2015: Personal Technology Review

How did my use of technology change during 2015? The short answer is that it increased. For example, I just deposited a check using my phone, and that’s something I never did in previous years.

That phone is a Droid Maxx, made by Motorola for Verizon. My iPhone turned in to a brick earlier this year. From among the phones available from or for Verizon Wireless, the Maxx seemed to me the best deal. This may be due to the particular wireless plan I was already in. The iPhones were by comparison overpriced.

I was happy with my new phone until, after a few months, it went into spiral of frantic uselessness, in which it would do nothing but restart until it ran out of power. Staff at the Verizon store agreed that it should be replaced, and replaced it was.

My second Maxx is behaving well so far. I like multiple things about it, especially the size of the screen. I’m not missing my iPhone. But I haven’t abandoned Apple: the two iPads in the house are in frequent use by the kids and by me. Continue reading “2015: Personal Technology Review”

Thanksgiving (Is) For Games

I am deeply thankful for games, and for the people with whom I have played them over the years. I am particularly thankful for board games. Clarifications: I am not criticizing video games, or the people who play them; some of the board games I like best are actually card games; perhaps tabletop games is a better term than board games; I am not thankful for every tabletop game ever, and do acknowledge than many of them stink; neither am I thankful for every single person with whom I’ve played a tabletop game…

Is this board games’ golden age? Owen Duffy’s article in yesterday’s Guardian argues that it is. I agree, and hope that an even better (platinum?) age will follow. It is certainly a good time for board/tabletop games: “the past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually.”

So why is this a good time for board/tabletop games? There are at least two explanations. I think of them as the compliments explanation and the complements explanation.

“Games are simply getting better” is the compliments explanation. That quote from the article compliments designers and publishers of games on making better games available.

Another quote illustrates the complements explanation. “The rise of smartphones and tablets has given players an inexpensive way to try digital versions of board games, and many go on to buy physical copies as well.” The digital and physical versions are complements, rather than substitutes. To be more specific, and perhaps more surprising: the existence of the digital version increases, rather than decreases, purchases of the tabletop version, even if the tabletop version costs ten times more than the digital version.

Dear readers of this post, it may be time for parting words. If you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, I hope that you do so safely and happily. If you are “tabletop game compatible”–and I believe that most humans are–I hope that games play a positive part in your holiday season, and in the rest of your life.

If you are interested in the impact of technology on our lives, please bear with me for another paragraph or two. It seems strange that tabletop gaming and smartphone usage are on the rise at the same time. Who wants games with components of cardboard and wood, costing dozens of dollars, when there are so many mobile games available for a few bucks, or at no immediate financial cost? One answer is that such gamers are rare, and becoming rarer.

Despite our affection for them, the market for board games tumbled 9 percent in 2010 and the road ahead is straight downhill… With apps, every boardgame can be brought to the screen, be carried in your pocket…. online game centers… knit people together.

The quote, from Michael Saylor’s book The Mobile Wave (2012), presents an argument that games on mobile platforms will substitute for games (sometimes the same games) on the tabletop. The book presents an argument that connected mobile devices will substitute for pretty much every existing way we do pretty much any thing. I suspect that data from the few years provide tend to support the general mobile wave thesis.

But the games for which I am thankful seem to be buoyant, their cardboard boxes floating on the mobile wave rather than being swept away by it. I think that tabletop games will remain on top the the wave, although sales figures may bob up and down.

Here are some of the questions on my mind. I’d love to see responses, and further questions.

  • Will the current “golden age” of board/tabletop games continue, or even turn into a more precious age?
  • Are digital versions of tabletop games complements to, rather than substitutes for, the tabletop game itself?
  • In what other arenas are digital versions complements to, rather than substitutes for, “the real thing”?

Have a great Thanksgiving, or Thursday, or weekend, or whatever it is for you,
Andrew

ps edited for clarity on Dec 3, 2014

2012 Q1: iPad

2012 is a quarter gone already, and I haven’t been posting here much. It seems like a good time for to review the year so far. I’ll do so with a few brief posts. I was going to make this first one a review of technology in 2012 so far, but that could get long, so we’ll focus here on one of the major tech events of Q1: the launch of the iPad 3.

Is the iPad 3 so good that it makes an iPad 2 owner yearn for it? I have a particular interest in this question, since I’ve had an iPad 2 for about a year. In March 2011, I posted that the iPad 2 overcame some of my objections to all things Apple.

I’ve been very pleased with the iPad 2, as subsequent posts show. Other members of the family have also been pleased with it, although not to the extent that there’s been a lot of tablet-grabbing conflict.

Differences between the new iPad and the iPad 2, as described on Apple’s comparison page, and as prioritized by me, include:

  • Display: twice the pixels per inch (264 vs 132). Most reviewers of the new iPad are very impressed with the difference. I have no problems with the display quality on the iPad 2, so I don’t yearn for this improvement. On the other hand, I haven’t done as much ebook reading as I expected to do on the iPad 2, and it’s possible that I might do more on a new iPad, with its crisper display.
  • 4G rather than 3G, if you have the data plan. I went for Wi-Fi only, to save money on the iPad itself, and to save a lot more money by not paying for a data plan every month, and haven’t had serious regrets.
  • A real (5 megapixel) camera. I suspect that an iPad would feel rather cumbersome and silly as a camera.

So far then, I have no envy of people with the iPad 3 (which is actually just called the iPad). But if I were taking the iPad plunge now, I would spend the extra $100 to get the new model, rather than the iPad 2. For Wi-Fi and 16GB, the new one costs $499 – what the iPad 2 cost a a year ago.

What do you think? Would I quickly wonder how I lived without an iPad 3, where I to spend some time with one? How will the iPad 4 be different?

Unstuck: the iPad App

Unstuck is an iPad app including tools “designed to kick-start success for specific kinds of stuck moments”. It also includes paths to the appropriate tools, starting by describing your particular “stuck moment”.

Unstuck is one of most professional-looking iPad apps I’ve used. Here is one step along the path that leads from description of the stuck moment to unsticking tool. This particular step uses a card-sorting metaphor. Other steps involve more digital-native methods of interaction.

I’m not sure I’d agree with the description of Unstuck as “virtual on-the-go life coach” (Leena at TechCrunch), since it’s less general, and more unsticking-specific, than that description suggests. But the app certainly seems well thought out, in terms of both process and presentation.

I’ll try to find out more about the decisions behind Unstuck. One set of decisions relates to the process through which the app takes its user. What are the psych and therapy grounds on which it is built? Another set relates to the presentation. Why iPad? Why this particular mix of interaction styles (card-sorting, box-checking, etc.)?

Then there’s the obvious question. What if you’re stuck because you can’t resist trying out new iPad apps, web services, etc.?

Android G1 Charges On

My Android G1 is getting old. The phone itself is a little over two years old. The design is rather older: “Google’s first Android phone, the HTC-made T-Mobile G1, wasn’t much to look at when it debuted in October 2008” (quote and image from a CNET history of the Android era).

A month or two ago, the G1 started running even more slowly than usual, and powering off when required to do what it regarded as heavy work (such as being told we needed to move around a map). A new battery has fixed the problem.

So, the good news is that I don’t need a new phone. The bad news? I don’t need a new phone.

Actually, there is more good news than that. There are some newish apps that condescend to run on the G1 and Android V1.6 (Donut, which of course is way toward the back in the illustration): Amazon Cloud Player, for example (but not Google Music). Maps and navigation work pretty well now they have a new battery to chew on.

For a mobile gadget that actually seems to belong in the current year, and has a big enough screen for reading, games, etc., there’s the iPad 2. To add to the good news, and to the contrast with the iPad, the G1 rarely gets hijacked by other family members.

The iPad and the Board Game Geek

I’ve played a bunch of games on the iPad since getting an iPad 2 earlier this year. Though I’ve enjoyed Angry Birds and other made-for-mobile games, my favorites are actually boardgames implemented on the iPad.

I used to play a lot of boardgames before the kids came along. My favorite was, and still is, Through the Desert. In TtD each player establishes and extends camel trains, and earns points for visiting oases and waterholes, for marking off areas of the desert, and for having longer camel trains than other players. TtD presents interesting decisions, while being defined by fairly simple rules.

The designer of TtD , Reiner Knizia, is particularly good at simple rules framing interesting decisions. When I got far enough into boardgames to have a favorite designer (a little more than a decade ago), Knizia quickly took that spot, and has retained it ever since.

TtD is one of what is sometimes called Knizia’s tile-laying trilogy, which also includes Samurai and Tigris & Euphrates. In each of these two other excellent boardgames, play involves placing cardboard tiles on a board representing a map. TtD could have been implemented using tiles, but I’m glad to say that it includes little pastel-colored plastic camels.

Each of the games in the trilogy now has an iPad implementation. I want to get on with discussing these apps, so I’ll refer you to BoardGameGeek for further detail of the games themselves. There is a lot of information and opinion on these (and may other) games at BGG.

So, for each game, I’ll link to the main page for the boardgame and to a recent review of the iPad implementation; I’ll also provide the current price and a link in case you want to purchase. Here are those links for TtD (main, review, $2.99), Samurai (main, review, $4.99), and T&E (main, review, $5.99).

The most important point about the iPad implementations of the tile-laying trilogy is that each of the three iPad apps is well worth buying. Other similarities also deserve mention. Each app allows between two and four players, and each game scales well within this range. (The TtD boardgame takes five players, but I don’t think it takes five well, so I don’t regard the four-player limit as a problem with the app.) Each app allows play against other people, by either passing the iPad, or playing online.

Each app has an AI component to provide one or more opponents. Most of my plays have been against two AI opponents. I’d describe the AI for each app as respectable, but not strong.

Each app has a tutorial, so you don’t need to have played the boardgame to use the app. Indeed, the app may well be a good means of learning or trying out the boardgame. Talking of trying out, none of the apps has a free version for you to try before you buy.

Enough, for now, of the similarities between the apps; it’s time for the differences, and especially the differences that might steer you toward a particular one of the three apps. Through the Desert is the cheapest app, and the simplest game to learn. As I noted above, it’s my favorite boardgame. On the other hand, it may not be the strongest app of the three. When I first bought the game, back in April, it would sometimes crash during a game, and forget the game state. The current version brought “iPad 2 stability fixes,” which are working for me (as well as faster AI).

Samurai has the best user interface of the three apps. I don’t think I have a better-looking app on my iPad. More important, I find playing the app smooth and intuitive. The screenshot shows a game in progress: I’m red, it’s my turn, and I am choosing from the five tiles displayed at the bottom of the screen. If I had make a straightforward recommendation for just one of these three apps, it would be Samurai.

Tigris & Euphrates is widely regarded as Knizia’s masterpiece. It is probably the deepest of the trilogy. It certainly has the most complex rules. For this reason, I’d hesitate to recommend the app as a means of learning T&E.

So, based on my play, on the iPad, against the apps’ AI, I recommend these three iPad apps, and of course have made more specific recommendations above. I haven’t played any of the games on an iPhone, or online; so if you’re particularly interested in those features, you might want to check out the reviews (see above links) and discussion of the games at BGG and elsewhere.

Please feel free to leave a comment here if you have used the features I haven’t, or have anything else to add about these apps, or about boardgames as apps.

iOS5 and iCloud: The Apple Abides

I’ve just upgraded the iPad 2 to iOS5 (actually 5.0.1). It was silly and straightforward at the same time.

Did the upgrade really have to delete the iPad apps? Well, perhaps it did have to. The App Store allowed me to see the apps I’d installed under iOS4, and reinstall them with a click each. (This might be a good point at which to link to the PCWorld article Did iOS 5 Delete Your Apps, Music, and Data? Here’s Help.)

In some ways, the silliest thing was having to use iTunes on a “real computer” in order to upgrade the iPad. That said, one of the main improvements in iOS5 is that further upgrades can be carried out over the air from the internet, rather than through a cable from a computer.

iOS5 is the iCloud release. Let’s find out about iCloud with a Google search. The second result tells us that it’s cloud service done right. The first tells us that it doesn’t support the Chrome browser. Then I try it, and iCloud does seem to work on Chrome.

This all reinforces my view of Planet Apple as a strange place that thinks I ought to move there, do things the way things are done there, and forget about other planets. But some of the ways of other planets are familiar (e.g., planet Microsoft and the Windows continent) or appealing (e.g., planet Google and the Android moon) to me.

The Apple abides, as I stated in the post title I came up with last night. It occurs to me this morning that Alice in Wonderland might provide an even better cultural reference than The Big Lebowski. The cat – Steve Jobs – is dead, long live the grin – a rather smug one.

iPad and WordPress

20110417-025150.jpgWordPress provides an app for those blogging with iPads, and a familiar face for those browsing with iPads. The face is actually a plugin and theme developed by Onswipe, and built into WordPress.com.

My plan was to get a screenshot of this blog with its Onswipe face on, then to include that shot in a post written using the app. This is that post.

Getting a screenshot on an iPad is easy, which is as it should be,and a refreshing contrast with getting an Android screenshot. Getting the screenshot from the iPad into this post was easy, once I realized that the app hides the photo icon under the onscreen keyboard.

I don’t see an easy way of including links while posting from the app, though. I’m editing the post now, a day later, on Windows, because including the links wasn’t easy using the iPad browser either.

As for the Onswipe theme, I think it would fit better with a blog that had an image for every post. The current post’s image shows that this isn’t such a blog.

Although I am a loyal and longtime WordPress user, and have enjoyed my first two weeks of iPad ownership very much, I am not blown away by the combination of iPad and WordPress. I refer to my own experience of the app and of Onswipe. There are of course other ways in which iPad and WordPress go together, and many other people who use both. If you are one of those other people, I’d be interested in your comment.

The iPad Has Landed

The iPad 2 arrived today, following an unsuccessful attempt to deliver yesterday while I was out. First impressions are that it’s cool but entitled. Of course you need iTunes. Of course you want to give me your credit card number, phone number, etc.

I’m posting this using the WordPress iPad app, which was one of the first few apps I installed. More soon on that app and on others…

iPad on the Way

I succumbed to the lure of the iPad 2, and ordered one on the release date (March 11). It has now shipped, a little ahead of the original schedule, from mainland China and is in transit to Lantau Island, Hong Kong. That’s according to the FedEx tracking site, which currently estimates delivery on March 31.

So I anticipate the iPad 2 arriving this Thursday! I say anticipate rather than expect, because it seems that packages can sometimes spend a while on Lantau Island, and other delays are of course possible.