For the Sake of Gaming, Let’s Hope Nintendo Watched the News Today

The battle for next-generation supremacy began last year at E3, and it continues today. Unfortunately, there are only two participants: Sony and Microsoft.

After the debacle that was the PS3 launch, Sony worked hard to please gamers over the course of that console’s life, and with the launch of the PS4. Microsoft, the darling of the last generation, got a bit full of itself with the launch of the Xbox One, but today’s announcements show the company is committed to righting its wrongs with that console.

The odd company out is Nintendo, a company that seems unwilling to help its own cause.

Like the Xbox One, the Wii U is bundled with a fairly expensive accessory that isn’t all that necessary for gaming on the system. Like Microsoft, Nintendo claims the Wii U Gamepad is a major selling point; a “differentiator.” And, like the Kinect, the Gamepad has shown small flashes of brilliance, but it’s mostly been underutilized and has added to the price tag of a system that is more expensive than it should be.

Microsoft, whose Xbox One is outselling the Wii U substantially despite having only been on the market for six months (compared to the Wii U’s year and a half) made tough decisions in order to play for first instead of second. I have no doubt that we’re going to get a better next-generation contest as a result. But it could be a whole lot better if Nintendo were playing for first itself, instead of being satisfied with a distant third.

Perhaps today’s move by Microsoft will change Nintendo’s mind about dropping both the Wii U Gamepad and the console’s price.

Does Nintendo Deserve to Die?

I’m a fan of Nintendo. For that reason, I want the Wii U to be a success.

Part of me can’t wrap my head around the idea of Nintendo developing games for third-party platforms, because I look at what that did to the once-proud Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. It ruined it.

Another part of me feels that the industry needs that third player in the game to keep things interesting.

But Nintendo just isn’t doing itself any favors. The company has stubbornly gone its own way on many occasions when the industry and its consumers went another. The company balked at high-definition in 2006. It still hasn’t put together any kind of meaningful online multiplayer system, despite the original Xbox debuting one back in 2002.

And now the company has the Wii U, a home console that lacks both an identity and a healthy third-party library. Outside of developing more first-party titles and releasing them every couple of months, there’s not a whole lot Nintendo can do to add games. Moving more systems would get more developers interested, but Nintendo refuses to drop the console’s price any lower.

Mario Kart 8 comes out in May, and I assume that the company sees that game as its Titanfall; the game that will finally get Wii U consoles flying off of store shelves (a year and a half after release). If that doesn’t happen, though, look out.

Xbox Live ‘Games with Gold’ vs. PlayStation Plus ‘Instant Game Collection’

Both Microsoft and Sony offer “free games” with their respective subscription services. Microsoft’s Xbox Live has Games with Gold, and Sony’s PlayStation Plus has the Instant Game Collection. When discussing the two, you usually see the same arguments for each side.

Xbox fans will say that Microsoft lets you “own” your free games, even if you cancel Xbox Live. They’ll say Sony is merely “renting” games to you.

PlayStation fans will say that Sony is offering higher-quality titles.

Both sides are correct — sort of. What the Xbox fans are missing is that “ownership” isn’t ownership when it comes to digital games.

Yes, you can keep your Xbox games and play them after you’ve canceled Xbox Live. But you’re merely licensing a digital copy of that game. You don’t own it. You can’t resell it. You can’t let someone borrow it. And should something happen to your Xbox 360 a few years down the line, you might not get that game back. It’ll be as though you never had it.

Let’s say that, in five years, both your Xbox 360 and your PlayStation 3 bite the dust. If the servers are pulled offline for both systems, you’ll have zero digital games. It doesn’t matter if you “rented” them or if they were “given” to you.

This is why I believe digital copies should be priced way lower than physical copies. And it’s why I don’t place a lot of stock in owning digital games.

Instead of thinking of it as “renting” versus “owning,” ask, “which will provide me with the best experience?”

Personally, I’d rather be playing AAA titles.

WhatsApp Voice Calls Aren’t a Big Deal

The newly-acquired WhatsApp plans to add voice calls to its service.

Here’s a link to an NBC News article about the new feature.

And here’s a quote:

The news that the most powerful of them was adding voice calls to its service will likely be seen as worrying for telecom operators globally, which got about $120 billion from text messaging last year, according to market researcher Ovum.

Here’s why I don’t think this move is worrying anybody.

Cell phone minutes — especially those on a smartphone — are things many haven’t had to keep track of since 2007. Ever since the modern-day smartphone came to be, voice communication has taken a hit and text/data communication has gone up.

Remember when we had a finite number of minutes, a finite number of text messages and unlimited data? Fast forward to present day, and we have unlimited minutes, unlimited texts and data caps.

Voice isn’t where the money’s at for carriers anymore. Texts aren’t raking in the bucks, either. It’s data.

The smarter our smartphones get, the more data we’ll use and the more carriers will be able to charge. WhatsApp voice calls will need data. And we’ll still need to pay for line access so our smartphones can be phones when necessary. So carriers will get their money regardless of how we use their networks, and maybe a little more.

The only thing that could possibly worry carriers is free, ubiquitous Wi-Fi, because it would allow consumers to bypass carriers entirely. Good luck getting that.

A Quick Two Cents on Comcast & Time Warner Cable

It seems a lot of people are not thrilled about the prospect of Comcast buying Time Warner Cable. I’m one of them. A transaction like this one, where #1 and #2 are joining, should benefit the public in some way. I don’t think that would be the case here.

Comcast is absolutely right when it says not much will change. Comcast and Time Warner Cable both have monopolies in their respective regions. Joining the two won’t decrease competition today, as the two companies don’t really go toe to toe in many markets.

The thing is, if Comcast is allowed to buy TWC, that means TWC won’t ever have the chance to enter Comcast’s territory to compete. Time Warner Cable may be number two, but it has the best shot at expanding into the markets that Comcast currently serves. An acquisition would leave it up to Cox (a very-distant third) to apply pressure.

When you look at it that way, the purchase would remove any shot at meaningful competition in the future. That is bad for consumers.

Comcast has made it a point to keep us focused on the TV side of things (and the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board did a great job following the laser pointer) but broadband is what’s really at stake here. So while Comcast is pointing to services like Netflix and Hulu as reasons the deal should go through, look instead at the number of broadband options you have in your neighborhood, and then remember that Comcast wants to acquire the only cable broadband provider with a shot at catching up.

If government regulators do their jobs, this deal won’t go through.

What the PS4 Does Right That the Xbox One Does Wrong



One of the biggest complaints from Xbox owners (both on the 360 and the One) is that digital games are too expensive. It’s a legitimate beef. Buying digital means you can’t resell a game or let a friend borrow it. So why are digital titles sometimes more expensive than their physical counterparts?

As far as the Xboxes are concerned, the answer is pretty simple: Microsoft is the only company selling digital games. There are no competitors, so the company has no motivation whatsoever to lower its prices.

Sony, on the other hand, allows other retailers to sell game codes. If you don’t like Sony’s price on a digital copy of Killzone ($59.99), you can buy it from Amazon instead ($43.01).

When asked about competitive digital game pricing in a Reddit thread, Microsoft’s Larry Hryb stated that it is “on the agenda.” Should the company need some direction, it should look no further than its biggest competitor.

Some Thoughts on the Next Apple TV

According to the folks at 9 to 5 Mac, we could be getting a new Apple TV in the first half of this year.

From 9 to 5 Mac:

The reference is inside of an Apple TV framework related to the device’s AirPlay functionality. The mention of the next Apple TV is the highlighted “AppleTV4,1.” The current Apple TV is “AppleTV3,2? while “3,1? is the 1080P model introduced in March 2012, and 2,1 is the first iOS model introduced in September 2010.

The most current version of the Apple TV, the 2012 model, runs on a single-core Apple A5 and contains 512 MB of RAM and 8 GB of storage. In terms of processing power and memory, it comes in near the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2.

With games and apps becoming more demanding, those specs aren’t going to fly if Apple plans to do more with the Apple TV. Now’s the time to significantly update the company’s “hobby” box.

Obviously, upgraded hardware is important. I think Apple will bring the next Apple TV in line with the iPhone 5S and iPad Air. If we’re going to get apps and games — especially games that give consoles a run for their money — the next Apple TV will need more powerful guts.

Can Apple beef up the specs and still keep the price at $99? That’s the big question. I wouldn’t put it past the company to work some magic, but this could be a $149 or $199 Apple TV.

If that’s the case, we might see the current 2012 model stay at $99 for those who only want to stream music, movies and TV shows.

As for the rumor about the TV tuner — that is entirely possible. With HDMI-in, the Apple TV can act as a sort of “middle man” and pass content from a cable or satellite box through to a TV; the perk being that we interact with an Apple user interface instead of the default cable box UI.

I believe that Apple, at one time, wanted to play a bigger part in delivering live TV content. Unfortunately, it’s an enormous industry that is extremely resistant to change. The pass-through model (that is also used by the Xbox One) is probably the best we’re going to do for a while.

WWDC is coming this June, so Apple could either announce before that (say, March or April) or at the conference itself. Then we’ll see what Apple really has planned for TV.

A Relaunch, of Sorts

I last published something to this blog on December 5, 2012.

Since then, I’ve barely stopped by to blow away the dust, much less share anything with the world. I do plenty of writing elsewhere, but that’s a poor excuse to let the cobwebs creep in.

So here I am, broom at the ready.

I’ve made a few changes to the site. I’m also working on an “Disclosures” page that lays out past tech-related employers/clients and the devices I use personally. It’s just a good thing to do, and I’m a bit late to the game in doing it.

The content here will be mostly tech-related, though I reserve the right to venture off topic occasionally. And I’m sure some of you are aware that covering tech isn’t my only job — it’s actually not even my full-time job. Forty hours of my week are spent working with intellectually disabled adults at CPARC, and I plan to help push that organization’s message somewhere. Just not here.

Now, let’s make this place look less abandoned, shall we?

Thoughts on CAT & Google Transit

I became a resident of the city in November 2010 (yes, I just celebrated my 28th birthday and 2nd Burgday, I suppose). In my short time here, I’ve learned that, despite the city’s very well-documented troubles, there is quite a bit around to be thankful for. This includes the city’s wide-reaching transit system, CAT.

I’ve used CAT a number of times — when my car was being fixed, or when heading downtown, for example — and, aside from late buses, my experiences have been good. That said, “good” doesn’t become “great” by resting on its laurels. There are ways the system could be improved to entice new riders and make life easier for those who already use it. In the case of this one, there isn’t really a purchase necessary, other than the price of someone’s time to make it happen.

Google Transit

I’ve harped on this quite a bit. CAT needs to get its routes into Google Transit. Through the miracle that is Gmail search, I was able to track down an email I sent to CAT back in February 2011 in which I suggested the agency look into Google’s free transit mapping solution. The response I received back then from a Mr. Tom Collins was, “Currently, there are no plans to add our routes to Google Transit…..” Just for kicks, I tried to get transit directions between two locations in the city last night, to no avail. Almost two years later, it looks like nothing has changed in terms of CAT’s plans.

To be fair, putting together the data feed necessary for CAT’s routes to show up in Google Transit would likely require a significant time investment. This is because CAT currently operates its routes on “timepoints”; major stops are the only ones that have an arrival/departure time listed, though there are many stops in between these timepoints. To put together a Google Transit feed that provided real value to CAT riders, CAT would have to enter every single bus stop in the city — not just timepoints — as well as which buses went by those stops, and at what times.

If done correctly, a rider could enter two city addresses into Google Transit — let’s say, my old apartment to the Colonial Park Mall — and be told that a bus arrives at the stop at 3rd & Graham at 1:08 PM, and stops near 3rd & Forster around 1:18 PM. You can then hop off of that bus and (if you’re lucky), catch the bus coming north on 3rd on its way to Colonial Park. Pulling off such a trip now requires that you know where the non-timepoint bus stops are, as well as which buses travel on the routes you need, and when they arrive at the stops. For most people, this means experimentation (hope you have lots of quarters) and a willingness to stare long and hard at PDF documents.

By the way: if you would prefer to just go to the Transfer Center and wait for the Colonial Park bus, your arrival time for the mall jumps from 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM. Get ready to play lots of Angry Birds while you wait.

I happen to think that CAT would be a more viable option for many if they had all of this information in front of them and easy accessible. For those simply looking at CAT’s overly simplified timepoint schedules, a trip like the one above might look like a multi-hour ordeal when it really doesn’t have to be.

Anyway, just thoughts.

(and wow, I posted something.)

The Evening Edition Approach

The more options you have, the more you think.

The more you’re thinking, the more you aren’t doing.

It is one of life’s great illusions; that it is a sign of freedom to have so much choice. But when the choices are inconsequential — what kind of cereal you’re going to buy, for instance — it is the exact opposite of freedom. You are a slave to the decision-making process. It’s true while you’re in the grocery store. It’s true when you turn on the TV and are so overwhelmed with choice that you watch nothing. Sometimes, it is a relief to take the only thing you are offered and move along, especially when you have other things to do with your time. This is why I’m extremely fascinated by Mule Design’s Evening Edition project.

One page. A snack-sized look at the day’s top news stories, published at 5PM PST. ReadWriteWeb’s Jon Mitchell commented, “A Web design studio built the first news site I’ve ever read from top to bottom two days in a row, and it did so as a side project.” It’s true. Mule Design is a Web design company at heart; in fact, you might be familiar with one of its designs (which doesn’t do much to espouse simplicity but is an enormous improvement over the previous design).

What Mule’s Evening Edition project does differently is that it targets ordinary content consumers, and it could care less about the numbers. It gives those who just want to quickly catch up on the news a way to do so without dozens of menu options, and without having to click through multiple pages to get the gist of the story. It is extremely functional because, from the start, it tosses out the benchmarks used by every other media site for success: page impressions, clicks, social shares, etc. Those benchmarks can become a site’s obsession, and lead it to make a lot of really bad choices (how user friendly are those multi-page slideshows?). You might push those pageview numbers up a percent, but you’re also taking an enormous crap on your readers.

The Evening Edition format looks more the format that belongs on the front page of a news site or a blog. Let those who simply want to find out what happened in the world do so, and do so quickly. Provide an avenue for those who want to dig deeper. Basically, provide the same service a low-tech, traditional newspaper provides. Offer a good experience, and you’re more likely to get a daily visit. It’s strange that a few steps back can be seen as innovative, but in 2012, where ridiculous linkbait headlines and cheap pageview pumping are the norm, it is just that.

Seriously, how wonderful is this?