Google Glass is back, but nothing is really different

When Google Glass was launched in April 2012 almost everyone got excited. Augmented Reality was the star of the hype cycle back then, and the possibilities for the device seemed endless. 

Three years later the product collapsed. Privacy and security issues proved to be too important both for Google and users, which became less and less interested in a technology that made us all look a little dumb.

It was expensive, too.

Why would Google launch another version of Google Glass? One would expect that this time the things that failed on the previous version would be corrected. 

They aren’t. Google Glass is still a niche product, enterprise focused, with a very limited set of use cases. It’s a little more powerful and has a better, bigger battery, but again, privacy issues are still there and users will look as dumb as they looked a few years ago. 

And it is as expensive as the previous version. 

There’s another big problem for Google Glass. As it happened (happens) with smartwatches, this device solves a problem that didn’t exist in the first place. Everything that Google Glass does can be done on a phone, and in fact Apple —with its ARkit— seems to have understood this better than Google. 

I’m affraid Google Glass is mostly useless: without real differentiation and really special use cases, it’s little more than an expensive business toy. Good luck with that, Google.

The Games That Can Keep Mobile Gaming Fresh

Mobile options have largely taken over the gaming industry in the last few years, or at least have carved out a market to rival consoles. There are thousands of smartphone gaming options covering every possible genre and satisfying all different kinds of players. But some big changes might pull attention away from smartphone gaming in the traditional sense.

The obvious one is virtual reality, which is already compatible with most high-end smartphones, and is introducing an entire new way to play video games. And VR isn’t alone. Apple is making some big hints that its imminent foray into augmented reality is going to be a big deal—so much so that CEO Tim Cook can barely contain his excitement. Apple’s AR isn’t just aimed at the gaming industry, but it’s sure to have a huge affects on gaming if it’s such a big part of Apple’s mobile plan moving forward.

VR and AR are very exciting, and should bring about some really great gaming experiences. But fans of traditional smartphone games might be concerned that their favorite medium is going to suffer in the face of new tech. To reassure everyone here are a few predictions regarding genres that should keep producing new, fun games for smartphones.

Strategy Games

There will be plenty of strategy games released for VR and AR, and some of them are undoubtedly going to be brilliant. We can already imagine board games from Scrabble to Stratego played out on tables through AR, and there have also been demonstrations of AR tower defense games. But there’s a certain quality to this genre in simple, touchscreen 2D that makes them particularly fun to play. It already seems like the genre isn’t ready to migrate away from standard mobile formats. Case in point, the legendary tower defense series Plants vs. Zombies is getting a new edition later this year in the form of “Plants vs. Zombies Heroes.”

2D Fighting

Fighting games have been popular throughout pretty much the entire history of gaming, from standalone arcade machines to the latest and greatest consoles. They’ve also proven to be adaptable on mobile platforms. Marvel, DC, Capcom, and other companies have all had success using tapping and swiping controls to make fighting games intuitive for smartphones and tablets. Though someone will surely try to pull the genre into VR and/or AR, this is one type of game that just seems as if it will always be best on a screen.

Casino Games

Online casino games will be tried in AR and VR, but mobile casinos have also come a long way. Even more, they’ve already undergone their own transitions to become more immersive. In particular, live casinos that now use high quality HD cameras to stream professional dealers have become popular, not just on desktops but on mobile devices, too. With this level of realistic immersion, it’s hard to see what poker and blackjack gamers would really want with VR. This is a genre that seems ready to grow even more popular on mobile, with or without new VR devices.

Point-and-Click Adventures

Adventure games are going to be spectacular in VR, and some already are. But point-and-click adventures, from slow-moving mysteries to beautiful, expansive experiences have become ideal games for mobile platforms. The interesting thing is that a lot of them come from smaller studios and indie developers. The games could probably be made more impressive on VR, but this is a genre that may just stay put because it’s more feasible for developers to work within the traditional smartphone and tablet space.

Apple: thanks for making the iPhone more expensive, dear journalists

Apple knows well how to play with expectations. They usually disappoint when they launch products, but the disappointment isn’t as big as it could be thanks to big and small media sites.

Those sites (like The Unshut) are happy to talk about every single possible and hypothetical detail on the future Apple smartphones, and all those rumors that keep appearing on the news (I wonder how much of them are leaked by Apple itself) prepare us both for the good and the bad.

Surprises are overrated, Apple would say.

It happened last year with the absence of the headphone jack: weeks before the unveiling of the iPhone 7/Plus every tech journalist in the world had expressed his opinion on that decision. When Apple finally confirmed that omission, we were already prepared for that.

That’s big.

The same will happen with the iPhone 8: we already know for sure that it will cost over $1,000, something that would be a bigger deal if it was revealed as a new fact on the launch day. It won’t be a surprise anymore: Apple already knows they can put this price tag to the new iPhones, because we will be prepared for that. From Appleinsider (and others):

Kuo goes on to estimate an “iPhone 8” price tag starting at $1,000, reiterating a figure first divulged in a report this month. The price hike is attributed to a 50 to 60 percent bump in production costs compared to the anticipated “iPhone 7s” LCD models.

Apple should thank all tech journalists for talking so loud about them. They should thank me, for that matter. So there you have it, Apple: you’re welcome.

Source: Apple’s ‘iPhone 8’ to replace Touch ID home button with ‘function area

Nokia 3310: the immortal phone

I do not remember the exact model, but my father had a Nokia with incredible speakers. I would say that the whole building was aware of when somebody called him, but that technological prodigy (at that time) also had other advantages shared by the devices of the time. Among others, of course, was those batteries that never seemed to die. They remind me of that old ‘Highlanders’ movie. If Connor MacLeod had had a cell phone, it would have been that one for sure.

The fact is that some people are still using this kind of phones. An old friend resisted tech trends for years, and kept his old Nokia (I don’t know if it was this particular model) until he realized that what he wanted was not a new phone, but a camera with which he could also make calls. That was the argument of his surrender, because I doubt that he would have otherwise accept that defeat.

These days the indestructible Nokia 3310 has been part of the news again. A British user told media he had been using it for 17 years, withstanding —of course— the laughter of colleagues. Anyone who has resisted all this time clearly has plenty of arguments to be invulnerable to any criticism or suggestion, but some of those reasons could convince others that a Nokia 3310 is precisely what they (we) need in our lives.

This is a subject largely covered in media, among other things because a phone of this kind allows you to escape the digital whirlwind and, as they said in The Guardian, regain your life. You could say goodbye to the social networks and WhatsApp, something that for many people would probably be like living an empty life.

But you could do it, and in fact there have been strange and bold ideas to detoxify a little of that dependence on the mobile. There are “feature phones 3.0“, cellphones without ‘smart’ capabilities that basically inherit the virtues of those old Nokia devices and that adapt them to modern times with some improvements like having more space to listen to music (this If allowed). It is for example what is achieved with the Punkt MP 01, a funny product whose motto is that you can just focus. It removes everything “accessory” in the smartphone world, and offers you a basic, cool phone that has a ridiculous price: 295 euros. Phew.

The NoPhone

The NoPhone is even funnier, and that product is precisely what the name suggests. A block of plastic with the size and shape of a smartphone, but that is just that:  an absurd and stupid plastic block so you at least have the feeling that you have something in your pocket. It’s like chopsticks for smokers, a way to fool our minds into being quiet, I suppose.

The idea is to help you forget about your phone, something its creators have used to laugh about. That product has been even surpassed with the NoPhone Air, which only teaches you the package of that phone because, attention, there’s nothing inside. Well, yes, there is air. Air that does not take photos, does not store data and does not have Wi-Fi or has a headphone connector. It is “the invisible phone for people who use their phone too much“. A perfect gift ($5) for addicts to these rectangles that dominate our lives and to which we should pay a little less attention.

The NoPhone Air

The funniest thing about these nice phones is that they make more sense than we think. These last two are a reminder of how far we’ve come, but both the Punkt model and the Nokia 3310 are a much more useful resource than we think. Not to fight against the passage of time or social networks, no. To fight attacks against our privacy.

In fact you should buy one of these Nokia 3310 if you go traveling to places where your data and privacy are at risk. Say, for example, the United States, that country in which they are posing to ask you for the passwords of Instagram or Facebook. You know, to see if you are or you relate to terrorists (because someone is going to boast about it there) when you pass through their customs. Which is precisely why if you travel there or to other countries with these types of policies the best you can do is not to take your smart devices with you.

If you do, do not take the ones you use normally, of course. Use an old laptop and a rusty cell phone, formatted and totally clean, without having just used them, and in which you certainly have not gotten into your social networks. I would say you could preinstall Tails or some security focused Linux distro in that laptop, but that would probably make you look more suspicious. No. Throw in a 10 year old netbook with Windows XP (or better, a Windows Me, to whack the staff). If they stop you and want to analyze it give them access password kindly. Let’s see if they can analyze something.

The same can apply to your mobile phone: that Nokia 3310 can do wonders to make you pass customs flawlessly. If you cant to take pictures of the trip, buy a camera in some big store, take them, send them those photos with an encrypted file through WeTransfer (for example), and return the camera to get back your money. There are lots of ways to make life more difficult to people who wants to know everything about you with the old excuse —”everyone is guilty until proven innocent“—, so take that into account.

There you have it. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to buy a Nokia 3310. You can access inmortality for just €12.63 at Aliexpress. That’s not too much to ask for eternal life, right?

The ARM MacBook that will (never?) come

Apple Inc. is designing a new chip for future Mac laptops that would take on more of the functionality currently handled by Intel Corp. processors, according to people familiar with the matter.

The new report comes from Bloomberg, and there we can find  (not much) information about the codenamed T310, an ARM chip that would be the next Apple’s step on that theoretical path to abandon Intel chips some day.

The T310 could be used to enable a new low-power mode on Apple’s MacBooks, but it’s not exactly clear if the chip will in fact replace the Intel chip on every front in that scenario, or will limit itself to certain low-power tasks. Apple has already integrated a T1 ARM chip to manage the Touch Bar, and the new one could be use for a “Power Nap” mode that:

allows Mac laptops to retrieve e-mails, install software updates, and synchronize calendar appointments with the display shut and not in use

This is interesting in its own right, and would mean that that ARM chip is indeed capable of running macOS apps that (again, this is relevant) are theoretically coded on an x86 instruction code, not an ARM one. I wonder if there is some kind of emulation here, or those apps have two binaries to run in either processor when needed.

Both scenarios are interesting, and could lead to that future in which the ARM MacBook will, indeed, come. It seems that will take more time than we thought it would, though.

Source: Apple Said to Work on Mac Chip That Would Lessen Intel Role – Bloomberg

Nintendo Switch and the curse of being original

I’ve never been a Nintendo user. This legendary maker has always developed consoles and franchise games which always seemed childish to me. Too simplistic, too faithful to a type of games that no longer were what I was looking for. Too loyal to their heritage.

I did my little experiment a few years ago with the Nintendo Wii, of course. I fell into the Wii fever like many millions of people did before (and after) and then realized that I had a brief, shallow interest in Wii Sports although I recognized the concept as brilliant to casual players. Although playing with family and friends was fun, most of the time one ended up playing alone, and then the thing was not so funny. I sold it a month later.

Like many other Nintendo consoles before and like others that have been launched later, the Wii beat all its competitors in one area: originality. The products of this manufacturer have always managed to try to impose new trends and give a twist to those that already were there, and that is what they tried to do with an almost forgotten Wii U and what they are trying to do again with the new Nintendo Switch.

Does this console make sense today? As you can guess, I’m too confident on that. The hybrid console concept may have certain appeal, but Switch does not compete here with the Xbox One or the PS4. It does not even try. It competes with our smartphones, and I’m afraid it has already lost that battle.

It has because everybody already has a smartphone and because the human being is lazy by nature. You will not take two devices in the backpack when you can take just one. Even if you can take ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ everywhere, the competition with a smartphone it’s too tough: that device is ubiquous and versatile. You don’t need nothing else (most of the time).

It doesn’t help the fact that we’be got a limited number of games available (by the way, we’ll see how FIFA delivers at the Switch) or that the price of the console is at the level of a PS4 / Xbox One which offer superior experiences on the technica side. This isn’t certainly a guarantee of better game experiences, but most of the games the vast majority of people want are developed for those platforms. That “me against all” fight of Nintendo makes third party titles difficult to spot.

I’m sure there is a market for the Switch, but I would say that market has been dwarfing over the years. This looks more like a second (expensive) console than a main console for the vast majority of video game fans, and as I said a few months ago, I think Nintendo should accept its reality and take advantage of what it could do on smartphones with little effort. In Ars Technica they go further and claim that this is the last time that Nintendo rolls the dice to look for luck, and although it’s a pity to read and say that, I think they are right. It may be the swan song of a company that is cursed because of its obsessive quest for originality.

The iPhone, 10 years later

Ten years ago mobile phones were exactly that. Phones to talk. The few who dared to bring to the market some other device with the “smartphone” tag tried to bring us something that seemed good, but that neither in usability nor in user experience was acceptable (Hello Nokia N95).

But of course, we didn’t know then.

And then the iPhone showed up. An absolutely disruptive and revolutionary product. One that would end up transforming everything and everyone, although we could not know that on that cold January 9, 2007 in San Francisco. Many only saw the gadget for what it was. Few could see its possibilities. They didn’t even care too much about its shortcomings, because we all wanted one to be able to amaze ourselves. I ended up buying one nine months later, even though it was not possible to make calls (officially) at that time in Spain.

It did not matter if other mobile phones had 3G, or better camera, or GPS, because none of them could overcome the iPhone’s user interface and compete with a vision that for the first time turned the phone into a real pocket PC, one in which you could make a lot of good stuff. That sparked something all over the world: industry, users, developers. It was a magical moment.

Clic.

And yet, I’m always amazed at how little we talk about the other great disruption of the iPhone. Without that particular thing, this device would not have had the relevance it had. That second disruption was the one that really set apart the iPhone not as a device, but as a platform.

It’s ironic to see how those original iPhones didn’t have native applications: instead of that Apple made use of web applications in an operating system that did not even have its own name (“iPhone runs OS X” was the sentence used on their press releases). The second disruption, which completed the concept, would take another year to arrive. It launched with the iPhone 3G, that product I spoke about a day before it was launched with one of those predictions logical but invisible to many people:

The big revolution in the new iPhones will not be the hardware they include, no. It’s cool to be able to enjoy 3G connectivity and even GPS, but the really important part of these models is that they are expected to finally offer support for an SDK which developers have been working for for months. That’s the great disruption of this iPhone: mobile applications.

Clic.

Another great revolution was in our hands. One that ended up making the App Store a reference model for the rest of platforms. Not only that: it set the Apple smartphone as an example of everything others wanted to accomplish.

These two disruptions, as I said, changed our world. Giants fell and new ones rose, and in the meantime we started to adapt to a new world in which something singular happened: the mobile phone was no longer a device to (merelly) talk to others.

Clic.

The phone became something much bigger, because these small rectangles of glass, metal and plastic have been transformed themselves and transformed us. All the revolutions have had their lights and shadows, and the iPhone has not escaped from that blessed curse. It doesn’t matter: this a very special day for the iPhone.

Happy birthday. And congratulations for changing our world.

The Kaby Lake fraud

Do not buy a computer this year.

There it is. You can stop reading now. That’s the conclusion of this post, which I publish with outrage after seeing how the presentation of new Kaby Lake CPUs from Intel is an absolute disappointment. Marc Whalton expressed it well at the beginning of his analysis in Ars Technica (emphasis mine):

The Intel Core i7-7700K is what happens when a chip company stops trying. The i7-7700K is the first desktop Intel chip in brave new post- “tick-tock” world-that means that instead of major improvements to architecture, process, and instructions per clock (IPC), we get slightly higher clock speeds and a Way to decode DRM-laden 4K streaming video. Huzzah.

That first sentence is sadly true, and in fact you would not need to read much more than that. Just having a look at some of the graphs that show its performance in synthetic benchmarks makes everything clear again:

This is just one example of how Intel has managed to fool the entire industry and become a lazy company. One that lives on past glories. Like Apple, I’d say.

That review of the Intel Core i7-7700K at Ars Technica is by far the best you can read about this microprocessor. It is, in fact, the only thing you should read about it, and here I include reviews done in Spanish and in English that are a real shame. They are because they stick to the message that Intel wants to offer, and they close their eyes to the obvious criticism. Intel has become confortable with itself. I am especially surprised and disappointed by the short-sighted review at AnandTech, a tech site I normally revere but that in this case has published its review with a misleading headline and conclusions. They even criticized in the text the ability to overclock (“our CPU sample is somewhat average to poor in terms of overclocking performance“) and then end up with a section where they crowned it as “the new champion”. Wrong.

Why has Intel settled for this? I would say they did this for a simple reason: they could. At the moment there is no competition in the market, and unless AMD Ryzen tells us otherwise – and the leaked evidence does not point to it – it will not be there for quite some time. It seems that Intel will be able to continue in lazy mode, accommodated and without really innovating.

The situation is worrying and sad, especially beacuse Intel has been on this path for a long time. His old tick-tock philosophy amazed us and made us enjoy an astounding pace of innovation, but between the reality that physics imposes —Moore’s law has an expiration date, if it is not already expired— and self-imposed Intel, we end up with a regrettable strategy. The one of the delays and rehashes, that is what is Kaby Lake. A 14 nm rehash.

I would say more. It is a fraud.

Save your money and wait for Cannonlake. Maybe the 10nm are worth it, because Kaby Lake does not.

Facebook and Google define our mobile life

Happy new year, my dear readers.

Nielsen has released a new report with the ‘Top Smartphone Apps of 2016’ in the U.S., and there it becomes clear that two tech companies dominate the scenario here. Facebook and Facebook Messenger account together for 275 million of unique users per month on average (350M if we add Instagram, #8 on this list), but the next five spots go to Google, who had 511 million of unique users on average each month thanks to its plethora of services.

We have then Apple Music on the #9, and a surprising Amazon on the #10 with the biggest growth of all of them: a staggering 43% YoY.

You can tell a lot from who is on that list, but also from who isn’t. Like Snapchat, or Twitter, or WhatsApp (popular outside the US) or WeChat (China centric).

There’s also a strong message here: Apple is mostly irrelevant on the services arena, and they don’t seem to need people using their services when at least they use their devices. The cloud failure is again evident on this chart, but the contrary is true for Facebook, that has built an empire with just an app.

That is much more powerful, I’d say, than building it with hardware, because Facebook is ruling a lot of people’s lives and is their reality. That’s frightening and marvelous and daunting and incredible. Something similar could be said of Google, who all of us should fear even more for its appetite of having us and, beyond that, our data.

These are dangerous times, and to have two companies that depend on our private data and our behaviour to exist is terrifying. And seeing us not doing anything about it is even worse.

Everybody lies

Matthew Panzarino quotes Tim Cook on TechCrunch:

The desktop is very strategic for us. It’s unique compared to the notebook because you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance. So there are many different reasons why desktops are really important, and in some cases critical, to people.

The current generation iMac is the best desktop we have ever made and its beautiful Retina 5K display is the best desktop display in the world.

Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.

I’m counting three lies and one truth there.

  1. Lie #1: The desktop is not strategic for Apple. If it were so, they would have refreshed all that family more often.
  2. Truth #1: Desktops are critical to people in some people
  3. Lie #2: Apple may have desktops in their roadmap, but they aren’t going to be great.
  4. Lie #3: Cook is only speaking about the iMac 5K, so speaking about desktops as a class is also a lie. No Mac Pro / Mac mini refresh according to people in the matter.

It’s no surprise hearing this from Cook, but he’s convincing no one. Too many expectations turned into dissapointments for many people make it difficult to trust Apple right now in this (and other) subject.