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Monday, March 31, 2008

Review: Ms. PAC-MAN for the iPod

It seems like the iPod would be ripe as a platform to breathe new life into old/classic games. Namco tried with Ms. PAC-MAN, but came up a little short. Here's our video review:

iPhone gaming: Top Five Unanswered Questions

The iPhone SDK is out there, (And actually it just had an update today.) and we know a lot of people are working on a lot of great applications, many of which will be games. Unlike the launch of a true gaming console at CES or the heyday of E3, this is the rare instance in which millions of the "console" have already sold, and no one quite knows what will happen with games. And so we present (in no particular order) the top five unanswered questions about gaming on the iPhone.

1. Is the hardware up to the challenge? Or more precisely, how much of the hardware power will Apple allow to be unleashed? According to specs from Roughlydrafted.com, iPhone specs include a 620mhz processor (underclocked to 412mhz), compared to the 67mhz ARM processor in the DS, and a 333mhz processor in the PSP. Of course as anyone from the PowerPC days knows, processor speed is only a small part of the story. The iPhone also has four times the RAM, and much more than ten times the storage capacity. However, it is after all, a phone. How much of this hardware can be maxed out for gameplay? How much of that RAM needs to be ready for use by mail, iTunes, Safari, etc? How hard does Apple want to push the hardware, and was this in mind when the phone was designed? After all, some have questioned whether Apple ever wanted to put out an SDK to begin with.

2. What will happen with battery life? Again, related to just how much of that raw hardware power Apple wants to unleash. The processor is already underclocked by more than 100mhz, presumably to save battery life. And as mentioned on this blog previously, battery life can be slightly shorter than expected already. What happens when you have 3D graphics running all the time during game play, as well as accelerometer input, etc? Look for a surge in 3rd party battery solutions to give gamers more juice.

3. What happens when the phone rings? When you're playing most consoles and the phone rings, you can ignore it, or glance over at your phone and take the call. It's presumable that gameplay will pause, and a dialog box will ask you whether to take the call. Given the concern over Apple's limitations on running apps in the background though, will you lose your game/saved data? This seems like an unlikely scenario, yet the SDK limitations could be interpreted to show this as a potential problem.

4. Can your music be integrated with gameplay? Already some games for the iPod allow you to continue listening to your iTunes while playing. Will Apple's restrictions around music, ie. not allowing developers to access iTunes, limit this capability on the phone? And more importantly, will it limit the creation of exciting new games that could integrate the users media already stored on the device? Imagine a 3rd person shooter in which the tv in one of the settings is playing your favorite music videos. Personalization could be taken to a whole new level, or it could whither on the vine.

5. What about wifi/bluetooth? Three cell phones ago, I enjoyed playing Battleship with a friend via bluetooth. Yes it was nerdy to sit there at the same table and play on two different phones. But it was also fun. The bluetooth functionality of the iPhone is limited right now, to put it kindly. Devices like bluetooth-enabled cars, with integrated address books are unable to communicate with the phone. Will we see more support of bluetooth standards in general, or will developers have to create their own solutions? And even if they can, will Apple give them access to the system calls and underlying OS to make that possible? The same questions surround wi-fi. Will iPhones be able to communicate directly with each other? Will a wifi network be required?

Clearly those five questions lead to many, many more. What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

iTunes Movie Store: I am McLovin' BUT I'm not for keeps

When Steve Jobs announced on January 15th the addition of movie rentals to the iTunes Movie Store AND that all major labels were onboard I was extremely excited.  I saw this as the rebirth of iTunes and it's companion product, AppleTV.

I anticipated being able to rent any movie I wanted and if I really liked it I could simply purchase it.  I even went so far to think that I would be able to purchase the movie within 48hrs of watching it.

As it turns out my vision for the rebirth of the iTunes Movie Store has been far from reality.  There seems to be no method to the madness anymore.  Three different scenarios appear on the movie store: some titles you can only purchase, others you can only rent, and if you're one of the lucky ones out there, you'll have the option to do both.

I can understand that a new release may be available to rent before it's available to purchase.  I cannot understand why a new release may never be available to purchase and why there isn't some indication of this.  There is no way of telling if a title will eventually be available to purchase.  Would it be so difficult to add a line of test saying "available to purchase on . . .".  For now it seems that we'll have to guess and keep our fingers crossed.

But what about older movies or movies that were available before the rental feature went live?  For example, I can rent OR buy Kickboxer 4 (and who wouldn't want both options).  I know that I have both of these options because it's listed as "View Movie" on the Action / Adventure genre page.  The original Die Hard . . . only available to rent.  I'd like to have been at the meeting where the decision was made that View Movie would make sense and consumers would equate that to Rent or Buy.  This is just plain bad.  For a uncomplicated store, it's becoming more and more difficult to navigate, but what about the product pages?

One of the great features on the Music Store is the ability to see what other people purchased who also purchased the album you're looking at.  This feature has carried over, but now it's just inaccurate.  Some may say it's semantics, but I don't care.  If you're looking at the movie Independence Day (only available to rent FYI) you can see that "viewers also bought": The Fifth Element (a favorite of mine), The Matrix, Batman Begins, X-Files, and Aliens.  The punch line is that all of those titles are only available to RENT.  Apple seems to think that rent is synonymous with buy or the past tense, bought.

If you've been watching tDL Live, on Monday night at 9pm eastern, over the past few months I've been ranting about Superbad only being available to rent.  As it turns out I'm not the only one who is confused and unhappy about the state of the store.  Little_Man says, "...I highly reccomend u to buy this".  Sorry Apple, Little_Man is sending business elsewhere.  Joe Awesome says, "This movie, was the best comedy I've ever seen.  But the downside is that I want to buy this movie."  I agree Joe Awesome.  Unfortunately you can't, and Apple won't tell you if you'll ever be able to.  From comments on the first page of reviews alone, Joe Awesome and Little_Man are in good company . . . why can't we buy it?  More importantly why can't we tell when / if we'll ever be able to.

I'll save you some time . . . Don't visit the support page on Apple.com, it won't help.  Until further notice . . . Keep those fingers crossed.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Apple Retail Opening

If you live in either Philadelphia or South Jersey, most likely Apple has already spammed your inbox announcing the new Cherry Hill retail location.

The grand opening is Saturday March 29th. If you're a Mac fanboy or even just a casual Apple user, I highly recommend checking out an opening in person. When the doors open you will be greeted with some thunderous music and enough hooting and hollering that you might actually think a rock concert is about to begin.

As someone who was lucky enough to work as a Mac Genius during such an opening, I can honestly say it was one of my best experiences while at Apple. You definitely feel like a rock star, even if only for a few hours. It's also one of the few times where the job doesn't feel very much like a job, and in retail those day are hard to come by.

The employee turnover at Apple appears to be much higher now than when I worked there. That's to be expected in high volume retail. Chances are many of the faces you see tomorrow in Cherry Hill won't even be there come winter. Retail has a way of chewing you up and spitting you out. But these sort of events and the people you work with are what made it all worth it.

Of course the pay wasn't bad....and the endless supply of black t-shirts, and the free iPods....Oh and the groupies....hmmmmm groupies :-P

Apple Falling Behind The Technology Curve?

Today DELL made good on their promise to be first to market with a sub-$1k notebook with an included Blu-Ray drive.

After doing some comparison shopping on both DELL and Apple's site, you can see that for a paltry $79 more than the low end Macbook you can land yourself an Inspiron 1525 which will burn both CD/DVD and BURN Blu-Ray. Why is a company that has pioneered DVD creation and movie making for the past 5 years still shipping their low-end notebook with a combo drive as the standard configuration? It is 2008 right? I haven't slipped into a worm hole and landed myself in the year 2001 have I?

Even at the risk of hurting movie download sales, Apple needs to start including Blu-Ray now. By the end of the year there will be over 13 million PS3 sold, and countless more stand alone players. The format is here to stay and eventually Blu-Ray will become a bullet point when a customer is deciding between an Apple computer and a competitors.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Quick Reminder: TDL Live Mondays @ 9:00 PM ET

I know it ca be hard to remember to sitdown in front of a computer at a specific time to watch something. We hope you will though. Each week on TDL Live we look at the latest Apple headlines, and technology news and rumors. And you never know what we might give away, or what might happen. It is, after all, live. And you can interact with us via iChat or email during the show. So I hope you'll get a chance to check us out this Monday.

Here's a look at what you missed last week:

Exclusive: Interview with the guy who got his Powerbook & Xbox back, thanks to digg

Jesse McPherson came back from the SXSW Interactice festival in Austin, and he was  in for quite a surprise: His Powerbook, Xbox, and flatscreen TV had been stolen. While growing impatient with the "official" investigation, McPherson posted his story on his blog, and submitted it to digg. What happened next was a classic example of the power of community:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quick Review: Vortex Game for the iPod

Macgirl had a chance to give Vortex a whirl on her 5th gen iPod. The quick take: the gameplay is fun, fast, and easily controlled.

Here's the full review:

Dither Me This: Apple Settles Display Lawsuit

As first reported by Appleinsider.com, Apple has settled a lawsuit brought by two photographers, regarding Apple's claim of millions of colors on the MacBook and MacBook Pros. So how many colors were there? Can't we just count them? Well, yes and no.

Essentially, the suit claims Apple reached the millions of colors through a process called dithering. Essentially, pixels next to each other that were two different colors could be used to give the look of a third, separate color.  No big deal, you say? Well, it can be to a photographer, which is probably why this wasn't thrown out.

Color accuracy at the pixel level is an essential for a professional photographer. Admittedly, I've never looked at a photo, and pointed out a flaw in a single pixel, but I see the point.

What does this mean to you? Well as a class action suit, this case may very well end in some sort reparation to all MacBook and MBP buyers. Don't quit those day jobs just yet. If history is our guide, this will most likely end with a discount on Apple hardware/software. Hmmm... Aperture anyone. Our prediction: a $50 off Aperture coupon. You heard it here first.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The iPhone Review: Nine Months Later

Sure it's easy to find a bunch of reviews for a product when it first comes out, but what about after all the hullabaloo dies down, and people have actually had a chance to use the device?

It's hard to believe, but it's already been nine months since Apple introduced the iPhone. I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the phone now, through nine months of ownership, especially for those of you still on the fence about buying, or holding out for a 3G phone.

The battery life is iffy. Here at TDL HQ, the iPhone needs to be charged on a nightly basis. If you're used to smartphones, this won't be a dramatic change, but if you're coming to a standard phone, say a Motorola RAZR for example, this will take some getting used to. I don't like feeling stressed on trips about whether my charge will hold up. Miss a night, and you could be looking at a dead battery by the end of the next day.

From an interface standpoint, for an internet device, the layout is great. As a phone? Well, it certainly takes more button pushes than you're probably used to, and so far, Apple has not enabled any sort of voice-activated dialing. As an iPod, the interface  (shared with the iPod touch) is slick, however, it isn't a perfect replacement in every situation. Using the iPhone as an iPod replacement in a car, for example, requires extra attention: you can't simply "feel" the click wheel as you would with a standard iPod. It is definitely more distracting to use while driving. Additionally, don't forget that due to its recessed headphone jack, you'll need an extra adapter (or be comfortable sanding/whittling existing peripherals) to attach your accessories to the iPhone.

The iPhone has had it's shares of issues, however. I personally had an issue in which I couldn't talk to, or hear calls unless I used the speakerphone. After visiting a Genius Bar, I was told it was an issue that could be reset by plugging in, and removing the headphones. After pointing out the absurdity of needing to travel with a pair of headphones in case it happened again, I was given a replacement phone. Two months after getting that phone, the same issue is occurring. I've been told the issue is not hardware-related, so hopefully it will be fixed through a software update. As I was given the new phone I was given no guarantee that it wouldn't happen on the new phone, as the problem was not yet fixed.

When the phone launched, 4GB and 8GB seemed large enough to serve as a phone with essentially a built-in iPod nano. However, with the approaching release of the Apps store for the phone, space on those devices could quickly be at  a premium. If you are thinking of buying an iPhone at this point, go with the 16GB (or larger as they become available) at the very least. What seemed like gobs of space for tunes, goes quickly when allotted for video, photos, and a slew of new applications.

The cell phone landscape has changed immensely in the last nine months. Spurred in no small part, by the iPhone, nearly every manufacturer has some sort of touchscreen device. But a touchscreen does not make a phone an iPhone. If you want internet surfing, email,  and music in the closest form to having you Mac (or PC) in front of you, the iPhone is the way to go. If you're looking for the quickest way to make a call, or the best iPod for your car, you might want to re-consider. 

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Think your data is safe at the Apple Retail Store? Think again...

Taking your computer to an Apple Store, and leaving for repair requires a certain amount of trust. As mentioned previously on Root Access, there will always be people who will take advantage of the system, and may look at things they aren't supposed to on your computer. But what happens when Apple replaces your computer? Where does your existing data go? Well, the short answer is it's hard to tell.

For the full story, here's our segment from Root Access talking about data privacy on replaced machines:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Gaming: TDL host in RB6V2 CONFIRMED!

The original title of this post was going to be "LOLCats in Vegas" but after two hours last night trying to get the the kitties to pose for a picture I gave up. Instead I'll be playing through the game this weekend staring at myself. I just wish the developers gave the option of adding some polygon hair!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Free iTunes for life? Believe it or not, it makes sense...

The rumor mill is abuzz today with reports Apple might be considering a premium service, that would allow you to pay a premium, $100 perhaps, over the normal iPod price for the privilege of lifetime downloads from the iTunes Music Store.

And believe it or not, this actually makes economic sense for everyone involved.

First a look at the numbers. As of January, Apple had sold 150 million iPods according to analysts. And from Apple's press releases, the music store has sold roughly 3.5 billion songs. Some quick division shows that's a mere 24 songs per iPod sold. Let's say the $100 premium is split evenly between Apple and the labels. That still means more than double the revenue from iTunes than now, for everyone involved. Well, of course except for the artists. (Quick tip: don't go into music for the money.)

Additionally, Apple would be an ally of all the big labels. After all, which player will they push if they're getting such a fine cut? Sure, other players will inevitably get the same deal, but it will be too late.

This would also eliminate the headache of users losing music in a hard drive crash: simply create a restore library option to bring all those songs to your new hard drive.

But what about TV shows and movies you ask... Well, they would most likely not be included. However, Apple could partner with the new industry site hulu.com to make TV shows available for free with advertising. TV show sales and movie sales, by all accounts, haven't quite caught on fire on iTunes. Imagine the possibilities to stoke AppleTV sales. And if the content's free anyhow, there wouldn't be nearly as much resistance to adding dvr functionality.

Overall, it's a sensible, though probably unlikely scenario. After all, this is the same company that still makes users pay $99 a year for .mac email...

Monday, March 17, 2008


Hey True Believers,

If you have seen recent episodes of Root Access, you may know that we are planning to cover and discuss more gaming related topics in the upcoming weeks and months. This will include not only iPhone games, but also Xbox360, Wii, PlayStation and retro gaming. Hopefully TDL will offer a slant on gaming that breaks the recycled story pattern of many gaming blogs today. So if there are any topics you want us to touch upon, give me a shout.


And if you want to come kick my ass on COD4 or Rainbow Six Vegas 2 send me a friend request over Live.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Is the iPhone SDK bigger than the PC?

When John Doerr speaks, Silicon Valley listens. As part of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Valley's premier venture capital firm, Doerr has seen his share of huge, game-changing technology. From Google, to Amazon, Sun and others, Doerr has had the vision to see the future just ahead of others. At Apple's iPhone SDK roadmap event, Doerr, took the stage to announce the establishment of the iFund: a $100 million dollar pot of venture capital money for applications intended for the iPhone. Lost in the coverage of the fund's establishment was something else Doerr said.

"Today we're witnessing history... In your pocket you have something that's broadband and connected all the time. It's personal. It knows who you are and where you are. That's a big deal. A really big deal. It's bigger than the personal computer," Doerr said at the launch.

Let's digest that for a moment. The iPhone as a bigger development in technology than the personal computer. Is there a bigger statement that could be made about the SDK release?

Well in fact, it could very well turn out to be true. While the iPhone has proven itself has a worthy phone/ipod/portable internet device, this SDK does indeed take things to a whole new level. Suddenly everyone from an 11 year-old girl to a Wall Street executive need/want the same device. The business app integration becomes a must-have for some, while a slew of cool, independently produced games become the hip item on every playground. John Doerr is seldom wrong, and he's not wrong this time either. This is bigger than the personal computer. Period.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

March Fantasy Apple Merger: Comcast

(Each month we weigh the pros and cons of a particular potential merger for Apple. Please note the "fantasy" part of this speculation: Many times the mergers mentioned couldn't or wouldn't be realistically possible. But put all that aside and enjoy this month's edition of Fantasy Merger.)

With Apple's revamped Apple TV, or more specifically, the "Take Two" software enhancements, critics seem to universally agree that Apple TV is better than it was. Many though, lament that there's still no way to record shows to the box, and that it cannot serve as a cable box replacement. Another box to have to hook up, and one without a dvd player is a barrier for many people.

It has also become clear in the past few weeks that Apple does not offer nearly the movie selection for rent as other outlets. Take Comcast's OnDemand movie offerings, for example.

Apple's plans seems set on a world in which the concept of networks disappear, and people are free to watch whatever they want to, whenever they like. Tivo has been but a small taste of Apple's ultimate network-free model.

Of course, there are a few problems with that future. For one, the cable companies have been doing just fine providing traditional network television. And, for those who enjoy live programming like sports and news, the cable connection is key to getting those programs as they happen. 

But now, go down the rabbit hole.. to a world in which Comcast and Apple are one. For the sake of this discussion, we'll assume Apple was able to outright purchase Comcast (not financially possible, but that's why we call it fantasy merger!). Now imagine that all those Comcast boxes in the universe are replaced by Apple TVs, or given Apple TV features. The resulting service would create a seamless experience: whether you want to watch podcasts, rent movies, or buy TV shows, it would all be handled by one device. And with Apple as an internet provider to millions, the possibilities to enhance/fix .mac become incredible. Personal photo albums from iPhoto/.mac could be made easily available to family members all over the country. And because Apple would control "the pipe" to the home, they would have tremendous leverage in dealing with the major networks, maybe dismantling the whole concept of networks, for better or worse, in the process.

What do you think? What other pros and cons would come from this merger?

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