It’s tough to really pin down the goings-on in fighting games. Story isn’t a particularly big focus most of the time and can lead to all kinds of weird stuff. An evil dictator bent on world domination creating a female clone of himself is just one example. Suffice it to say, so long as there’s a reason for wacky folks to fight the hows and whys don’t matter so much. As is the case with Street Fighter. Ignoring the nitty gritty the important thing to understand here is that Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, and the rest have gathered once again to beat the snot out of each other for their own personal reasons. And our amusement, of course.
The Gameplay Street Fighter IV Volt (and by extension the original iOS release) had one major hurdle to overcome: controls. Virtual sticks and buttons just don’t compare to physical ones no matter how much someone might love their touch screen. Thankfully Capcom pulled them off quite well. While the overall action is a tad slower than most console offerings the fights are still frantic and movement is pretty tight. Whether it’s learning the ropes in Training, tackling the campaign, or taking on other players from across the globe in online matches there’s something for every kind of fighting aficionado. Having a roster of 22 playable characters is nice, too.
How does it Compare?
With practically an equivalent amount of content to its console counterpart and controls that aren’t a hindrance, Street Fighter IV Volt is as good as it gets on iOS. Aside from the concessions for controls and visuals (characters are no longer 3D, which affects the presentation and story segments) it’s pretty much the same game. It’s even got online multiplayer, which is something not even earlier Street Fighter console releases have sported until recently.
It’s not exactly 1:1, but Street Fighter IV Volt does a downright admirable job of giving iOS users a comparable experience to their console bretheren. It’s got the roster, the moves, the modes, and the multiplayer. What more could a fighting game lover on-the-go wish for?
*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*
Chair Entertainment today released Vote!, a game that promotes the most base form of political action, violence. Under the auspices of creating an app for Rock The Vote! and to raise voter awareness, it denigrates the presidential candidates by using them as avatars in a “slapstick battle” while dressing them up in “comedic outfits.”
When I first read of the game on Touch Arcade I thought it seemed like an odd waste of time. After actually playing the game I was utterly dismayed at the complete lack of respect for the presidential candidates and at the way it promotes political violence in what is sure to be a very tense and charged election year.
Promoting violence between political parties while using the presidential candidates as fighters in the game is disrespectful. Possibly even dangerous considering the current extremely heightened anger between real-life political parties. It’s irresponsible for Rock the Vote! to attach their name to this and degrading for a well respected game development house like Chair Entertainment to release it.
You may be thinking that I should “lighten up” or that it’s “just a fun little app.” Well we live in a country where members of one side are calling for an armed revolution if the other side wins and members of that side are warning about lying thieves running the White House if they lose. An app like this just perpetuates those insane political views by promoting violence. Chair and Rock the Vote! decide to let each side throw virtual punches at the opposite side, rather than add to a civilized political discourse. Vote! can only lead to an increase of the anger between members of the political parties, not an increase in political knowledge. This app does nothing to inform voters or encourage people to vote, it just perpetuates hatred.
In the press release announcing the app, Donald Mustard, Creative Director at ChAIR Entertainment proclaims, “We’re excited to join forces with Rock the Vote to help emphasize the importance of voter registration and encourage gamers to become more involved in the political process.”
To me, this app does nothing to involve gamers in the political process, it promotes animosity between political parties to drive sales of virtual currency. Save a couple links to get information on web sites there is nothing politically enlightening in this game. There is no policy debate. There is no discussion of actual political issues. There is no encouragement of political involvement. Vote is just a reskin of the Infinity Blade hack and slash exploiting the candidates’ images and perpetuating political rage. Vote! favors buttons to purchase “coins” to continue the game play over those to encourage political awareness. I must note that the press release announcing this game did mention that a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Rock the Vote!, but no specific details were given.
Exploiting the current political rage in this country for a cheap laugh and a quick buck is just plain wrong.
An app like this would be expected from a fly by night app development house looking to make a quick buck and not worried about exploiting candidates. But for a well-esteemed development company like Chair Entertainment to release this puts them right on par with fart sound and sex position app publishers.
We’ve asked representatives from both Chair Entertainment and Rock the Vote! for comments on this editorial via email and phone, but at the time of publication, neither has been able respond. We will happily update this post with their responses, if received.
After finally besting the God King and discovering a few unexpected surprises that I won’t spoil here, Siris heads to the Vault of Tears in an effort to learn the secrets of the mystical blade he now possesses. The story in Infinity Blade 2 is more front-and-center than it was in the original, and it’s difficult not to get drawn into the intrigue surrounding the Worker of Secrets and the world of the Deathless. Of course Siris’ quest to free the Worker is fraught with peril and conflict at every turn, and it’s these fights where the game truly shines.
Stripping away the dark fantasy visuals, Infinity Blade 2 is essentially a game about one-on-one combat, loot gathering, and a bit of exploration. Some elements – such as the treasure maps and online clashmobs – are relatively new, but the core elements of finding treasure chests and unlocking paths to hidden areas has been an ongoing and much appreciated theme that makes the action-less segments far more interesting. Then there’s the action itself, which supports three (now up to four after a recent update) fighting styles and subsequent weapon classes: the sword and shield, two-handed swords, and dual swords (and now Solar Transport Energy Blades). And it’s all rounded out by tons and tons of loot.
How does it Compare?
While the loot does slightly call to mind games like the reigning loot-drop champ Diablo, Infinity Blade 2’s roots are actually grounded in an even more classic title. Remember Punch Out!? Yup, that one. I know they don’t look anything alike, but mechanically they’re practically twins. Both rely heavily on reading tells, finding openings, and taking advantage of weaknesses. It’s every bit a spiritual successor, just with gritty fantasy monsters and immortal tyrants.
It’s funny to think that the mechanics of a 25-year-old game could make such a drastic transition into a more modern title. Granted, the addition of RPG elements, loot, and gorgeous visuals don’t hurt, but it’s a gameplay system that’s been proven. It’s also one that’s just as fun now as it was back then.
*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*
Sentenced to an eternity in suspended animation for a heinous crime he may or may not have committed, the man known as “Dangerous” is woken up a century later and unceremoniously tossed back into the fray. Actions performed and choices made will help determine the war criminal’s ultimate fate. Where he goes and who he becomes is largely up to the player, but savior or super-villain, there’s bound to be lots and lots of shooting and exploration.
The Gameplay Dangerous features a massive universe to explore with plenty of star systems – each with their own denizens, commodities, resident dangers, and missions spanning through each of them. Navigation and combat can be handled via manual tilt/virtual stick controls, but things are at their best when using the contextual button commands. Orders can be issued with a tap or two, and most variables (i.e. distance to target) can be adjusted using a simple slider. Experience can be used to purchase and upgrade a variety of useful skills, and any spoils can be re-appropriated or sold in order to purchase better ships, gear, or modifications.
How does it Compare?
While Dangerous may have its roots firmly planted in the space adventure sims of old, the rest of it is very much reaching for the now. The steady pacing, wealth of customizations by way of skills and equipment, huge environment to explore, and especially the almost hands-free approach to performing actions are very reminiscent of the “cult hit” MMO juggernaut EVE Online. In fact, the only things missing – aside from the super-pretty textures – are the other human players and the wacky economy. For all intents and purposes, Dangerous is indeed a single-player EVE Online, and personally I’m inclined to believe that’s a very good thing.
Dangerous did go through some growing pains. The interface, while still not all that pretty, was a horrific mess after the initial release and most of the menus were nearly impossible to read on an iPhone due to size and formatting issues. However, all of the major gripes that have had a noticeable effect on the gameplay have since been addressed. Now Dangerous is every bit the giant space sim it was meant to be, and every bit a Console-Quality iOS Game.
*NOTE: “Console-quality” refers to the quality of the experience, not just the graphics. This is about the depth of gameplay, content, and in some cases how accurately it portrays the ideals of its console counterpart.*
Update: We received a response from EA that will at least make it possible to get Tetris for iPad back if you paid for the original version. Check the bottom of the post for more details.
EA Mobile has just released a new version of Tetris for the iPad. It uses the updated control method that the new iPhone/iPod touch version uses. That’s well and good. The new control method is actually one of the better improvements on Tetris I’ve seen. But the problem is, you have to re-buy it. Even if you bought the old Tetris, you have to re-buy this one and you don’t have access to the old app anymore.
Let’s say someone who has purchased Tetris for the iPad moves to a new iPad, or even gets a replacement under warranty. If that user, like many, doesn’t back up to iTunes on the desktop, they will no longer have access to the Tetris app they previously paid for.
Developers that want to put out new versions of apps and charge for them are more than welcome to. We’ll let consumers vote with their downloads on wether that is a good idea. But to make unavailable to download a previously purchased item? That’s a pure anti-customer, and obvious revenue-based decision.
The lack of an ability to download previously paid for digital goods, in the case an app, is the real problem. In the world of digital distribution, one where we are moving to a cloud-based backend and a Post-PC world, the apps and other digital media you buy in the App Store, you expect to be available forever. But the sad truth is, they are not available if the developer chooses to pull them. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of Tetris for iPad users that will find that out next time they upgrade devices and try to download the app.
And that is not the idea that Apple had when it introduced iTunes in the Cloud and subscribed to the Post-PC idea of the future.
This isn’t the first time EA has done this either. The original Bejeweled 2 has been pulled in favor of an IAP loaded version of the same just called Bejeweled. And of course, the same trick was played with Tetris for the iPhone/iPod touch.
And to make things even worse, the previous Tetris for the iPad was publicized and put on sale as recently as last week, in EA’s Easter app sale.
EA, please stop cheating your loyal and paying customers. There’s no reason they should be required to re-pay for new apps because the decision is made to update them. If they are happy with the old version, they should still have access to it.
Note that we have asked EA for comment on this, but due to multiple timing issues including deadlines, time zone differences, and our contact being out of the office, we have yet to hear back. We will update this post when we do get an official response.
Update: 4/13 We heard back from Alexis McDowel, PR Director for EA. The following is their response to our query on where Tetris for iPad the original version went.
As you know, the “old” version of Tetris was recently removed from the App Store in order to accommodate the new version of the game (which is also titled “Tetris” but has several new/different gameplay modes and features ), but consumers who have previously purchased Tetris should still have access to it via their “Purchased” account in the cloud—even if they’ve bought a new device and are trying to access the game from that newer device, it should be in there.
We just tried it on our end (i.e., trying to pull up the “old” purchased Tetris on a new device), and we were able to do it with by following these steps on our new device:
1) Click on App Store
3) Not on this iPad
4) Scroll through to find your title and download.
We also checked with one of our on-site support members and were told that your previous Tetris purchase should not go away as long as your firmware is updated—no sync to a desktop necessary.
So there you have it. I have verified this on my iPad and see that Tetris for iPad is available to download even though it’s no longer available in the App Store. In light of that, calling this cheating customers is way out of bounds. But confusing and annoying it most certainly is. Since the app can not be searched for in previous purchases for unknown reasons, this will still lead to many users thinking they need to pay for the new version. Confusing and annoying, yes.
While many are arguing that the Kindle Fire is or isn’t an iPad “Killer,” I think that whole line of thought is way off. The idea of an iPad “Killer” is a device that can do everything the iPad can, but better and maybe cheaper. But it doesn’t just matter if the Kindle Fire is a true iPad Killer, it’s in the same category of devices and will take a large number of consumers away from the iPad. In the current market, consumers are very uninformed about what a tablet device is capable of or why they need one, they just know they want one. And because of that, the Kindle Fire, at around 40 percent the cost of the iPad, is a strong competitor for consumer purchases this holiday season.
Today, Amazon released their much talked about Android based tablet, the Kindle Fire. The reviewscameoutlastnight and they aren’t all together that great. While most say it’s a pretty good limited use device, Wired sums it up as little more than a “‘shopping portal.” David Pogue at the NY Times notes that you will “feel that $200 price tag with every swipe of your finger.”
There are a few fundamental things wrong with the Kindle Fire. For one, it was developed outside what Google calls the Open Handset Alliance. Those are the companies that pay into the Android ecosystem to help in the growth of the platform. These are the only companies that get access to the full set of Google Apps like GMail, Maps, and most importantly, the Android Market. This means that the Kindle Fire will only be able to access apps from the still rather small Amazon App Store. In addition, the Fire is based on a version of the Android OS that was never intended for tablet use. It’s just not designed or architected in a way that works really well on tablets.
On the flip side, there are quite a few things that the Amazon Kindle Fire does right: one-click access to the huge catalog of books, magazines, newspapers, music, and video that Amazon offers, for instance. Remember how everyone considered the iPad “simply” a media consumption device? Amazon gives Kindle Fire users plenty to consume, having also launched their own App Store earlier this year. However, by far the number one plus for the Kindle Fire is the price. $199 for an 8GB seven inch tablet is an amazing price point.
And that’s my key point: the price of this media-centric device is just $199. That makes it much more accessible to a broader audience than the $499 iPad 2. Even a number of consumers set on the purchase of an iPad 2 may be put off by the cost of the device when knowing they can get a Kindle Fire much cheaper.
So while the Kindle Fire is around 40 percent the cost of a base level iPad, it’s capabilities are even less. It just so happens that those capabilities match up well with what a typical consumer uses a tablet device for. Because of that, the Kindle Fire will be a strong competitive device to the iPad. When it comes down to it, it’s the cost that matters to a very large portion of the buying public, not the capabilities.
Is this the next iPhone? I hope so. (photo credit: This is my next...)
Earlier this week, Apple announced their next major media event entitled “Let’s Talk About the iPhone.” Nearly 18 months after the announcement of the iPhone 4, Apple is expected to unveil the successor. The rumors this time around have been all over the place. From speculation that the next iPhone will be a device very similar to the iPhone 4, simply a spec bump of the current version called and iPhone 4S, to a full blown larger screen iPhone 5, to even seeing both.
I believe that Apple needs an all new iPhone 5, failure to release that would imply, to many, a lack of innovation on a platform that they re-invented. And failure to see an iPhone 5 on Tuesday would look bad for the new Apple CEO and the stock price.
There have been rumors going around since the spring of an iPhone 5 with a larger screen, tapered back, and faster processor. First reported by This is my next, the device looks strikingly like the current iPod touch. But more recent rumors have pointed to that much less innovative iPhone 4S as the next iPhone.
Now let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment and think of how the lack of an all new design iPhone 5 being revealed on Tuesday would be received by the media and public. While the following can be seen as a bit overblown and even preposterous, I think we’re used to that from some segments, and I did say I was playing devil’s advocate.
For Apple to wait nearly 18 months to release an iPhone that is basically the same as the iPhone 4 would be thought of as a triple mistake. It would look bad for Tim Cook, new CEO of Apple, it would impact the stock price, and would give Android a further foothold in the smartphone market.
Tim Cook took over for Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple in August. This will be his first big product reveal and in the worlds eyes, his first big test. For Apple to continue to be thought of as a leader in the smartphone area, they need to continue to innovate. Without a new iPhone, it will appear, at least on the surface, that Apple has stopped innovating and that Tim Cook has failed in his new role. In other words, we waited 18 months for this?
Let’s end devil’s advocate mode for a moment. This is of course preposterous. A little truth that many won’t think about is that products like the iPhone are developed over a 24-36 month period. Meaning we won’t really see what Tim Cook is capable of for another two plus years. The iPhone that will be announced Tuesday has likely been in development since at least 2009, perhaps earlier.
Without a new iPhone, and the perceived lack of innovation in the smartphone market, Apple should be prepared to take a rather large stock hit. Though it will likely recover, it may take some time and a couple product launches to get back to it’s stellar highs.
In this same time period since the iPhone 4 launch, the high end segment of the Android market has been taken over by large screen, dual core processor, 8MP cameras, beasts of devices. The iPhone 4 is really closer to a small screen these days compared to the current crop of large candy bar phones with beefy processors, huge amounts of memory, and large lens cameras. And Android has already surpassed the iPhone in smartphone sales. I now see more Android handsets in use in San Francisco than I do iPhones. While the iPhone 4 is still the most common single device, the number of Android devices I see easily outnumber the iPhone two to one.
More pragmatically, people crave new devices. They want the hot new thing in their hand to look cool, stylish. If you see someone with an iPhone 4S, one that looks just like the last model, you won’t know they have the cool new phone as it looks like the used to be cool old phone. So products like the iPhone need to look different frequently to cause people to want them and to sell.
Ok, enough of devil’s advocate, let me put the record straight. I think we will see the iPhone 5 on Tuesday. My sources say it is done and ready and is pretty much what we see above. But there are still possible hiccups. There could be production delays, supply problems, or any of a number of contractual and legal reasons that it won’t be announced on Tuesday. The chances of that at this point late in the game, are I believe fairly slim. I do believe those reasons are why we didn’t see the iPhone 5 in June, the usual iPhone launch timeframe.
Gamasutra’s Leigh Alexander hit it out of the park this past week in her interview with developer Paolo Pedercini of Molleindustria about their game Phone Story. The game was submitted to the App Store, then pulled by Apple, citing app store violations. These include restrictions in the developer agreement against depictions of child abuse and “objectionable or crude” content. The other two app store violations include prohibitions against paid apps donating to charity. The app continues to be available for Android smartphones.
The game is essentially a documentary-like commentary on the smartphone hardware industry, an industry that the iPhone created and plays a major role in. The developer is, essentially, bringing awareness of the life cycle of the smartphone that we are using to play the game on to users who may or may not know the facts of the matter. Like any good documentarian, the developers elucidate the facts, put them into an art form, and release it to the public. Their website includes more facts, as in this page about Coltan, an essential mineral for electronic devices, and the focus of one of the minigames in the app.
This kind of awareness raising can only be a good thing. While I am not an expert on Apple’s approval process, I can see how one of the mini-games can be construed as “depicting child abuse,” as guards with guns are placed with a tap on the screen to keep the young looking workers digging up coltan. However, I think Apple needs to start looking deeper at the process of approvals on games that are clearly artistic or documentary-like in nature. I’m sure it’s a tough call sometimes, but perhaps there could be a secondary process? I’m sure even the most concrete approval clerk could look at a description like the one on the Phone Story website and see that this is the case:
“Phone Story is an educational game about the dark side of your favorite smart phone. Follow your phone’s journey around the world and fight the market forces in a spiral of planned obsolescence.”
If Apple continues to want to be the arbiter of what gets published, and wants to be the front runner, they need to come up with some way to allow these types of games to get through. Would they pull a magazine app that reproduced the sort of information that is conveyed through gameplay? Let’s hope not. It’s my sincere hope that Apple works its way around this issue, both for Phone Story and for future indie games that have a clear humanitarian focus. Protecting users from hurtful content is one thing, censoring the fact that these things do exist, in the very market, is another, and as such, suspect.
Grinding our way through the latest iOS genre darling, Freemium games, is becoming somewhat of a turn off. There may or may not be a backlash to the developers or their games, but I’m feeling a definite slacking off in my interest in these types of games.
First off, let’s be clear on what freemium even means. Wikipedia defines the term as ” a business model that works by offering a basic product or service free of charge (such as software, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services.”
In the iOS app world, and more specifically, the gaming app world, Freemium has been hailed as the next big thing for companies wishing to make money. Some developers I spoke with at GDC seemed to think that the entirety of the iOS gaming market was going to a Fremium model, though I tend to agree with Tracy Erickson over at Pocket Gamer, who posits that Freemium games will continue to be a successful niche of the gaming market, and not be the whole of iOS gaming’s future.
Rather than repeat what better minds have already covered, I’d like to focus on the consumer end of the equation. As an avid gamer across all platforms, I’ve seen my share of games. And, to be honest, Freemium as a business model doesn’t inspire me to play a game. The ephemeral “fun” factor is, however, something that motivates me. I’m assuming it will motivate other players as well.
Many of these games seem to be about the mechanics alone. This is the Freemium Grind. Farmville is the grandame of Freemium gaming, of course, and the Freemium Grind mechanic is fairly transparent: build a farm, grow stuff on the farm, sell said items, gather in-game currency, and start the cycle again. Added into this mix are some social reciprocity (I’ll give you a gift so you will give me a gift), and some pride in place (this is my farm, there are many like it but this one is my own). Other games that fall in this category include Smurf’s Village, any of the Story games, Mafia Wars, We Rule, etc. There are some other games that hide the basic mechanics behind some other mechanics, like Gun Bros, Pocket Frogs and Pocket Legends, to name a few.
What is it, though, about this mechanic that turns me off? The artificiality of it, for one thing, bugs me. When I invade in ZombieFarm, I have to wait another couple of hours before I can invade again. Or, of course, I can go ahead and purchase an upgrade for a invasion recharge. This isn’t fun. Another thing that bothers me is the continual reminders. I stopped playing We Rule and GodFinger mainly due to the constant notifications. I don’t need more things telling me that I have to take care of them. I have children and pets for that, thank you very much. I don’t want to feel obligated to launch a game – don’t we all have enough obligations in our lives?
When are we going to see a Freemium game that isn’t like this? Where’s the incredible gaming experience that is free or low cost to enter, but then offers thrilling and fun gaming experiences? Where’s the World Of Goo Freemium? The Rolando Freemium (oh, yeah, they couldn’t figure it out)? The Flight Control Freemium?
I’m sure there are smart developers out there. Making iOS apps is not for the intellectually challenged. I think, however, that we need a new star to step forward and not just take the Freemium model to the next logical step (hardcore freemium, music game freemium, shooter freemium, etc.) but to turn it on its head. To make a game that is TRULY a fantastic game, that is free to play, yet encourages folks to purchase in-game items. How do we do that? Is it possible? Some think it is, but I’m not holding my breath.
Like most difficult questions, I don’t believe this one has a definitive answer. We need the premium, buy once, play forever games as well as the free to play, mechanical freemium games as well. But we also need something new, if the freemium model isn’t to crush itself under its own weight and continued copy-cat-ism that reigns in the space. Who’s gonna step up? Will it be you? Let us know in the comments.
The internet is abuzz today with a blog post from the analytics company, Flury, titled “Is iPhone the Next American Idol?” According to Flurry, social games on the iOS “comprise a daily audience of more than 19 million who spend over 22 minutes per day using these apps.” By their calculations, the installed customer base of social gamers have a similar reach as Dancing With The Stars and Sunday Night Football. Tack on a couple million social gamers and the user base is larger than the advertising giant that is American Idol. If you count in all other apps that aren’t in the social gaming sphere, the iOS clearly dominates the user base of prime time television’s hottest shows.
What’s interesting to me are the conclusions drawn by Flurry. They end their blog post stating that, “The most obvious is the impact on the advertisement industry, which has relied on the reach generated by its prime time television slot for years. This season, while Americon Idol is busy shuffling judges, the people have voted: iOS social games are as prime time as prime time television.”
While some people may find these findings telling, and I’m not saying that the iPhone will never be an important an advertising source as TV, I think that Flurry is missing a huge piece of advertising psychology.
As an app reviewer, I play more apps (including social games) than anyone ever should in their lives. I probably breeze through 99.9% of them as soon as they pop up, not even stopping to see what is trying to work its way into my heart. On the other hand, I could probably recap half of the ads I saw during last nights Sunday Night Football game because I was forced to watch them, and because some of them were catchy. The UPS “Logistics” ad alone was more memorable than every iOS ad I’ve ever encountered, bunched up into one.
Even local television advertisements are far more effective for the average consumer than any iPhone advertising scheme that I’ve seen. Again, there’s not a chance that I could describe even one of the hundreds of iPhone ads that I’ve seen, but I can, on a whim, sing to you the Casa Ole ad with Jose Lima that played in the Houston area in the late 90′s. Or ask me about George Brazil, or Gallery Furniture, or anything you want about Levitra or Zoloft.
As far as advertising goes, big television has to see the internet and DVR as much larger adversaries than the iOS. Until the iOS and the advertising companies (like Flurry) create advertising schemes that are truly catchy (or even informative), I just don’t see iOS marketing attracting the big bucks that big TV does — and until I start singing the jingle of an otherwise unknown company I only heard on my iPhone game, I don’t think that people will ever find iOS social gaming to be “as prime time as prime time television.”
Apple strikes with a roundhouse kick the gut! But wait, Google fights right back with an eye gouge and a slap to the face! Apple is stunned but isn’t going to give up that easily. What a fight, what a battle; who is going to win, folks? This is the picture much of the media has painted for us, isn’t it? That Google and Apple have locked horns and are doomed to a winless war for all eternity. That’s not really the case though. Truth is, the war is fought mainly with the media and loyal fans who follow the gossip like it’s a WWE match. Yes, the two companies compete with each other on a couple of levels, but at the same time they work incredibly well and profitably together. Based on some recent news, I believe the two have secretly teamed up again in an effort to bring FaceTime to the mainstream for good.
Ok, here’s what we know:
1) Apple is hosting an event on Wednesday and at the very least they’re probably going to announce a new iPod touch with a front facing camera.
2) iOS 4.1 beta has been out for several weeks and contains an option to make FaceTime calls via e-mail address.
3) Apple from the start has said it plans to make FaceTime an open industry standard, potentially allowing communication with other devices.
4) Google just announced last week the ability to use their Gchat feature for video chats. Gchat, if you’re not familiar with it, runs directly through Gmail and uses other user’s Gmail address to authorize chats.
When you combine the first three together along with the timing of Google’s announcement, it seems just too convent to be just a coincidence. I certainly could be wrong but to me the picture is pretty clear, Apple and Google are going to walk us right into the future and by this time next year, iPhone users and Andriod users will be FaceTiming each other everywhere. Finally the world will be at peace and harmony.
This iPhone 4 signal problem is building to a critical mass and Apple will apparently address the issue at a press conference on Friday.
From the moment the first iPhone 4 owner complained that holding the phone in a certain (fairly normal) way meant reduced signal bars, through Steve Jobs’ clumsy “hold it differently” email response and now Consumer Reports’ review U-Turn, things are not looking good for Apple’s latest device.
To further ignite the issue, Cult of Mac has posted the comments of leading crisis communications expert Chris Lehane who dealt with the worst of President Clinton’s White House mishaps. Yes, he’s THAT good!
Along with other leading crisis management experts included in the post, Lehane’s message is simple: Apple needs to accept blame and deal with the issue as soon as possible.
We’ve received mixed reports on the iPhone 4′s signal issues here with some finding problems and others barely noticing an issue. That said, should the more severe complaints keep coming and major sources like Consumer Reports maintain their hard line on this design flaw, we’re likely to see a big move if not a full product recall very soon.
The Cult of Mac post also brings into question Apple’s “half-loaf” approach at calming matters by proposing a software fix, which the experts feel was rushed. The announcement was perhaps a little hasty, but we’re still waiting for the software update itself, expected later today.
It’s sad that such a seemingly minor design glitch that can easily be remedied with the use of a case has become the thorn in (quite literally) the iPhone 4′s side.
With Apple’s quarterly earnings report coming up later this month, the company needs to make a bold move in order to resolve this issue quickly and, according to Gizmodo, may already be doing so under the radar. Several users have reported that new iPhone 4s, offered by Apple as replacements in the event of accidental damage or non-signal related hardware problems, do not suffer the same signal issues as their original phone. While some have seen no improvement, a large number of testimonies point toward replacement iPhone 4s simply working better, leading to the suggestion that Apple might be quietly pushing out updated devices as replacements.
These revelations arise in the wake of rumors that Apple will be holding a press conference Friday in which it is expected to outline its stance on the problem and a potential resolution. Analysts are pegging the cost of a total iPhone 4 recall at around $1.5 billion, that’s 3.5 percent of Apple’s cash reserves.
An alternate option, suggested by Bernstein Research, would be for Apple to provide free bumper cases, that are known to fix the signal attenuation problem, at a cost to the company of $1 per unit. With Apple’s official bumper case costing $29 retail, it seems the free case route could be far more appealing to Apple than replacing an entire phone with a retail value of over $500.
Apple has refused to comment on the nature of its press conference on Friday, merely stating that it will be iPhone 4 related, but it’s a safe bet that a solution to this PR nightmare will be provided.
With any luck, come this weekend, the bad press will have died down, the world will continue to turn and iPhone 4 signal strength will rise along with Apple’s stock price.
iBooks is a gorgeous app, but it’s driving me crazy.
There. I’ve said it.
When the iPad launched, iBooks was trumpeted as a gorgeous, easy, seamless app that would mix digital books with Apple’s typical ease-of-use. Sounds dreamy, right? And I suppose iBooks on the iPad must be good, because everyone raves about it.
But iBooks has been out on the iPhone for a little while now, and while I was initially excited to use it, it’s frankly frustrating. iBooks doesn’t act like an Apple app should; it crashes; and while it does lots of things well, other parts feels unfinished. Here, then, is a list of my complaints—things that Apple really ought to have fixed prior to release.
Please tell me I’m not the only one with this problem. Do I read too quickly for the poor app or something? About once every ten minutes, a page turn for me results in the app crashing—and it also forgets where I left off. Ugh!
Furthermore, when I attempt to open a downloaded book, I sometimes get the error message, “The requested resource is unavailable,” and iBooks will refuse to open said book until I restart the app, or even my iPod. These two errors are far too common, considering that they interfere with the most basic function of iBooks: reading!
Where Are the Books?
What’s the point of convenient, digital books if…you know…you can’t buy them in the first place? For me, the iBookStore is simply too small right now. “Tens of thousands” of books versus Amazon’s 600,000 for Kindle…hmm. As an avid reader, I was disappointed to find that many of the books I wanted simply weren’t available in iBooks. I’m not looking for the impossible, either. (Say, the 1980s Dragonlance books, or Harry Potter, which isn’t available anywhere; I’m talking modern, fairly successful authors like Naomi Novik!)
For those of us whose devices don’t allow for orientation-lock, this is immensely painful. When reading in bed, it’s easy to accidentally trigger a switch from landscape to portrait or vice-versa. Unfortunately, at least on an iPod Touch 2G, iBooks takes forever to make the switch—and while it’s struggling to rotate your book, it also freezes, preventing you from reading further. Fantastic.
Why can’t I switch the text to light-on-dark for nighttime reading? Dimming the screen works, but it still strains my eyes more to read dark-on-light text at night. The screen-lock problem already makes reading in bed hard enough!
First, selection is horrid. Secondly, prices are high—I can often order a real-life paperback for less from Amazon.
Third, and just as aggravating, is the store itself. There is no way to buy iBooks from your computer; and the iPhone screen is terribly small for browsing for books. Furthermore, the store is riddled with issues. When you go to “browse,” an alphabetical list of authors is displayed, split between “Top Paid” and “Top Free.” Now tap on “Categories,” chose one, and look. Now it shows you the top paid authors in that category…but if you click on “Top Free,” it’ll boot you back to the Top Free authors overall. What the heck?
Additionally, the store has no landscape view, and suffers from numerous other design issues. Not to mention the download errors.
iBooks isn’t a bad app. In fact, it’s got plenty of strong points—being able to browse for books right on the device is something I’ve wanted for a long time, and it’s a very robust reader. Bookmarks, highlighting, annotation…there are some really nice features baked into iBooks.
And that’s why the above issues make me so irritated. Apple is perfectly capable of making a fantastic eBook reader app. Regretfully, however, this version of iBooks isn’t it, at least not for iPhone / iPod Touch users. There are too many bugs, too many design flaws, and not enough books. It’s easy to tell that iBooks was crammed onto the smaller screen. And that’s a shame.
For now? I’ll be juggling Stanza and Kindle for iPhone as my two eBook apps of choice. Sorry, iBooks; I’m waiting for your next update.
A lot has been said about mobile fragmentation in the Android world which is filled with a bunch of different devices with different specifications and different versions of the Android OS. This leads to lots of exceptions in the Android app marketplace and isn’t good for consumers. That problem has been, until now, not a big issue for iPhone and iPod Touch users. While there’s been a split between iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad applications, it can be argued that they really are different platforms sharing the same OS.
But now, EA spins everyone around and multiplies consumer confusion in the App Store by creating a new fracture. They have released an iPhone 4 only version of their NCAA Football game along with a version for older models. They further add to the confusion by using the tag HD on it, something already in use by most developers as a designation for iPad applications. While I am of the opinion that these decisions are downright consumer hostile and I question EA’s motives, I also have to wonder why Apple would let them do something that causes such consumer confusion and leads to greater fragmentation of the iOS App Store.
Is the iOS a single platform or multiple platforms? Apple greatly prefers Universal applications that work on all iOS devices and suggests them to developers over having multiple versions of the same applications for iPhone and iPad. Yet in this instance they have approved the exact same app for two different models of the same platform, the iPhone. We’ve heard stories in the past of Apple rejecting iPad specific versions of apps that don’t provide extra functionality over their iPhone versions. Instead Apple have suggested that the developers create universal versions. Yet this game, an exact duplicate with just higher resolution graphics was approved, fragmenting the iPhone App Store. That confuses consumers and sets a precedent I hope doesn’t hold up.
There could be a case to be made to releasing a game that was only compatible with the iPhone 4 due to hardware specific requirements. We saw a handful of games that were only compatible with the iPhone 3GS due to processor speed or specific hardware accelerated graphics requirements. I’m sure we’ll see more with the higher power and hardware changes of the iPhone 4. But this game is not an iPhone 4 only game, there is another version of the exact same game, but for older hardware released separately.
“We do see a difference between iPhone 3G/3GS and iPhone 4. For EA, it’s important that we create our games for the unique capabilities of each platform or device including NCAA Football maximizing iPhone 4′s high quality graphics.” commented Michelle Jacob, Head of Global PR for EA Mobile when I asked for comment on the release of two different iPhone versions of the game. But to me, this just doesn’t make any sense as there’s absolutely no technical reason to create an iPhone 4 specific version of a game to take advantage of the higher quality graphics.
This is the first time we’ve seen a large developer release multiple versions of an app for different iPhone versions. The generally accepted practice is to release a single application for the iOS4 iPhone and iPod Touch platform that takes advantage of the hardware it runs on while degrading properly for lower performance devices. That leaves this as being a purely business decision and a bad one at that.
Let’s take a look at Real Racing from Firemint for an example of how developers have been addressing adding features to their applications for the iPhone 4. One universal application for all iPhone and iPod Touch devices, from a company with fewer employees than the EA campus cafeteria has. And it takes great advantage of the Retina Display on the iPhone 4 and anti-aliasing on the 3GS and degrades nicely for older devices. This is the what consumers want and it makes sense. The iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch can logically be called different platforms. The iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4 can not. When upgrading devices you shouldn’t be required to re-purchase apps for them to take advantage of the new hardware. This hasn’t been the practice in the past and I hope it’s not in the future.
Doesn’t this create consumer confusion? “We certainly don’t want to create any consumer confusion. We think we’re quite clear in distinguishing between the two versions of NCAA Football and giving consumers a choice.” But confusion is what we are seeing. If we look at the ratings in iTunes for the iPhone 4 version of NCAA Football, 12 of the 28 comments as of Monday evening are from users who have purchased the app for incompatible devices.
The real reason for the consumer confusion is that EA is doing something that iTunes, and therefore the App Store, doesn’t really support. There’s no filter for what you buy when using iTunes on the desktop. You could purchase any apps you wish even if you have never connected an iOS device to iTunes. When you click Buy App on the iPhone 4 specific version of NCAA Football, it doesn’t check to make sure you have an iPhone 4, it just takes the money from your account and delivers the app.
Ms. Jacob continues “If anything, we are hurting ourselves by offering two apps – our overall rankings for the title are split. But again, we feel it is important to give consumers that choice.” Sometimes choice isn’t a good thing when it isn’t done to serve consumers. And I think that’s what we have here. Consumers want choice, but not when it’s so easy for them to make bad choices. What consumers really want it convenience. It should just work and work well. This release method does not work for consumers.
The comment that they are sacrificing overall ranking is very true and makes this an even odder decision. Had they released a single application compatible with all devices and enhanced for the iPhone 4 they would have increased their rank in the top selling app lists by having all sales for a single application instead of two different apps. This is something that can lead to a waterfall effect — the higher up the top selling lists you are the more people see it and therefore the more that buy it.
iPhone 4 is not HD. And how about the odd choice to name the app with the HD tag? That’s something that has become the de-facto standard designation for iPad applications. (Even though none of the iOS devices are really HD resolution.) Adding that designation to an iPhone 4 only application is even more confusing. Perhaps EA know something we don’t know yet with the convergence of the iOS 4 for iPad and iPhone. Maybe that will lead to apps on the iPhone 4 and iPad being closer tied? I doubt that’s the reason. Probably just a inexperienced marketing person decided that was the best way to designate the special version. Bad choice.
Isn’t the Apple approval process supposed to stop bad developer moves like this? The question I keep coming back to is why would Apple let them do this? Why would Apple let EA fracture the App Store market further and confuse consumers by doing something like this — something that iTunes doesn’t fully support? I have to think that it’s a mistake or they are just testing the waters.
But isn’t this going to hurt Apple? One of the most appealing things about the iOS App Store is that once you purchase an app, it’s yours. You can install it on as many devices as you buy. When you upgrade your devices, the apps come with you. And traditionally, developers have updated applications for updates in hardware and new versions of the iPhone OS / iOS. This throws that practice up in the air. If I buy the NCAA Football for my iPhone 4, it won’t work on my iPad or iPod Touch. I have to either purchase the lower quality version which suffers on the iPhone 4, or purchase 2 versions. Neither option is good for consumers — both options are good for EA.
What is EA really doing by releasing NCAA Football like this? They are probably just testing the waters to see what direction the market will head and if consumers will be ok with this. I really hope it’s not their plan for future releases. And I hope that Apple will restrict any developer from doing this in the future. It hurts users which in turn hurts Apple hardware sales and in the end, all developers.
Are you for this method of app release? Against it? If you want to let EA know what you think of this decision, head on over to their Facebook page or Twitter stream and leave a message with your thoughts. And of course you are always welcome to leave a comment below.