writing about tech

Month: August 2014 (page 1 of 2)

Nintendo still has no fucking idea what they’re doing

Every now and then, I start to think Nintendo might be starting to “get it”, and then they go and pull something like this:

Nintendo revealed today its New Nintendo 3DS system, an upcoming version of the 3DS hardware that features a second stick built in, in addition to new shoulder buttons.

Additionally, the system will features a better CPU than previous models, according to Nintendo, which allows for faster eShop browsing and downloading. It is also set to come with a built-in NFC on the bottom touchscreen for the upcoming launch of the amiibo NFC models, while sliding custom covers will also come with the device, allowing owners to customize the hardware. Nintendo also claims that stereoscopic 3D will also be better than it was in previous devices.

So, here’s what we have: a new version of their handheld system, which they’ve named poorly – “New Nintendo 3DS” is right up there with “Wii U” when it comes to “shitty names that will confuse consumers” – and which will have exclusive games:

Here’s the catch: This version of the game will only be able to be played on the new 3DS hardware, meaning owners of the older hardware will be locked out. 

Don’t mistake this for anything but what it is: it’s a new handheld console, with exclusive games, that happens to be backwards compatible with everything the 3DS already has.  That number of “exclusive games” might be tiny and it might be huge, but it will obviously exist.  Handhelds aren’t smartphones; customers aren’t willing to upgrade them once every two years.  To make matters worse, Nintendo has been releasing special-edition model after special-edition model of 3DS XL, and is now turning around and releasing a model that makes all of those models obsolete overnight.

Nintendo…what are you doing?  My inner fanboy wants you to succeed, but you continue to make it harder and harder to root for you.  Not only is this a dumb business decision that will inevitably lead to confused customers who now have to make sure the 3DS game they buy will actually run on their 3DS, but it also makes me question whether or not I want to buy handhelds from you in the future.  When is it a safe time to buy a Nintendo handheld now?  Usually the safe answer is to say “wait until the second hardware revision”…but I honestly can’t even answer that anymore.  It’s impossible to predict what Nintendo is going to do next, which makes me hesitate to support them in the future.

Which is a damn shame, because my 3DS XL is fantastic and the Zelda game that came with it is one of the best I’ve ever played, but now I can’t even really recommend it anymore, because there’s a better model coming.  For fuck’s sake Nintendo, I want to love you – why do you make it so hard?

Why I stopped using SwiftKey

First off: I love SwiftKey.  For a couple of years, it was easily the best software keyboard I’d ever used on any phone, and its existence was a large part of the reason I stuck with Android.   Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and about two months ago, SwiftKey and I broke up.

Why? Well, I met someone else.  Specifically, I met Fleksy.  Now, obviously, one doesn’t go looking for something new unless they’re unhappy.  So why was I unhappy with SwiftKey?  One issue, but a major one: performance.

One area where I’m particularly picky when it comes to response time is with keyboards.  There’s absolutely no excuse for lag or stuttering when I’m trying to type – it ruins the rhythm of typing and makes the whole experience just feel “off”.   It wasn’t just typing itself, though – there was often a noticeable delay between when I wanted to start typing and SwiftKey would actually appear, and it also tended to linger around the screen after exiting whatever I’m doing.  Sometimes the delay would be for a couple of seconds in either case – and that’s just unacceptable.  I honestly think SwiftKey has just gotten too bloated for its own good and needs to be slimmed down – perhaps the developers make a “SwiftKey Lite” available for those of us who just want SwiftKey’s amazing autocorrection/prediction algorithm and nothing else.

I’ve tolerated with SwiftKey’s lag for the last year or so, though, simply because it’s so good at autocorrection and prediction.  Every time I tried something new, I’d end up going back, because even with the stuttering, I could type faster with it than I could with either the Sense or the stock Android keyboards.  Fleksy, however, finally lured me over with a combination of things:

  1. A gorgeous design with great animations.  Sure, that’s subjective and irrelevant functionality-wise, but it’s nice to enjoy using something that you literally have to use every day.
  2. Quick performance.  I’ve yet to feel the keyboard hesitate for even a moment – it’s as fast as the stock keyboard experience.
  3. Good – but not best-in-class – predictions.  SwiftKey is still the gold standard when it comes to autocorrect and predictions; it’s almost creepy how well it learns your typing habits.  I feel like that comes at a cost, though, given the “heavy” nature of the app.
  4. Gestures.  Not Swype-typing, mind you, but the Fleky-specific gestures you use to delete words and change suggestions/punctuation are truly awesome once you spend a few days and get the hang of them.  It makes up for the not-quite-as-good prediction engine if I can easily choose the correct word without ruining my typing rhythm.

That does, however, lead me into the one major downside of Fleksy – no gesture-typing.  If you’re a huge fan of Swype or similar functionality in SwiftKey or the AOSP keyboard, Fleksy is not for you.  For those of us who tap-type, though, this is the keyboard I’d personally recommend going forward, especially if you’re willing to put in a little bit of time to add words to your personal dictionary and learn the Fleksy-specific gestures.  I haven’t even touched on other areas of Fleksy, like the ability to resize the keyboard to fit your ideal height, or even to make it invisible entirely if you really trust your typing ability.

Software keyboards are among the most personal apps available; everyone’s going to have their favorite, and no one is “wrong” – people just do things differently, and we should be thrilled there are so many options available.  If you’re unsatisfied with some aspect of your current keyboard, give Fleksy a try for a week or; it’s free for a month, so there’s no immediate commitment.  On the other hand, if you’ve never tried SwiftKey, either, give that a shot, too!  You may be less picky than me, and it’s completely free now, so there’s really no reason not to.

Two-step action plan to covering the best new apps on Android

Ellis Hamburger of The Verge writes:

Dan does indeed cover Android apps for us, for the most part, but keeping track of the hottest new Android apps is a lot harder than with IOS apps. Many of today’s top startups still build first for iOS (for one reason or another), and their PR companies reach out to us about new apps and app updates for current apps. Meanwhile, Dan nor I hear much from Android app companies. We’ll try harder to seek them out though!

  1. Follow Chris Lacy on Twitter.
  2. There is no number two.

How do you tip same-day delivery?

The Verge has a great post up about same-day delivery:

Postmates and WunWun each took almost exactly an hour to get to me, though my 18-year-old WunWun messenger told me it was mostly because the Starbucks line is really long. In each case, they handed me a phone with an app running, asked me to input a tip and sign my name, and were on their merry way.

For delivery of miscellaneous items, does it really make sense to tip as a percentage of the total delivery value?  What if you order something that’s very small, but also very expensive?  If this sort of thing catches on, I wonder if it will become common to tip as percentage of the total weight, rather than total price. That’s the only way it really makes sense to me.

Well, that, or business owners could just pay delivery people, waiters, etc. a decent wage and stop expecting customers to pay a majority of their employees’ salary.

No, Sony, PlayStation Move was not “ahead of its time”

Sony, on the PlayStation Move:

“However, what we are realising ourselves is that PS Move was a bit ahead of its time — a precise and accurate 3D input device. We were very excited about the possibility of using 3D positional tracking to make games, but it’s really hard to do so with a regular 2D screen.”

I understand what Sony is trying to say – “We will use Move controllers with Morpheus” – but that bullshit about being “a bit of ahead of time” is unnecessary, inaccurate fluff.

It’s great if they found a way to re-use existing peripherals in a way that consumers might actually value, but don’t pretend Move was anything other than a flop out of the gate, or that it was simply too advanced, and now the gaming world is catching up with it.

I guess “sorry this thing sucked, but don’t get rid of it just yet because we may have found a way to retroactively make it useful” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Should you buy a game the day it comes out? Yes! No! Maybe?

Ben Kuchera writes:

Early adopters pay the most for a game and get the least finished version of the release. It’s often worth it for them to play it along with the huge rush of other fans who want to be there first, but you don’t have to join them, even if many are perfectly happy to sign up for the journey of a game’s patches and updates and price drops rather than the pure destination of just playing the damned thing.

So, I agree and disagree. Fiscally, he’s right – but if I was fiscally logical person, I probably wouldn’t have a PS4. So, there’s that.

The problem I run into is that I read a bunch of gaming websites and listen to several gaming podcasts, so I want to play some of the same things they’re playing so I have context for the things they’re saying. It’s also hard to hear multiple people talk about how great The Last of Us is (for example) while resisting the urge to buy it. The louder the crowd’s voice, the more difficult it becomes to resist. What it all boils down to, though, is that buying games on release day is a fundamentally social thing, and I enjoy being part of that conversation.

At the end of the day, though, I take it on a case-by-case-basis. If your game is online-only, I probably won’t buy it on release day, because it probably won’t work. If your game is single player always-online, then I probably won’t ever buy it…period. That’s why last night I played Diablo 3for the first time, because the console versions aren’t always-online, and I put my money where my mouth is.

Android update times are better, but still far from good

Ars has a great piece up about Android update times:

The winner for update times is, of course, the Nexus line. Stock software and a head start from being Google got KitKat out the door in just 14 days.

The bottom-line continues to be: If you care about Android updates, just buy a Nexus phone. Otherwise you’re looking at two major obstacles between you and a software update – the OEM and the carrier – and that’s assuming the OEM even cares enough to update their software.  Carriers continue to have far too much influence on the phones people buy from them, and it’s hard for me to envision a scenario where I’d ever be happy buying an Android phone directly from a carrier ever again.

What “Console Wars” taught me about myself and being a fanboy

I pride myself on trying to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to technology.  While this is inherently impossible – bias will exist in any personal opinion – I at least acknowledge that there may be reasons to choose products or services that I would not use myself.  Of course, 10-year-old-me was not nearly as accepting.  In 1991, there was no doubt in my mind: Nintendo was right, and Sega was wrong.  Why?  Because Nintendo had Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger and Zelda.  Duh.  I recently discovered, however, that far more of 10-year-old-me’s opinions remained than I ever would’ve expected.

This revelation came to me during my recent rediscovery of the joy of owning a Kindle, specifically about a third of the way into Console Wars by Blake J. Harris.  If you aren’t familiar with it, Console Wars uses narrative nonfiction to dramatize the “war” between Nintendo and Sega, starting shortly after the introduction of the Sega Genesis in North America.  As I read, I found myself more and more annoyed that so much of the novel took the perspective of Sega.  What about the other side of the conflict?  You know, the right side?  I want to read about how Nintendo crushed Sega because Sega was all style and no substance, and what do you mean Super Mario World wasn’t as good as Sonic, and holy shit I’m still a Nintendo fanboy in a console war that’s been over for over 20 years.

That particular thought hit me about halfway through a run on my treadmill, which I immediately halted so that I could make a note to myself to write about this at a future date.  After a brief conversation on Twitter with the the author, I was inspired to finally sit down and do so.  While I’ve always acknowledged that reading can be just as much a reflection on the reader as it is on the author, I’d never really been consciously aware of it happening to me until that moment.  I was upset at Harris for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with his writing and everything to do with that Nintendo fanboy mentality that hasn’t existed for almost 20 years.  It’s fascinating – and disturbing – that these companies are so incredibly talented at dividing consumers into tribal factions that these thoughts are still somewhere in my head long after any conscious loyalty I had to any particular company was supposedly gone.

For as long as I can remember arguing on the internet, I’ve always looked down on fanboys.  I’ve never understood the idea of being fanatically loyal to a company.  To a particular product, sure, but I’ve never seen any value in defending a multi-national corporation that has no actual interest in my well-being.  While I still don’t see the value in that, I feel retroactively guilty for spitting on them from my high horse.  After all, I’m no better than they are; I’m a 32-year-old who got mad at someone “badmouthing” Nintendo’s products and behavior during a console war that happened before I reached puberty. I can’t even imagine the level of asshole I’d have been if I had access to the internet during the early 90’s.

Still, I’m glad I was knocked off of that high horse.  Even if it was initially painful to realize that I was a hypocrite, at least I had the self-awareness to realize how my own hypocrisy, which is something I think everyone needs from time to time.  More importantly, it makes me all the more aware that people – corporations, the media, politicians – will gladly exploit our natural tendency to divide up into “us vs. them” if it serves their own interests, and that it’s everyone’s duty as both a consumer and a citizen to educate themselves as much as possible through expanding our own personal experiences.

If you love the PS4, go over to a friend’s and try a Wii U or an Xbox One.  Adore your Android device?  Maybe use a friend’s iPhone for a few minutes.  Read a book or visit a website you disagree with.  Expand your horizons; worst-case scenario, you’re back where you started with a bit more experience than before.  And you knows?  You might even find something new to love.

In search of a Goodreads for video games

Ever since I bought a Kindle and got drawn into Goodreads, I’ve been searching for a Goodreads for video games.  Honestly, though, it wasn’t a terribly long search – there just aren’t that many options out there that meet my requirements.  Those requirements were pretty basic.  The service:

  1. Needed to have a web app.
  2. Needed to have a mobile app, or at least be mobile browser friendly.
  3. Needed to be focused, like Goodreads.  I didn’t want a site that happened to have backlog/currently playing functionality, I wanted a site that was centered around making lists of what I had played, what I was playing, and what I was going to play.

A few minutes of research (read: Google searches) quickly revealed that none of the web apps had mobile apps, and none of the mobile apps had web services.  Well, shit.

After a bit more research (read: I Googled a little bit more), my choices came down to Dpadd and Grouvee. The services were pretty similar, with Dpadd adding some compelling social options, while Grouvee offered a valuable Steam library import.  Both of them built their service around GiantBomb’s fantastic game library API, so neither of them had an advantage data-wise.  After signing up for both, two things became immediately apparent:

  1. Dpadd’s interface was just a little nicer, but…
  2. It didn’t display a mobile version

While Grouvee’s mobile interface isn’t exactly gorgeous:

2014-08-17 23.13.45

It is, at least, formatted for mobile, unlike Dpadd’s:

2014-08-17 23.12.58

Nope! Nope nope nope!

Mobile functionality is important to me, as I often hear about games from friends in a context where a computer isn’t immediately accessible to me.  Also, in principle, I consider it fairly unforgivable for your web app to not be mobile-friendly in 2014.

I also personally prefer Grouvee’s method of game organization – I easily can mark a game as being played, or have played, or in my backlog with a single button. I can also create custom “shelves” – in my case, I have an additional on deck shelf for games in my backlog that I intend to play next.  Dpadd, being more socially-oriented, is more focused on updating your game library as a status update – “I did play this” or “I am playing this” or “I want to play this.”  There are lists, but it’s much less organization-centric, and I couldn’t find a way to add a game to my custom list after I’d created it.  When I took into account the fact that Grouvee will also import your existing Steam collection (which, if you’re like me, contains a good chunk of your backlog courtesy of Steam sales), the choice became pretty obvious.

Even Grouvee still needs two major additions before I can whole-heartedly recommend it, though.  The first would be direct Facebook integration – I can log in with Facebook, but I can’t add friends through Facebook.  According to Grouvee’s roadmap, it’s coming.  The second thing would be a mobile app, though that may be more of a long-shot.  At this point, I’d be happy with just the former.

Despite these drawbacks, I’d still gladly recommend Grouvee to anyone looking for a Goodreads-style service for video games.  It’s free, and it’ll import your Steam library – what do you have to lose?  My biggest worry at this point is that it’s just one person’s side project, and he may get bored of it eventually…but that’s a risk with any web-based service, big or small.  If you decide to join, hit me up!

Why I bought a Kindle (even though I have a tablet)

2014-08-17 14.28.45

A few weeks ago, on a whim, I picked up an on-sale refurbished second-generation Kindle Paperwhite, using the justification that it was relatively cheap and I had a trip coming up.  At first, this seemed like a mistake – I figured, if I had a Nexus 7, why did I need a Kindle? I’ve long considered tablets to be eReaders with some added functionality – unfortunately for my reading habit, I’ve found that they become far too much of the “added functionality” and not enough of the “eReader”. It’s my own fault; I am a fickle, easily-distracted creature, and when a device can do so much, it’s hard to focus on any one task.

Maybe I’m the last to realize this, but for me, the beauty of owning a Kindle is what it can’t do, rather than what it can. When you pick up a Kindle, you’re picking up a book – not a book, a web browser, a communication device, and a gaming machine.  The ridiculous battery life of the Kindle helps enhance this illusion; like a “real book”, I don’t have to worry about whether or not I thought to charge it, or if I’ll have to charge it after I’m done.  I think that’s why I enjoy handheld gaming so much, even though I rarely do it outside the house – there’s a certain type of beauty that can only be found in a device designed explicitly for a specific purpose, rather than a device designed to be “just okay” at everything.

This actually isn’t my first time owning a Kindle; I previously owned a non-touchscreen Kindle Keyboard, complete with a light up cover, and actually loved the device – but when I got my first smaller tablet, an iPad Mini, it seemed unnecessary to have two devices – so I gave the Kindle away.  It didn’t help that the hardware page-turn buttons of the Kindle were too awkward to use while exercising, which is my primary use-case for an eReader or tablet.

Now that I have a Kindle again, though, it is just the best.  I think I’d give up the Nexus 7 before I gave up the Kindle, since having a Nexus 5 serves many of the same purposes, and the screen size difference isn’t even all that substantial anymore.  I feel like I go through this same cycle with tablets; I buy one because it’s shiny, use it religiously for a month or two,  then watch as it gradually gets relegated to something I only ever use in bed or while working out.  Despite the fact that the Kindle Paperwhite is perfectly usable on my exercise equipment, I still think I’ll always want to have a tablet for that specific purpose – occasionally, I’d rather read articles on the web or watch a video – and a tablet is still perfect for that.  The problem is that it’s not “perfect” for much else.

There’s a certain percentage of the population that I think a tablet or Chromebook is ideal for as a primary computer, but I will never be in that demographic.  For what I do, I need a full-featured laptop, and when I have one, the use cases for a tablet or Chomebook become exceptionally minimal – especially with recent laptop hardware reaching-or-exceeding tablet levels of battery life.  Gadget-wise, if my laptop is my toolbox, then my smartphone is my Swiss Army Knife.  Where does that leave my tablet?  It’s a Swiss Army Knife with a few fewer tools and a bit larger blade – there are some very specific situations where it excels, but generally, I’d rather carry the smaller knife.

If you are a more focused individual than me, then I applaud you, and perhaps a tablet makes more sense than a Kindle.  I wish I had the discipline to ignore the dozen other things my Nexus 7 can do, but I know from experience I can’t.  I’ll check Twitter or Facebook, or check my RSS feeds, or watch something on YouTube.  If I do manage to get into a book, I’ll inevitably find myself distracted by incoming notifications.

Regardless of the reasoning, I can’t argue with the results – I’ve read more in the last few weeks than I have in the 6 months before that.  I finally finished American Gods, then powered through Console Wars, The Martian, and Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened.  Also, thanks to the Kindle’s integration into Goodreads, I’ve become an active user of the service, to the point where I’m searching for a similar service for video games – more to come on that soon.  Bottom-line: I’m reading again, and I love it.

My own distraction issues aside, much of the credit has to go to the Kindle itself.  Again, I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on the planet to realize this, but Amazon has been making eReaders for year, and the Paperwhite is the glorious culmination of those efforts – it’s genuinely hard to think of a more perfect reading device.  While I’m sure the future will bring further tweaks to the formula – even better battery life, a higher resolution screen, and physical page buttons for those who want them – I can confidently say the Kindle Paperwhite has entered into the elite group of devices that I can recommend without hesitation.

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