilling to go to AT&T, which I can totally understand). What I am saying is that the iPhone 4 has some pretty good features that work well compared to other smartphones on the market. The iPhone isn’t going to convince someone to switch from Android, but it does offer some pretty damn good reasons to stay with the Apple platform, or to sign on with it if you’re looking for your first smartphone.

These Hopeful Machina

I started off this post with a rather poor attempt to review BT’s latest album, These Hopeful Machines, but as you can no doubt see, I’ve scrapped it. The reasons are many, but mostly they boil down to “I’m not a music reviewer, so anything I say is going to be hopelessly shallow and pedantic”, and “even if I was a music reviewer I literally cannot find the words to describe how this album makes me feel beyond ‘profoundly reflective’, but that’s mostly for personal reasons completely unrelated to the album itself”. I suppose the best I can do, really, is to say that it’s really good, and that anyone who likes electronic music is going to absolutely love it.

If that in fact turns out to be old news, then blame Amazon. I know I do.

Anyway. The word “hope” is a bit appropriate this week, as it turns out, as the Apple WWDC came on Monday and the big video game hoopla, E3, is next week. In both cases the internet has done what it does best: ruined the surprises. We knew about the iPhone 4 months ago, and “leaks” are coming faster and faster as the console “pre-conferences” come closer. I’ll cover these two events one at a time.

First, the iPhone. I found Penny Arcade’s assessment of the technical difficulties a bit… well, anticlimactic. I mean, come on. We all know what really happened. Grey Davis was accompanied on the altar by the employees responsible for the foulups, and together they were all sacrificed by The Jobs to The Beast That Has Naught But Two-Dollar Bills, He Who Thirsts For Quicksilver And The Blood of Interns, Great Bearded Geek With A Thousand-Dollar Computer, W’oz-Loggoth. For Gabe and Tycho to whitewash this just shows you how far lost they are in The Dark Faith of Cupertino. That said, the iPhone 4 was, literally, nothing surprising. I don’t mean that in light of the advances that were known based on the Gizmodo leak, and I don’t mean that it wasn’t technologically impressive. It was, in all respects, exactly what I was betting the 4.0 version of the iPhone would be when I signed on for the 3G two years ago.

See, the only people really getting bent out of shape are the fanbrats who are, either willfully or through sheer stupidity, failing to realize that the iPhone is not a computer and is not beholden to the same product lifecycles as one. It is a smartphone, and as such the decision to purchase or to skip it must be made from that paradigm. Phones are updated on an almost weekly basis. I’ve lost track of how many “phone X running Android-/Palm-flavored OS version Y is now available on carrier Z” posts I’ve seen in the last year. Hell, I couldn’t tell you how many I’ve seen this week. The point being that it doesn’t matter which phone you buy, or which platform you commit to. You need only blink before something “better” comes along. If you’re going into the iPhone, or an Android handset thinking that you’ll be hip and completely up-to-date, think again. Also please hit yourself on the head with a hammer, repeatedly, until the stupid leaks out of your ears. It’ll be a gray color, you’ll know it when you see it.

I can’t speak for everyone, and I certainly can’t speak for someone who’s taking this opportunity to jump from iPhone to an Android set. Who I can speak for is myself, and I’m going by the same rules I’ve had for cell phones since the very beginning– altering them, in point of fact. I started with a fairly basic clamshell phone back in early 2004, and limited myself to one upgrade per year until I made the jump to the iPhone two years ago. I did so knowing that I could not keep up that pace, and that it was entirely likely that I would not need to– remember, the first-gen iPhones shared in a lot of the features that the 3G version did back in ’08. It was not an altogether wild leap to assume that it would be merely one year between each version of the phone, and it turned out that I was right. The 4.0 handset has features that I want, and makes upgrading an attractive option– and since I was planning to do so anyway, there’s no problem. (If the 4.0 had, in fact, not been announced this year– I would have waited until the end of summer– I’d have gone to the 3GS for the extra storage space anyway.)

As for people dealing with the advertising and marketing campaign surrounding, well, all of Apple’s products, I refer you to the dissertation available on this weblog dated the twenty-eighth of February, Anno Domini Twenty-Ten, and shall leave it at that.

This ran a bit longer than I expected, and got a little ranty and preachy near the end. I’ll skip the E3 discussion until tomorrow, but I have a lot to say about that, too.

Hype Poisoning

The iPad was announced today. I can see how it would be kind of cool, and I’m thinking oh dear you’ve already stopped reading. I’m sorry, did I offend you by not frothing myself up into the righteous nerd rage that is demanded of me simply because it did not meet up to the specifications that everybody and their brother pulled out of their asses the past three weeks? And I’m not saying that just to be colorful, I mean it quite seriously– some of the speculation, including from people who honestly should know better, was clearly made from whole cloth once the event occurred.

I made a point last night and this morning to gently remind people that nothing was “confirmed” until the event actually occurred. Naturally, nobody listened. They started harping on the event for not providing what was “confirmed”– specifically multitasking, any update to the iPhone’s OS, support for Chocolate-Chip-Muffins-Over-TCP/IP 2.3, that sort of thing– instead of remembering one important thing.

People lie. Everybody lies. I guarantee you 95% of the “confirmed” leaks were “confirmed” bullshit thrown around by trolls and misinformation mongers. When you get that kind of a noise-to-signal ratio, there’s only one sensible thing to do: disregard everything. That way you can retain your objectivity and look at the device on its own merits. With that said.

I’m a little surprised at the iPad for not exactly having a clear idea of what it’s supposed to be. Then again, I didn’t care for the iPhone either. The more I thought about it since the end of the event, the more I realized that quite frankly, this version of the device isn’t for me. Just like the original iPhone wasn’t for me, and how waiting for the 3G turned out to be the right thing to do. Just like how waiting for a little while on the 360 and PS3 was the right thing to do; just like how I should have waited for the Rock Band 2 peripherals (I don’t regret that one nearly as much); etc. etc. The iPad is a good device, and a good start– but it’s not for me yet. When the technology matures, and developers start showing off some cool things to do with it, I’ll consider it.

And now that what I hope is a fairly reasonable and level-headed set of remarks is on here, you may proceed to the comments, whereupon shortly you will find a thousand people calling me a retard for not immediately hurling all of my Apple products off a cliff in retaliation for this “atrocious”, “boring”, “useless”, and “lol” event that I just got done saying disappointed me. If you want you can even go ahead and add vitriol to the pile.

Mashup Mayhem

Folks with iPhones or Palm Pres should definitely check out Word Ace, a free game available now on both platforms. If you like poker, and if you like Scrabble, then this game is definitely for you. Let me put it this way: I said I was going to bed an hour ago. I’m just now putting the phone in the cradle so I can charge it overnight. It’s that addictive.

Taking Back The Morning

Something that I’ve struggled with for a very long time is the matter of morning momentum. When I was little, I would wake up almost immediately ready to do whatever was needed of me. These days– particularly since the end of college– getting up in the morning has become a long, drawn-out affair that sees me taking sometimes hours to get out the door. This isn’t good. I can pinpoint, in fact, when I got into this bad habit. When I worked the evening and night shifts at Adelphia, I tended to get up earlier than I should have to “do stuff”. This meant that if I had to be at work at 10p, I would be awake by 4p so I could putter around– surf the web, play some games, that sort of thing. I would then go to work, come home, and instantly crash into bed (around 8a). Do that for a year and you have a bad habit in the making– made worse when, later on, I got a second-shift job and did more or less the exact same thing, also for a year.

There’s lots of ways to break this habit, but the first one that I decided to use was LeechBlock. I’ve set it up with an aggressive filter, giving me just ten minutes to get through my normal webcomic crawl in the morning.
Secondly, I was thrilled to hear that Minuteur had been updated to Universal Binary. A good timer is invaluable for constraining slacking, and Minuteur is one of the best for OSX. Since I’d last used it, though, it added some very nice features, including the “time-left bar”, a simple vertical meter that drains as time goes by. I’m sure it will get a lot of use once NaNo comes around.
Finally, I dusted off my shell scripting skills in order to gather data for GeekTool. GeekTool works along the lines of Samurize, which allows you to specify information to appear on the desktop. Since I’m using quite a bit more of the base OS X tools such as iCal and the like, and because I have the annoying tendency to not dress properly, I set it up to show the next week’s worth of events as well as the current weather. (I also have my current memory usage listed for curiosity’s sake more than anything else.) This allows me to save time by not having to react to things, but rather being able to be more proactive (for example, if I know a game or something is being released, I’ll make a plan to swing by and pick it up).

Overall, while it seems like I’ve spent a lot of time getting all this set up– and I have– the cumulative effect of all the wasted time being put to better use from here on out far outstrips the initial investment. We’ll see in the morning how well it works.

Self-satisfaction

I’ve mentioned before how much I like Delicious Library, haven’t I? Because I totally do. I was lucky enough to get the iPhone sync tool before it was pulled from the App Store, as well, meaning I don’t have to wait to go home to check to see if I have something already upon coming across a good deal. I hope Delicious Monster and Amazon can come to an agreement on that front, too– it’s an excellent feature, and DM shouldn’t be punished for tying to bring something good to its customers (and drive Amazon sales while they’re at it).

Sorry for what might seem like free advertising, but I really, really like the app, and it came in extremely handy this afternoon.