Monday, February 28, 2011

iPad 2 at the Steve Show this Wednesday

So, we're about 2 days from the new, highly-anticipated iPad2 announcement, courtesy of the Steve Show. Let's take a look at what we're expecting, not expecting and how stupid some people really are.

Firstly, and I really had to post this first, just to get it off my chest, is the retina display rumour. I mean, come on. Give me a break people. My Macbook Pro 17" doesn't have 2048x1536 resolution for one. What is seriously the point of extrapolating the move to retina display on the iPhone 4 as a move to retina on the iPad?

a) They're different devices for different uses. iPhone is generally held much closer to your face when using it, since that's the most comfortable field of view. With the bad resolution, you were having to zoom every damn web page and scroll around just to read anything. With the retina display, you're relieved of that. The iPad on the other hand, is not held that close, so the display looks just fine

b) Just because you can make a smartphone size high-resolution display doesn't mean you can make one in 9.7 inches. And if you could, it would be pretty expensive. People are already complaining about the price of iPad alongside, say, a crap 15" PC laptop, and this move wouldn't do anything but up the price even more.

c) Do you really think that the current decent iPad games would run at that resolution with the current hardware? If you do, I'd like some of what you're smoking pl0x, kthxbai.

Alright, I guess I laboured that point enough. Let's get onto some other rumours:

- Front and back facing cameras. Yes it will happen. No, I'm not all that excited. I prefer to Skype without video and I have my phone for a camera already. Imagine holding up an iPad to take a photo? Sure it might be kinda fun for a few minutes to use it as a video cam or play with photo booth, but this is not a deal breaker of a feature if you ask me. Phone is for camera, iPad is for other stuff.

- Up to 1mm thinner, a couple dozen grams lighter and now with tapered edges! This is also not a deal breaker in any way, shape or form. Okay, sure I've drooled over the new Macbook Air for a while now and how thin it looks with those tapered edges. I'm sure I'll find it sexy looking. But it isn't why I'd get rid of my current iPad.

- More RAM. This is closest to the deal breaker. However, with enough iPad1s in circulation, it's going to be a while before developers start making games that are iPad2 only (for obvious financial reasons). So it's probably going to be plausible to hold onto the current model until at least the next revision which hopefully goes to the full 1GB that other tablets already have. My one use-case currently is being able to start Dungeon Defenders without having to reboot the iPad immediately before.

- Faster Processor. See above. These are both a given. They will happen. And when you try the new one with some slow-loading game, you'll want the new iPad. So just refrain from borrowing your friend's iPad.

- Some sort of card reader thingy. I could honestly care less. Why do I need that? If all apps have access to the stuff on there, perhaps. Otherwise it'll be a place to put photos. Not interesting.

That's it for the rumours. Not really all that interesting, to be honest.\

Here's what I would like to see on Wednesday - an announcement of iOS 5 and a bunch of tangibly useful features (i.e. not printing or some shit like that). An announcement of new games that we haven't heard about. An announcement that one of the big three will be finally ported, for the love of god, to iPad (Skype, Spotify or Facebook). An announcement from some game dev companies that they're bringing full versions of games to the iOS devices, not these "Demo version" games we currently have.

The one thing I can be 100% sure about is that here in Finland, we're going to be waiting a long time for that new iPad2 to hit the shelves (I mean, the first iPad just arrived in Finland) and then we're going to be charged for it like somehow the euro is worth the same amount as the dollar...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

iOS4.3 on the horizon

So, the date is mid-February 2011 and 4.3 is on the horizon. Let's quickly look back at the previous blogs and see where we are today.

On the games front, we have now seen some more quality looking games on iOS. Quality looking, mind-you. The depth of gameplay is still considerably minuscule compared to games on, say, the PSP. It's actually amazing to think that most of these developers overlook simple mechanisms for adding depth and replayability to games. Even such simple mechanisms are the cheap way out instead of providing a good, solid 40 hours of content. And yet none have even tried to give us this level of depth, bar the Japanese and Korean manufacturers who otherwise suffer from bad presentation and controls as the games are ported directly from local phones.

Dungeon Defenders is about the only game that looked promising, but it was unfortunately plagued with bugs and UI mistakes. It still does not launch on my iPad unless I reboot the device immediately before launching it. Mostly, I think, because it's trying to play videos that I could care less about and have seen already. That sort of quality should not pass approval. But the replayability is there and if they come through on the promised content updates, it could be good.

Infinity Blade and Deadspace are the two talked-about games, since they're nicer looking. But both games are seriously lacking in depth and feel like an advert for a real game.

Battleheart is a potential winner, but it was again launched without proper QA and it seems that the content updates are being generated in an ad-hoc manner. In other words, they didn't plan them beforehand, waiting instead to see if the game would do well. Let's face it, most games should be close to done with the first content update before they launch the 1.0 version, so they can push that out within a month of release and keep the crowd playing, and show that they mean business.

Other than that, nothing all too interesting on the horizon just yet, and I'm willing to bet that the next "big" unreal games will also be adverts for a console game.

I'd like to take a moment to talk about universal apps and in particular those companies that feel they're immune to the need to make them. Gameloft being the biggest one. I'm happy that a majority of companies have given in to Apple's "F You" regarding running retina-enabled apps properly on the iPad screen, and anticipate that this will now never happen. Perhaps this is what Apple was aiming for. However, there are a few companies that feel they're too big for their boots. Rovio's Angry Birds is another. Having separate HD versions is bad enough. Charging more for them is ridiculous. Having the HD version provide less content, well, that's yet another "F You". I'm glad you guys feel good about it. I'm also glad that a growing number of gamers are boycotting your products and will remember this behaviour.

Let's move onto the OS itself. What do we have now in 4.2? Well, as mentioned already, no retina display resolution for iPhone apps running on iPad. I guess it's FullForce or nothing, since Apple won't edit one plist setting in their OS. Good going. How about integration between iOS devices without the need for the middle-man, iTunes. Nope, not that. Shared filesystem and a more computer-like feel? Well, there's the gestures instead of having the click the stupid button on the front, so that's a step in the right direction, but otherwise, not really. Arrow keys on the on-screen keyboard? Nope. Honestly, has no one else noticed this or does everyone carry a bluetooth keyboard everywhere?

So 4.3 is basically a non-patch which will ultimately show us, most likely, another list of 60 or so vulnerabilities we didn't realise we were open to. At least they're not charging for fixing those anymore.

Where am I going with all of this? Well, I've seen a couple of newer Android devices and I have to say that the widgets and customisable home screens are just fantastic. Light years ahead of the rows of icons on iOS. And remind me again, why I need widely spaced icons on a device with a 9.7 inch screen? I'm not a two year old. I'd love to see widgets when I open the screen and not have to launch a full-screen app to check the weather or calendar or twitter. I don't still have an alarm clock on the device. How about being able to set an alarm clock to play something from my music collection?

Let's move onto iPod and iTunes. It works really well (imo) on my Mac, the fact that ping, iTunes, genius, etc. are all integrated and showing me information about what I'm listening to. Never mind that genius really doesn't work too well and that I use for all my real recommendation needs, but the fact that it's there and integrated makes it feel like it's a whole part of this "ecosystem" thing. The iPod interface is way better than on the phone, but the device has the screen real-estate to run essentially the same iTunes as on a real computer, so why not do that?

Usability. I still feel like this whole full-screen apps business isn't the way things should go. On my real computer I can have multiple things going on at the same time and actually see them without having to constantly switch around. I don't want to click, click, click (or swipe, swipe, swipe) just to see a chat log, my music and a web page at the same time. This interface makes doing simple things like copy-pasting between apps into a massive chore, since there are just too many clicks and other operations you need to do and it's simply not fluid. If you're going to insist on sticking to the full-screen paradigm, how about something like Enlightenment where there are multiple "sheets" that you can slide over each other and rearrange so you can half-see whats going on, or perhaps an on-screen app switcher visible at all times? How about a bar across the top with some buttons on it? Also, the apps need to switch way faster and I'd like to actually know what's running and not what I might have launched in the last few days (and I'm one of those people who constantly cleans that app launcher up, I mean there's no reason to show non-running apps from more than a few minutes ago on there).

I'd like to add one more note - AirTunes on this device should let you choose multiple speakers like on the desktop iTunes. I have some nice speakers I can plug into the headphone jack as well as this playing from the speakers across the room over AirTunes, but I can only choose one or the other and that's why the Mac gets turned on now - just to listen to music.

This OS is still far from what I would imagine as productive, even though we have access to plenty of productivity apps. And don't get me wrong, I've been using this iPad to write blogs, create keynote presentations, write email, surf, game, listen to radio (TuneIn Radio - amazing), as my primary music device and many other things. It's getting close to replacing my computer, but at the end of the day, if I want to do things in a fast and efficient manner, the computer beats this hands-down. I'd really like to see the OS improved and it's going to have to happen quickly to keep up with Android's widgets and customizable home screen.