Don’t Buy a Playstation 4

Austin Walker has the scoop on the recent rumors regarding a new half-step Playstation 4 upgrade console:

The NEO will feature a higher clock speed than the original PS4, an improved GPU, and higher bandwidth on the memory. The documents we’ve received note that the HDD in the NEO is the same as that in the original PlayStation 4, but it’s not clear if that means in terms of capacity or connection speed. Starting in October, every PS4 game is required to ship with both a “Base Mode” which will run on the currently available PS4 and a “NEO Mode” for use on the new console.

The article has many more details regarding the upgraded console and what Sony will require of developers, but it really doesn’t read like a huge upgrade to me, and it certainly won’t be true 4K. Even a high-end gaming computer can’t hit 4K at a good framerate for big 3D games.

For now, original PS4 purchasers are good, but I would be surprised if a year into the release of this new console the original “base” PS4 isn’t discontinued in favor of the NEO, and then soon after the requirement that developers target both consoles is dropped as well. Either way, don’t buy a Playstation 4 until you hear Sony give plans publicly at E3.

Alex St. John vs Everyone Who Has Actually Worked in Games

While I was working for the defunct social network, hi5, a new CEO took over, Alex St. John. He’s written this article for Venture Beat about his feelings on game developers complaining about their poor working conditions.

I won’t speak ill of his article here. Instead, this is what everyone else is saying about this article:

Steven Hansen for Destructoid:

In it, St. John hand waves away deplorable industry conditions like 80-hour work weeks with a bullshit argument: developing video games isn’t a real job. If you agree with the premise, then the industry gets away with side-stepping workers’ rights that your parents (or grandparents) fought for (like the 40-hour work week). Suddenly the labor standards held at other jobs don’t “count,” because those are real jobs, and video games are a wonderful fantasy land where some poor asshole has to spend 16 hours a day, 5 days a week over at EA modelling the taint of GoldenEye: Rogue Agent’s protagonist until it’s just right.

Jason Schreier for Kotaku:

Some have called on game developers to unionize; others argue that smart scheduling and good project management can help protect the quality of game-makers’ lives. St. John, on the other hand, says it’s all part of the fun, writing that he tells people who are unhappy with crunch to go make their own games.

“To my great shock and disappointment, they never respond to this feedback with any sort of enlightenment or gratitude for my generous attempt at setting them free — usually, I just get rage,” he writes, in a paragraph that might read like satire if it weren’t written with such candor.

Actual game developer, Rami Ismail from Vlambeer:

Don’t listen to this person. Please be in the games industry if you want to make games and care. I don’t care if you want to make games for 2 hours every night after work, or for 40 hours for a paycheck, or for 80 hours as an entrepreneur. Just don’t make others pay with their health for your shitty scheduling.

It’s an SE, As You May Have Heard

These were the hidden images of the Macintosh SE dev team hidden on the ROM

Here’s what happened in the final 1 infinite loop Apple Town Hall today, before everything moves to the new UFO campus next year:

Ufocampus

Apple opened with a short video about the 40th birthday of the company coming up on the 1st. Tim Cook Briefly spoke about the FBI’s misguided attempt at defeating personal security for everyone who uses an iPhone everywhere. Then moved on to former US EPA chief, now Apple enviro director, Lisa Jackson.

After discussing efforts to power stores and server farms with solar and wind farms, Jackson moved on to Apple’s upcycled recycling initiatives. Electronics recycling is great when people are actually motivated to do it. The new program is called Apple Renew and they’ll even help you ship your old devices in for free. Here’s where you can find it online. I love these exploded views:

Recycling

The FBI’s recycling initiative always seems to take a little bit longer while they lock themselves out of your phone for some reason that even they don’t quite seem to understand.

Jeff Williams spoke about Apple’s health initiatives which are fortunately missing  exploded views. Last year they released ResearchKit for people to participate in research studies. This year’s CareKit is a new tool for sharing information about your personal health issues with your doctor and your family through apps created with CareKit.

Nylon watch bands

Tim Cook came back to drop The Apple Watch starting price to $300 from $350. Some stores have been dancing around that price on sale for the past few months on and off. The Watch also got new a few new bands, the nylon ones look pretty cool but they’re almost not NATO-y enough. It also receives WatchOS 2.2 today, which is mainly about internationalization improvements and an update to Apple’s Maps on the device for finding nearby things like restaurants. Here’s what it looks like:

Nearby

Moving on to tvOS 9.2 software update available for the 4th generation Apple TV today. Split-screen NCAA march madness basketball so you can finally watch four teams at once get the least amount of education their basketball institutions can provide under bullshit NCAA rules. You can now enter usernames and passwords for logging into services with Siri dictation and (finally) bluetooth keyboards which had been supported in previous Apple TV generations. I like mine, just wish it were easier to side-load emulators without having to hook it up to Xcode on my laptop. 

Iphonese

Greg Jozwiak introduced the iPhone SE. Apple made four inches great again as was widely rumored with this exact name. I believe this is the first SE Apple product since the Macintosh SE when SE stood for System Expansion. This time the iPhone SE is not getting 3D touch and there is no announced initialism or other meaning behind the name. 3D Touch is the biggest feature of the 6s and 6s Plus missing in the iPhone SE. It still retains more of the squared-circle shape of the 4 and 5 series iPhones it is replacing, and that is honestly a design I preferred in my hand. It’ll be $400 for 16GB. Which is a capacity that very much still needs to go away. $500 for 64GB. Pre-orders are up on the 24th, it ships on the 31st.

After announcing the new 4 inch phone, Jozwiak moved on to reiterating new features of iOS 9.3 which is also out today but were announced in January. Night Shift is f.lux for iOS and is the most important new feature in there. I’ve been waiting for that so I don’t do as much damage to my eyes at night. Great update, wish they had credited or bought out the f.lux people who really popularized the notion.

The truetone display of the new 10 inch iPad Pro

Phil Schiller came up to introduce the new 10 inch iPad Pro that replaces the iPad Air for anyone interested in that size of device. Huge screen improvements compared to the Air, and it even has sensors to adjust the display so that the color balance and brightness of the display’s white balance adjusts based on the lighting of the environment you’re currently in. It’ll also have the speakers, pencil and keyboard add-ons, and other improvements that already work with the iPad Pro. Though the 13 inch Pro lacks some of the updates seen in the new 10 inch Pro, the 13 inch version still sounds preferable to me. The camera gets a big upgrade to iPhone quality , recognizing that many people are goofily taking pictures with huge tablets so why not.

Schiller calls the new 10 inch iPad Pro a PC replacement, I’m still waiting for Xcode for iPad to cede that. $600 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB, $899 for the new 256GB tier on Wifi. Pre-orders go up on the 24th and it ships on the 31st. The 13 inch iPad gets the new 256GB model at the new high end wifi-only price of $1,100.

HTC/Steam VR Vive Pre-Orders Priced at $800

The Vive HMD

If you thought the Oculus Rift was expensive at $600, then you’re going to want to sit down for this. HTC and Valve’s Steam VR kit, the  Vive, is priced at an eye-watering $800 before tax and shipping. Pre-orders go up on the 29th at 10 AM Eastern Like the Oculus Rift, it ships in April.

Like the Rift, the Vive will come bundled with software. Owlchemy Labs Job Simulator and Fantastic Contraption by Northway Games. Both look like good fun that demonstrate the differences between Valve’s VR solution and Facebook’s Rift though Job Simulator isn’t exclusive to the Vive and will also be available for other VR setups.

Unlike the Rift, which is shipping with an Xbox One controller, the Vive custom controller setup is ready at launch and is designed for manipulating objects in 3D space. The Vive does not seem to include any audio solution, where the Rift had a built-in headset.

There is also a benchmark program available on Steam to find out if your computer is ready for the Vive before pre-ordering.

The price isn’t anywhere near as bad as it might have been, some people were expecting the Vive to be over a thousand, but it’s still out of reach for most people at $800.

 

If I were wealthy enough to pre-order either the Vive or Rift, and had a room to dedicate to the experience, I’d choose the Vive over the Rift. The Vive just has more to offer and the holodeck type of experiences it has in addition to the cockpit-style experiences of the Rift as long as developers support OpenVR instead of just the Rift SDK.

It doesn’t change anything about the announcement, but I wanted to point out that the language in HTC’s announcement is ridiculously bad:

We are proud to announce, in partnership with Valve®, the unveiling of the consumer edition of the ViveTM virtual reality system powered by Steam®VR.

[…]

Taking Vive one step further, with refreshed branding and an updated head strap, the Vive consumer edition builds upon the innovative features that were introduced into the Vive Pre. 

Calling it the “consumer version” with “refreshed branding” is just insulting. It is useful to differentiate this version of the Vive from the versions developers have had access to in the past, but people do not give a crap about the logos or iconography of a system changing. Call it improving the hardware design if that actually changed, but don’t call people “consumers” in your announcement post.

Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Multiplayer for $15

shooting is fun

Activision and Treyarch are competing directly with Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive by releasing a multiplayer-only version of Black Ops 3 for $15 exclusively on Steam. The same price as Global Offensive. Activision is calling this version of Blops 3 the multiplayer starter pack and it’s only available until the end of February. There’s a FAQ here that details what you do and don’t get with the starter pack versus the full game, and also the hilarious branding that starter pack players are subjected to:

17. Why is there an icon next to my name in the lobby?

It’s been difficult to find players for anything but team deathmatch, so I hope this starter pack sticks around and brings more people to the best Windows version of a modern CoD yet. 

Peel iPhone Case Review

A Peel

There’s this iPhone case called the Peel. Apple… Peel, get it?

Here’s what the makers of this case promise for your $25:

This Peel case lets you protect your phone while keeping the same form factor. Other cases add bulk and weight to your iPhone but Peel cases are almost invisible.

That’s all true and it sounds awesome compared to other third party cases. The other ones all look ridiculous with huge logos, and bizarre contortions in their designs to make their cases look distinctive instead of getting out of the way of the iPhone design and just protecting the phone.

My last case, the Speck CandyShell Grip had their logo that looks like Kurt Vonnegut’s asterisk on the back and is ribbed for grip. It was great at protecting my phone from short falls without being as bulky as your typical Otterbox case. Even though it looked like a novelty condom for a robot, it was the Wirecutter’s top iPhone case pick for a while and I appreciated their recommendation. Then the thin strip of rubbery material on the Grip above the iPhone’s lightning port broke. Oh well. For a few months I tolerated the break while keeping my eyes open for an alternative when someone mentioned the Peel on Twitter and their pitch worked.

The Peel feels like the opposite of every other third-party case. Instead of being thick, it’s thin. Instead of having a distinctive look, it gets out of the way so that you can see the design of the $600+ phone you purchased instead of your $20 robot condom. 

Unfortunately the Peel is so thin and papery, immediately after receiving it in the mail I wondered aloud, “this costs $25?”

Putting the case on my 6+ was a little bit more reassuring. The first thing the space-gray case made me think of was a stocking on my space-gray 6+. The Peel feels perfectly formed to the iPhone that it is protecting. There’s an anecdote on the product page about Apple’s in-store repair techs replacing an iPhone and forgetting to take off the Peel because they didn’t know it was there. I’m not sure I believe that, one look at the back or sides of the phone and you’ll see it, but the transparent case does get out of the way except for the raised area around the protruding camera of the 6+.

Where the Peel goes from slightly too expensive and ineffectual to WTF is in resolving the largest issue with the iPhone 6 and 6+’s survivability, grip. It’s a slippery phone and despite the FAQ page that suggests it enhances the phone’s grip if anything, the Peel sometimes feels even more slippery than a bare iPhone.

The front with the peel

The Peel will still protect your phone case from scratches and short falls, but not the screen. The Speck CandyShell Grip had a bit of a bumper around the edges to protect the iPhone from drops that land on the front. The cost of the Peel being perfectly form-fitting to the iPhone is that there is no protection on the screen. Of course, the people who made this case also sell a screen protector that is even more expensive at $30.

There is an advantage to being form-fitting in not ruining the design of your $600+ phone and in not blocking access to ports. My last few cases required adapters to fit headphone and auxiliary audio cables. The Peel requires no adapter for any port and the various buttons and switches on your device are left unencumbered.

That isn’t enough of an advantage to justify the usability and price of this almost paper-thin case.

If it had more of a grip, if it protected the screen with even a tiny amount of a lip around the edges of the iPhone, if it were cheaper, I might be more likely to recommend the Peel. Instead, it’s too expensive, doesn’t offer enough protection, and makes your iPhone even more slippery. Don’t be fooled by the svelte form-factor (0.35mm) and the unbranded and unobtrusive visual aesthetic. Get a hideous robot condom if you want to protect your phone.

Long-Haul Space Trucking

Sitting on the dock of the bay

Brendan Caldwell has this unforgettable travelogue of a flotilla that is now traveling for the next three months through Elite: Dangerous’s uncharted systems:

The whole trip is estimated to take three months – and that’s just the outward journey. Officially, the expedition ends when the flotilla (or what’s left of the flotilla) reaches Beagle Point, a distant system on the farthest spiral arm from Sol (here’s a map of the journey plan to give you some idea of the distance). After that, the explorers are free to go wherever they want. Many will stay and explore the virgin systems of the far reaches. Some will simply head back to the “bubble” – the tiny region of space inhabited by humanity and populated with stations like Zillig City.

[…]

“Boredem is quite a weak word for what I’m expecting it to feel like,” says Kaii. “It’s more like complete tedium. It’s going to be very important to break it up. That’s why we’ve got all these waypoints along the way that are incredible locations, getting out in the buggy, bombing about. You can do like 100, 150, 200 jumps maybe and then take a nice break at the waypoints. That’s basically how you have to do it. Not all of us have the patience and fortitude of Erimus, who can do that trip in the space of a month.”

Today in Payphone News

The aforementioned payphone

jwz’s payphone runs Linux now:

One of the props that I picked up to decorate DNA Lounge at the first Cyberdelia was an old payphone. It wasn’t hooked up for the first party, but just in time for the second party, it now runs Linux.

When I was trying to decide what I wanted the phone to do, “making phone calls” was obviously the least useful thing. Nobody needs that: that’s why payphones are extinct in the wild. It’s also why we no longer have Internet kiosks.

So instead, when you pick up this phone, it “rings” and connects you to a “voicemail” system. Press 1 to listen to our schedule of upcoming events (the same message you hear when you call us at 415-626-1409); press 2 to listen to your saved messages; press 3 to record a message.

Here is the sordid tale of how I made a payphone run Linux. I’m not so great at hardware hacks, and it shows. My bumbling exists for your amusement.