Busy, busy, busy… And what else happened this week?

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

Oh, hedgehog, you silly sausage!

I’ve been busy job hunting over the last few days, so I haven’t had much time to write anything. However, there has been some interesting stuff going on that I haven’t covered, which I thought would be cool to highlight here.

  1. XBox LIVE Indie Games developers saw their titles moved back to the Games & Demos section of the 360 dashboard, as they rightly should have stayed in the first place. Great news for those devs that reportedly saw their sales halve overnight, and it puts Microsoft in a pretty good light, too – listening to the little guy, and responding. (Via Eurogamer.net.)
  2. A bunch of Black Ops stuff: strong review scores all-roundrecord-breaking salesproblems with the PC version of the game; and patches and promises from Treyarch. Pretty bummed out to see the PC version released in a state that left the multiplayer unplayable for a lot of people, and in the end it convinced me to buy the cheaper 360 version instead. I just can’t be arsed with the hassle of broken games any more, and then waiting for a patch to come out. Too little, too late, for me. (Multiple sources.)
  3. This slideshow presentation on “Gamification” and how marketers misunderstand the concept, where they go wrong with it, and what makes games actually “fun” to play. These are essential, fundamental ideas that marketers – both social media and digital – need to get their heads around for their efforts to succeed in this space. Badges aren’t enough, people! (Authored by Sebastian Deterding.)
  4. Trouble for Windows Phone 7: after initially optimistic reports of high demand around the world, it appears that handsets featuring the new OS have only sold 40,000 units in the US so far, while in Europe the numbers stand at around 250,000, faring slightly better. I suggested it could be a supply problem holding back demand. Nevertheless, it’s not auspicious news, but the expectations for the phones have been remarkably, somewhat unfairly, high. The word “flop” has been thrown around too quickly, in my opinion, and in others’. It’s certainly possible that the phone will indeed flop, but it’s still too early to tell, and I think it’s a mistake to count Microsoft out just like that. I hope the platform achieves some sort of success, as competition breeds innovation and, generally, lower-priced deals for consumers. (Multiple sources.)
  5. More phones news, but this time it’s Android: alleged photos on the Nexus S, the heir apparent to the much beloved Nexus One, from Engadget; and TNW has some very limited information on what kind of carrier availability to expect. Not a whole lot of substantiated facts, to be honest, but at this point I think it’s plausible that there will be a Nexus-branded phone coming out at some point, if it wasn’t already in the making. Too many people want it to happen. (Multiple sources.)
  6. In a pretty clever PR stunt, Sega set up a road crossing in London for one day to raise awareness around hedgehog-related road fatalities – and also to promote their new game, Sonic Colours! It got coverage across gaming sites and in at least one broadsheet. (Hey! The Daily Mail counts, right?) Worth it if only for the above featured super-cute picture of an actual hedgehog wearing teeny-tiny Sonic boots. Priceless. (Via Eurogamer.net, again.)
  7. Giant Bomb published a Quick Look on Tron: Evolution (thankfully, someone came to their senses and got rid of the additional sub-title, “The Video Game”). Having not really followed Tron’s progress, I was totally surprised by what I saw: it actually looked good – like, really, really good; like a game you’d want to play for more than five minutes, as opposed to the usual film-licensed shovelware. I don’t know why I should be so surprised, though. Disney Interactive has really started to take gaming seriously: they released Split/Second: Velocity earlier this year, which I derived immense enjoyment from, out of both its innovative concept and slick execution; they’ve got Epic Mickey on the Wii coming out, also looking like a quality product, from Warren Spector, one of the industry’s greats; and they’ve got this, Tron, too – also looking phenomenal. (Via Giant Bomb.)
  8. Rockstar has announced a new trailer and release date for L.A. Noire, which seems styled like a Chinatown-esque, third-person action game. It looks stunning, really; I’m at a loss for words. I’m a big fan of film noir, and it’s hokey, pulpy, melodramtic elements often can play out very well in a video game setting. (Via Joystiq.)
  9. Finally, we get to me shamelessly self-promoting my new article featured on Resolution-Magazine, entitled “The Miser’s Guide to Gaming On A Budget“. Hopefully it will serve some use for people who, like me, don’t have all the money in the world to spend on games – but wish they did. (Via Resolution-Magazine.)

And that’s all, folks! Tune in next time for… something else, I suspect.

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BlackBerry Torch and Blackberry 6 OS

August 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just coming off the previous post, RIM have announced their “next-gen” phone as well as an update to the Blackberry OS software. My reaction is this: indifference. RIM needed to really pull their finger out and deliver something at least on par or better than what’s currently available. They haven’t, and my gut feeling is that they’re never really going to. That 40% slice of your customers who’re thinking of switching over to Apple or Android next time they buy a phone? Say bye-bye to them, RIM, because they are so going to do that.

Here’s the new phone, the BlackBerry Torch. By all means, check out the technical specs and the video gallery to get a better idea of how it’ll work.

Now, from my point of view, putting a 624 Mhz CPU in your flagship phone at this point in 2010 is a bad joke. Simply put, it’s already obsolete tech, and this also goes for the low res 480×360 display. The rest, such as the wi-fi, the 5 MP camera, the memory, the fully functional browser, the 3G, etc., all seems fine – but, so what? RIM didn’t need “fine”; it needed “awesome”. This is not an awesome phone; it is not an exciting phone. The new Blackberry 6 OS looks to have a cool UI, seems easy to use and has the necessary features – but, again, so what? Nothing new to see here, folks. This is a very boring phone…

And it’s confused, too. I actually think the form factor looks quite sleek, but RIM really need to let go of that hardware keyboard. It’s old-fashioned now and slightly embarrassing, all told. It demonstrates a clear lack of  conviction in their design on their part; it looks like a device that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I understand that the QWERTY hardware keyboard is kind-of a stalwart of the brand, but this was RIM’s “do or die” moment. You cannot afford to be that conservative in the mobile tech market; you just can’t.

In a couple of years’ time RIM’s BlackBerry may still exist, but they will merely be a footnote in the history of smartphones. In this market, fortune favours the bold, and the innovative.

Browser Warz: Smartphone and Desktop Edition

August 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

My hard-on for Google related news continues.

There have been a few articles recently about the staggering growth of Android’s market share in the smartphone arena. The BBC reported Android phone shipments increasing 886% compared to last year, while in the US alone Nielson reports that in the last six months Android market share has risen above the 23% held by Apple to 27%, thereby overtaking their most important competitor. However, it’s also worth stating, for the sake of balance, that Symbian overshadows both OSs in the worldwide market, claiming 43.5% of this lucrative pie, and then that’s followed by RIM, the Blackberry OS, trailing way behind at 18%, followed closely by Android at 17.1%, with Apple at 13.5%, and so on.

However, Google shouldn’t be celebrating just yet, says MG Siegler from TechCrunch, claiming that the handsets sales aren’t really that impressive considering how many phones now carry the OS and how many mobile carriers sell those phones – compared, that is, to the iPhone, which only has two models available on one mobile carrier. He concludes that the comparison is unfair, that it doesn’t take into account iPhone 4 sales, and that we should wait to see the iPhone on at least one other US mobile carrier before making any kind of real assertions.

Now, to be honest, it reads a bit like an Apple propaganda piece, especially when he states “most shocking thing about the news today that Android sales overtook iPhone sales for the first time last quarter is that it didn’t happen sooner”. However, he does raise a couple of good points – that iPhone 4 sales aren’t counted; and the iPhone’s limited availability. That’s all true, but unfortunately I think it points more to Apple’s straight-up unwillingness to make partnerships and instead rely on exclusivity agreements. I don’t think people need to be reminded about this, but this is a very similar path to the one they trod when Microsoft took the desktop OS market by storm, leaving Apple their very small, but pretty, niche.

Anyway, irrespective of the issues of comparing market share in the US, GfK reported a “staggering” 350% increase in handset contract sales in the UK, and that was over a three-month period between Q1 2010 to Q2 2010. This being the UK, the iPhone is out on all the major handsets, so MG Siegler’s criticism doesn’t really stand up to much over here. The fact is that all these stats point to a massive surge in the uptake of Android-based handsets and that this trend is likely to continue for a while yet. Frankly, whether it’s 886% or 350%, Google should feel very pleased with what they’ve accomplished, even though they’ve got a long way to go.

Onto a somewhat related topic, Gizmodo, among others, has reported that Microsoft quashed radical privacy features that it was planning to integrate with IE 8, and it was prevented from doing so because of internal company conflicts. The privacy settings in question would have blocked third-party trackers by default, essentially cutting off advertisers from the anonymous, personal information that would normally be disclosed in the background while users surfed the Web. For Microsoft, that’s a pretty big step towards giving users more control over what information they wish to disclose – which is why Brian McAndrews, senior VP at the company, previously a CEO of web advertising company aQuantive,  put the kaboose on the whole thing. Long story short, the IE dev team lost against him, and it resulted in one feature being dropped altogether and another that users would have to manually turn on every time they booted up the browser – in other words, making it absolutely bloody useless.

The reason I’m talking about this story is because people care about their privacy. Sure, they might eventually compromise on it – if, for instance, what is offered in return is substantial enough to warrant it – but it’s still an issue. The point is, Microsoft and Google, for all the money they can put into desktop browser development, are beholden to certain stakeholders who hold a massive interest in online advertising. For Microsoft, less so; but for Google, that just about counts everybody in the entire company.

Google’s Chrome OS has made impressive strides in the browser marketplace, currently holding a 7.1% share against Firefox at 22.9% and IE (all versions) at 60.7%. Pretty good considering how “young” it is, and I truly believe it has already surpassed the latest Firefox build in certain aspects. However, unlike Google, one thing the Mozilla Foundation doesn’t have to worry about is advertisers, which means they don’t have to design their browser with them in mind; and in fact, all they need to think about is the core user experience. This is the single greatest advantage Mozilla has over its rivals, and if they can compete in terms of offering more speed, functionality, better UI and integration with third-party plugins, then it will almost certainly keep them ahead of Google, if not Microsoft as well.

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