Words On Wednesday

Words on Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Three weeks in a row!

Apple Kills the Credit Card

(Note: This segment was written on Thursday, September 4th, before Apple’s announcement)

With the announce of a new iPhone eminent, the media seems adamant that Apple will implement some form of tap-and-pay which will revolutionize capitalism as we know it. I’m not so sure about that.

 

Google Wallet on my Nexus 4 works fine and dandy… anywhere it is supported. So far, I’ve only been able to use it at McDonald’s, Toys ‘R’ Us, and maybe Starbucks. No other stores have the tap and pay hardware. I’d love to use it at Walmart, Costco, gas stations, and all the other stores that I visit more frequently and are more necessary to my daily routine. Problem is, they have no reason to pay for the upgrade in hardware to have NFC stations at every single cash register.

 

Could Apple make progress in making NFC payments more acceptable and expected? Sure. I highly doubt that the release of this new iPhone (or these new iPhone*s*) is going to trigger a massive adoption in the technology. How many years has tap and pay been around? And even if Apple pulls in a larger revenue share, I believe the last figure of Android usage was something in the ballpark of 80% of all smartphone users. Not all of those Android phones support Tap and Pay, I’m aware, and a small percentage of the devices that do support it are probably using it. But is the sub-20% iPhone, specifically those who have upgraded to the absolute newest iteration, going to make enough of an impact to make tap and pay a widely used form of monetary transaction.

 

Maybe my opinion on the topic is colored by my area of residence. I don’t live in a big city (or even near one for that matter), and most people here don’t even realize that tap and pay exists. Half of the time that I use it, people either mention how cool it is or ask how I can do that. It’s relatively simple if you have a phone that supports it. This might not be the case in New York, Los Angeles, Denver, or any of the other large cities. New technologies will almost certainly have to become popular in areas like that before they trickle down to the boondocks. Tap and pay is cool, but it won’t be popular for a while.

Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus

I’m a big fan of the Ratchet and Clank series, but the most recent games have been lackluster in my opinion. Tools of Destruction was good, but all those released since have fallen short of the quality that the first 4 games on PS2 displayed. A Crack in Time and All 4 One in particular had mediocre weapons, the gameplay didn’t feel as polished as previous games, and they just felt generally inferior. I personally didn’t like the heavy focus that A Crack in Time placed on puzzle solving, but that’s certainly based on preference rather than quality. The puzzles were done quite well, I just don’t like them.

 

Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus has been in my game library for a few months, but I just recently began playing it. Having finished the main story and now playing through on Challenge mode to polish off the rest of the trophies, I am quite pleased with the breath of fresh air the game offered. The visuals of the game are top notch. While I don’t typically focus on graphics as a key component of how good a game is, Ratchet and Clank games typically do a great job of offering a lush environment as well as aesthetically pleasing characters. The places that you can explore are less obvious and the game does a fantastic job of creating the illusion of a much more vast area. A large city feels very much like a large city, rather than just a small area with some props in the background.

 

The weapons are head and shoulders above the arsenal of recent Ratchet and Clank games. There are familiar entries that have been staples to the series: blasters, a rocket launcher, a lobbed bomb, a sniper rifle. These are simply expected, but they age well and the upgrade system does set them apart from the same old song and dance. The unique weapons don’t feel gimmicky like some of the past weapons have been. Not even one of the weapons felt particularly useless to me. Each of them felt like a solid choice in combat and the only frustration I encountered was how long some weapons took to upgrade.

 

The story was entertaining and the characters were far more thoroughly developed than I expected them to be. Without any spoilers, the game begins with a very cliche hero-villain dynamic which gradually fades in favor of a more complex relationship. Not something that took me completely off guard, but certainly better than hearing the same tale of defeat and triumph.

 

My only two major complaints length and constraints of the tutorial. I didn’t check my total hours upon completion of my first run through the game, but I finished it in a matter of days without putting much time in each day. There are remarkably few planets, though I feel that each individual planet did have more story content and area to explore than the norm for the series. Considering how well the rest of the game was done, I would love to have this formula expanded to maybe double the current length. Perhaps there are plans for DLC to expand the length, but I don’t feel that it should be required to make a game feel complete. Also, the tutorial feels very limiting when playing through it a second time. I realize that a crash course is necessary to show off the mechanics of the game, but Challenge mode offered no way to skip it or even progress through it more quickly. Other than those relatively minute gripes, Into the Nexus was a fantastic game. A throwback to the days when I was filled with wonder at new worlds and excitement for each new weapon and gadget. An otherwise nearly perfect game, I’d have to dock a point for the length. Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus gets a solid 9 out of 10 from me.

Apple Live Event Commentary

As viewed through live blog updates on The Verge, since I don’t have (or want) Safari. Please note that this section is written in stream of consciousness as the event progresses.

“…a very key day for Apple.” We’ll see about that.

Top selling and most loved phone in the world? Maybe individual phone. Android as a whole is far larger.

Two sizes, we kinda figured that from all the leaks.

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, pretty standard nomenclature.

Tim Cook annoys me. Just his presence is annoying.

Apple planned on 2 sizes from the start. Pretty obvious, as people were getting really tired of the same small screen while Android phones have gotten progressively bigger. Funny, when just a few years ago Apple was determined that the old size of the iPhone was perfect.

Only 4.7” and 5.5” sizes. That’s honestly surprising to me, I figured there would be at least one roughly the same size as previous iPhones.

6.8mm and 7.1mm thick, very slim phones.

As noted by the Verge, surprising that Apple didn’t keep the same thickness to improve battery life.

Multi-pane view: cool but nothing Sammy didn’t already accomplish.

“Reachability” doesn’t sound particularly useful.

Power button on the side, cue from most Android phones.

Apps “just work” on iPhone 6. Same thing Apple has always said about its phones. Funny that Android devs have been making apps work on a plethora of screen sizes for a while now.

New 64-bit processor. Good for future-proofing, but I doubt it’s going to make a world of difference currently.

Perhaps “Sustained Performance” is a bigger deal than it seems to be, but I rarely use my phone consistently for long enough to notice a decline in performance or massive increase in temperature.

Developing software closer to the bare-bones hardware is a good thing. I’m happy about that.

Super Evil Megacorp. I like the name, but it seems a bit sinister for Apple’s typical image of fancy, snazzy elegance.

“Ohhh, dem fancy graphics look so good.” (Rough paraphrasing of The Verge) The stills look good, but I can’t see video footage and I’d much rather have solid gameplay with good controls than just something pretty to look at.

Gaming is important to mention, but that shouldn’t be the most vital facet of a new iPhone. I do some casual gaming on my phone, but not much. Consoles and PC are where my heart for gaming lie.

Good to hear that battery life is better. That’s one thing that is universally agreed upon: we could all use a longer-lasting device.

New motion sensor could introduce some neat fitness capabilities. I look forward to seeing what developers do with it.

I’m curious if MyTracks is available on iPhone. Must investigate that.

More LTE bands, always a good thing. Gotta get the fastest data speeds possible.

VoLTE could bring good things. I don’t do a whole lot of voice calling, but better quality is always nice.

Wi-Fi calling via T-Mobile. Makes me happy to be a T-Mo subscriber.

Fancy camera jargon. I’m sure they’ve improved over the previous generation iPhone. Carry on.

43 megapixel panoramas now, that’s neat. Not sure what the maximum was before, but I do like a well captured panorama.

iPhone 6 has digital image stabilization while the Plus has true Optical image stabilization. Should improve the quality of all those quickly taken pictures.

1080p video at 30 or 60 fps, plus slo-mo at 120 or 240 fps. I’m curious what quality the fastest slo-mo will be captured at.

“Aww yeah, dat FaceTime camera for dem selfies” (paraphrase) It’s a front facing camera, it doesn’t have to be great. Good enough for a mediocre picture or video calling is fine by me. Next.

“These are the best phones ever made.” Please explain how, exactly.

Starting at $199 for iPhone 6 with 16GB of storage, up to $399 for the 128GB version. Oh dear, I’d hate to see how much that is off contract.

Reducing the price of previous versions, as expected. Base version of 6 and 6 Plus are $100 apart, so can I assume that there is a 128GB version of the iPhone 6 Plus for $499?

Preorders start on Friday. I wonder how those campers are doing, waiting outside the Apple store.

iOS 8 comes out on September 17th for iPhone 4S and up.

Odd that there was no mention about NFC, as noted by the Verge. Perhaps later in the show?

I’ve never in my life cared how a product “makes me feel.” Shut up, Cook.

Ahh, here we go, “all about the wallet.”

Yeah, using a credit card is so hard. [Insert Sarcastic Bear meme]

So help me, if Apple tries to use some proprietary payment system that is iPhone exclusive and butts out the already existing Tap and Pay system that works on Android, I am going to be livid.

You can take a picture of your credit card to add it to your Apple Pay wallet, that’s kinda neat.

Harping about how Apple doesn’t know about your purchases. I don’t care.

22,000 retailers will work with Apple Pay? I’m guessing the same ones that already have the hardware set up. Looks like that means Apple Pay should co-exist with Google Wallet.

McDonald’s is adding Apple Pay to the drive through? Sweet. If it’s cross platform, that makes my life as an Android user a little less complicated.

I don’t go to macy’s, bloomingdale’s, Duane Reade, or Apple Retail stores. I rarely go to Staples or Walgreens. Looks like McDonald’s and Subway are about the only applicable places for me.

I do go to Panera Bread occasionally, so that’s nice. And Toys’R’Us is good/bad for my role as a parent, though I’ve already used Google Wallet to pay there and McDonald’s before.

Gotta put in that plug for Beats headphones. Over-priced and far too much bass.

I still say it will be an extremely long time before this is a widespread technology. See previous section for my opinion on the Tap and Pay situation.

How exactly is “one more thing” a big deal?

Apple Watch announced, people lose their minds. This would be a good location for a Joker meme, but I have nothing to say that people don’t bat an eye at. This is an Apple event, people are losing their minds over everything.

And just a thought, need I remind everyone that Android-based smart watches with Android Wear are already out? Gone are the days when Apple leads the forefront of innovation. Today is Google’s day, with Apple taking what has already been created and simply trying to polish it up.

I do like how the crown works with the display, that seems slick.

More standalone capability is good, but nothing seems particularly compelling to me. Draw little pictures to your friends nearby? That just seems annoying.

Two different watch sizes? Everything is coming in a big version and a small version.

18 karat gold Apple Watch. I want to know who is buying one of these so I can punch them in the face.

I feel like the Mickey Mouse came from an already existing analog watch. As in, I am almost certain I have seen this in an analog version personally.

Why is Coldplay so closely tied to Apple? I hate Coldplay.

Responses on the watch offer quick-replies parsed from the received text. I’m not entirely sure how that will work on the large scale but that could be a neat feature if it works well.

You manipulate the emoji before you send it? That looks horrible. I never use emoji.

You can send your heartbeat to someone via the watch. Why? I don’t know of any time that I need to know someone’s pulse.

BMW has an app that shows charge level, status of doors, location of vehicle, etc. I want to see a Tesla app for Android Wear with the same features. Then again, I’d also like to have a Tesla and a smart watch.

The watch starts at $349. Ouch. I guess that makes sense, though, since Apple is all about requiring a premium for their devices.

U2, another band I hate. Hooray.

New LP from U2. Everybody on iTunes gets it for free. Everybody likes free music.

Exclusive until October 13th. Looks like a little over a month for any U2 fans who don’t have iTunes, if that subset exists.

 

And that looks like the end. Everyone seems a little curious about the battery life of the Apple Watch, but I don’t believe there were any other loose ends. I’m personally curious about the price of the new iPhones off contract, but that’s going to be irrelevant to most people. Given that the Apple Watch cat is completely out of the bag now, I do believe that Android Wear will undergo some tweaking to increase functionality and generally combat Apple’s new wearable a little more toe-to-toe. I will say again, it is very surprising that the new iPhones only come in 4.7” and 5.5” versions. For users who really like the traditionally small size of previous iPhone versions, these devices are going to be quite a handful, literally. It seems that Apple learned from the failure of the iPhone 5C, however, and didn’t try to put out another “unapologetically plastic” phone that just reeks of cheap. Both the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus do seem like premium devices from what I saw and I can see people purchasing either with equal fervor, differentiating simply based on budget or preferred screen size.

 

Aye, that’s another interesting facet: budget. Manufacturers of Android phones seem keen on creating devices of varying price ranges anew regularly, from sub-$100 devices all the way up to $800 and higher. With Apple, it seems as though they’ll only be making high-cost devices and simply reducing the cost of older versions to reach the lower end of the market. Maybe that can work for Apple. They haven’t really concerned themselves with the lower end of the market before so why start now? Even still, I feel like more and more people are paying attention to off-contract cellular service and lower priced handsets. I don’t have exact figures, but it seems like the Moto G and Moto E sold like hotcakes. I’m very surprised that Apple doesn’t want a slice of that pie. Heh, get it? Apple pie.

 

I didn’t see many surprises from this event, but it is nice to get some facts and details. Being a diehard Android and Google fan, I’m not jumping ship for the new iPhones or Apple Watch. I’d still like to get my hands on an older iPhone that someone wants to get rid of just to give iOS a solid try, but I can’t justify paying for one when I could put that money toward a new Android device. Maybe the iPhone 3G will finally hit the dirt cheap level and I can get one from someone who doesn’t want to bother putting in the effort to sell it.

Linux on a Chromebook

After owning an Acer C720 Chromebook for roughly 9 months, I’ve finally put it in developer mode to dual boot Linux. I considered trying it since I first got the computer and I finally got the willpower to do it.

 

A coworker texted me to let me know he had successfully installed Linux on his chromebook (same model as mine) and curiosity got the better of me. I inquired about where he found the steps and how difficult or time consuming it was. Apparently, he did the research in order to install Minecraft on the computer for his daughter. The procedure was detailed in a tutorial video as well as a step-by-step write up. I may not care to get Minecraft on it, but the steps before that are the same no matter what your end-goal is.

 

Saturday morning, I got up with the Chromebook and my phone in order to have the steps handy and got to work. The crouton download was available via a link right from the tutorial post. In no time, I had my Chromebook wiped and in developer mode. A few steps later, I was waiting for the KDE Linux distro to finish installing. Not an hour from the time I started, my Chromebook was running a perfectly functional Linux.

 

I played around some with the Linux side, but not a ton. My exposure to Linux is extremely limited (a single class for my bachelor’s degree spent 3 lab days working on Linux boxes using Ubuntu). It quickly came to my attention that Chrome OS has some sort of refining effect on the hardware. The mouse movement felt clunky and unwieldy in Linux. Any time I tried to click on the touchpad, the pointer moved upward maybe a centimeter because my finger moved up as I pressed. Somehow, Chrome masks that effect.

 

I want to play around with a few different distros just to figure out what flavor of Linux I like best, but it seems as though I’ll still stick to Chrome OS mainly when using my Chromebook. It’s what the hardware was built for and it’s perfect for most of my casual computing needs. It’s awesome that I now have a perfect environment for coding or anything else I might need to do from time to time, but I won’t be spending the majority of my time in Linux.

One Year Off Runescape

As of September 8th, my Runescape membership has been cancelled for exactly a year.

 

I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. I played Runescape pretty frequently from just after Easter 2006 until last year. Most of the changes to the game I’ve taken in stride. It’s an MMORPG, it has to evolve over time to fit technological advancements and keep old players interested by adding new content. Some of the things they’ve added seemed like bad ideas to me, but nothing was just completely intolerable. Most changes I grew to like eventually, or at least ignored them such that they had zero influence on me playing the game.

 

This changed when Jagex introduced the “Evolution of Combat.” EoC changed the traditional click-and-wait combat style of Runescape into more of a World of Warcraft style ability based combat system. I completely understand why they chose to do so. Runescape was seen as an inferior MMO, a kid’s game. Changing the combat style gave the game a more complex battle system and allowed variation in gameplay far more than what was available with simple weapon and armor changes. Not only did Jagex seek to offer players what they thought would be best for the game, they kept EoC in beta for a rather long time to allow plenty of testing. They wanted this new combat to be perfect.

 

When EoC was finally released onto the main game, it was met with severely polarized responses. People either loved the new style or hated it. Those who loved it wanted a more involved combat experience, they wanted to actually work at defeating foes. Those who hated it, myself included, preferred a simple click and wait combat style. No need to devote your entire focus to the game, just click to begin attacking something and pick up the drop when it is dead. Heal when you get low on health and everything is peachy. I loved this style of combat that was typical of Runescape and I was extremely let down when it became the only means of defeating enemies. For a while, I continued playing and simply did my best to avoid combat situations. Being an MMO, there are plenty of activities to participate in that don’t involve killing things.

 

The release of Runescape 3 changed the whole user interface in addition to the combat. Menus were moved around, screens that I could previously reach instantly were nearly impossible to find. I could access the basics like my inventory and armor, but everything else was so difficult to access that I just didn’t bother looking for it.

 

With all the negative feedback, Jagex eventually added an ability to allow temporary combat without the need for all the fancy new abilities. It wasn’t perfect, but it did show that Jagex was listening. They were adamant that the new interface was the right way to go, however, and kept it. I tried combat for a little while with this new ability, but it still wasn’t enough for me. I began playing less and less since combat is a fairly large portion of the game and the interface was just difficult to deal with. I eventually decided that I wasn’t playing enough to justify the monthly subscription fee and cancelled my membership.

 

Over the months since I made that decision, Jagex has apparently seen more cancelled memberships and more frustration at the changes they had made to the old game. When I heard talk of a “Legacy mode,” I had to investigate. Could it be? They were allowing 2 distinct user interface options: the new interface that they had started with Runescape 3 or a version very similar to what they had immediately before the switch. There were, of course, some extra menu items with all the new features they had added, but all the previously accessible screens could be reached in almost the exact same way. Furthermore, they had refined combat more and more such that click-and-wait had become an extremely viable combat option. The use of abilities did still allow for more proficient fighting and higher damage per second, but the gap wasn’t nearly as wide as it was to begin with.

 

I eventually decided that I should give the game a second chance. I logged on from time to time to see how the progress was coming along and sure enough, I was beginning to see the Runescape that I loved from so long ago. I haven’t yet decided to pick up membership again, but I have been playing the free to play portion of the game for a few weeks now and I like it. The changes are still present, but they aren’t forced on the player as they originally were. An old veteran could play the game without feeling completely incompetent.
As for now, I’m perfectly happy playing the free game. I may eventually pay for membership again if I get the itch to play the full game, but who knows how long that could take. I have a severe aversion to pay-to-play games as they make me feel obligated to play a certain game frequently and dissuade me from playing my other games. I did put quite a number of hours into Runescape, though, and it’s nice playing on a familiar character that I have so many good memories with.

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