Monthly Archives: January 2015

Apple Insider: Hypocisy at work

I Bet My Life: Microsoft HoloLens perfectly targets its core competency.

I never really wanted to just rant about Apple on this Blog as I feel like it just takes away from the intelligence of my analysis and makes people think I can’t be objective but after reading this editorial and some of the comments on Apple Insider I have to admit that my blood was up and I felt like tacking apart some of the more ridicules points.

Starting with the idea that Apple’s last 2 hour event actually presented people with more substance and innovation, “By way of comparison, Apple’s last event to exceed two hours introduced iOS 8, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, Apple Pay, Apple Watch, a performance by U2 and another 15 minutes to spare.”  The first announcement was mobile OS which has been updated yearly for sometime and there fore was hardly news, while the next is the latest incarnation of a phone released in 2007 with the same level of minor changes that we have come to expect and of course the same phone with a bigger screen to combat the rising demand for Android Phablets. In fact Apple Pay and the Apple Watch were the only ‘new’ products announced the later being expected for the last few years was also hardly a surprise.

The editorial than continued to attack Microsoft over the features that they are including in Windows 10 “ostensibly free OS updates, a standards compliant web browser with Safari Reader, Office running on a mobile device, third party apps that run on a mobile device, AirPlay wireless distribution and Siri“. I think the first point here is a bit irrelevant because while Apple have released free updates their Operating Systems only run on their devices which people have to buy to begin with and considering the premium cost of these products the argument could be made that the cost of the Operating System is included. He then talks about Safari which is only every used on an iOS device partly because of restrictions on other web browsers, despite this the Reader that he is so proud of does not include the Note Taking mode which is by far the key feature of Project Spartan. Finally, he talks about Siri which we know does not have the same personalised capabilities that make Cortana different  and is restricted to iOS which means it is not available on the 8% of people who use Macs for their computing needs.

If this had not already got me started I would have his next attack on HoloLens would have done the job as it smacked of hypocrisy and someone who buys the coloured version of history that Apple has created. He argues that HoloLens is hardly a unique product with features “that PrimeSense showed off two years ago” this is no doubt true as it is very rare that anything in technology is truly new but is rather a refinement of already exciting products. Apple’s own success is a perfect example the first tablet was launched in 2001 running Windows but flopped because it did not have touch friendly UI and was not very portable along came the iPad and refined these problems. Even the iPhone was based on the existing capabilities of phones at the time which already had internet access, email, games and a range of utilities like calculators  but by boarding this experience and making some alterations to the form factor to make use of a touch screen Apple created smartphones. Finally we come to their latest product the Apple Watch which is following in the footsteps of hundreds of different devices including the Samsung Gear and Microsoft Band just to name a few.

His final attack was on Microsoft sketch record with hardware releases including Zune, Surface, Windows Phone and surprisingly Xbox. Now I would be the first to admit that Zune and Windows Phone continue to be a large stain on Microsoft’s history as they try to make themselves appear credible hardware developers but only in some kind of virtual reality could the Xbox be tarnished with the same brush. Especially considering the success of the 360 as the dominate console of the last generation and strong sales of Xbox One which is admittedly still only the second fasted selling console in history. Finally, we come to Surface whose first two versions have been marred by poor sales tied to the pointless creation which was Windows RT but leaving this behind and focusing on raw power and a full PC experience the Surface Pro 3 has become rather successful, inspiring a few knock offs including the rumoured iPad Pro.

I respect what Apple has done for technology and while I don’t personal use their products unless I’m forced to I understand their appeal however I don not appreciate blind fan boys attacking other companies especially with erroneous and hypocritical statements.

 

Windows 10: A New Beginning (part 2)

By now everyone should have heard something about the two new pieces of hardware announced by Microsoft yesterday, especially HoloLens so I’m not simply going to repeat everything from the Keynote. Looking at both these devices they have their links to existing products on the market but seem to take the next step and extend their ability to actually fulfil a practical purpose.

Surface Hub

Microsoft first new piece of hardware has been lost under the shadow of their second announcement as it lacks the eye-catching feel of innovation. Unfortunately that’s what will happen when you reveal something that looks a bit like a TV or giant tablet so hopefully I can put it into some perspective. Firstly, the Surface Hub has an 84 inch 4K display and comes with built-in NFC, WiFi, cameras, microphones and everything else you can come up with all in an easy to install package (one wire). This actually means that you can send and receive data from the Surface Hub any number of ways without too much difficulty regardless of the type of other devices you may be using.

The key difference between the Surface Hub and other conferencing solutions on the market is that you don’t need to have a companion device. Since the Hub runs Windows 10 you have access to shared files for presentations, you can use a variety of apps and easily Skype with colleagues. Despite this there will be times when you still need or want to connect a laptop to the Surface Hub especially if you’re just visiting a workplace or like my situation changing classrooms every 40 minutes, in these situations you can take advantage of the ink back feature. If you haven’t guessed it the Hub supports pen input, allowing OneNote to operate like a whiteboard, but ink back means any notes you add-on the screen will be included on the original document on the laptop.

These are some of the features and possibilities which separate the Surface Hub from the current smorgasbord of Smart TV’s, interactive whiteboards or Apple TV connected screen that are used in classrooms around the country. Microsoft’s keynote focused on the advantage for business but I see a great application for the classroom as long as they don’t price it out of the market. Based on my experience the Surface Hub solves all the issues of using technology in the classroom as you don’t need to mess around with cables or make a choice between functionality. Even the ability to forward information from OneNote to students is a god send as it eliminates the need for the distraction of students taking photos of class notes. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Surface Hub develops and have my figures crossed for a reasonable price tag so I can play with one in the not to distant future at work.

Check out Dan Costa’s hands on at PC Mag if you want to know more.

HoloLens

Moving on to the surprise of the event, there had been rumours about Microsoft working on a VR headset over the last 6 months but none of them even came close to discovering the truth about HoloLens. It still amazes me that they have been able to keep this secret for 7 years, since everything in technology now days from Project Spartan to the two size of the iPhone 6 are known well before they are announced.

HoloLens seems like an advanced 3D form of augmented reality were everything becomes a screen for apps like Netflicks or uses your environment to allow you to interact with a world of possibilities. It seems to share more with Google Glass than any of the VR headsets being developed at the moment as it is completely untethered by wires and is based on interacting with your environment rather than sending you to another world. On display at the event was Skype, Minecraft and a 3D design studio called Holo Studio however the most amazing application is Onsight a 3D exploration of Mars. This last example probably shows the greats application for schools as I could imagine exploring historical sights like the Pompeii from your classroom.

Despite the wow factor and Microsoft unexpectedly breaking new ground our information on HoloLens is still limited. It runs Windows 10 holographic which is based on the same design language so app development should be straight forward but there are no specific details as how it might be used as an Xbox One streaming device or other apps that will be available on launch. We also don’t really know how it works besides the addition of the third holographic processing unit or what this will mean for battery life.

As it stands HoloLens has tons of potential but until we know more, including price and distribution it hard to tell whether it will be the next big thing or just a gimmick like Glass. At least we should not have to wait long as Microsoft have stated that HoloLens will be deployed within the Windows 10 release window.

If your interested in finding out more here is a hands on from Engaget and an interesting comparison with Google Glass from PC Mag.

Cheers

Jono

Windows 10: A New Beginning (Part 1)

It was a busy day for tech enthusiasts as Microsoft gave us the next look at Windows 10 and even had a few surprises that they had manage to keep secret. After watching this morning’s keynote and checking my preferred news feeds here is the first part of my roundup of what we have to look forward to later this year.

A Universal Operating System

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

The familiar desktop with the new modern start menu

 

To start Terry Myerson VP of Operating Systems gave us the news we all wanted to hear that windows 10 will be a free for the first year for anyone upgrading from Windows 7, 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. This serves a practical purpose for Microsoft by trying to compensate for the ill will towards Windows 8 and also by addressing the fragmentation of the 1.5b Windows users which limit developer interest. In the fine print it also suggests that Microsoft may turn to a subscription service like Office 365 since it is only free for the first year, if priced well such a move would still benefit consumers as existing subscribers would have access to the regular updates that Microsoft has promised in this new world of Windows as a service.

It was left to Joe Belfore to do the heavy lifting and showcase the latest features of Windows 10 starting with a recap of what we already know, including continuum the way in which the OS detects and changes between touch and keyboard inputs making it great for a hybrid device. However, it was the introduction of Cortana which everyone was waiting for and it didn’t disappoint as it uses existing features like the notebook to personalise your Windows experience from searching your files and the web to dictating your emails. Cortana like the other apps that Belfore demonstrated including a touch friendly Office with near full functionality are all universal apps across phones, tablets and PC’s with synced settings in addition to a similar UI experience that is scaled to a specific device.

Finally the worst kept secret was on show with Project Spartan, Windows new browser. The streamlined design and new rendering engine won’t really draw much attention but are the key to making a better working experience. The real excitement comes from the note taking mode which allows you to annotate using a pen or keyboard web pages and share them with others. In addition the new reading mode maybe the answer to getting rid of annoying advertising when you’re browsing and combined with the reading list will help keep track of your interests online. Of course Cortana come imbedded and I really liked the idea that if you’re looking at a restaurant she will get you everything from directions to reviews and importantly this can easily be synced with your phone.

Written and typed web annotations.

Written and typed web annotations.

To finish software part of the presentation it was passed to the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, to showcase gaming on Windows 10. Starting with the Xbox app which brings all the social features we have become familiar with on Xbox One including the activity feed and friends lists. This means that we remain connected to our fellow gamers even when we are away from the console and using the new built-in Game DVR function ( Windows + G) we can share our PC gaming experience. However, for me it was all about the games and the promise of Direct X 12 to improve detail so it was Phil’s demonstration of playing Fable Legends on a Surface Pro with a Lauren from Lionheart using an Xbox One. This is something I have wanted for a long time (since Halo was released on PC 10 years ago) as I have never been great with a keyboard but still wanted to play alongside friends who don’t have an Xbox, finally my dreams have been answered. To complete my gaming paradise with Windows 10 we can stream any game from our Xbox One to our PC screen, perfect for when my fiancée wants to watch Sex in the City.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

Xbox app complete with games, friends and activity feed.

That’s it for part one, tune back in tomorrow for my take on the hardware surprises unveiled today.

Cheers

Jono

Join the Inquisition

It took some time but Dragon Age Inquisition is now a fact of life and it is a contender for game of the year, but is it everything that fans like myself could hope for? Bioware have a strong history in creating a winning RPG dating back to Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and setting the bar with the hugely successful  Mass Effect series.

However, Dragon Age has often been the unfortunate second son with handed down features from their earlier success. In Origins this was only too apparent if you compared the level up structure with KOTOR as both had points for attributes with a skills option and trees for up grading a huge range of feats, hell even the page looked the same. With Dragon Age 2 the game started to borrow more from Mass Effect with the addition of spoken dialogue in the form of a wheel at the bottom of the screen. Regardless of these short cuts the series has established a loyal following due largely in part to game play but more substantially to the storyline with a huge array of possible outcomes based on the players actions and elaborate world of Thedas. Even the repetitive dungeons with their brick walls, the wimpy voice acting and the heavily  restricted world of Dragon Age 2 couldn’t kill of the hunger of diehard fans like myself.

Along came inquisition which was a driving force behind my recent purchase of an Xbox One, I’d even spent months completing the previous games for the 5th and 4th time respectively. So to say that I had built up expectations would be a slight understatement. Thankfully it lives up to the hype. To start Thedas looks great from the cinematics to the different textures of  environments the game builds on one of the strengths of Dragon Age 2. This task is made more difficult by the scope of Inquisition which brings you in touch with more of the people that make up Thedas than every before as you recruit people from Ferelden, Orlais, the Imperium  and even a Qunari. Throughout the unfolding story you find yourself revisiting familiar places like Redcliff and Haven that are now more detailed but you also journey in to Orlais which has its own specific brand of style.

Game play is where the team has done the most to shake up the franchise as they have responded to the criticism of its of the sequel by creating a more open world experience. This is not to dissimilar from Skyrim with each new area heavily laden with  side quests, resources, collectibles and secret areas. However, Dragon Age brings its familiar party system to combat with the addition of the new tactical mode which brings a more strategic element to game play especially helpful if trying to pass the higher difficulty levels. If this was all Inquisition had to offer the game would be a disappointment as it would become a highly repetitive experience but thankfully it well balanced with regular progress through the story in familiar style dungeons. Throw in the war room and the developing relationships with your party members and there are in fact multiple ways to experience Thedas which keep the game fresh.

Inquisition builds on elements from the earlier games in the series and learns from the genre to satisfy almost everything I could have wished for. But it isn’t perfect as there are little areas for improvement that don’t effect the overall game play experience while being a constant source of frustration. To start the voice acting could still use work, especially for a male Inquisitor who I still found a little wimpy and more than two options would also have been greatly appreciated. Considering the amount of customizable element in your characters face this seems like it might have been sacrificed for time and money. On the same point I would like to see more of the in game customization options available in Origins as the huge variation in character builds was something that kept me coming back for more.

Despite these little criticisms Dragon Age Inquisition is a must for anyone who likes action RPG and might change the future of the genre. Now if only I can complete a few play throughs before Mass Effect later this year.

Storyline 9/10

Game play  9/10

Graphics 9/10

Happy gaming

Jono

Why Is Apple Going To Have A Better Time Launching A Wearable?

Some iSheep will buy anything, but that doesn’t mean everything Apple touches turns to gold the last couple of versions of the iPad has proven as their market share and sales have been disappointing. What Apple needs for the Apple watch to be a success is a perceived need for the category. The reason why most wearables have not run of the shelves is simply that people do not see value in having something on the wrist that is a limited version of their phone with a smaller screen.

The only area where they have got any real traction has been as a fitness device which is not going to encourage people to fork out $300 plus an iPhone. This is also an area where Apple’s own marketing strategy will be against them because the Apple watch will not convince more people to change from Android to iPhone and has simply just narrowed an already limited market.

Finally the idea that the apple watch will be fashion accessory is laughable as at this price point in the form of a watch it is competing with anything from Armani to Citizen so the only people who would actually think this as cool would be diehards and tech nerds. So it might sell reasonably well with the iSheep but they have already sold their soul to the ecosystem and just want new things to show off, so it does not translate to a mass market trend. Until it hits markets I’m only speculating but it think those who are expecting a run away success are a little delusional.

Xbox One: First Impression

Being an early adaptor of both the original Xbox and the Xbox 360 I might seem like a loss of confidence that I have only just got my hands on an Xbox One in the last month, but growing up does place other demands on both my time and wallet. So with the arrival of school holidays and some good budgeting I was finally able to pick up my new toy complete with 7 games and Kinect. Keen to jump straight in after the long wait I’m only now getting the chance to go through my first impressions.

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Set up was easy and in no time I had downloaded all my apps, fixed up my profile and organised my home screen.  I was generally surprised at the list of Australian apps available including SBS on demand and 7 Plus however the absence of ABC iview and Foxtel are cause for disappointment.  Yet, for me research has always helped me stay level-headed as I was already aware of this short coming and knew that both developers had made commitments to change this in coming months. Besides connecting my 360 using the HDMI in socket was an easy solution since I don’t even have to switch source.

My only real gripe with the Xbox One is the requirement to install games on the hard drive rather than play them from the disk. Wanting nothing more than to give into nostalgia with the Master Chief Collection this expected delay was still frustrating. Unfortunately, no matter on your choice of new gen console this is a necessary evil as read speeds are too slow for the amount of data required by games. Considering this it would have been nice to have larger internal storage but with the price of 2TB external hard drives it is only an annoying inconvenience.

Finally, lets talk about Kinect which for many remains a take it or leave it extra. This especially true for hard-core gamers since voice commands require the 7th core of the processor and decreases what is available to game developers which has recently been changed. In addition space continues to limit the use of Kinect as someone with a console in their bedroom like me in my younger years will only ever get to use voice commands.

This all being said I love the “Xbox On” feature as it has quickly become second nature to use the command as I walk into the room knowing that I won’t even have to touch the TV remote. This is ideal if I’m only planning to watch Foxtel on the 360 as I can follow-up with “watch TV” and go straight to my old 360 remote without touching anything else. Unsurprisingly, Kinect still has problems with my accent which can quickly become frustrating. Yet, it is in apps like Xbox Fitness where Kinect really comes into its own as it tracks how accurately you are following the exercises and creates a score to motivate your competitive instincts. Until now my fiancé had only ever used the 360 to watch TV but has found this combination of features on the Xbox One an easy way to complete a 10 minute workout before work.

These are just some early thoughts so keep watching as I will be touching base soon on some of the other aspects of the Xbox One.

Cheers

Jono

The Imitation Game

Its been a while but I had to tell someone about this movie. Morten Tyldum’s  film The Imitation Game is by far the best film I’ve seen in the last year and has a good chance of taking out several awards this session, including picking up the golden globe or academy award for lead Benedict Cumberbatch. It tells the story of Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park as they try to break the German Enigma code during the second world war. The content of the film makes for engaging viewing as it depicts the inner workings of the British War machine and provides an insight into the role of the intelligence in victory over Nazi Germany.

18The-Imitation-Game-1

However this is only the surface and Tyldum’s film tells the more personal story of Alan Turing. Blended with the central story of his work on the Enigma code is the more tragic events of the 1950’s and Turing’s experiences as a social awkward school boy learning to interact with others. These complementary narratives are effortless woven by the skill of Tyldum’s editing and the work of screenwriter Graham Moore to adapt the work of Turing’s biographer Andrew Hodges. It is the combination of these narratives which creates an emotional gripping film rather than the usual World War 2 heroics communally scene in cinemas.

Having become a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch after watching him in the BBC series ‘Sherlock’ I can’t say I was surprised by the quality of his performance. His portrayal of Turing demonstrates moves away from the fast and confident Sherlock Holmes to a more stumbling genus. The speed of his thinking remains as Turing often makes connections that the other members of his time can’t follow but the halted interaction between Cumberbatch and his support cast is importantly never overplayed. With a host of excellent performances from Keira Knightley who proves that she can act, Matthew Goode and Alan Lawther Cumberbatch doesn’t have to hold the film up on his own.

Overall The Imitation Game is a must see for anyone who is interested in World War 2 history or for need help understanding how to use multiple narratives. Even if this does not interest you it is worth seeing if only for Cumberbatch’s commanding performance.

Cheers

Jono