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Review: Legacy of the Beast

Iron Maiden’s well publicised RPG now available on the Apps Store and Google Play has been well promoted by the band during their latest world tour supporting “The Book of Souls”. The game draws inspiration from all the bands previous albums and combines the music and artwork that fans have come to love with the tried formula of a turn based RPG. As you might expect the gameplay isn’t anything unique for mobile RPGs with a simple levelling system and well throughout skill trees combined with a plethora of in app purchases. This was never going to be the draw of “Legacy of the Beast” as it has been a game designed for hard-core fans who would recognise every reference from the bands back catalogue.

The game is well conceived to take advantage of Maiden’s mascot Eddie as you must play through a series of worlds from the Ailing Kingdom (The Wicker Man), The Kingdom of the Sands (Powerslave) and The Underworld (Number of the Beast) in order to recover the pieces of Eddie’s soul. Playing through each world unlocks another portion of Eddie’s soul and an aspect of the mascot to add to your playable characters which are interchangeable during play to capitalise on  their unique abilities.

legacy-of-the-beast-iron-maiden-game-5

Beyond the inspiration for each world it’s not surprising that the developers have managed to squeeze in as many references to the bands body of work wherever possible. The newest album features strongly in the games mechanics as the book of souls which you collect early in the tutorial phrase allows you to utilise soul shards in order to summon creatures to help Eddie as he fight his way an army of cultist. However, the others are all their somewhere in different ways like the equitable items called talismans (The Final Frontier) the ever present guide called “The Clairvoyant” (Seventh Son of the Seventh Son) or a line of dialogue.

The result is a real blast for any Maiden fan as you can’t help prove your knowledge of the band by picking up all the little nodes to individual tracks. A soundtrack of some of the bands greatest hits is just the icing on the cake but is the element that obviously has pulled everything else together.

Apple’s March event: Nothing New Here

After Microsoft first showed off HoloLens in January last year buried amongst a three hour Windows 10 event, I remember reading the criticism of a rather biased Apple fan who suggested that the gang from Cupertino showed off more substance in a similar length event. I found his argument flawed than when he was speaking about a new MacBook and iPhone compared to something like HoloLens. I can’t help but remember it now as Apple again tries to pass off branding as innovation with their two latest product announcements in the iPad Pro 9.7″and the iPhone SE. Now before the devotees jump on my back and defend the quality of these products I am not arguing that both don’t represent improvements on existing lines and offer something to consumers rather offering a criticism of the portal of either as ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’.

iPad Pro 9.7 inch

Apple’s latest iPad follows on closely from the release of its larger brother and that is exactly how the team at Cupertino has tried to sell the latest attempt to stop its sliding market share. The new 9.7-inch tablet has been represented as the iPad Pro in a smaller package due to the inclusion of similar specs led by the new processor and access to ‘Pro’ access. In reality the device is just the newest vision of the tablet which Apple released in 2010 and have continued to upgrade over the years with each generation bringing significant improvements in power and additionally features. The ‘Pro’ is no different from the iPad 2 or any other Apple periodic update as consumers expect the company to release the same product with new specs the only difference here is that Apple has taken the opportunity to rebrand the device to improve their ability to compete in the current market. Not only are they using trends set by their competitors but Apple are dipping in to their MacBook line of laptops to try and target more of an enterprise market like they did with the addition of the ‘Air’ moniker to the 5th generation of the tablet. The ‘Pro’ 9.7 inch therefore doesn’t represent anything remotely ‘new’ either in the features which are all in line with its larger sibling, the product line or even Apple’s approach to its consumers. This doesn’t mean that it is not still a significant improvement on the iPad Air 2 in terms of performance and an excellent

iPhone SE

Before the newest iPhone was official announced the rumour mill had it accurately described as the body of an iPhone 5 with the internal of a 6S. The only thing that is ‘new’ about the iPhone SE is the name which dumps the usual numbering scheme as Apple has previously released cheaper iPhones in the 5C and have started making different size handsets with the 6 and 6+. Personally, I’m actually really excited by the release of the iPhone SE as it bucks the current trend of phone makers producing larger handsets. A trend that is especially frustrating for anyone like myself who wants to keep their phone in a jeans pocket, I’m now only hoping some Android or Windows OEM’s follow suit. The only disappointing element of the iPhone SE is that it doesn’t include all of the latest features present in the 6S or offer anything ‘New’. If Apple is successful with the SE in influencing trends this unfortunate fact suggests that those of use that prefer smaller handsets will continue to be treated as second class citizens with the premium features reserved for 5.5 inch or larger devices.

Selective rhetoric and Stats

Besides the annoying and biased views of the devotees what frustrates me the most about an Apple event is their use of the same rhetoric or misrepresentation of stats which no one in the tech world seems willing to put under the microscope. Once again Apple took aim at Microsoft by mentioning the 600 million PC’s still using 5 year-old operating systems which in and of itself is a pointless stat and could be used equally well by Microsoft to suggest customer satisfaction and the longevity of its software. Regardless of this Apple repeating like to take such information out of context for example that most of those 600 PC’s are found in enterprise which resist updating their software because of the cost of retraining which is especially important considering the dramatic sifts in the last few visions of Windows. Additionally, the comparison with Apple’s own tactics regarding software updates is also left unexplored for instance their use of limited backwards compatibility of apps that force consumers to update to the newest versions of iOS and OSX. My own experience at work is evidence of this mentality when a student sent me a pages file after updating to iOS 8 required me to update my own Mac to Yosemite in order to open and correct the work. Apple are able to imply these tactics because people subscribe to the philosophy of the ‘world garden’ present in iOS and the don’t have a sizeable Mac presence in enterprise. Regardless it is a tactic which Microsoft cannot employ without losing customers so all new versions of Windows are purposefully made to be backwards compatibility eliminating this reason to upgrade. This has been recently highlighted in the debate over UWP with epic games’ Tim Sweeney critical of the platform as a threat to make Windows more like the closed sandbox of iOS. Thus the difference between Microsoft and Apple’s strategies and business model render the comparison utterly useless in judging the success of either company.

Alongside these pointless stats Apple has begun to sound a little like a broken record by continually suggesting that the iPad will replace the PC. A statement which is starting to seem increasingly contradictory to the facts as Windows tablet market share has increased by 11% largely at the expense of Apple’s iPad despite the release of the iPad Pro and the inclusion of multitasking in iOS 9. Maybe the iPad Pro 9.7-inch will finally make Apple’s statement true but the fact that it doesn’t offer anything ‘new’ suggests that it won’t stop the market share slide so maybe it will just end up being the same old story.  

I’m sure Apple fans will disregard everything I have said as ‘Apple Bashing’ but if you read and consider everything I hope you can see past my criticism. Both products are well thought out to fulfil needs with in the current consumer market place by offering high end performance in a smaller package which will suit a lot of people’s needs. As a result, both will likely see strong sales if not anything ground breaking with many existing or past customers looking to upgrade their ageing devices. My frustration, outside the Apple philosophy represented by the ‘walled garden’, as anyone who knows me will recognise remains the Apple marketing machine which I have always felt tries to insult our intelligence with branding and inspiring statements rather than substance. Perhaps this point is misplaced and should be directed at the fans who take up this rhetoric rather than engaging in rational argument whenever their favourite tech giant is criticised. Maybe I’m being an idealist but criticism is never anything to fear as it helps us grow so hopefully the more pressure we apply to Apple and other tech companies for that matter will end up leading to something inspiring that truly is ‘new’ and ‘innovating’.

Debunking Tech Spin – Apple fans beware

If you are a tech nerd like myself or an Apple fan boy you have no doubt seen today the latest sale figures of the iPad Pro in comparison to Microsoft’s Surface Pro. While the fan boys are busy celebrating the English teacher in me thought it was about time to give a lesson about how to debunk the tech and for that matter the business worlds continual desire to distort figures and create false perception. Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about here are a few links to 9to5 Mac, softpedia’s and business insiders take on the latest sales news.

ipad-pro-vs-surface-pro-4

When creating market perceptions the best course of action is always to use statistics from a reliable source which these examples like others have done clearly by quoting IDC’s estimate of “2 million” iPad Pro sales compared to “1.6 million” sales of the entire surface line. Taken at face value this is easy to understand and is a clear win for Apple but the art of spin is about not giving context. Business insider is slightly different in this regard as it states that the iPad Pro was not available until the 11th of November, however again this is selective information. In this instance the information necessary to make an informed judgement is left out, for example that the iPad Pro is available in 40 countries compared to approximately 25 on last count for the Surface line up. These reports also don’t mention the very different retail presence of both Microsoft and Apple which undoubtedly impacted the availability of the newest Surface Pro 4 in many countries. It’s common knowledge that Apple has a well-established retail strategy with 481 stores in 18 countries meanwhile Microsoft has 116 stores in four countries including only 10 outside the US. The result of this disparity is that Microsoft either has to rely on their online store or secondary retail stores like JB Hi-Fi in Australia. My personal observation at several such stores in Melbourne has revealed that most didn’t release the Pro 4 until December and the Surface Book until January. In Australia, much like I’m sure other countries, it is common to get new technology significantly behind the US that is except Apple products which are conveniently available on a global launch day. Given this context the statistics emphasised in these articles has a slightly less impressive and clear conclusion. It is possible to ask why with a larger distribution and stronger retail presence Apple has only out sold Microsoft by 400,000?

Another technique used by spin doctors is to establish credibility by seemingly providing some form of positive information against their established contention in this instance that most of the Microsoft sales were the more expensive Surface Pro models or that the guys at Redman have experienced ‘29% year-over-year growth’. Notice none of this information detracts from the idea that Apple has sold more at least not without further data and analysis but does help to present the writers of the articles in question as unbiased and reliable sources. Unsurprisingly they do not expand too much on the price of the more expensive Surface Pro tablets as it could easily explain the disparity between the sales figures and offer more comfort for windows fans. In Australia the Surface Pro 4 retails from between $1348 ($899 USD) to $3398 ($2199 USD) depending on the hard drive, memory and processor while the Surface Book starts at $2297 ($1499 USD) and increases to a whopping $4197 ($2699 USD) with a dedicated graphics card while the iPad Pro is more affordable in the $1248 ($799 USD) to $1698 ($1079 USD) bracket. This brings up two very interesting points to consider when thinking about the basic economics of supply and demand since demand will be greater in general for cheaper products yet companies will only be able to set high prices if there is sufficient market willing to pay otherwise they risk creating a surplus of stock, Microsoft found this out the hard way with the original surface running Windows RT. Overall this means that 1.6 million Surface sales has likely created more revenue (not necessarily profit as the overhead for both products isn’t actually known) than the iPad. It is also possible to conclude that consumers are willing to pay more for a Surface Pro rather than settle for a less powerful device in the Surface 3. Not only does this additional detail help explain the sales figures but it also raises a question about their actual importance especially since as all the article have had to admit the overall iPad shipments have fallen by 24.8% from last year.

Possibly the most obvious attempt at miss direction is the reliance of weighted comparisons that do not fairly represent similar products. Most people would not try to compare apples to oranges but in the tech world this seems to be common practice as to attack Microsoft’s significance digital trends compares the Surface line to more affordable tablets like the Amazon fire $115 ($50 USD) that can only do a small fraction of the tasks of a traditional laptop. Unfortunately, this is not a onetime phenomenon as 9to5 Mac also highlight a table showing tablet market share this is incredibly rich since they quote IDC’s comments about transitioning to “detachable tablets” and has little relevance on their actual contention about the iPad Pro as it uses existing iPads to inflate market share and utilised the plethora of chip Android tablets to push Microsoft off the list. Unsurprisingly these articles also fail to mention that most market research firms like Gartner don’t actually categorise the Surface Pro let alone Surface Book as a tablet instead it is often labelled a hybrid or ultramobile and counted in the PC numbers. In this context what would be relevant would be a comparison between high end ‘detachable tablets’ or hybrids although an argument could easily be made that the iPad Pro does not belong in this category since most reviews agree that it can’t replace a laptop due to the limitations of iOS.

I hope a few of you have found this a little bit of a learning experience and maybe it transported you back to an English class at school were some teacher was prattling on about persuasive techniques (some of mine are a bit obvious). These types of tech articles are just a perfect example of how we experience subtle manipulation on a daily basis and just proves one of my favourite sayings, knowledge is power. My point although it may not seem like it is not to persuade nor even inform but to encourage you all to think critically and make your own judgement as unfortunately sometimes it’s about choosing which ‘truth’ you want to believe.

Cheers,

Jono

 

Iron Maiden is getting its own RPG, coming to Android this summer

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=56069988&source=wordpress

I saw this on my daily tech feeds and thought it was the perfect combination, gaming, tech and Iron Maiden. The uniqueness of Maiden’s catalog should make this intresting since each album either has a setting in a different culture, explores a supernatural entity or embraces science fiction. In addition the bands mascot, Eddie, provides a central character for gaming to utalise rather than band members. It’s not the first time Maiden has expanded into gaming either with 1999’s Ed Hunter, a rail shooter for PC. This experiment  complemented the bands greatest hits using the album covers as inspiration for each level much like ‘Legacy of the Beast’ plans to but hopefully as this is marketed as an RPG we can expect a little more from gameplay than Ed Hunter.

Normally I don’t use my phone for gaming but for this will make an exception since its going to have a killer soundtrack.

Up the Irons
Jono

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 1

Microsoft’s long awaited Windows 10 devices launch did not fail to impress. The software giant rolled out a raft of devices from phones to wearables as expected with predictable specs but managed to still give us a few surprises.  In every way possible the team nailed this recent set of announcements in order to maintain the positive coverage from the tech world which is always ready to label the company irrelevant.  So lets break it down …

Microsoft Band 2

The companies first wearable had a very limited availability, limited to the US and UK but from all reports the performance was never really the issue. Made as a fitness tracker and not a watch the band was always designed to be warn with the screen facing in for more natural experience while working out. To achieve this the original hardware squeezed 10 sense s into a clumsy design which people never felt very comfortable wearing. Obviously satisfied by the performance of version 1 the new and improved Band 2 seems like it has received a little more love with a rounded and premium design with a streamlined metal body, curved display and flexible straps. In addition the team has some how managed to include a new elevation sensor to help those who train at different altitudes. Finally, the Band 2 retains the best part of the original device as it is cross – compatible with iOS and Android and is therefore not necessarily tied to the fate of Windows Mobile. The Band has to date been the only wearable that has really caught my attention as it aims to serve a specific purpose but provides more functionality then other fitness trackers like Fitbit. At the same time it doesn’t try to become a fashion accessory,  personally I’m sticking with my Armani to give me that added flare. Now that they have refined the design I’m definitely still keen if it lands in Oz soon.

New and improved the Band 2

HoloLens

By now we are pretty used to Microsoft showing off mind blowing HoloLens demos but lets face it, we shouldn’t complain. This time the show focused on Multi-reality gaming with Project X-Ray where your entire house can become your new battle ground. Personally this is where the untethered nature of HoloLens really has an advantage over virtual reality headsets as you can more easily move into different rooms and interact unrestricted with the experience.  The gameplay itself is pretty straight forward but is definitely cool,  robots burst through the walls and hide behind your couch before you blast them in to holographic pieces. It really has me thinking about the possibilities, a police raid in your own house or a personalised hostage situation. More importantly, Microsoft finally gave us some release details with the developer kit available in the first quarter next year for $3000. It’s not cheap but since Google Glass was $1500 and that was nowhere near the level of HoloLens so I won’t be surprised if developers jump on board.

Lumia 950 and 950XL

Unsurprisingly the specs for these new Lumia Flagships like the new design for the Microsoft Band 2 had already spread all over the Internet but it always helps to get things confirmed. The 950 has an hexacore snapdragon 808 processor, and a 5.2 WQHD OLED display while the XL comes with an octacore processor, 5.7 display and liquid cooling. In addition both phones have a 20 megapixel PureView camera with optical stabilization,  USB – C connections, 3 GB of Ram, wireless charging, Windows Hello facial recognition, duel adaptive antennas and 32 GB expandable memory. None of these specs seem ground-breaking on their own but as International Business Times points out they still slightly edge out the competition from Apple and Samsung. Even so some other media reports are disappointed expecting a killer feature and a ‘premium’ Surface like design rather then the continued use of polycarbonate.

Firstly, I see the duel antenna as a welcome addition if it successfully works to improve signal quality as I have always felt that it is a annoying weakness of modern smartphones that it was easier to have a conversation with someone over a phone call 15 years ago. Personally the killer feature of these phones comes from the software as Continuum allows both handsets to connect with a keyboard and mouse through the dock and drive a desktop experience through Windows 10, but every other phone on the market can do this right?. Technically this means that with the right app you can edit, print or easily manipulate photos and documents without syncing your devices.  Now you can be “productive like a Boss where ever you are”, at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately,  most people probably only want to use their phone as a phone so I don’t know how much traction it will get in the consumer market but it is definitely great for the enterprise sector.

I find the second criticism ridiculous and largely perpetrated by those people who have never used a Lumia device beyond a review unit, having owned a HTC Mozart, Lumia 610, Lumia 920 and a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge I still consider the polycarbonate 920 my favourite. Mainly because of the solid build quality as regardless of how many times I dropped it over the 3 or so years with out any form of case the 920 still works fine if only  for the aging specs. Meanwhile the HTC lasted just over a year before a fall from a coffee table shattered the screen and made it unusable similarly one fall from a car door has left my Galaxy 6 edge with clear blemish to it’s stunning screen. This is not to mention the fact that my Galaxy like most other phones is kept neatly covered by a case so I can preserve the “premium” design, something I never even considered with my Lumia. Now don’t get me wrong the Galaxy S6 is a fantastic phone and I don’t have any regrets but I’m using it to make a point that the Lumia Line has a well know track record for taking a beating which I think is more important. After all if your buying a phone for the looks you probably don’t know anything about performance and are too concerned with your own status unfortunately this probably includes a good portion of the mobile marketplace.  Sorry for the rant but every time I hear or read comments about premium materials and beautiful shiny designs I can’t help getting angry at people’s stupidity as I am a very practical person.

Admittedly apps still remain a problem for Microsoft’s mobile strategy and it’s not TV surprising that they find themselves at something of a cross roads.  Both realising the importance of getting  their services onto other ecosystems while trying to use the universal capacity of Windows 10 to breath some life into their own platform. The word out of Microsoft is that they aren’t expecting much from the new handsets but it allows them to create a bundle for enterprise customers interested in the surface line. We shall have to wait and see over the next couple of months but they will continue to make little progress if they can’t get Google, carriers and OEM’s on board in order to encourage developers. Hopefully the new tools to port Android and iOS apps to Windows will help as I think consumer’s will benefit from increased competition if Microsoft can start gaining even a little bit of traction in mobile.

I always seem to go into way too much detail, but stay tuned for part 2 as I look at the Surface announcements from Microsoft’s event.

Till then,

Jono

Building the future

Hi tech heads, it seems the boys at Redmond have been busy so here is a quick round up of all the news that matters from the build keynote.

Universal apps
We always knew that Microsoft were going to be pushing applications that worked across devices but until now its always been demoed using Microsoft own apps like office. However, now they have taken the next step by creating a version of Visual studios that works in  objective C, Java and C++ coding that will allow developers to easily port thier existing apps to Windows. Microsoft’s demoed version of candy crush from the iOS app store showed the potential of this mentality to finally conquer the app gap. This doesn’t mean that every iOS and Andriod app will be on Windows but with access to the PC marketshare and the Xbox One many develops will be attacted to make the small effort now required.

Continuum
Again this feature was introduced at the Windows event in January as it allows the OS to detect the type of device and change between the touch and desktop interfaces. Using a hybrid device like the Surface Pro this means that it detects when you are using the Keyboard and prompts you to enter desktop mode. The next step was always going to be multiple displays but rather than use a tablet, microsoft showed off how a phone can be used to run a full desktop interface. Its been years of people saying that mobile will kill off the PC but perhaps this new feature will lead to the future were less hardcore uses will only need a phone and a dock.

Microsoft Edge
Project Spartan’s offical name has a bit of a samsung ring to it and as a Halo fan I miss the link to the Master Chief but the times they are a changing. Other than the name the browser didn’t have any new features but did look more polished so I’m looking forward to testing it out in build 10074.

Hololens
Redmond’s new eye candy seems to have come a long way since January. This time the demo showed off a whole new range of apps including the everyday web browser, videos and Skype all of which can be controlled by your voice and resized to fit your walls. Yet, it didn’t stop there as Microsoft obviously wants to highlight the potential for their version of augmented reality in areas like medical education and robotics. If this wasn’t enough thier was something for the real tech nerds as we also learned a bit more about how this new device works and the internal components.

Final thought
I have had a good vibe about Windows 10 for some time but the possibilities show in the keynote suggest a bright future. A universal OS that can port apps from other popular ecosystems and react to way you are using your device may well be the future of mobile.

I would love to get your thoughts on windows 10, even the skeptics.

Cheers
Jono

Making the Switch: Windows Phone to Android

It’s been a while but I thought my decision to upgrade phones and jump on the Samsung bandwagon would make for a good post. Now, first of all I would like to point out that I have been a happy Windows phone user since I got my HTC Mozart more than 4 years ago and it was with some regret that I found it was time to upgrade my Lumia 920. My decision instead was motivated by hardware and the annoying lack of a new Microsoft flagship with up to date specs. The choice going forward was easy since I have had experience using both iOS and Android, the latters static icons, closed hardware and obsession with adaptors made up my mind.  So lets get down to it my phone is a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge running Android lollipop with the TouchWiz UI so my comments are not based on Google’s stock OS.

Lumia 920 Galaxy S6 Edge

The Good

One of the features that has made my transition easy are Widgets as they act similar to the live tiles available on  Windows Phone with both providing snippets of information for easy, quick consumption. The added bonus on Android is that not only do widgets show information but depending on the application have limited functionality. In conjunction with the improved ecosystem this has been a big win in making the change from Windows phone. Although I have never been obsessed with an endless supply of pointless applications that complete tasks that can already be done using the internet if it had a flash plug in the quality of official and major apps is a big improvement. The other area where I see a massive benefit in usability is Android’s ability to multitask, bring up open applications and close them all at once.

The Bad

My major criticism of Android and iOS has always been the layout of the homescreen into pages with a specific amount of real estate unlike the continuous scrolling Start Screen found on Windows phone. Now I realise that this is being a bit picky but I can’t deal with gaps on the homepage so I end up finding apps and widgets to fill up the left over real estate. Its not just all aesthetics however as I’m missing the inbuilt email client found in Windows phone as it was easy to use and allowed me to pin individual inboxes to the start screen. However, my main criticism is the insane amount of bloatware from Google’s range apps to Samsung’s own concoctions that manage to do the exact same thing. Now I’m not saying that Windows Phone doesn’t come with its own set of apps that can’t be uninstalled but its a much shorter list.

The Verdict

Overall I am content with my decision as I am quickly adapting to using Samsung’s version of Android and the larger range of apps has been good. However, I am not ruling out a return to Windows Phone in the future when Microsoft finally releases some top of the range hardware. I hope this opens some peoples eyes about being willing to change ecosystems in the future as most of the things ways we use our phones aren’t that different and making the jump doesn’t take long if you have an open mind.

Cheers

Jono