So, the new iPhones have been announced and we’re all excited, right? Well, maybe not entirely. It’s a funny thing being a self-confessed fan of a company and its products. While I don’t see myself as a blind fan to Apple, over the years I’ve happily owned 2 iPads, 1 MacBook Pro, and 3 iPhones. I’ll no doubt end up with another iPhone at some point soon too, but that hasn’t stopped me from feeling a little disappointed by the news of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.
Much of it, I suspect, is down to wanting something life-changing again. The original iPhone, for me at least, was life-changing. Besides eventually leading me to a position where I’m writing this very article, it felt amazing to own one. The sheer potential of what I could do with it was amazing. I think every new iteration, I want that feeling again. Maybe I just expect too much.
As someone who prefers their phones smaller, I’m at a tricky crossroads. The iPhone 5 is big enough that it’s caused a permanent dent in my jeans’ pocket. Its camera is good enough that I’ve taken photos just as the sun is setting and it’s still somehow made it look like much earlier in the day. I do want the speed boost, though. I’m impatient. I like things to react as quickly as possible.
The other features? Not so much.
The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus are set to be thinner and offer a better HD display, which is great. It’s not a deal-breaker, though. I’ve got an iPad Mini Retina which covers that, if not quite as well.
Camera wise, things are looking better. At least when it comes to the iPhone 6 Plus’ optical image stabilization, which looks fantastic. The iPhone 6’s improvements, however, are good but not awe inspiring. I want something I can show off to others and they can immediately see the difference and think ‘wow, I want one of those’. It looks like I’ll have to go for a bigger phone in the form of the 6 Plus if I want that.
Touch ID and fingerprint technology is great, but much like the contactless payments via Apple Pay, it’s not something I can see myself using every day. It’s just a nice quirk. A little bit like Passbook.
The biggest delight to come from this for me is the battery life. My iPhone 5 needs charging every night now and was never great two years ago. It’ll be good to not be so reliant upon my charger again. Still though, where’s the wireless charging? Now that’d feel futuristic and it’d be so practical, too.
It’s a tough one to call. Besides better battery life and multi-user support (seriously, where is that? I want to be able to switch to a guest account, hand my phone to my young cousin, and not be worried that they’ll dig around in the wrong places), I’ll admit I can’t list a plethora of things I want to see in my phone – but then I never can. That’s why I don’t work in research and development. Those exciting changes are what I’ve enjoyed about new iPhones. Being told a new idea that’s made me think “I never thought of that. Awesome, I can’t wait.”
I’ll eagerly buy an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus at some point in the future because I want the speed boost, but I’ll be honest: what I really want is something that I can point out to folks and yell “See? See how awesome that is!” and I don’t feel like I’ve got that this time around. Instead, I’ve got steady but a little bit safe. Is it a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Maybe, but I’ve still got that itch for revolution rather than evolution.
Are you angry about the new Comixology app, which removes the ability to buy comics from inside the app itself? If so, you should be just as angry at Apple for their policies making such an absurd situation, where an app can offer the ability to consume the content it sells without actually selling it, as much as you are at Comixology/Amazon for inconveniencing you.
The economics for the change are clear: they were giving 30% of every sale to Apple, as per App Store policies. That’s the way it’s been since the App Store opened – every time money changes hands, Apple takes its 30% cut. When in-app purchases were introduced, Apple kept the rate per transaction the same: 30% on everything. Thus, when Comixology sold a comic for $3.99, they only got ~$2.80 from it, for a book they had to sell for the same price on their site, by Apple policies.
It’s likely that this 30% cut hurt Comixology’s bottom line – they are beholden to a number of outside forces and right holders for the comics they sell – and the move to Amazon apparently provided them the opportunity to change their selling model.
For years, Comixology’s Comics app was one of the top grossing apps on the App Store – especially on the iPad. Source: AppAnnie
So, that 30% fee on transactions that Apple takes is problematically high. Certainly, it can be justified for paid apps: Apple provides approval, storage, bandwidth, tax collection, and a variety of services beyond just taking the money, in order to justify taking such a cut of a developer’s revenue.
But for in-app purchases, Apple is serving as little more than a payment processor, though they do track whether non-consumable IAP is owned by the user. And 30% is exorbitantly high for payment processing. PayPal merchant fees are 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. Amazon charges the same for transactions $10 or above, with a 5% + $0.05 per order for smaller transactions. These aren’t counting the bulk volume discounts that these processors provide.
You could go to your local comics shop or to a vendor at a convention, and using a Square credit card reader, they can sell you that comic at a 2.75% per swipe fee. So what right does Apple have to be taking 30% on a similar transaction? I think they should be allowed to take a reasonable premium on top of payment processing for the App Store services they provide, but it’s clear that 30% is unreasonable, especially for low-margin fields like the sale of music, movies, and comic books.
And because Apple specifically restricts outside payment systems, there’s no recourse for anyone who wants to offer media or subscription services through an app but to not sell said services in the app itself. It’s why you can’t buy a Netflix, Spotify, or Dropbox subscription from inside their apps at all – because Apple can’t take their steep tax.
Apps like Kindle have to sidestep just why they can’t actually sell you books in the app itself
Why would Apple, a seemingly pro-consumer company in the way that they design their products to be easy to use, do this? Well, they’re not actually a pro-consumer company. They’re a pro-Apple-consumer company. Everything they do is designed explicitly to get you to stay with Apple products. Ever thought about getting an Android or Windows Phone but decided not to because you didn’t want to lose iMessage? Exactly.
Remember that Apple sells music, video, and books of their own (though not comics to the scale that Comixology does); they have a weighted incentive to make it hard for outside sources to provide them on the App Store unless they pay the exorbitant 30% fee. And when people are inconvenienced by app makers because of Apple’s policies they get mad at the app maker, not Apple, which has to cause a chill to run up the spine of anyone struggling with a similar decision as Comixology.
The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Google has a similar setup with in-app purchases where they take 30% of every transaction, but they provide alternatives. Specifically, they have a policy that enables Comixology to still sell comics through their app through their own payment system: “Developers offering additional content, services or functionality within another category of app downloaded from Google Play must use Google Play’s in-app billing service as the method of payment, except: where payment is for digital content or goods that may be consumed outside of the app itself (e.g., buying songs that can be played on other music players).”
Thus, Android Comixology users can still buy comics through the app. Those who relied on Google Play credit to buy books will find themselves out of luck. Of course, Google doesn’t have a monopoly over content distribution or an interest on keeping people as tied to Google Play and their own services, but it’s still a better way to operate than the monopolistic way that Apple does. The 30% payment processor fee for in-app purchases is still on the exorbitant side, but the nature of it is a lot more fair.
So, what Apple ultimately has is a situation that’s meant to give off the illusion of consumer-friendliness by making it only possible to spend money through iTunes accounts, when it really restricts the freedom that people have to get the content they want, where they want it from.
If a solution that’s actually friendly to users (and not just to those who buy in to the Apple system) is to happen, it’s going to require public pressure. They could enact the exact same policy that Google Play has, for one. This same policy is the one that allows Starbucks to allow for store credit refills through direct credit card or PayPal payments. It just needs to be expanded to cross-platform media so that users don’t get left out in the cold, or compelled to buy from Apple’s stores. Give them actual choice.
Or Apple needs to make their tax on in-app purchases – these purely digital transactions – a smaller fee, in order for it to be viable for sellers in high-margin transactions involving media. Somewhere from 5 to 10% may be more reasonable than the current 30%. Whatever the solution I believe change needs to happen, because right now, the ultimate loser from Apple policies are ordinary people who have had convenience taken away from them because of corporate politics.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2014-04-27 :: Category: Books
iOS 7 is a great update to Apple’s venerable OS. Not only does the visual overhaul bring a fresh take to the experience, but there’s lots of great little tweaks that just make the experience better. Heck, the ability to add Newsstand to its own folder is worth the download and installation on its own. But iOS 7 is not perfect: here are some things that could be added to the OS to make it better.
Better game save management
If Apple wants to make sure that iOS is a great gaming platform, they need to ensure that gamers can ensure that their progress in games can be preserved and transferred across devices. iCloud is so fraught with reliability problems that developers still dread using it. Finding a way to separate out a game’s save data from it being deleted would be a killer feature for iOS 8, especially since games with large file sizes and the longest experiences are the first to go when space needs to be freed up.
The return of quick tweet and Facebook posting buttons
Conspicuously missing from iOS 7 is the ability to tweet and post to Facebook from Notification Center. They weren’t a primary way to share things, but to share while in another app or to just quickly fire off a tweet, the feature was great. Unfortunately it’s been cut down in the first release of iOS 7, when improvements like image posting would have been great.
Say what you will about Android, but the ability to immediately reply to a text message or a tweet, or archive an unwanted email without switching apps is great. iOS could really use such a feature – it’s the kind of multitasking that’s non-intrusive and incredibly useful.
The ability to set third-party apps as default
If I want to open links in a third-party browser, use the built-in email sending feature to send from my email app of choice, or even just use a third-party photo management app, why can’t I? Apple’s own apps are generally very good, but third-parties who focus on certain features can often do better. Apple should allow users to set third-party apps to achieve certain actions, instead of still having to use awkward workarounds.
Custom notification sound options for all apps
Some apps still think that it’s okay to use the default notification sound. Some apps use custom sounds, and choose poorly. Yes, that car engine revving sounds cool but it also freaks me out. iOS manages notifications centrally, so why not have the ability to set custom sounds like I can with ringtones?
These are just a few of the features that could make the iOS experience better. Considering how iOS 7 was all about doing just that, I think there’s still a bit of a ways to go before it’s fully there.
Continue reading iOS 7: How Could Apple Improve It? »
Not all games can be winners, and not all the games we review on 148Apps will receive high marks. But the amazing thing about the App Store and mobile game development in general is that there’s always a second (or even a third) chance. Content updates allow developers to address complaints or perceived issues fairly quickly and have the potential to completely turn a game around.
Which is why we’ve decided to take a look at some previously reviewed titles that didn’t go over so well the first time. Each one has been tweaked at least once since we wrote about it and we wanted to see how they might hold up now. Have they been significantly improved or are they only marginally better? Were major issues resolved or are they still dragging the entire experience down?
Lets take a look and see, then.
Original Review Score – 2.5
Reviewer – Bonnie Eisenman
Known Issues – Severe performance problems including lag and crashing, control issues due to said lag.
Updates – Performance greatly improved with no discernable lag and no crashing, also resulting in improved control.
I like weird stuff like Puzzle Planets, but even I found it to be tough to play, originally. Thankfully, the game-breaking problems that kept Bonnie from enjoying it at launch have been addressed. And it’s all the better for it.
In my time spent building several alien worlds, I’ve never once had it crash on me, and being able to enjoy an iOS game uninterrupted is pretty important. More than that, however, the lag also seems to have disappeared, which makes it much easier to simply enjoy the game itself. All the planet rotating, pinching to form mountains, reverse-pinching to create fissures, and tapping to create volcanoes, as well as spinning the planet around in order to soak up water and distribute it to the barren land masses to create life all perform smoothly and create a kind of zen-like trance after a few rounds. I’ll certainly admit that it would be nice to have more than 15 planets to mess around with, possibly with some distinct characteristics rather than everything looking like “Earth 2.0,” but that doesn’t keep the somewhat simple time-based puzzles from being fun (and looking great) while they last.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-03-18 :: Category: Games
Minecraft – Pocket Edition
Original Review Score – 2.5
Reviewer – Rob Thomas
Known Issues – Virtually none of the features that made the PC version so notable, a complete lack of survival mode, barely any blocks to play with, super-tiny worlds.
Updates – Survival Mode, crafting, armor, mobs, a lot more blocks.
Now this is a game I did check out as soon as it was released onto the App Store. And, just like Rob T. (yes, we have a lot of Robs here), I thought it was a colossal disappointment. Nothing but a simplified Creative Mode with an extremely limited block selection. To call it a mere shadow of its older brother on PC would be a massive understatement. However, Mojang made good on its promise of constant updates, and the game has seen a slew of improvements ever since.
To be fair, this still isn’t a 1:1, pocket-sized version of the PC game. Heck, it’s still technically alpha status at the moment. Even so, this month’s update has brought it much closer. New blocks have made it in, sand and gravel are finally affected by gravity, armor can be crafted now, baby animals will appear, and so on. As I’ve said, it’s not PC Minecraft on iOS, but it’s certainly close enough to make me happy. Heck, in some ways I actually prefer it to the original because I can play it anywhere at any time, and it utilizes a much friendlier crafting system that does away with tile placement and simply shows what can be made outright. If it weren’t for the absence of a few features I’d even call it the best version to own. Even so, it’s a fantastic companion to the indie juggernaut Notch started to build all those years ago.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-11-17 :: Category: Games
The Simpsons: Tapped Out
Original Review Score – 2.0
Reviewer – Brad Hilderbrand
Known Issues – Absurdly long real time requirements for performing tasks, an almost unnecessary reliance on premium currency.
Updates – Improved server stability, special holiday events.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is another game that I myself didn’t play around with until recently. It’s also a bit more complicated of a comparison than the other three games on this list in that virtually none of the issues mentioned in Brad’s review have been addressed. Instead, the real difference is having another perspective.
First I’d like to say that I 100% respect Brad’s opinion on the matter and can totally see where he’s coming from. This game takes time to play. Lots and lots of time. More so than the average freemium title, it seems. However, I don’t necessarily view that as a “bad” thing. The very nature of many free-to-play games makes them ideal for playing in small increments, and that’s no different here. Sure we have to wait 24 hours while Lisa does all of her homework for the week but when factoring in all the other characters that can be acquired and given tasks to complete it doesn’t seem so bad. I’d consider it ideal, actually, since it means I can fiddle with my own personal Springfield, go off and do whatever my day demands, then check back in on occasion. I can’t claim that the game has been “improved” at all in the past year, but I don’t personally think it really needed to be. It’s Springfield in my pocket, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-03-01 :: Category: Games
Static Quest: The Delivery
Original Review Score – 2.5
Reviewer – Ray Willmott
Known Issues – Lackluster freemium mechanics that practically force players to pay in order to progress, overly simple gameplay, no staying power.
Updates – Bug fixes for late-game content.
Based on what I’ve read in Ray’s review, I’m willing to chalk this one up to a fairly drastic difference of opinion. Again, I wholly respect Ray’s views and opinions but mine are almost a complete 180 from his.
It’s true that Static Quest: The Delivery is incredibly basic in its “tap either side of the screen” mechanics. However those same mechanics are what make it ideal for quick mobile play sessions. It’s super easy to start up a game for a minute then put it down just as quickly, and with all the various weapons to unlock and upgrade there’s always something to strive for. I’m also rather fond of the retro pixel visuals (as per usual) but I found the special costumes associated with each weapon to be the real treat. I can totally get behind a game that makes the main character look like Ezio from Assassin’s Creed 2 (and up) when he uses a dagger, or like Robin Hood when he equips a bow and arrow. The fact that it’s actually quite fun to play doesn’t hurt, either.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-06-28 :: Category: Games
Posted by Jeff Scott
on February 7th, 2013
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
Seesaw is a new type of social network app. It lets you pose a question to your friends and get their opinion back. For instance, should I order an IPA or a Double IPA? Or should I go to Hawaii or Cancun? You can use it for serious questions, or just for fun. Asking “does this dress make my butt look big?” is not suggested though. You might get the truth.
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.