Mario and iPhone 7…Pokemon and Apple Watch

Apple had its September press event to announce Apple Watch, Series 2, iOS 10 and iPhone 7.  But, perhaps the biggest thing announced at the event was a game.

Early on in the event, Tim Cook said that there were over 500,000 games in the app store, but that one had been missing. Rather, one character had been missing…MARIO. And, with that, he introduced Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Mario.

Mr. Miyamoto explained the new game while a demo was being played on the big screen.  This Mario game looks and sounds like a Wii U game, but is controlled via touch on the iPhone or iPad.  You use a single finger to control Mario’s jumps…the longer you hold your finger down, the higher he jumps. 

While the game looked great, the game play is like a neutered Super Mario Brothers 2D side scroller. Neutered in that it appeared that Mario only goes in one direction in single hand play.  The goal is to collect as many coins as you can and raise the end of level flag, before the time runs out. 

More importantly, the game will NOT be a ‘freemium’ game in the traditional sense. You only pay one time, there are no in game purchases.  There’s no having to wait two hours for your lives to replenish.  It is a nice change from the current game mobile game model.

Now, for the other announcements, and I’m not going into detail as it has already been covered else where.

Apple Watch 2 will be out in September and will be faster and more responsive.  Oh, and Pokemon GO! is coming to the Apple Watch.  With some health monitoring additions, this looks pretty decent.

iPhone 7, though, is what I am more excited to talk about. 

Now, before I go on, let me say that I am still not an Apple fan and I LOVE my Windows Mobile 10 phone(s). 

So, what has me excited about the iPhone 7?  Well, even though it isn’t a huge, earth shattering advance in mobile technology, the camera, faster processor and MICROSOFT have me excited for the new iPhone. 

The iPhone 7 will feature a new image sub system, new API’s and better optics. In addition, iPhone 7Plus, the phablet edition, will feature TWO 12 mp cameras in addition to the front camera.  The new image processor enables the phone to record in 4K video as well.

Here are some of the nice new photo related features, from Apple:

  • New Apple-designed Image Signal Processor, which processes over 100 billion operations on a single photo in as little as 25 milliseconds, resulting in incredible photos and videos;
  • New 7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera with wide color capture, advanced pixel technology and auto image stabilization for even better selfies; and
  • New Quad-LED True Tone flash that is 50 percent brighter than iPhone 6s including an innovative sensor that detects the flickering in lights and compensates for it in videos and photos.

Iapple-iphone7plus-zoomn addition to the photo features, Microsoft’s entire suite of apps that are on the iPhone mean that I can continue using my Microsoft services and apps with my Windows 10 desktop just as seamlessly as I can, now, with my Windows Mobile phone.

There are other things, like the subtle changes to iOS and to the phone chassis itself.

There are things I don’t like, such as the removal of the headphone jack, inability to upgrade storage via SD card, no way to project the phone to another screen (at least, I haven’t seen this) and the lack of home screen tiles…a feature I’ve really grown to love on my Windows Mobile phone.  In fact, the lack of live tiles is almost a deal breaker for me. Almost.

For now, I am on the verge of mothballing my Windows Mobile phone and going Apple again.  I’m going to have play with one for a bit.   But, today’s announcements look encouraging.  Of course, if I wait a year, I may like iPhone 8 more…

New iPhone or Android phone? So, what to do with that old one?

Palm_Pre_SmartphoneIf you are like me, you probably have two, three or more old smartphones lying around, collecting dust. If they are still functional, they are still useful.  I will pull out the old Palm Pre, charge it and use it to play a few games or even surf the web. It has a good browser and I downloaded a fair number of decent games, a couple will even work with the iPhone/iPad counterparts for multi player action (Shrek Racing, for one.)  So, what can you do with those old phones? Well, read on for a few suggestions…

eReader

  • If you have an old iPhone, Android or Windows Phone 7, there is the Kindle app.  There was also a Nook reader app for Android.  There are also a few e-reader apps from other companies that are available on these and other devices like the Palm Pre. There a thousands of free ebooks as well.

WiFi Phone

  • Older iPhones, Android and Windows Phones have Skype clients that will allow you to use that old smartphone, over WiFi, as a phone. Imagine that. You can use it at home and save those minutes on your cell. Carry one for use when near a hotspot in case your phone has poor service or, again, to save those minutes.  (Granted, it could be cumbersome carrying around multiple devices.)

Web Browsing

  • Most older smartphones come with some kind of browser. iPhones, even the first gen, have the sufficient Safari and Android has it’s native browser. Firefox and/or Chrome may also be available. The Palm Pre has an excellent browser and Windows Phone 7’s Internet Explorer, well, it works. 

Games

  • Here’s where devices like iPhone and Android really shine. There are a ton of games out there for both of these platforms. If your phone is powerful enough, this can be a great alternative to the Nintendo or Sony handhelds. Or, like me, why not have them in addition to the Nintendo or Sony offerings? Lots of the games for the smartphones simply are not available for either Nintendo or Sony handhelds.  I still pull out the Palm Pre and play some of those games. Even my old Motorola Q has a few games I like. It had a nice Sim City game. Hmm…where did I put that? Even older, non-WiFi phones like the Palm Centro had some decent games. If you still have it, why not use it?

285389-htc-evo-shift-4g-sprintSecondary Info Screen for your PC

  • Ok, I’m stretching here, but I use my HTC Shift for weather and email as a secondary screen for my PC. I have it connected via USB so it continuously gets power. Right now, I am using the built in apps, so it isn’t a true secondary display, HOWEVER…there is an app called iDisplay which turns your Android device into a true secondary display.  For more, read here and here. There are also other apps like AirDisplay.

Portable Media Playeriphone4

  • iPhones, especially, make decent portable players. An iPhone is, essentially, an iPod Touch with the cell capability. Android, Palm Pre and Windows Phones are all good media players as well.  My Pre came pre loaded with the Amazon player and Androids have the Google Play store. There are tons of apps, for all major platforms, like Pandora and YouTube. This is, next to games, perhaps the best use of these devices.

Digital Camera

  • Nearly all smartphones have cameras. Some are poor, but most of them are fairly decent. The iPhone and Nokia smartphones have excellent cameras. You can keep one in the car or your bag and when the shutterbug strikes, you’ll have at least one camera around.  I know, your shiny new phone has one too. And it probably is better, but on your older device, you’ll have storage that you may not want to use on your new device. They can make good video cameras as well.

Emergency Calling

  • ALL cell phones, smart or otherwise, can still place a 911 call, no matter if you have service on them or not. As long as they are in a cell network, they can place a 911 call. This is an FCC mandate, so if, for no other reason, you could keep one (charges, of course) in a car or your home for an emergency.  The key, however, is to keep it charged up and readily available.

There are, of course, other uses for the phones, these are just a few suggestions. Others include remote control of televisions, cable boxes, Roku devices and more. Calculators, portable databases, USB storage, etc.  My point is that just because you got something shinier and newer, doesn’t mean these older ones are useless.  They even make great mini-tablets for young children. Since they are no longer in cell service, they cannot make calls so why not let them have one for games or Netflix?

Sony’s PS4 scam at E3 and new Nintendo titles

ps4So, apparently, Sony pulled a fast one over the public in its E3 keynote address introducing the PS4. During the keynote, they stated that there would be no DRM and no restrictions on used games. What they FAILED to mention, however, was, like Microsoft, that third party publishers were free to place restrictions upto and including the prevention of resale of used games.

What appeared to be a slam dunk for Sony’s PS4 is now a ‘oh really? Huh.’ This bait and switch tactic is old, tired and Sony should be ashamed.

During an interview, Jack Tretton, President of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, stated that they (Sony) would provide the platform and publishers were free to impose any business model they wish. Meaning, Electronic Arts could, theoretically, only allow certain games to be resold or otherwise transferred from one person to another, all or none.  Strike 1. (And, for the record, EA has publicly stated that they have no immediate plans to do so on either the XBox ONE or the PS4.)

And, that $399 price? Well, it does not include the Sony Eye, which is the motion tracking piece of the pie. So, for the PS4 to be feature complete with the XBox One, you have to purchase the Eye for $69 US, which brings the PS4 right in line with Microsoft’s offering. Strike 2.

Lastly, Sony last big advantage over Microsoft, the free online multiplayer component, is now going to be a paid service. You must buy Sony’s equivalent of XBox Live Gold in order to play multiplayer games online.  Strike 3, your out!

So, why would I want either of these consoles?

Nintendo announced a bevy of games for both Wii U and 3DS.  Included in those titles are a new Mario Kart for the Wii U, Super Mario Brothers for the Wii U, two new Zelda games and a new Smash Brothers title.  The Wii U online play is free, it is now an HD console and it is cheaper than the other consoles. It’s looking better and better…

How we might have had an Atari Entertainment System instead of Nintendo…Happy Birthday, NES

NESOctober 18, a date that will live in infamy. In the video game world, that is.  For, that is the day that Nintendo brought forth the Nintendo Entertainment System on the shores of the United States.  Two years prior, however, if the stars had aligned differently, it might have been called the Atari Entertainment System and we would have the Atari branded Wii instead of Nintendo’s Wii.  See, Nintendo wanted to break into the North American video game market with it’s Famicom console.  In 1983, they had reached a deal with Atari to market the Famicom in the United States.  By that point, Atari was in trouble and needed to replace its aging lineup of consoles. It had the 7800 in the works, but needed something better. So, they were amenable to the Nintendo deal and were set to sign the final contracts during the summer 1983 Consumer Electronics Show.

As the story goes, however, Atari officials were strolling around the show floor and saw a demonstration of Donkey Kong running on the Coleco Adam computer. Furious about what they saw, Atari refused to sign the deal.  However, Nintendo had the matter cleared up in short time, but, by then, Atari was broke and could not follow through with the deal.  Atari was sold by Warner Communications to Jack Tramiel who promptly shut down the console business, leaving a warehouse of ready to market Atari 7800 consoles, accessories and games to sit and collect dust for nearly two more years.

Nintendo decided to go it alone and, after redesigning the console to better fit the US market, tested sales in a few key markets. Not only did they sell well, they sold out.  Nintendo decided to nationwide with the console in 1985 and the rest is history. NES went on to sell millions of consoles and tens of millions of games.  The home video game market was back from the brink of oblivion.

By that point, Atari was doing well in home computers but was dead in the home console market.  Seeking to expand again, Tramiel decided to do something with the warehouses of 7800 consoles. So, Atari released the console and set out to introduce other home consoles. The venerable 2600 was redesigned and re-released. Several keyboard less versions of the 400 and 800 computers were released as game consoles and, in 1992, the Jaguar, Atari’s last console, was announced and releases afterwards.  In 1995, Atari finally died as a standalone company. The name lives on today, but is in something like the sixth incarnation of the company. It still retains the intellectual property, it’s most valuable asset, from the early days.  In fact, they have released four versions of the first three consoles in plug and play versions.

Nintendo fared much better. After the NES, came the Super NES, the Nintendo 64, the GameCube and the Wii.  GameCube was the least successful of all the consoles but was, perhaps, the one with the best games. The SNES and the 64 introduced many of the better franchise games, like Super Mario Kart and the Super Mario games.  They also had a line of very successful handheld consoles like the GameBoy, GameBoy Color and the DS line.

Perhaps Nintendo’s biggest strength is its ability to think outside the box.  When Wii was announced, it was panned, universally, by the press because of its perceived hardware weakness. But, like they say, it’s the gameplay stupid and the motion controllers worked and worked well. Most of the games were fun, even if the motion control was just a gimmick.  Wii sold in record numbers, beating both Microsoft’s XBOX 360 and the over engineered and over priced PS3.

Gamers are fickle, however, and, after four years, the Wii finally showed its age and sales have fallen dramatically. Finally, the gaming press was right: XBOX and PS3 would outsell Wii. Well, that’s not entirely true. They have outsold it on a monthly basis, but have a ways to go before completely outselling the life sales of the console.  It’s replacement is due out in November of 2012, so we will see if Nintendo can continue generating the hot consoles.

To think that we damn near had an Atari powerhouse and why we don’t is a bit sad.  If Atari had been able to fulfill its end of the agreement, the video game world could be quite different today. We, likely, would not have a Microsoft branded console at all. Or, had Sony been able to market its Playstation attachment to Atari instead of Nintendo (who shitcanned it for a similar device from Philips, which never released here in the US) we may not have had a PS2 and, thus, the AtariCube may have taken the world by storm.  If only.

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E3 2012: The year of ho hum

The E3 Video Games expo was held in Las Vegas this past week.  The big three, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony all held their respective conferences on upcoming games and hardware.  Microsoft showed off more Kinect games and showcased its SmartGlass technology.  Nintendo held three press conferences to spotlight the upcoming Wii U hardware, Wii and Wii U games and 3DS games.  Sony, with no new hardware and few standout games spent an ungodly amount of time talking up some higher profile and ultra violent games.

Nintendo was first out of the gate with press conference number 1, which was about the Wii U.  Details like the new controller, resolution (720p, sadly) and other details were given.  The Wii U will, contrary to earlier speculation, handle two of the new game controllers. The new controller features an LCD display, stylus, dual analog sticks, standard controller buttons and the ability to stream the currently playing game to the panel.  The panel can also act as a secondary screen, forming a DS like experience.

Microsoft was next with its presser about new Kinect games and SmartGlass.  I’ll skip the games and talk about the SmartGlass.  SmartGlass is, seemingly, Microsoft’s answer to the Wii U’s new controller. The big difference:  the secondary screen can be a tablet or smartphone. Microsoft announced support for, of course, Windows Phone, but also Android and iOS, meaning iPad and iPhone will be welcomed into the XBOX family.  Among the uses for said screen:  ability to show secondary information about a television show being watched via XBOX and something like Xfinity or HBO Go. The example they showed was Game of Thrones. The show was being watched on a big screen while a map of the current location of the on screen characters was on the secondary screen along with other information.  When playing SmartGlass enabled games, the secondary screen can do things like allow the player to map out their next move (Madden NFL was used as an example).  The technology looks fantastic and is tightly integrated with Kinect for voice.  Microsoft is, clearly, leveraging Kinect for a multitude of uses.  The early stuff is looking very promising.

Sony was up next with its lackluster presentation. Try as they may, the games were mediocre with one or two exceptions.  God of War whatever looks great.  Last of Us looks good too, it is another, rather violent, shooter featuring zombies. And, really, you can never have too much zombie action.  Right?  Sony also unveiled WonderBook.  WonderBook is a peripheral (OK, so they DID have SOME hardware) that is used with its silly ‘MOVE’ Wii mocking controller.  The idea is get you immersed in a book. The book they demoed was by JK Rowling and is an extension of the Harry Potter universe. You have to learn spells and potions.  While the idea is novel, the implementation looked rather embarrassing as the software failed to properly read the MOVE a few times.  I don’t really see why they bothered with WonderBook, but they did, which is a wonder to me. Sony did highlight the tight interaction of Vita, its latest attempt in the handheld market, and the PS3.  I have to admit, that was pretty impressive. However, it is, yet again, a take on the Wii U console and tablet integration, so not much new here.

Nintendo was back up with more on the games for Wii U and 3DS. The standard fare will be released…new Mario Brothers, a Luigi Mansion sequel, a few more adult oriented games (or, as some say, ‘hardcore’) and others.  Once again, Nintendo proved just how clueless it is when it comes to E3 presentations. They really need to look at Sony and Microsoft for these things.  Sony had zero to show, but the crowd went wild.  Why, I have no idea.  Anyway, the lack of a Mario Kart title was puzzling.

The last Nintendo presser focused more on the Wii U and a game called NintendoLand, which is really a bunch of tech demos wrapped up in a theme park theme. Included mini games are an Animal Crossing game, Zelda and a Donkey Kong mini game.

Companies like Activision and UBISoft also presented. The only game the interested me was, of course, Call of Duty: Black Ops II.  An impressive and lengthy trailer was shown at the end of the Microsoft presser that showed off part of the single player campaign mode.  The President of the USA is a female who bore more than a striking resemblance to former First Lady and current Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. While not much of the back story was given, the game is a continuation of the original Black Ops and, seemingly, does not incorporate the events in either of the Modern Warfare games. It looks great, though.

All in all, this years Expo was lackluster.  Disappointing, actually.  With the PS3 and the XBOX 360 both maturing and nearing end of life, there was lots of speculation that replacement consoles would either be announced or actually shown. Neither was. And Wii U? Well, let’s just say it is not overly impressive either. Of course, it will sell, since it is compatible with current Wii games. No announced date or price, but speculation has mid-November as the date and $299 as the price.  We will see.

Until next time, happy gaming! 

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Hot Wheels, Nintendo 3DS and InnoTab…ahh, to be a kid again

English: A Nintendo 3DS in Aqua Blue, photo ta...

Image via Wikipedia

One of the joys of being a parent is that you get to play with toys that you would not others get by with playing.  And, today is a good time to be a parent as the toys are super cool.  Take, for example, today’s Hot Wheels.

hotwheelswalltracksHot Wheels has a cool set of tracks that use the Command Strips to fasten connectors to the wall and mount tracks there. These things are really cool and solve the ages old space problem of where to store the tracks. With these, you just leave them on the wall, provided, of course, you have a room where you don’t mind them hanging around.  For us, it is in our game room.

There are several sets, including a starter set. Each set comes with the hangers, Command Strips, track pieces and one Hot Wheels car. Note, not all Hot Wheels will work on the various pieces parts. For example, one set has a launcher mechanism shaped like a motorcycle engine. Only a certain type of car will go through it, some boxier shapes and those with oversize wheels will, likely, not work.

Each set is designed to be interchangeable and reconfigurable.  They vary in price but you should be able to get two to four sets for under a hundred dollars.

Another cool toy this season is the Innotab from VTech. This is a children’s tablet.  Although similar to the VReader, it is, of course, not compatible with any of the VReader software.  The device has a small touchscreen with vibrant colors and is fairly responsive. While is resembles (to a four year old) an iPad like device, it is no iPad. Or even a crappy assed Android tablet, but, this is OK. Those devices tend to confuse whereas the Innotab (and the LeapPad Explorer) are designed to be used by children.  The built in software is simple yet functional and most things you would expect from a tablet are there, including an accelerometer. There’s no web browser as the device lacks any kind of connectivity. Again, this is not a problem since it is a device for young children.  It costs $79.95.

Lastly, the Nintendo 3DS is, by far, the coolest toy on the market. It is a standard DS that plays 3D games and takes 3D photos and video.  The software is mostly well done and the ability to turn off the 3D is a huge plus. I found the effect pleasing until I moved either my head or the device . Once that happened, I could not get it quite right and ended up turning off 3D.

Mario Kart 7 for 3DS is, quite simple, a great game.  Almost perfect.  The only problem I had was the wonky control pad on the device itself.  This might be the 3DS’ achilles heal. It just did not feel overly responsive.  The game, however, has much going for it, including the return of 16 mostly great tracks and 16 brand new ones.  All versions of the game have at least one track, though most of them are redone versions and contain new elements, like underwater sections.  Overall, though, MK7 is one great game.

Now, the 3DS is one device that anyone who is just a kid at heart can actually own and not feel like a moron. It is priced right too: just $169 for the device.  Oh, it has a browser built in and a virtual console to play older Gameboy games.

I guess I am still just a kid heart as I found the Hot Wheels tracks to be quite a bit of fun and our kids did too.  Who says you need to be between 4 and 12 to enjoy them? I’ve been accused of acting like a five year old from time to time…maybe there is something to that after all!

Cheers!