XBoned, Part Two

Two years ago, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d rabidly defend Sony as the good guys. Well, that day has come, and it’s been here ever since the PS4 and Xbox One announcements. As much as MS is willing to change the status quo when there’s money in it for them, they’ve revealed that they’re keeping it with the Xbox One in one particularly ridiculous case: Xbox Live Gold is required for pretty much everything.

Basically, MS keeps the status quo when it’s anti-consumer to do so, and will change it when the changes are anti-consumer. You know, I used to feel sympathetic for MS when considering the anti-trust lawsuit against them in the 90’s. Bundling a browser with an OS? Nothing wrong with that. But now? Not so much. Throw the book at ’em. Bundling a browser with an OS then charging a monthly fee to use it? There’s a special circle of hell for whoever came up with that idea.

TL;DR Microsoft hates you.

Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that rant out of my system, maybe I can take a breath and actually explain what’s going on, and how MS is being evil. Skype, Netflix, Youtube. Household names. Skype and Youtube can be accessed for free from almost any internet-connected device. And on almost any internet-connected device, Netflix can be accessed by only paying Netflix. This means your computer, your phone, your PS4. But not your Xbox One. For whatever reason, MS blocks these services unless you pay them $60/year for a service that’s primarily for online gaming. And services that cost MS nothing to offer you, because (except in the case of Skype) they aren’t MS services. Youtube is streamed from Google, and Netflix from Netflix. MS is basically censoring these services, and trying to charge you to uncensor them. And yes, Skype is a MS service, but why only charge for it on the Xbox? It’s free on computers and mobile devices. And I think it’s even supported on some TV’s. Actually, so are Netflix and Youtube. It’s a pretty greedy move from MS to try to charge for services you might already be able to access on your TV anyway. Let’s form an analogy here, because everyone loves analogies, right?

Let’s say Google or Apple, or [insert choice of deity here]-forbid, Microsoft or RIM (…wait, does Blackberry even have any of these apps?), decided to charge for the Netflix, Youtube, or Skype app (let’s not consider the Youtube app for Google, or the Skype app for MS). As in, the publisher of the app offers it for free, but the developer of the platform chooses to require a monthly fee for you to use the app, despite the fact that the use of the app costs them nothing. You bought the device. It’s yours to install whatever you want on it (well, all of the aforementioned companies, Google aside, disagree with this to some extent, but…). You don’t owe the platform developer a disproportionally large monthly fee for the “privilege” of installing certain “special” third-party apps. We as a society have fallen a long way if we’re going to accept this as a privilege and not a right. Just like playing used games. At least MS fell back on that one, but I hope you’re noticing a trend here. MS sees basic rights of ownership as privileges they can license to us. If there’s significant backlash, they’ll go back on it, because they’re pretty much the very definition of whores – they’ll do anything for money, and if they’ll actually lose sales by trampling on your rights? That’s bad.

Allow me to take a moment to remind you that the PlayStation 4 only requires you to purchase a PS+ subscription for online gaming. And apparently in some cases not even for that. And you know what? That’s fair. It’s all fine and dandy that Sony is charging for a service that actually requires them to spend money to own and operate. But they’ve got the decency to not charge you for services that don’t require any infrastructure on their part and don’t cost them anything (if somehow the Xbox One Netflix and Youtube apps actually do require special backend infrastructure on MS’s part, they need to fire every last one of their programmers… such a design is beyond stupid). And if they are using special servers for these third-party services, it’s all the more reason to not purchase an Xbox One. You’re apparently supporting some of the most idiotic developers in the world.

I was going to make an actual table to help you keep track of the score between the Xbox One and the PS4, but then got lazy and decided to just write everything out. Which one’s got the better specs? PS4. Which one, from the start, wasn’t going to block used games? PS4. Which one costs $399, as opposed to its competitor at $499? PS4. And now, which one lets you use third-party online services without paying some inane monthly subscription to do so? PS4. If you’re not counting, that’s PS4: 4, XB1, 0. Hey, maybe they should rename it the Xbox Zero! Zero reasons to choose it over the PS4!

But… but… that $500 price includes a camera!

Typical MS marketing spin. Consumer choice is bad amirite? Let’s force users to buy and have connected a camera accessory. Despite the fact that it increases up-front cost and adds an additional point of failure. You know, instead of just making it optional and allowing the consumer to decide whether they actually want it or not.

I know I’m beating a dead horse by now. It’s obvious that you should buy the PS4 (oh, and my friend has been showing me some pretty awesome PlayStation exclusives), and it’s been obvious since the beginning. But hey. Now I can issue this challenge. To even the boldest MS fanboy. I dare you to defend the Xbox One after all the evidence I’ve presented in favor of the PS4 over the last few months. Make it good enough, and I’ll allow you to post your own thoughts in a new post, on my blog, along with an apology from me for criticizing your console of choice. No takers? Didn’t think so.

And Sony? If you’re reading this, may I please have a PS4 unit to review? 

Rebuttal to a Greedy MS Employee

In the next episode of the ongoing Xbox One DRM saga, a crazed Microsoft employee posts a letter to Pastebin upset about consumers regaining their freedom. And I challenge it point by point. The battle may be won, but the war against intrusive DRM schemes isn’t over. I don’t really feel as though this guy is a threat, but I’m bored and want to pick his thinly-veiled love letter to the publishers (disguised as being “beneficial to gamers”) apart piece by piece. It’ll be mostly in the style of the TPB legal letters and their responses. Seems like a good way to address any arm of a corporate entity.

I’ve felt like this for the last few days now

It’s 4am and I’m still up, some hours ago, we at Microsoft had to basically redact on our Always Online infrastructure and dream.  Being part of the team that created the entire infrastructure to include the POS (point of sale) mechanisms I must say that I am extremely sad to see it removed.  But the consumer knows what is best, I can place the blame on no one but us here at Microsoft.  We didn’t do a good enough job explaining all the benefits that came with this new model.  We spent too much of our time fighting against the negative impressions that many people in the media formed.  I feel that if we spent less time on them and more time explaining the great features we had lined up and the ones in the pipes gamers and media alike would have aligned to our vision.  That stated, we felt the people we would have loss would have been made up by the people we would have gained.  We have 48 million Xbox 360 users connected online nearly 24 hours a day.  That is much more than any of our closet competitors and vastly more than Steam.  The people that we would have left behind I feel would have eventually come around as they saw what advantages the platform had to offer.  But as I previously stated we at Microsoft have no one to blame other than ourselves for failing to convince those hesitant to believe in our new system.  Microsoft might be a big company, but we at the Xbox division have always been for the gamer.  Everything we’ve done has always been for them, we have butt heads with the executives many times on what we’ve wanted to, some times we lost (removing the onboard processor from Kinect 1.0) and other times we’ve won (keeping Gears of War as an exclusive).

4AM? That’s early!

Anyway, thank you for acknowledging that the consumer knows best I guess, although I sense a patronizing tone there. I don’t know why. Yes, the consumer knows that they don’t like bending over for publishers. Also, nice try with the “always been for the gamer” line. You’re about to go on to explain how the whole thing is intended to throw the gamer under the bus in favor of the publishers.

While publishers have never come right out to us at MS and say “We want you to do something about used gaming” we could hear it in their voices and read it in their numerous public statements.  The used gaming industry is slowly killing them and every attempt to slow down the bleeding was met with much resistance from the gaming community.  I will admit that online passes were not well received nor were they well implemented, but I felt given time to mature it could have turned into something worth having as a gamer much like DLC (we went from pointless horse armor to amazing season passes like Borderlands 2!).  Videogame development is a loss leader by definition and unlike other forms of media videogames only have one revenue stream and that is selling to you the gamer.  So when you buy a game used you’re hurting developers much more than say a movie studio.  Many gamers fail to realize this when they purchase these preowned games.  It is impossible to continue to deliver movie like experiences at the current costs without giving up something in return.  It’s what gamers want and expect, the best selling games are blockbusters, the highest rated are blockbusters, the most loved are blockbusters.  How can developers continue to create these experiences if consumers refuse to support them?  Many will argue the development system is broken, and I disagree.  The development system is near broken, it’s used gaming that is broken, but regardless I think more emphasis on this from both us at Microsoft and publishers would have gone a long way in helping educate the gamer, but again it is us who dropped the ball in this regard for that we’re sorry.

The used gaming industry is killing the publishers. Okay. Why should I care? The automobile industry killed blacksmithing, and you don’t hear anyone mourning that profession. It means the consumer has spoken, and we like buying used games (maybe the resistance you speak of is your clue that you’re meddling in things you have no business in…). In the words of your own Adam Orth, deal with it. And wait… didn’t you just say the Xbox division has always been for the gamer? Here you’re clearly saying this whole thing is a money grab for the publishers. You’re either with the gamers, or with the publishers. They are, in fact, opposite sides, engaged in eternal war. They try to squeeze ever more money out of us, and we resist, trying to hold on to our hard-earned dollars. So yeah… don’t try to frame it as whatever is good for the publishers is good for us. The publishers are trying to rob us, and you’re acting as a pawn in their scheme. Also, with regards to used gaming, I am perfectly content with the status quo. You’ve made it clear that the publishers aren’t. That isn’t my problem. You’ve got people with fancy MBA’s that are paid a ton of money to figure this stuff out. Tell them to do so in a way that doesn’t piss off your customers. 

Either that, or fire ’em. That’s what’s funny about those business types. They only exist to financially justify their own placement in a company, hiding the fact that you’d be best off cutting them off. If you’re bleeding for money, that would be a good place to start.

Going back to Xbox One’s feature set, one of the features I was most proud of was Family Sharing.  I’ve browsed many gaming forums and saw that many people were excited about it as well!  That made my day the first time I saw gamers start to think of amazing experiences that could come from game sharing.  It showed that my work resonated with the group for which I helped create it for.  I will admit that I was not happy with how some of my fellow colleagues handled explaining the systems and many times pulled my hair out as I felt I could have done a better job explaining and selling the ideas to the press and public at large.  I’m writing this for that reason, to explain to gamers how many of the features would have worked and how many of them will still work.

Amazing experiences that can come from one person at a time being able to play a game? Just like with disc sharing? Fire your marketing people too if that’s the best they can come up with.

If I haven’t made it clear in my last post and this one, family sharing is the dumbest piece of  marketing spiel ever. It enables nothing that couldn’t be done with disc sharing, with the exact same limitations. Plus MS is using it to justify a noxious DRM scheme. For the “privilege” of being able to do what you were always able to before, you’d have to ask MS for permission to play your own games every 24 hours! Because that’s somehow a better deal for us or something.

First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy.  The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library.  Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world.  There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone.  When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour.  This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to.  When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game.  We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it.  One thing we knew is that we wanted the experience to be seamless for both the person sharing and the family member benefiting.  There weren’t many models of this system already in the wild other than Sony’s horrendous game sharing implementation, but it was clear their approach (if one could call it that) was not the way to go.  Developers complained about the lost sales and gamers complained about overbearing DRM that punished those who didn’t share that implemented by publishers to quell gamers from taking advantage of a poorly thought out system.  We wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.

Oh wow. This is truly awful. So at first, I thought family sharing would actually allow one person at a time to play the full game. So it’d be kind of like disc sharing except with MS shackles added. But, in fact, it’s time limited to as few as 15 minutes! MS wanted us to give up the ability to share our games and buy/sell/trade them like the actual owners of property we’re supposed to be… in exchange for some awful shareware demo mode. No, thanks.

The motto around the offices for the family plan was “It’s the console gaming equivalent to spotify and pandora” it was a social network within itself!  The difference between the family sharing and the typical store demo is that your progress is saved as if it was the full game, and the data that was installed for that shared game doesn’t need to be erased when they purchase the full game!  It gave incentive to share your games among your peers, it gave games exposure, it allowed old games to still generate revenue for publishers.  At the present time we’re no longer going forward with it, but it is not completely off the table.  It is still possible to implement this with the digital downloaded versions of games, and in fact that’s the plan still as far as I’m aware.

 

Another feature that we didn’t speak out about was the fact we were building a natural social network with Xbox One in itself that didn’t require gamers to open their laptops/tablets to post to their other friends nor did they need to wrestle with keyboard add-ons.  Each Xbox Live account would have a full “home space” in which they could post their highest scores, show off their best Game DVR moments, what they’ve watched via Xbox TV and leave messages for others to read and respond to.  Kinect 2.0 and Xbox One work together and has robust voice to text capabilities.  The entire notion of communicating with friends you met online would have been natural and seamless.  No reliance on Facebook, or Twitter (though those are optional for those who want them).  Everything is perfectly crafted for the Xbox One controller and Kinect 2.0 and given that shine that only Microsoft can provide.

It’s the console gaming equivalent of iTunes Ping. Fixed that for you. I’ve (briefly) used both Spotify and Pandora, but I wouldn’t view either one as a social network. When I think of a social network that uses content instead of people as its basis, I think iTunes Ping. You know, possibly Apple’s biggest flop of the past half-decade? I maybe know one person that used it, and every time they did, I was left with this “WTF” feeling. People are sheep. They really are. But when you try to build a social network on a basis of commercialism, even sheep will sense something’s amiss. Don’t delude yourself into thinking your “Xbox Social” thing would go any better than Ping. It’s the exact same concept, but with games instead of music.

We at Microsoft have amazing plans for Xbox One that will make it an amazing experience for both gamers and entertainment consumers alike.  I stand by the belief that Playstation 4 is Xbox 360 part 2, while Xbox One is trying to revolutionize entertainment consumption.  For people who don’t want these amazing additions, like Don said we have a console for that and it’s called Xbox 360.

The stupid. It burns. Every time I hear this, I just… ugh. I cannot really put my frustration into words here. And the fact that it isn’t just a MS employee spouting this off (which I could believe), but actual internet commenters have said it as well. If draconian limitations on what people can do with your console are what you believe really “sets it apart” and makes it “next generation,” it sucks. It isn’t what people want. And it doesn’t deliver a new experience. It delivers a locked-down version of the old experience. Please, just please. Stop. Don’t try to shove this DRM down our throat as the “killer feature” of your new console. This paragraph, right here. It’s why I wrote this post. Do we really live in a world where the inability to share or resell our games is a featureBeyond that, what kind of drugs are we as a society on when we let a company tell us that this is the feature of their new console? That we should be positively craving this?

Also, this Don person? Is he PR? Because he’s doing a terrible job. You never try to market your old product as superior to your new one. Let’s focus on what matters here: The games. Here’s what really defines a console as next-generation. Are the games bigger? Are they better? Not some dumbassed marketing gimmick like “family sharing” that makes the Wii U’s tablet screen sound like a decent feature by comparison. There’s been a trend in consoles. Each new generation is more powerful than the last, and the games (as far as technical capability – I love the classics just as much as anyone) get better. That’s always been what’s defined “next-generation.” And from what I’ve seen, these new games look impressive. The Xbox 360 just doesn’t do that. It doesn’t have the power.

So here’s what we want from this generation: We want a better, more powerful gaming experience. And we’re perfectly content with being given that and having it labeled as “next-generation.” As it always has.

What we don’t want is a gimmick. And as you business types like numbers, look at the abysmal Wii U sales to see where those kinds of things get you. Have I finally made my point? Because I’d really like some other topic to blog about now.

Presenting the Xbox 180!

It would seem that Microsoft has come to their senses. And despite how out of character it is for me to write a post praising them, I’m kind of going to anyway. About a week and a half ago, I wrote a post slamming Microsoft for the heavy-handed DRM destined for the Xbox One. And I usually don’t unpublish or delete things just because I no longer stand behind them, so I need to write a new one to clear things up. And hey, our criticism? It worked! MS listened, common sense prevailed, and the Xbox One won’t be sending us to 1984. My prior post may no longer be relevant, but it’s a piece of history. I’m proud to have been part of the engine that pressured MS to change course by getting my opinions out there. If negative feedback brought about that change, positive feedback will keep them on the right track. No matter how hard it is for me to write something positive about MS, they’ve earned it this time (and hey, I got egg on my face too when I had to write a positive post about Sony after making such a big deal over how they wronged geohot). Do note, I’m not suggesting that MS didn’t deserve our hate at the time of their prior announcements. They did. And I’d argue that they don’t really deserve our forgiveness. But if we try anyway, it’ll encourage them not to do stupid things like intrusive DRM anymore.

 

Tweet by a DRM-obsessed Orwellian control freak that encouraged me to write this post. Yep. I helped to keep us stuck in the past. The past in which we actually owned our games. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I didn’t really plan to write this blog post. But the internet confuses me. There was a (well-deserved) uproar when MS announced its draconian practices. But now that they’ve come to their senses, people are complaining again. “We wanted the future. Now we’re stuck in the present!” I don’t get it. I just really don’t get it. You still get your future. Games with larger maps, better graphics, etc. Isn’t better games the whole point? I know stupidity on the internet is no unusual phenomenon, but when the sheep all come out to praise DRM, something is wrong. You want MS requiring you to prove you’re not a “filthy pirate” every 24 hours? You want your games to be worthless paperweights when you’re done with them, as opposed to something you can trade in for new ones? You want to be bent over and violated anally by publishers charging you for a new game for $60, when you could buy the same thing used for half the price? Well okay then. If you’re a masochist, and you like MS talking dirty to you and spitting on you as they whip you, it’s not my place to tell you that you shouldn’t be into that. But you’re deluded if you think it’s in the best interests of the vast majority of people. Nothing good comes from giving up our concept of ownership to the publishers and MS. They can pry my ownership of my games from my cold, dead hands. I always buy my games used. I trade them in sometimes. I’m not rich. I like being sensible with money. If you somehow think you’re “superior” for buying your games new, and that the “future” involves all the “wretched poor people” being unable to afford games, you’re a horrible person. But apparently there is a (quite vocal) group out there who thinks Microsoft’s original plans for the “future” were a good thing. Screwing over those not as financially fortunate as the new game elitists, and members of the armed forces, who can’t always access the internet when deployed.

Back to that tweet I quoted further up. You still get your discless and always connected future. I believe the One will still allow you to install the game to the hard drive like the 360 did; you’ll just have to have the disc in the drive to play it. All the benefits of discless gaming without being inspected by the Thought Police once a day. And always connected? Yep. If you want your Xbox One to be always connected, it can be. There’s this little thing called choice. It’s good for us. I don’t want to be tethered to an internet connection if I don’t have to be. If you do want to be connected, you can be. And if you don’t, you don’t have to be. Everybody wins this way! Just accept that not everyone wants to do things your way, and having the option of not requiring an internet connection is good.

I believe the other complaint was that this removes the family-sharing feature. So what? Only one person can be playing the game at a time anyway with that. Meaning this “feature” didn’t enable anything you couldn’t do with a disc-based game. Nothing of value has been lost with the removal of this feature.

So should I buy the Xbox One?

If you came here looking for me to tell you that the Xbox One is a better buy than the PS4, you’re in the wrong place. I’m just saying that I don’t officially condemn the One anymore. Now that Microsoft isn’t trying to force us into their idealized future where everybody is forced to buy overpriced new games, and has to have a reliable internet connection to prove it, I’m saying it’s now worth giving a fair chance (also, there’s the fact that MS could’ve easily used the 24-hour check-ins to render every Xbox One useless the moment the Xbox Two came out).

As far as specs and value are concerned, the PS4 is still a better buy. Otherwise equal, it has a better graphics card. Oh, and it costs $100 less. And I don’t personally watch TV often, so the One’s PVR functionality doesn’t really do much for me. Although, as a person who likes to review things, I suppose I may just wind up buying both so that I can compare them properly.

Conclusion

Yes, MS has given us some freedom of choice. And no, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s a huge gain for a lot of people, and a loss for nobody except the game publishers. And nobody cares about them anyway. 

I suppose people will try to find anything to complain about. And hey, this is MS we’re talking about here. I like to complain about MS, but if they realize this DRM is bad for everyone and decide to remove it, even I have to praise that as a good decision. Which I suppose is what puzzles me. As a self-proclaimed MS critic, I’d think others like me would even admit this is a good decision. The MS sheep just go with everything their favorite company does, so the complaints aren’t coming from that camp either. Ultimately, I guess it’s just the misinformed people who think they’re actually losing something here. And I’ll repeat for the last time that nobody is losing anything. It changes how a few things work, but everything the DRM “enabled” can still be done, just in different ways. And having to do them the way they’ve always been done is beyond worth it. We get back the concept of ownership. And that’s priceless.

First Look: iOS 7 Beta 1

In its annual WWDC opening keynote, Apple announced iOS 7, which was described as the “biggest change to iOS since the introduction of the iPhone,” and aptly so. After loading the beta onto my old iPhone 4S, my first thought was “It doesn’t even look like it’s running iOS anymore.” And that’s a good thing. Especially after a boring, nigh-featureless iOS 6 release, iOS has grown stale. Beyond stale in fact. And after switching to Android, the only thing I miss from iOS is the larger selection of games. Let’s see what iOS 7 is bringing to the table.

New Home Screen

iOS has been the object of much ridicule for not having changed much in the six years since its original release. Look at the home screen of the original iPhone, and then look at the home screen of an iOS 6 device. It’s got a wallpaper, a differently-styled dock, and icons can go in folders. But for all those years, it’s preserved the same basic aesthetic. No more. The iOS 7 UI is radically different. And it’s received a lot of complaints (although I personally like it).

iOS 7 home screen

Possibly the first thing you’ll notice here: the icons. They’re flatter. People in internet comments threads have raged that they’re uglier as well. I don’t get it why. I like them. Maybe it’s just the boredom with iOS that caused me to leave the platform, making me think “different” is automatically “good.” Or maybe taste is just really, really subjective.

Other stuff to notice here. The Spotlight page is gone. You now get to Spotlight by dragging down from the top row of icons. I like gesture-based UI’s. They’re cool. But they’re not exactly intuitive. I, admittedly, had quite a bit of trouble using Windows 8 for quite awhile. It was fun once I figured it out though. But the problem is, most people aren’t geeks, and, in fact, get quite frustrated when they can’t figure out how something works. So back to the Spotlight gesture, and how it’s confusing. When I first read about it, I thought “It must be in the Notification Center somewhere, because it’s the same gesture.” Once I found out it wasn’t, I started a bit lower. These two gestures are confusingly similar.

One really cool thing you can’t see in the screenshot: The wallpaper is animated. And it also tilts as you tilt the screen (Apple kind of went overboard with this effect and is using it in other places as well; more on that later).

Redesigned Folders in iOS 7.

Every aspect of the iOS 7 UI has been modified. Here we see the default Utilities folder. Oh, and what’s this? I’ve added Newsstand to it! Yep, that’s possible now. That app that nobody used, yet took up space directly on everyone’s homescreen, can finally be banished to a place less in-the-way.

Death to Skeuomorphism, Part Deux

If you read my OS X 10.9 post, you’ve already seen me parading Scott Forstall’s head around on a stick, metaphorically speaking. Well, I get to do it again, because Apple has (almost) thoroughly eradicated his influence from iOS 7 as well.

Calendar app in iOS 7

I’ve used Windows Phone for a sum total of ten minutes (playing around with the Lumia 920’s at the Microsoft Store), and I’ve gotta admit, this Calendar app looks like it would be right at home on Windows Phone. I’m not saying iOS 7 is a wholesale ripoff of WP, but some things, like this, do have an eerie resemblance. I’m also not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s most certainly an improvement from the old app.

The iOS 7 Notes app (if anyone’s wondering what this note is, that also showed up in the OS X 10.9 review, it was a list of stuff I needed in Glitch a long time ago)

Much as Apple did in OS X 10.9, their quest to remove skeuomorphism from their products seems incomplete. Although that just seemed like an oversight, as the Reminders app was thoroughly untouched. This seems just… I don’t know. Apple clearly changed the Notes app. And it’s much less horrible and blatant than it used to be (oh, and they finally stopped using that Marker Felt font). But it still has a distinctive paper-textured background. And it actually looks decent. But if you’re going for a “purely digital” interface, it’s still an unnecessary compromise. Look at Android and WP. That paper texture would feel out of place in both. Because both have, more or less, transitioned to fully-digital interfaces (not entirely sure I’m using this term correctly, but whatever).

Notification Center

 

iOS 7 Notification Center. Felt texture begone!

Notification Center has been revamped to show more information. As shown above, it now displays a somewhat-detailed weather forecast (as well as a very large stock ticker, which can fortunately be disabled, as it occupied about half the total notification panel, or one full screen). It also now supports organization, such that it only displays today’s events by default, having a separate tab for notifications. Notification Center is also now accessible from the lock screen (although this too can be disabled).

Control Center

Android users will be all too familiar with this one. You know the settings toggles panel? iOS basically has the same thing now, except it’s accessible from the bottom half of the screen, by swiping up.

Control Center

Control Center includes everything you’d expect. Toggles for airplane mode, Wi-fi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb mode, and orientation lock are present, as well as music controls. Also a somewhat arbitrary shortcut panel including links to the clock, calculator, and camera apps, as well as a flashlight toggle. I hear the sound of a trebuchet. It sounds like every third-party flashlight app being launched out of the App Store…

Multitasking

iOS 7 now supposedly supports “full multitasking.” As no apps are currently built to take advantage of it, only time will tell if this is indeed the full multitasking we’re used to (e.g., apps can perform any task in the background), or some limited form of “full” multitasking.

Oh look, it’s ProSwitcher! I mean, the iOS 7 multitasking view.

Along with new multitasking functionality, iOS 7 brings with it a new multitasking interface. Except it’s not actually new. Jailbroken users have had this for years in the form of ProSwitcher. That said, it’s definitely nice, if not a little laggy on my 4S (as is anything multitasking-related actually).

Chrome Safari

Apple has downloaded the Chrome source code, and made its own iOS port thoroughly revamped Safari (that said, the new Firefox nightlies look an awful lot like Chrome themselves…).

Safari in iOS 7, with full UI in view.

Safari in iOS 7, with the UI hidden.

Describing its new user interface guidelines for iOS 7, Apple mentions deference, that is producing a UI that’s “out of the way.” It’s pretty nice, although, of course, Chrome did do it first. Look at the above pair of screenshots. The first is with the UI visible. Scroll down the page, and the UI, aside from a small strip showing the name of the site, disappears completely. Scroll back up, and the UI reappears.

Tab view in iOS 7

I’m serious. I’m not taking a bunch of Chrome screenshots and claiming it’s Safari in iOS. I know this looks exactly like the tab view in the Android version of Chrome (and acts like it too; tilt the screen and the tabs tilt with it). But it isn’t. It’s Safari.

What is this, I don’t even.

The iOS 7 Camera app now has four modes, switchable by swiping across the screen. This one is the Square mode. I don’t know why it exists. I realize your average iPhone photographer probably doesn’t want to go into Photoshop, but I’m fairly certain MS Paint even has cropping functionality, as does the Camera app itself, so I don’t exactly understand this. The app is also supposed to have filters with live previews, although this is only supported on iPhone 5, so I didn’t get to try it out. Regardless, it’s nothing new if you’ve ever used Instagram.

iTunes Radio

iTunes Radio

iTunes Radio. It’s like Pandora, but it’s not. Hey Apple, if you want someone to write your slogans for you, I’m available.

Okay, that’s the only bit of snark I have about iTunes Radio. It’s actually really nice. You pick a genre, and it produces a station based on it. You can also make a station based on an artist or song. Considering I travel a lot, this is my salvation from needing to consider something like an XM subscription. Oh, and did I mention it’s free? Didn’t see that one coming. And as far as I know, it doesn’t have the same 40-hour a month limit that Pandora does.

Legacy apps

The Twitter app, in iOS 7.

iOS 7 being a radical departure from its predecessor, legacy apps pose a special challenge. I would think Apple would be able to overwrite its own legacy elements in third-party apps, much as a .NET app looks native in any Windows version it’s run in. But I guess it’s either not that easy, or apps would then look like a mashup of iOS 7 elements and custom elements made for iOS 6. So the solution Apple went for is to display legacy apps in a sort of iOS 6 mode where they look exactly like they would in the older OS, keyboard and all. It’s not a perfect or elegant solution, but I suppose it’s the best we’ll get, given the circumstances.

Conclusion

iOS 7 is many things. But original, it is not. Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Yes, everything it did, Android, Windows Phone, jailbreak developers (themselves inspired by WebOS), and Pandora did first. But iOS wasn’t (and still isn’t) perfect. As a matter of fact, I still won’t be using an iPhone as my primary phone. I like my sideloading, terminals, and root access too much. Although not having iOS around much will hurt a little more now. I like the new UI, a lot. And iRadio. So yeah, it’s not enough to bring me back because I have very specific needs, but it made my brief venture back into iOS pretty nice. I look forward to dusting off my old iPad and loading the forthcoming iPad beta of iOS 7 onto it. Who knows? If I get bored enough, I might do a writeup on it once it’s out.

If one were to sum up iOS 7, Steve Jobs (himself most ironically stealing from Picasso) did it best:

Good artists copy, great artists steal.

First Look: OS X 10.9 Developer Preview

It’s that time of the year again. Apple has delivered the opening keynote of WWDC 2013, and with it, developer previews of OS X 10.9 and iOS 7. I’ll most likely be reviewing iOS 7 tomorrow (well sort of… these posts aren’t actually reviews as I don’t give final rankings as they are developer previews, although I will give my opinion on where Apple is going).

For starters, Apple ditched the cat names. This is so jarring that I feel the immediate need to purchase a cat and name it Mavericks. This is the end of an era. But does it signal the end of the OS X platform? Does it signal a merge with iOS? I think not (I’ll explain why in a bit).

OS X 10.9 Mavericks desktop

About This Mac screen

The Finder

Okay, so remember how a bunch of people have been fantasizing about iOS on the Mac? It’s not happening. Along with the Mac Pro updates, Apple has proven with the updated Finder that they do indeed still see the value of real tools like file systems, as instead of trying to minimize its presence, they’ve improved one’s ability to use it. Goodbye TotalFinder and PathFinder. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

A Finder window in Mavericks, displaying a few of the new features.

Most noticeable here is tabs! Yes, a file browser in a mainstream OS finally has tabs! Apple has heard my pleas! Remember the days of web browsing back when IE ruled both PC and Mac? Back when you had to have a different window for every page? How did we live? Oh wait… we’ve still had to deal with that in our file browsers. But no more! The greatest UI enhancement to come to web browsers in the last decade has also come to Finder. If you manipulate large numbers of files often, this will be a life-changer. And of course, for those times when you do need multiple windows, that’s still supported. And just like in Safari, you can split and merge them to your heart’s content.

Okay, enough on the tabbed Finder. Yes, that alone would make Mavericks the most important OS X release since Snow Leopard to me, but there are other things that are also important. Like tags. Remember those kind of useless colored labels that you’ve been able to tag your files with since who-knows-when? Well now you can search by them.

Tags. The red one.

Oh, and it turns out that you can indeed assign arbitrary tags by right-clicking a Finder item then clicking the Tags label itself. That’s much more useful. It took me awhile to realize this. D’oh.

An arbitrary “meme” tag, showing stupid things I’ve made in Photoshop.

And while on the topic of not useful, what’s with the full-screen mode? There are many applications I resize to fill my screen. Finder has never been one of them. Despite needing to manage legions of files, I’ve never found the need to do this, despite being incredibly liberal about the amounts of screen real estate I give the application I’m working with. So… yeah, I don’t get it. As a matter of fact, I dare say it’s entirely impractical. When working with a file manager, you often want to drag and drop things into other applications. But when they aren’t in view, you’ve got a problem. Ah well. I suppose the fact that it’s there doesn’t do any harm, but I just can’t see any practical use for it.

Death to Skeuomorphism

Yes, this gets its own point (I’m obviously going to have a field day in the iOS 7 review…). And the most screenshots of any point in this post. Scott Forstall has been ousted from Apple, and with him, skeuomorphic design principles. And if you didn’t watch the WWDC keynote, you missed it. They thoroughly roasted Forstall. But sadly not literally. Suffice it to say I was hoping they were leading up to a burning of his effigy. The result? Apps that look more clean and less gaudy. Take a look. First the old 10.8 apps, then the new 10.9 ones.

Contacts, Calendar, Notes, Reminders, and Notification Center in 10.8. Notice excessive use of skeuomorphism.

Contacts, Calendar, Notes, and Notification Center in 10.9. And WTF Reminders?

iBooks

I’ve long been wondering when iBooks would come to the Mac. Long have I struggled to find an app suitable for reading stuff. And maybe I’ll still struggle for awhile. Maybe it’s a bug in my upgraded install, but it seems to me as though it’s not included in this developer preview. (apparently it’s not just me)

Safari

Safari has been updated to version 7, bringing with it a few new features, most of which are somewhat obtrusively visible by default on the Top Sites page.

Top Sites page in Safari 10.7.

Apple touts the “revamped” Top Sites page itself as a major feature, although the news is you can basically customize it a little. It isn’t really a big deal in my opinion.

Safari also now includes half of a fully-featured Twitter client, in the form of Shared Links. It displays tweets from people you follow in the sidebar if the tweets have links in them.

Shared Links in Safari 7.

This might be a pretty good time-waster. How much time have you spent browsing through links people have posted on Twitter? Now that functionality is built right into it! Considering I’ve got a full Twitter client open most of the time anyway, I’m not quite sure it’ll change much, but depending on your work/time-waste flow, maybe it’ll appeal to you.

Apple also claims that Safari now uses less memory. This, if true, is a very good thing, as in my experience, Safari is a memory whore. Anyway, that comparison is nearly three and a half years old, so let’s do a new one. I’ll compare Safari 6.0.4’s memory usage on OS X 10.8 with Safari 7’s on 10.9, with the same tabs open on each (my blog, The Verge, and my email).

Safari memory usage in 10.8.

Safari memory usage in 10.9.

Also worthy of note here is that each tab finally seems to have its own process. Ever had one tab freeze, and had Safari proceed to tell you that you must reload all of your tabs to fix it? And you were probably right in the middle of something important. I’ve yet to manage to get a tab to freeze, but if my theory is correct, it won’t do that anymore. Now for the memory usage comparison. Not counting the third-party Flash plugin (which is irrelevant to these tests anyway), Safari in 10.8 has a total memory usage of 763.4MB. For a mere three tabs. None of which are anything particularly intensive. Meanwhile, in 10.9, the total usage for Safari is 392.3MB. This is an improvement of nearly 49%, and possibly the most important improvement in Safari in general. Also, the new Activity Monitor. It shows a lot more information. I think I like it.

Maps

Apple has brought its (controversial) Maps app to OS X. I find the gestures to manipulate the map a bit… awkward. I suppose it’s a limitation of using a 2D screen and touchpad to navigate 3D objects. And I knew my town’s skyline was pathetic, but I didn’t realize the tallest building in Downtown Lake Charles was almost completely flat.

Hybrid view in Maps, displaying a completely chopped-off view of Downtown Lake Charles.

The primary use case of this will probably be to plan routes that will later be navigated using the mobile app, and of course Maps supports this scenario (although I can’t get it to work). At some future point when it does, it’s supposed to allow you to plan a route, then send it to an iPhone.

Multi-Monitor Support

Another massive improvement is the ability to run full-screen apps on multiple monitors. (for those of you who haven’t used 10.7 or 10.8, yes, this was an actual thing we couldn’t do, hence why we never used full-screen apps) This should’ve been around since the beginning, but running an app in full-screen mode no longer blacks out the contents of your other monitors. Or… linens out. It actually showed the linen texture thing across the other monitor. Maybe it’s just a part of the whole skeuomorphism removal thing. 

One monitor, running Safari in full screen mode.

The other one, with stuff on it besides a huge linen texture!

You’ll have to just picture these things side by side. Grab can only screenshot one screen at a time, and if I stitched them together, it would be hard for me to fit the image in this post. Just believe me when I say I saw both of those things at the same time. Which is unbelievably awesome. I personally still don’t see why I’d prefer a full-screen app over an app resized to fit the screen, but now I don’t have to loathe the idea anymore.

Miscellaneous

OS X Mavericks now also includes actionable notifications (notifications that you can interact with), iCloud Keychain (basically a cloud-based password manager), and numerous performance and power enhancements. I haven’t done in-depth testing, although everything does seem faster. And that can only be a good thing.

App Nap

One of the performance and efficiency related improvements in Mavericks is a feature called App Nap. Basically, what it does is cut CPU usage to apps that aren’t active. I haven’t been able to test its effect on battery life, but it does have an obvious effect on CPU usage, as seen below. What’s more, it’s impossible to tell when “resuming” the “paused” app that its state had even been altered, so congratulations to Apple for accomplishing a seemingly impossible feat here.

Safari CPU usage while visible.

Safari CPU usage while minimized. Note the “Safari Web Content” process previously using 4.0% CPU is now using none.

 

Summary

OS X 10.9 Mavericks is quite the interesting update to Apple’s desktop operating system. It brings with it a lot of things that it should’ve had long ago (proper multiple monitor support) as well as things that are much-appreciated in the first mainstream OS to have it (Finder tabs). iBooks and Maps are also fairly common-sense additions, as are the performance and power tweaks, some of which are fairly impressive. As some of these are more difficult to examine in practice, you can read more about them at Apple’s site. Other things, like full-screen Finder, are kind of pointless in my opinion, and the omission of a new design for the Reminders app still boggles my mind, as Apple seems to have desired to banish skeuomorphism completely from its software. Actually, I would’ve liked to see a complete visual redesign of the OS to match iOS 7. The current design has been around almost completely unaltered since Lion and is getting a little long in the tooth. Ultimately, the things Apple did do are good (or harmless), but the things they didn’t are a bit disappointing. They’ve got until the final release to redesign stuff, and I’d say that’s likely for the Reminders app, but I doubt a full visual redesign of OS X will happen between now and then.