5 things I want in an Apple Tablet

By Mike on 8:50 pm

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The iPad proved to be a huge disappointment, at least for me. I can't speak for other Apple fans but an oversized iPhone is no use to me. Here's five things I want in an Apple tablet that I feel would make it perfect.

Full Mac OS X
-The iPhone OS is essentially a cut down version of OS X. The iPad would be a far more useful device, especially for its size, if it included a full version of OS X with some optimizations for a touch interface such as the virtual keyboard. I can't imagine it would be hard to do. It would increase functionality ten fold.

Intel Atom Processor
-The Apple A4 is a pretty fast chip for a mobile chip, except for one problem. ARM based processors can't run a heck of a lot of stuff. Using an x86 based Atom processor, such as the new Pine Trail, would trade a bit of battery life for the ability to run any program OS X can. Imagine being able to use programs such as Photoshop or Final Cut with this, or even something as simple as a web browser of your choice.

External Connectivity
-The iPad uses the same dock connector that the iPhone does. Please add at least one USB port to this thing to allow it to connect to a wide variety of devices. Even a flash card reader would be nice to expand the thing's pitiful storage capacity.

-This is a biggie that would have essentially been solved with my first two points. The iPad is intended to be used to browse the web but it still cannot playback Adobe Flash. Yeah, yeah, I can hear you saying how terrible Flash is. It's a resource hog. However, more and more dynamic web content is using it. That's not going to change. Leaving Flash out for this long is stupid. It puzzles me why Apple has resisted adding it to their mobile devices when Adobe seems willing to get it on them.

Better Software
-If you ignore all the above Apple, at least give it some better functionality beyond the ton of crappy iPhone apps. For the love of god get an office suite, iChat, and iLife on this thing pronto. Those are vary, vary basic things in this day and age.

iDisappointed in the iPad

By Mike on 8:56 pm

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It is the most important thing Steve Jobs has ever worked on. It was going to be a game changer. It would change the way we work and consume media. The thing that was touted to finally kill paper books and newspapers and become the ultimate information, web and multimedia convergence device. And what did we get? A giant iPod Touch.

After months of rumours and priming us up, the tech crowed was left a bit mystified with the Apple tablet, dubbed the iPad. Feminine hygiene jokes aside, nobody in really knows what to make of it. The iPad is basically what I said it is, a giant iPod Touch expanded with a 9.7'' screen with a puzzling resolution of 1024x768. Therefore it can't play back HD video. Oddly the screen doesn't look to be in a 4:3 aspect ratio yet its using a 4:3 resolution. Stretching pixels is never a good idea.

So what does Apple's "revolutionary device" do. Well, exactly the same thing your iPod Touch can, literally. You can surf the web, look at your calendar, listen to music, watch movies, view photos, check email, and look at Google Maps. It runs on iPhone OS 3.1 and still does not support Adobe Flash. It uses the same touch keyboard, lacks any sort of office productivity apps, doesn't include iChat, and has no iSight camera. It can run current iPhone apps but will presumably have its own to take advantage of the higher res screen.

It's also worth noting that it has the same storage capacity as the iTouch. 16gb to 64gb. It has no slot for external storage and no USB ports save for an external accessory that uses a proprietary connection. Powering the devices is a slightly faster ARM based processor developed in house by Apple, and runs at 1ghz. Apple claims a 10 hour battery life with it. It also comes in a 3G enabled model or one with just Wifi alone. The iPad 16gb Wifi starts at $499, while the 64gb 3G version will go for a whopping $829. Expensive even by Apple's standards.

So what do I think about this device? It's dumb, simply put. As one commenter on Anandtech's forums put it, the iPad is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist.

Maybe I was expecting too much from this thing. Despite all the information to the contrary, I honestly thought this would be Apple's answer to the netbooks. A tablet that would be able to run full OS X with the same apps, be as thin as a Macbook Air and also be as functional. Imagine a device that would allow me to edit my videos and photos in the field with the flick of a finger. Now that would be revolutionary! The iPad isn't. It's just another PDA. Those things should have stayed dead and buried.

Being an Apple product, I'm sure this will be a success. However, I just can't see it as being the runaway success that Jobs thinks it will be. Nobody in their right mind is going to buy a neutered tablet, and nobody is going to buy a super sized iPhone. Tablet computers have just never been popular. If Apple really wants to revolutionize the way we consume media, they're going to have to give us something better than just a bigger screen.

Comparing Console Prices Through History

By Mike on 1:15 pm

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Is gaming more expensive today than it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago. Some took a look at the PS3 and Xbox 360's original launch prices and said yes, it definitely was. Looking at the actual numbers, it seems that yes, this is in fact true. However, that's not the whole story. I compiled a chart of the 23 most popular consoles from the dawn of console gaming until 2006 when the current generation systems came out. I compared prices in US dollars inflation adjusted to 2006 values using the US Consumer Price Index.

Click for a larger image

As you can see, the PS3 and 360 are indeed some of the most expensive, but far from the most. The venerable Atari 5200, released in 1977, adjusted for today would cost a whopping $655.26 in today's money. Of course I left out unpopular and super expensive consoles such as the 3DO.

New Easy Fix for Nyko Frontman PS3 Problems

By Mike on 7:04 pm

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I was just following up on the Nyko Frontman guitar problems this week and discovered that a new fix has been posted in the official PS3 forums. Fixing the problem is so simple and only requires one Dualshock/Sixaxis controller instead of two.

Turn your PS3 on with it's controller. Then turn on the Nyko Frontman. The LED will turn red.
Next, unplug the guitar's receiver from the USB port with the guitar itself still on.
Plug the receiver back in. The guitar will automatically resync and should turn blue.

It should work fine from that point.

Thanks to PS3 forum member Lightness777 for discovering this fix.

Update: If you're looking to get your Frontman working again, you're out of luck. Since Firmware 3.50, unlicensed controllers, including the Nyko Frontman, no longer work with the PS3.  I apologize for being late on the gun with this one.

Avatar Mini Review and Thoughts on the 3D Craze

By Mike on 4:20 pm

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Avatar is said to be an industry changing movie; even revolutionizing the way movies are made. Is it? I don't think so. It's no more groundbreaking than James Cameron's other movies. I'd venture further and say Titanic was far more of a game changer given the massive scale of it, done without CGI for the most part. The story of Avatar also isn't what one would call original. Think Fern Gully or Disney's Pocahontas in the future. Without giving spoilers, lets just say it's the same old nature loving primitive folk (Giant Cat-Smurfs this time) up against the evil mining/forestry/oil/development corporation/military industrial conplex story that countless movies, books, and video games have been based on. About peace and harmony with the environment and so forth. There's a political side to it as well. The film heavily implies the Iraq War. Native Americans also spring to mind in a plot where alien invaders are pillaging their land for mercantile gains, without thought to those who already live there. The movie starts to feel preachy at times.

Negatives aside, I did enjoy the movie and I don't entirely agree with the Nostalgia Critic calling it lame. Everything was well done, well edited, and the CGI used was stunningly realistic. I think it's probably the first recent movie I've seen in a while that I sat through without looking at my watch once. It's certainly not boring. It's a good movie and you should definitely go see it if you have the chance.

Naturally, I watched the movie in 3D. This was the first 3D movies I've seen and I found it quite impressive rather than just being gimmicky. Cameron used it as a new depth of field rather than just having crap fly at you. Despite that, I found the RealD process really hurt my eyes and I had a killer headache when I got home. It reminds me of the bad old days when I used to game in front a low refresh CRT monitor. I also felt a little disorientated, though that may be the result of sitting uncomfortably for three hours in a bad seat. Eye problems are likely the result of the movie's frame rate being much lower than it should be. 24fps is too low for this style of cinema.

To the whole 3D trend in general, I'm seeing it as just a gimmick, especially 3DTV. There's going to be absolutely nobody supporting this technology beyond a handful of Blu-ray movies. Not many are going to replace their brand new HDTVs anytime soon. Television studios took over a decade to fully upgrade to HD and even today, many popular shows (such as CBC's The Hour) are still shot in standard definition. The problem? It's just to expensive to upgrade the equipment so soon. Plus, you need compatible editing software, bigger serves, and you have to retrain everyone to work in the new medium. ESPN and Discovery have announced 3D channels for the US. ESPN has the financial backing of the sports industry. The NFL has deep pockets and thus they get the best toys. Discovery can and will just show 3D IMAX movies. In the case of both, somebody else is footing the bill to air this content.

Gaming is also set to go 3D, which could be good or bad. Most likely disorientating. Virtual reality has never really caught on. Sony is working on making the PS3 3D compatible though I don't know how they'll do this. In previous 3D systems from nVidia, using glasses, performance was roughly halved using the technology.

3D may eventually come in but I think it will be at least a decade before we start seeing it replace conventional 2D video, if ever.

Top 10 Failed Consoles

By Mike on 4:15 pm

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For every game console made, there's probably a dozen out there that have failed. Today, we're looking at the top ten console failures.

10. Sony PSX
Somewhere along the line, Sony got the bright idea that it would put a DVR and multi-media server into a game console. This idea eventually evolved into the Playstation 3. However, the prototype model didn't fare so well. The PSX was essentially a DVR grafted onto a PS2. It featured dual analogue TV tuners in the back, could store media, transfer it to a PSP, and sported an internal hard drive with storage up to 250gb. Heck, that was a lot by 2003 standards. The high storage capacity was matched by an equally high price. The 160gb model went for $800 while the 250gb model went for a whopping $1000.

Sony went a little SKU happy with it, releasing six new models with minor revisions. The system also had a few minor design flaw. It was massive, about 2.5x the size of the original fat PS2. The controller ports for it were also mounted on the rear for some strange reason. This prompted Sony to eventually release a USB DualShock 2 to connect controllers to the front. As expected, the system wasn't particularly popular. It was never released outside of Japan. It is notable though for being the first system to use the XMB interface. Sony plodded on with the multimedia concept, which was finally perfected with the much smaller and cheaper PS3 Slim.

9. Panasonic 3DO
Take a console, cram it with the most powerful hardware ever put into a system, shove in a new disc based media format, and charge a fortune for it. No, this isn't the PS3. Sony had legions of PS2 fans to back them up, Panasonic had no install base. The 3DO was one of the earlier CD based consoles and one of the first to support 3D graphics. However, the console's high price of $699 USD (over $1000 today) kept gamers away in droves. The system rode high on arcade and PC ports, such as Myst and Alone in the Dark. However, it never developed a large game library. Panasonic also incorporated primitive media functionality into it such as Video CD.

The high price made the 3DO too prohibitive. Especially since cheaper systems, like the Playstation and Saturn, were coming down the pipeline. Both of which offered similar features.

8. The Phantom
This is probably the most appropriately named failed console in history. The Phantom was never seen.

Phamtom made big promises for their console. You'd be able to play thousands of existing PC games on a small, TV top system. There were further plans for dedicated games and a direct-download subscription service. Since it worked with x86 instructions, they hoped it would be easy to program for.

Under the hood, it contained an AMD Athlon XP 2500+, 256mb RAM, a Geforce FX 5700, and a 40gb HDD. Aside from a lack of RAM, these were fairly respectable specs for the time.

With such a strong library and relatively powerful hardware, you'd expect this to be a clincher out of the gate. Instead, the Phantom became lost in development hell.

The Phantom was first announced in 2002, and again it was demonstrated at E3 in 2004. The system received a lot of hype, sending tech boards buzzing. Then the company ran into legal troubles in 2006. They were accused by the US Securities & Exchange Commission of running a "pump and dump" scam. The Phantom was cancelled later that same year. The company still exists, producing a keyboard for HTPCs.

7. Apple Pippin
Macintosh has never been an ideal gaming platform. It makes you wonder how they could shoehorn the same under-powered hardware into a console.

The Pippin came into a flooded market complete with a high price tag of $599, or about $788 today. It was touted as being a low cost computer, but most people saw it as just a game console. Which is what it was. The system only had 18 titles made for it. People found that Mac OS System 7 could run most of these.

It did have a 14.4kbps modem in it, making it one of the earlier consoles to feature web browsing and network connectivity. However, it was painfully slow at it. In 1996, 28k modems were common and 56k were gaining in popularity. The Pippin's sluggish internet was antiquated out of the gate.

Only 42,000 units were sold over its lifetime, out of less than 100,000 made. Compare this to today's systems, where 42,000 units sold equals a slow month.

6. Nintendo Virtual Boy
Is it a console? Is it a portable? The debate still rages, but it's certainly not something you could take on the bus. The VB was Nintendo's first and only foray into stereoscopic 3D. It featured two monochrome LCD screens, one per eye. Games were rendered in glorious blood red. It was difficult to use and only had a handful of games made for it, about 20 in total. I can count on one hand how many were good. "The goggles do nothing!"

Virtual reality seemed to be the big thing in the mid 90s. Everyone thought that's how all games would look in ten years time. In the end, it just proved to be an expensive gimmick. Few of the Virtual Boy's games actually took advantage of the new depth of field. To top it off, the console was known to cause headaches and seizures.

5. Atari 5200
If the Atari 5200 had one problem only, nobody could play it. The 5200 was a slight improvement of the 2600, which was released in 1977. It featured updated graphics, added a pause button, music, and better sound effects. In 1982, that was a big deal.

Despite these groundbreaking improvements, the system didn't work. Namely it's controllers had a notorious failure rate. The system also had a bizarre power connector which used a switcher box to combine power and video output into one cable. The box was prone to sparking. They eventually replaced it with a conventional two wire system in the 5200 Jr. Only about 1 million 5200s were sold, marking a major failure for Atari. However, the worst was still to come.

4. Phillips CD-I
Back in the early 90s, Nintendo was hoping to release a CD add-on for the SNES. They wanted to compete with the Sega CD by offering bigger games. Big N contracted out the job to two companies: Sony and Phillips. Sony eventually walked away and turned their idea for a CD based console into the Playstation. The deal with Phillips also fell through.

Unfortunately, Nintendo made a big mistake. They allowed Phillips the rights to use certain Nintendo franchises. What came out of this are four infamous games: Hotel Mario, and a trio of Zelda titles known by fans as the Unholy Triforce. These games are widely regarded as the worst titles to ever have the Mario and Zelda name attached to them. The rest of the CD-I's library was rounded out with educational titles. These were similar to the ones found on classroom PCs at the time. Not exactly the kind of fare kids wanted to play at home.

3. Sega 32X
I actually wanted one of these. I was a dumb kid. Sticking out of the top of the Genesis like a deformed mushroom, the 32X was meant to extend the life of the system. Despite being an add-on, it required it's own massive power adapter and a separate AV cable.

The 32X was developed independently by Sega of America, without the knowledge of Sega's Japanese HQ. They were busy working on their own stand-alone, 32-bit system.

Vary few games were produced for the 32X. Most of them were mediocre. Bad launch software seems to be the final nail that few systems recover from. The jump to 32-bit on the Genesis offered dubious improvements at best. Graphics looked more or less the same and the sound quality was still as bad as ever. To top it off, Sega of Japan was preparing to launch CD-based Saturn. Everyone knew it was only a year away so nobody bought the 32X.

2. Sega Dreamcast
Why put the Dremcast so low on our list?! I can hear the fanboys screaming now. The Dreamcast was arguably the finest console produced during its time. The games were fantastic and it had online connectivity from the get go. However, Sega just couldn't compete with the Sony juggernaut. When the Playstation 2 came out, the proverbial feces hit the fan. It was the final nail in the coffin for what had once been a legendary gaming empire. The Dreamcast's excellence is what ultimately makes it a bigger failure. Most of the above systems were poorly executed. This is a rare example of Sega doing everything right and still getting the shaft.

Sega crashed hard after this. The company switched its business plan to a third party software developer. They've continued to struggle. Oddly, rumours have been swirling in the shadows that there may be a successor to the Dreamcast. The rumour mill cites patent applications for controllers and memory interfaces.

1. Atari Jaguar
Like the Dreamcast, this marked the end of one of gaming's biggest empires. Unlike the Dreamcast, this was the fault of poor hardware and software. Atari dominated gaming in the 70s and early 80s, then the market crashed in 1983 largely due to their mismanagement. Nintendo rushed in and claimed what was left over. The Jaguar was Atari's last stab at a console. It was the culmination of a lot of bad ideas, which finally killed Atari as a hardware manufacturer.

The system was marketed as the first to use 64-bit. The Jag was supposed to have graphics that would blow people away. When gamers finally got their hands on it, they found little improvement between it and existing 16-bit systems. It certainly couldn't compare with the Nintendo 64. To make things worse, Atari actually released a CD add-on for it. You think they would have learned from Sega. At least the Sega CD worked as advertised. The Jaguar CD malfunctioned a lot.

The system only managed to sell 250,000 units over its three years on the market. Atari never managed to recover from the Jaguar's failure. It exists today as a software publisher but has never come close to mirroring it's success of the late 70s and early 80s.