There’s no question that Microsoft’s attempt at the tablet market has been lacklustre. Whilst the hardware they have powering their tablets was decent the nascent Windows Store lacks the diversity of its competitors, something which made the RT version of it even less desirable. This has since resulted in Microsoft writing down $900 million in Surface RT and associated inventory something which many speculated would be the end of the Surface line. However it appears that Microsoft is more committed than ever to the Surface idea and recently announced the Surface 2, an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor.
The new Surface 2 looks pretty much identical to predecessor although it’s a bit slimmer and is also a bit lighter. It retains the in built kick stand but it now has 2 positions instead of one something which I’m will be useful to some. The specifications under the hood have been significantly revamped for both versions of the tablet with the RT (although it’s no longer called that) version sporting a NVIDIA Tegra 4 and the Pro one of the new Haswell i5 chips. Microsoft will also now let you choose how much RAM you get in your Pro model, allowing you to cram up to 8GB in there. The Pro also gets the luxury of larger drive sizes, up to 512GB should you want it (although you’ll be forced to get the 8GB RAM model if you do). Overall I’d say this is pretty much what you’d expect from a generation 2 product and the Pro at least looks like it could be a decent laptop competitor.
Of course the issues that led Microsoft to write down nearly a billion dollars worth of inventory (after attempting to peddle as much of it as they could to TechEd attendees) still exist today and the upgrade to Windows 8.1 won’t do much to solve this. Sure in the time between the initial Surface release and now there’s been a decent amount of applications developed for it but it still pales in comparison. I still think that the Metro interface is pretty decent on a touch screen but Microsoft will really have to do something outrageous to convince everyone that the Surface is worth buying otherwise it’s doomed to repeat its predecessor’s mistakes.
The Pro on the other hand looks like it’d be a pretty great enterprise tablet thanks to its full x86 environment. I know I’d much rather have those in my environment than Android or iPads as they would be much harder to integrate into all the standard management tools. A Surface 2 Pro on the other hand would behave much like any other desktop allowing me to deliver the full experience to anyone who had one. Of course it’s then more of a replacement for a laptop than anything else but I do know a lot of users who would prefer a tablet device rather than the current fleet of laptops they’re given (even the ones who get ultrabooks).
Whilst the Pro looks like a solid upgrade I can’t help but feel that the upgrade to the RT is almost unnecessary given the fact that most of the complaints levelled at it were nothing to do with its performance. Indeed not once have I found myself wanting for speed on my Surface RT, instead I’ve been wanting my favourite apps to come across so that I don’t have to use their web versions which, on Internet Explorer, typically aren’t great. Maybe the ecosystem is mature enough now to tempt some people across but honestly unless they already own one I can’t really see that happening, at least for the RT version. The Pro on the other hand could make some headway into Microsoft’s core enterprise market but even that might not be enough for the Surface division.
The primary driver for any company, whether they’re bound to the public via the whims or the stock market or not, is to create value and wealth for its various stakeholders. There’s not many companies that do that as well as Valve who’s profit per employee is among the highest in any industry and an order of magnitude above all its competitors. This is almost wholly due to their domination of the digital distribution market but their innovative use of Free to Play for their flagship games has certainly contributed to that as well. Of course the question on everyone’s minds is where Valve will go from here and their latest announcement, which I speculated about last year, seems to be their answer.
Today Valve announced SteamOS, essentially a Linux environment that’s geared towards playing games. There’s also a number of additional features that will be made available with its release including the also recently announced Family Sharing program which allows you to share your steam library with others. Whilst this isn’t the SteamBox that many were anticipating it’s essentially Valve’s console launch as they’ve stated numerous times in the past that anyone would be able to build their own SteamBox and SteamOS would be the basis for that. What the SteamOS actually entails, in terms of functionality and look/feel, remains to be seen but the launch site promises it will be available soon.
SteamOS comes off the back of Valve’s substantial amount of work on the Linux platform with a decent chunk of the Steam library now available on the platform. If we take Gabe’s word for it much of this was driven by the fact that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for gaming, something which I don’t agree with, and Valve sees their future being the Linux platform. Whilst it’s admirable that they’re investing a lot in a platform that’s traditionally been a tiny sliver of the PC gaming market the decision to use Linux is, in my opinion, more likely profit driven than anything else as it gets them a foothold in an area where they don’t current have any: the home living room.
Big Picture mode was their first attempt at this which was pretty squarely aimed at replicating the console experience using the Steam platform. However since most people run their games on a PC dedicated to such activities this would mean that Steam’s penetration in the living room was minimal. The SteamOS, and by extension the SteamBox, is a more targeted attempt to break into this area with it’s additional media features and family friendly control options. I don’t begrudge them for this, the sole reason companies exist is to generate profit, however some seem to think Valve’s moves towards Linux are purely altruistic when I can assure you they’re anything but.
Of course the biggest factor that will determine the success or failure of this platform will be whether or not the big developers and publishers see the SteamOS as a viable platform to develop for. As many are speculating Valve could do this by drastically reducing their cut of sales on the platform, something which would go a long way to making developing for Linux viable. I don’t think Valve needs to do a whole lot to attract indie developers to it as many of the frameworks they use already natively support Linux (even XNA does through some 3rd party tools) and as the Humble Indie Bundle has shown there’s definitely enough demand to make it attractive for them.
If any other company attempted to do this I’d say they were doomed to fail but Valve has the capital and captive market to make this idea viable. I’m sure it will see a decent adoption rate just out of pure curiosity (indeed I’ll probably install it just to check it out) and that could be enough to give it the critical mass needed to see adoption rates sky rocket. Whether or not those numbers will be big enough to convince the developers and publishers to get on board though will be something that will play out over the next couple years and will ultimately be the deciding factor in the platform’s success or failure.
I haven’t been an iPhone user for many years now, my iPhone 3GS sitting disused in the drawer beside me ever since it was replaced, mostly because the alternatives presented by other companies have, in my opinion, outclassed them for a long time. This is not to say that I think everything else should replace their phone with a Xperia Z, that particular phone is definitely not for everyone, as I realise that the iPhone fills a need for many people. Indeed it’s the phone I usually recommend to my less technically inclined friends and family members because I know that they have a support system tailored towards them (meaning they’ll bug me less). So whilst today’s announcement of the new models won’t have me opening up my wallet anytime soon it is something I feel I need to be aware of, if only for the small thrill I get for being critical of an Apple product.
So as many had speculated Apple announced 2 new iPhones today: the iPhone 5C which is essentially the entry level model and the iPhone 5S which is the top of the line one with all the latest and greatest features. The most interesting different between the two is the radical difference in design with the 5C looking more like a kids toy with its pastel style colours and the 5S looking distinctly more adult with it’s muted tones of silver, grey and gold. As expected the 5C is the cheaper of the two with the base model starting from AUD$739 and the 5S AUD$869 with the prices ramping up steadily depending on how much storage you want.
The 5C is interesting because everyone was expecting a budget iPhone to come out and Apple’s response is clearly not what most people had in mind. Sure it’s the cheapest model of the lot (bar the Phone 4S) but should you want to upgrade the storage you’re already paying the same amount as the entry level 5S. The difference in features as well are also pretty minimal with the exceptions being an A6 vs A7 processor, slightly bulkier dimensions, new fandangled fingerprint home button and a slightly better camera. Of course those slight differences are usually enough to push any potential iPhone buyer to the higher end model so the question then becomes: who is the 5C marketed towards?
It’s certainly not at the low end of the market, as most people were expecting, even though it looks the part with its all plastic finish (which we haven’t seen since I last used an iPhone). It might appeal to those who like those particular colours although realistically I can’t see that being much of a draw card considering you can buy any colour case for $10 these days. Indeed even when you factor in the typical on contract price for a new iPhone (~$200) the difference between an entry level 5C and 5S is so small that most would likely dole out the extra cash just to have the better version, especially considering how visually different they are.
Another thing running against the 5C is that the 5S shares the same dimensions as the original iPhone 5 allowing you to use all your old cases and accessories with it. I know this won’t be a dealbreaker for many but it seems obvious that the 5S is aimed at people coming from the iPhone 5 whereas the 5C doesn’t appear to have any particular market in mind that necessitates its differences. If this was Apple’s attempt to try and claw back some of the market that Android has been happily dominating then I can help but feel it’s completely misguided. Then again I lost my desire for Apple products years ago so I might be missing out on what the appeal of a gimped, not-really-budget Apple handset might be.
The iPhone 5S does look like a decent phone sporting most of the features you’d expect from a current generation smart phone. NFC is still missing which, if I’m honest, isn’t as big of a deal as I used to make it out to be as I’ve now got a NFC phone and I can’t use it for jack so I don’t count it as downer anymore. As always though the price of a comparable Android handset to what you get from Apple is a big sore point with the top of the line model topping out at an incredible AUD$1129. I know Apple is a premium brand but when the price difference between the high and low end is $260 and the only difference is storage you really have to ask if its worth it, especially when comparable Android phones will have the same level of features and will be cheaper (my 16GB Xperia Z was $768 for reference).
I will be really interested to see how the 5C pans out as many are billing it as the “budget” iPhone that everyone was after when in truth it’s anything but that. The 5S is your typical product refresh cycle from Apple, bringing in a few new cool things but nothing particularly revolutionary. Of course you should consider everything I’ve said through the eyes of a long time Android user and lover as whilst I’ve owned an iPhone before it’s been so long between drinks that I can barely remember the experience anymore. Still I’m sure at least the 5S will do well in the marketplace as all the flagship Apple phones do.
This year was already shaping up to be a great run for gamers, what with all the new IP heading our way and multiple high quality sequels, and the next console generation will likely be upon us before the year is out. Had you asked me last year what my predictions were I would’ve told you that we’d be lucky to see the next generation Xbox this year and it was far more likely that we’d see both of them sometime in 2014. I’m quite glad to be wrong in this instance however as whilst I might still be primarily a PC gamer I grew up on consoles and will always have a soft spot for them.
Today Microsoft officially announced their successor to the Xbox360: the XboxOne. If you’ve been following the rumours and leaks like I have there’s nothing too much surprising about the console itself as it sports the exact specs that have been floating around for a while. However there are still a few surprises from Microsoft’s next generation console and the launch event clarified some of the more controversial rumours that had been flying around. Suffice to say that Sony and Microsoft have very different audiences in mind for their next gen offerings, meaning that the choice between the two might no longer be based on platform exclusives alone.
Whilst I won’t go over the hardware specifications as they’re near identical to that of the PS4 (although I can’t find a confirmation of DDR3 vs GDDR5) there were a couple surprises under the hood of the XboxOne. For starters it’s sporting a BluRay drive which was kind of expected but still up in the air thanks to Microsoft initially throwing its support behind HDDVD, giving a little credence to the rumour that they wouldn’t incorporate it into their next gen offering. It also brings with it a HDMI in port, allowing those with set top boxes to run their TV through it. Whilst that doesn’t sound like much it’s telling of the larger strategy that Microsoft has at play here: they’re marketing the XboxOne as much more than a games console.
Indeed all the other features that they’ve included, like Snap Mode and the upgrades to their SmartGlass app, are all heavily focused on media consumption and making the XboxOne the central point of your home entertainment setup. Considering that current generation Xboxs are used to watch media more than they are to play games this change in direction is not surprising however it could alienate some of the more hardcore games fans. It seems Sony was well aware of this as their launch focused far more heavily on the gaming experience that their console could deliver rather than its additional media capabilities. The delineation then seems clear: if you want a gaming machine go for the PS4, but for everyone else there’s XboxOne.
The Xbox had always been Microsoft’s last piece in the Three Screens puzzle and it appears that the XboxOne will in fact be running a version of windows under the hood. In fact it’s running 3 different operating systems: Windows 8/RT, a second Xbox OS that’ll remain largely static (for developers) and the third layer sounds more like a hypervisor, managing access to resources for the 2 main operating systems. I speculated last year that Microsoft would be looking to bring WinRT to the next gen Xbox and that appears to be the case although how much of the functionality is directly compatible is still up for question as Microsoft has stated that you’ll “need to do some work” to port them across.
Unfortunately it does look like Microsoft wants to take an axe to the second hand games market as whilst the rumours of it needing to be always online have turned out to be false (although games can make use of Azure Cloud Gaming services which would require an online connection) installing a game to a hard drive locks it to that particular Xbox account, requiring a fee to do it on another. Whether or not you can play games without installing them is still up for debate however and the answer to that will make or break the second hand games market.
Additionally there’s going to be no backwards compatibility to speak of, save for transferring of licenses for media and your gamer score. Whilst this was not unexpected this combined with the lack of a second hand games market might be a dealbreaker for some. Whether this will push more people to Sony remains to be seen though as whilst they’ve alluded to backwards compatibility possibly coming via some kind of cloud gaming service that won’t be something former Xboxers will care about. It’s far more likely that the decision will be made on what the console will primarily be used for: gaming or media.
I’ve been something of a stalwart “buy all the things” consumer ever since I had a job that would allow me to do this but with the announcement of XboxOne I’m not sure if that will be the case anymore. I say this because I believe that the vast majority of titles will be cross platform, thanks to the x86 architecture, and as of yet there hasn’t been any compelling exclusives announced for either platform that would draw me to it. The Xbox360 landed a purchase solely for Mass Effect but I get the feeling that we won’t see another title that’s bound to a single platform like that again. With that in mind it’s highly likely that my current console collection will be slimmed down to one, and the last man standing will be the PS4.
I would love to be convinced otherwise though, Microsoft.
There’s only one thing that I don’t like about my little 60D and that’s the fact that it’s not a full frame camera. For the uninitiated this means that the sensor contained within the camera, the thing that actually records the image, is smaller than the standard 35mm size which was prevalent during the film days. This means that in comparison to its bigger brothers in more serious cameras there are some trade offs made, most done in the name of reducing cost. Indeed for comparison a full framed camera would be over double the price I paid for my 60D and would actually lack some of the features that I considered useful (like the screen that swings out). The rumour mill has been churning for quite a while that Canon would eventually release an affordable full frame DSLR at this year’s Photokina and the prospect really excited me, even if my 60D is still only months old at this point.
News broke late yesterday that yes the rumours were true and Canon was releasing a new camera called the EOS 6D which was in essence a full frame camera for the masses. The nomenclature would have you believe that it was in fact a full frame upgrade for the 60D, something that was widely rumoured to be the case, but diving into the specifications reveals that it shares a lot more with the 5D lineage than it does with its prosumer cousin. This doesn’t mean the camera is more focused on the professional field, indeed the inclusion of things like wifi and GPS are usually considered to be conusmer features (I’ve had them in my Sony pocket cam for years, for example), but if I’m honest the picture I built up of the new camera in my head doesn’t exactly align with what Canon has revealed and that’s left me somewhat disappointed.
Before I get into that though let me list off the things that are really quite awesome about the 6D. The full frame sensor in a camera that will cost $2099 is pretty damn phenomenal even if that’s still well out of the range of the people buying in the 60D range. It’s actually the cheapest full frame DSLR available (even the Sony fixed lens full frame is $700 more) and that in itself is an achievement worth celebrating. All the benefits of the bigger sensor are a given (better low light performance, crazy ISOs and better resolution) and the addition of WiFi and GPS means that the 6D is definitely one of the most feature packed cameras Canon has ever released. Still it’s the omission of certain features and reduction in others that’s left me wondering if it’s worth me upgrading to it.
For starters there’s the lack of an articulated screen. It sounds like a small thing as there are external monitor solutions that would get me similar functionality but I’ve found that little flip out screen on my 60D so damn useful that it pains me to give it up. The reasons behind its absence are sound though as they want to make the 6D one of their more sturdier cameras (it’s fully weather sealed as well) and an articulated screen is arguably working against them in that regard.
There’s also the auto-focus system which only comes with 11 focus points of which only 1 is cross type. This is a pretty significant step down from the 60D and coming from someone who struggled with their 400D’s lackluster autofocus system I can’t really see myself wanting to go back to that. It could very well be fine but on paper it doesn’t make me want to throw my money recklessly in Canon’s direction like I did with all the rumours leading up to this point.
One thing could sway me and that would be if MagicLatern made its way onto the 6D platform. The amount of features you unlock by running this software is simply incredible and whilst it won’t fix the 2 things that have failed to impress me it would make the 6D much more palatable for me. Considering that the team behind it just managed to get their software working on the ever elusive 7D there’s a good chance of it happening and I’ll have to see how I feel about the 6D after that happens.
Realistically the disappointment I’m feeling is my fault. I broke my rule about avoiding the hype and built up an image of the product that had no basis in reality. When it didn’t match those expectations exactly I was, of course, let down and there’s really nothing Canon could have done to prevent that. Maybe as time goes on the idea of the 6D will grow on me a bit more and then after another red wine filled night you might see another vague tweet that indicates I’ve changed my mind.
Time to restock the wine rack, methinks.
It wasn’t long ago that I got nerd chills from the speculative specifications of Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S3. I think that was mostly due to the micro arc oxidation video that someone had linked to when it was speculated that the case would be some form of ceramic. The specifications were also none too shabby either although I was curious as to how Samsung was going to squeeze in such a massive display yet still keep the trim and taught design philosophy that has been a signature of the Galaxy series. After a torrent of leaks, rabid speculation and uncertainty about the actual announcement date Samsung has finally announced the Galaxy S3 at the Mobile Unpacked event in London.
I’ll have to be honest at first glance I wasn’t really thrilled with the design of the new Galaxy S3. I mean it’s not exactly ugly, the minimalistic front panel is in essence the same as nearly all its predecessors, but the softer, more rounded edges are a step away from the much sharper corners of its predecessor. The glossy back plate is also something I’m not entirely in love with either as the textured back of the S2 is something I’ve come to appreciate after using it for an extended period of time. Apart from those two complaints though I’ve got a feeling it will be a very nice handset to use, being only slightly thicker than the S2 (8.6mm vs 8.49mm) with another half an inch of screen size that boasts a much higher resolution.
Spec wise the Galaxy S3 is a pretty large jump up from the S2 in nearly every aspect. The dual core 1.2GHz Exynos processor has been replaced with a quad core 1.4GHz giving the S3 an incredible amount of computing power. The graphics card stays the same in name only as whilst Samsung isn’t releasing anything official on it yet some early benchmarks show that its easily beating out its predecessor by a wide margin and even takes the top spot in a number of tests. The most noticeable improvement though is of course the giant Super AMOLED screen that’s 4.8 inches across and is packing a resolution of 1280 x 720 (720p). Strangely though the RAM and cameras both remain the same as the predecessor so I’m guessing both of them classified as good enough and weren’t in need of any physical improvements.
Whilst the hardware is impressive it’s quite obvious that it was not the major focus of Samsung’s announcement; that honor belongs to the software.
The Galaxy S3 comes loaded with Android 4.0.4 that’s been modified with Samsung’s usual TouchWiz interface. Now I was a fan of that in the beginning, it definitely eased my transition into the Android world coming from an iPhone, but the stock ICS experience is very good so Samsung has their work cut out for them when it comes to improving on that. From what I’ve seen so far they’ve deviated heavily from the stock interface I assume mostly to enable the additional features they’ve integrated but I’ll guess I should wait and see them for myself before I pass judgement on them.
From a usability perspective Samsung has added in a few features that will make the phone much more user friendly. “Smart Stay” will recognize when you’re looking at the phone and adjust the brightness accordingly. This is similar to the auto-dimming feature on other phones but this goes a step further by looking for your face so it knows when you’ve put the phone down. Samsung has also duplicated Apple’s Siri in what they’re calling “S Voice” but has gone deeper with the platform integration, enabling you to do things like say “snooze” to delay an alarm. Finally “Smart Alert” (everything of theirs is smart apparently) will recognize when you’ve missed a call and have picked up the phone since, vibrating and putting the alerts front and center.
Samsung is also trying to make sharing between S3′s and other devices easier through their S Beam app which builds on the Android Beam present in ICS. In essence its a high speed data transfer program that works between Galaxy S3 handsets, utilizing both WiFi and NFC to get some pretty decent speeds (5MB/s from what Samsung tells us). Their AllShare Cast and AllShare Play features are also quite interesting allowing S3 owners to share video simultaneously between them or even wirelessly transmit their screen (usually a game) to say the lounge room TV. Whether those two features will prove useful however is something I’m not entirely sure about, but it is a rather novel little feature to include with the new handset.
Is this handset enough to tempt current S2 owners to pony up for the latest handset? Hard to say, I’m still only 9 months into owning mine and whilst I do have a serious amount of nerd lust for the specs of the S3 I’m not 100% sold on it yet. The heavy focus on the software is probably what is making me hesitant as whilst I found TouchWiz to be great for an iPhone user coming across to Android land I’ve since fallen in love with the stock ICS experience. I have no doubt that the people over xda-developers will eventually make a ROM that contains the best of both worlds so I can have my cake and eat it too but then again I’m not your typical Samsung user. In that regard then I think that the S3 will have more than enough to tempt current owners across, and I’m probably just talking tough right now in order to keep up some blog cred
Well another year has gone by since my last post on the iPad so that must mean its time for Apple to release another one. The tech media has been all abuzz about what Apple had in store for us today (like there was any doubt) ever since Apple sent out invites to the event that, as of writing, is still taking place. Speculation has been running rampant as to what will be included in the next version and what will be left by the wayside. Not wanting to disappoint their fans Apple has announced the next version of the iPad (strangely bereft of any nomenclature denoting its version) and it’s pretty much met expectations.
Usually I’d chuck a photo of the device up here for good measure but the new iPad is basically identical to the last one as far as looks go, being only slightly thicker and heavier than its predecessor. Honestly there’s little room for innovation in looks as far as tablets go, just look at any other tablet for comparison, so it’s no surprise that Apple has decided to continue with the same original design. Of course this might come to the dismay of Apple fans out there, but there’s at least one defining feature that will visually set the new iPad apart from its predecessors.
That feature is the screen.
If you cast your mind back a year (or just read the first linked post) you’ll notice that rumours of a retina level screen for the iPad have been circulating around for quite some time. At the time many commented that such a resolution would be quite ludicrous, like near the resolution of Apple’s 30″ cinema dislpays kind of ludicrous. Sure enough the now current generation of iPad sports a 2048 by 1536 resolution display which gives it a PPIof 264, double that of the iPad 2. Whilst everyone is calling this a “retina” level display its actually far from it as the screen in the iPhone 4s sports 326 PPI or about 20% more pixels. The display will still look quite incredible, hell even monitors with a lower resolution and an order of magnitude more size manage to look great, but calling it a retina display is at best disingenuous.
Of course to power that monster of a screen Apple has had to upgrade the processor. The new chip is dubbed the A5X and sports a dual core general CPU and a quad core graphics chip. As always Apple is keeping the gritty details a closely guarded secret but it’s safe to assume that it sports a faster clock rate and has more integrated RAM than its predecessor. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something along the lines of 1.2GHz with 1024MB of RAM as that would put it on par with many other devices currently on the market. We’ll have to wait for the tear downs to know for sure though.
Apart from that there’s little more that’s changed with the new iPad. The camera is slightly better being able to take 5MP stills and film 1080p video. Whilst you won’t find Siri on this yet you will now be given the option of doing speech-to-text on the iPad. That’s pretty much it for what’s new with the iPad and whilst I wouldn’t think that’d be a compelling reason to upgrade from the 2 I’m sure there will be many who do exactly that.
I’ll be honest with you, I’ve been eyeing off an iPad for quite some time now. I had had my eye on many an Android tablet for a while but the fact remains that the iPad has the greatest tablet ecosystem and for the use cases I have in mind (read: mostly gaming) there’s really no competition. The new iPad then, whilst not being worth the upgrade in my opinion, has reached a feature level where it represents good value for those looking to enter into the tablet market. If you’re just looking for a general tablet however there are many other options which would provide far more value, bar the insanely high resolution screen.
Apple’s yearly release schedule seems to be doing wonders for them and the new iPad will not likely be an exception to that. Past the screen and new processor there’s really nothing new about the now current generation iPad but I can see many people justifying their purchase based on those two things alone. The really interesting thing to watch from now will be how Apple goes about developing their ecosystem as whilst the iPad can boast the best tablet experience Google’s not too far behind, just waiting for the chance at the crown.
I’ve been a Nintendo fan for well over 2 decades now, my first experiences with them dating all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System which I believe is still in a functioning state in a closet out at my parent’s place. I have to admit though they kind of lost me when they released the Game Cube as by then I was hooked on my shiny new PlayStation and there weren’t any games on the Game Cube that appealed to me as a burgeoning hardcore gamer. That trend continued for a long time until my then housemate bought a Wii on the release date but even then I didn’t really play it that much, instead favoring my PS3 and Xbox360. Indeed the Wii I got using some credit card reward points has been mostly unused since we got it, even though I thought there were a couple games on it I was “dying” to try.
For what its worth it’s not really Nintendo’s fault that I haven’t really been a massive user of their last 2 generations of platforms, they made it clear that they were hunting for a different market and I wasn’t in it. Sure there were some nostalgia titles that tugged on my heart and wallet (Zelda and Mario, of course) but they weren’t enough for me to make the leap and I’ve stuck to my other staples ever since. Nintendo had firmly cemented themselves as the game console for people who don’t identify as gamers, broadening their market to unprecedented levels but also alienating the crowd who grew up with them to become today’s grown up gamers. At the time it was a trade off Nintendo appeared happy to make but recent announcements show that they may be thinking otherwise.
Nintendo recently announced the console that is to be the successor to the Wii which has been worked on under the title of Project Cafe and will be officially known as the Wii U. The console itself looks very similar to its predecessor, sporting the same overall layout whilst being a little bit bigger and preferring a rounder shape to the Wii’s highly angular design. Nintendo is also pairing the new console with another new accessory, a controller that comes with an embedded touch screen. At first it looks completely ludicrous, especially if you take into consideration that the Wii’s trademark was motion controlled games. After reading a bit more about it however it appears that this tablet-esque controller will function more like an augmentation to games rather than being the primary method of control, with the Wii nun-chucks still being used for games that rely on motion control.
The console itself is shaping up to be no slouch either, eschewing Nintendo’s trend of making under powered consoles in favor of one that is capable of producing full 1080p HD content. Whilst the official specifications for the Wii U aren’t released yet the demonstrations of the release titles for the console do not suffer from the low polygon counts of previous Wii titles with the demos looking quite stunning. With enough grunt under the hood of the Wii U Nintendo could also be making a play for the media extender market as well, something Microsoft and Sony have covered off well in the past. Couple that with a controller that would make one nice HTPC remote and I’m almost sold on the idea, but that’s not the reason why I’m tentatively excited about what the Wii U signals for Nintendo.
Nintendo has said during the E3 conference that they believe their new console will target a much broader audience than that of the Xbox or PlayStation, which taken on face value doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Wii sales numbers speak for themselves as both gamers and non-gamers alike bought the Wii and it outsold its competitors by a large margin, so if Nintendo can continue the trend with the Wii U it will be obvious that they’ll hit a broader market. However the announcement of the Wii U also came a video showing launch titles, many of which would have never previously made it to Nintendo’s console. It looks like Nintendo is trying to lure back the hardcore gaming crowd that it shunned when it re-imagined itself and that makes a long time fan like myself very happy indeed.
Of course the proof will be in the putting for the Nintendo Wii U and with the console not scheduled for release until sometime in 2012 we’ll be waiting a while before we can judge their attempt to claw back that niche that has slipped away from them. Whilst my Wii may sit next to my TV feeling woefully underused I get the feeling that its successor might not suffer the same fate and I’m excited at the possibility of Nintendo coming full circle and embracing those gamers who grew up with them. The possibility of it being a little media power house is just the icing on the cake, even if I might only end up using the controller through Bluetooth on my media PC.
So here we are 1 year and 1 month after the initial release of the iPad and Apple has, to no one’s surprise, release the newest version of their product the iPad 2. As anyone who knows me will tell you there’s no love lost between me and Apple’s “magical” device that filled a need where there wasn’t one but I can’t argue that it’s been quite successful for Apple and they arguably brought tablets into the mainstream. Still Apple has a habit of coming late to the party with features that have been part and parcel of competing products and the iPad 2 is no exception to this rule.
The iPad 2 is mostly an incremental hardware upgrade to the original iPad as the technical specifications reflect (cellular model specs shown):
Most notably the iPad 2 is 33% thinner and 15% lighter than its predecessor. To put that in perspective that makes the iPad 2 thinner than the iPhone 4, which is pretty damn slim to begin with. Additionally the iPad 2 comes with a dual core A5 processor (not to be confused with the ARM Cortex A5) as well as front and rear cameras. Rumoured features of a Retina-esque type display for the iPad 2 were just that it seems with this device retaining the same screen as its predecessor. Additionally although Apple is going to be offering the iPad 2 on the Verizon network it will not be capable of accessing their 4G LTE network unlike other tablets like the Motorola Xoom.
In addition to announcing the iPad 2 Apple also announced the upcoming update to iOS, version 4.3. Amongst most of the rudimentary things like updates to AirPlay and Safari Apple is also enabling all 3GS handsets and above the ability to create a wireless hotspot using the 3G connection on the phone. Tethering has been available via bluetooth and USB cable for a long time now but if you wanted the hotspot functionality you were relegated to the world of jailbreaking so its good to see Apple including it in an official release. There’s also iTunes home sharing which allows you to view your entire iTunes library without having to sync it all to your phone which I can see being handy but not really a killer feature.
Like the vast majority of Apple products many of the features that they are releasing today have been available from competitors for a long time before hand. Wireless tethering has been around for quite a long time, hell I even had it on my Xperia X1, so it makes me wonder why Apple omits features like this when they’re so rudimentary. The same can be said for the original iPad being bereft of cameras as many who saw the device instantly recognized its potential for being a great video conferencing device. In all honesty I believe that the lack of cutting edge features on most Apple products is not simply because they want to make everything perfect, more its about keeping enough features up their sleeves in order to be able to release a new iteration of their iDevices every year. If they included everything they could for the get go their scope for future upgrades narrows considerably, along with their potential profit margins.
It should really come as no surprise then that the iPad 2 doesn’t come with a Near Field Communications chip in it. Now no one was really expecting that, all the rumors point to the iPhone 5 being the first Apple product to have it, but Apple could have had a huge advantage in driving the technology had they have included it in their latest offering. Heck I’d probably even be lining up to grab one if it had NFC in it just because I’ve got a couple start up ideas that need a NFC tablet and phone but I guess that will have to wait until the next generation, if that.
Apple has also redesigned the cover that they’ll be selling alongside the iPad 2. The original one, which drew the ire of some Apple fan boys, was a more traditional case in the sense that it covered up the entire iPad. The new case is more of a elaborate screen protector but it has some novel uses thanks to its sectioned design letting you prop up the iPad in landscape mode. The cover also makes use of the new proximity sensor on the iPad 2, turning off the screen when you close the cover.
Honestly the iPad 2 is everything we’ve come to expect from Apple, an incremental improvement to one of their now core products. Even though I’m starting to come around to the tablet idea (I don’t what it is but the Xoom just tickles my fancy) Apple’s offerings are just never up to scratch with the competition, especially considering how good Android Honeycomb is looking. Still it will be interesting to see how the first hardware refresh of the iPad fares as that will be telling of how large the tablet market is and whether Apple can continue to hold dominance in the space they helped to bring into the mainstream.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was singing high praises of Windows Mobile when I received my shiny new Sony Xperia X1. In all honesty it really was the best Windows Mobile handset I ever had the pleasure of using but towards the end it began to suffer from the same kind of random issues that plagued all my other WinMo handsets that had come before it. The camera app would work only half the time and I was lucky if I could convince it to take video. I had long since foregone the panel interface because of how slow it was when compared to the default and the keyboard started sticking and missing key strokes. Still I couldn’t bring myself to sell or trash the handset and it still sits atop my desk with a fully charged battery, hoping that I find a use for it someday.
Microsoft was obviously privy to these kinds of issues that plagued WinMo users and in February this year they announced that they’d be releasing a new mobile operating system called Windows Phone 7. At the time of the release I was on the fence about it, realising the platform had potential but not convinced it was anything more than Microsoft’s me-too business model. More recently I came to see how Microsoft could employ their giant third party developing force to make WinPho7 one of the dominant players in the mobile space but there’s really no telling if the hordes of Microsoft developers would have any interest in developing for the platform.
Monday saw the final unveil for WinPho7 to the wider public with several handsets on display that the press were allowed to get their hands on. Initial reactions were positive with a healthy hint of scepticism:
As for Windows Phone 7 itself, it feels slick and polished. The interface is fast, the transitions are attractive, and built-in programs like e-mail are a pleasure to use. Anyone who uses a handset is going to want to explore it and learn more about it. If Microsoft can get good positioning in retail outlets, the platform should flourish. However, to get a feel for how well the operating system really works as a smartphone OS requires more time than we had today. First impressions are definitely positive, but it’s going to be a while before anyone knows what the software is like to actually live with.
Indeed going through the numerous posts I’ve seen about WinPho7 over the past 8 months or so it seems like many people feel the mobile operating system feels solid but aren’t really sure if it will catch on. If there’s one thing that Microsoft offers with all its products is deep integration between product families and that’s usually where the true value lies. Previous versions of WinMo might have been tedious for the regular user but for corporate clients they were pretty much spot on. They were beaten to the punch by RIM with the easy email to the phone integration but their competing product, Exchange ActiveSync, is quite comparable now. Couple that with a rebooted platform and RIM’s utter failure to capitalize on the touchscreen phenomenon Microsoft might just be able to claw back some of the corporate market they lost to them.
That’s not the only trick Microsoft has up it’s sleeve either.
iPhone owner’s out there are more than aware of the MobileMe service that Apple provides to its customers, usually as an up sell before you get your phone. For the low rate of $99/year (or $149/year if you have up to 4 people who want it) you get access to some cloud storage and a synchronisation service that keeps all your mail, contacts and photos in sync for you. Additionally you can use the service to find a lost iPhone should you misplace it or if it gets stolen. Microsoft has a competing service, known as Live Mesh, that was really only about files and remote access. Yesterday saw the announcement of a revamped version of this service that in essence replicates all the functionality of MobileMe. The kicker here is that Microsoft will be offering the service entirely gratis to all WinPh07 users, including the coveted find my phone feature that MobileMe is so popular for.
I don’t think anyone saw that bombshell coming.
Still the WinPho7 still has a little ways to go before it reaches its full capability. Whilst Microsoft has gone to significant lengths to drive development on the platform it will be a while before there’s a critical mass of users on WinPho7 to make it attractive to those looking to profit from the mobile space. There’s also a couple key features that are missing from WinPho7 such as copy and paste. Whilst that particular feature should be here early next year the absence of that feature and others will be enough for long time iPhone and Android users to think twice before replacing their handset. The lack of support for some carriers in the US could also serve to stymie adoption of the platform, but as the iPhone has shown many people are willing to make the switch if the platform is compelling enough.
If all this talk has you excited about trying out a WinPho7 device for yourself then you won’t be waiting too long with the first devices slated to hit Australia’s shelves in late October with the US getting theirs in early November. I won’t be lining up on launch night to get myself one but I’ll definitely be grabbing one of them (probably the HTC HD7) to fiddle with so I can start planning the Lobaco client for it. From what I’ve seen there’s definitely a lot of potential in Microsoft’s new grab at the mobile market but they’ve got an uphill battle in front of them. The next 6 months will be crucial for the fledgling platform’s success and I’m sure Microsoft will be doing everything they can to take back their title as the king of the smart phone arena.