Wii U will be region locked, why?

By Mike on 10:52 am

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Nintendo import fans are once again out of luck. Nintendo has announced that the Wii U will be region locked. This isn't a big revelation for the company. Almost every single console to come out of Big N has been. Dating as far back to the classic toaster NES.

Nintendo is currently the only company that has mandatory region locks on their consoles. Both Sony and Microsoft give the choice to developers. The Playstation family is well known for being friendly to the import community, with few games being locked. Notable exceptions include games by Atlas, a big Japanese developer. In fact, it seems this feature is more favoured in Japan that it is by Western publishers.

It's a well known fact that Japanese gamers and otaku are being gouged on media. Resident Evil 6 for example sells for $20 more in its home country than it does in North America. For the same price in the US, you can buy the Resident Evil Anthology, which contains all six games in the series.

The purpose of region locking is simply to make money. More from Asia-Pacific gamers than we in the west. While one could argue the game costs the same or more due to import duties, publishers get less of that money. It also explains why Nintendo has been so hostile to digital download. All a Japanese gamer would need is a North American gift card to grab the game at a significantly cheaper price.

This is a big letdown for import fans. Many popular games don't get global releases for one reason or another. Xenoblade Chronicles was launched in North America a full two years after it's Japanese debut. It's also unfortunate that Nintendo keeps making this choice instead of embracing globalization. Instead they'd rather keep screwing Japanese gamers with artificially higher prices.

iOS 6 is driving users up the wall

By Mike on 10:16 am

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If you haven't upgraded to iOS 6 yet, you probably shouldn't. It's not often you see a mobile OS generate this much controversy. Needless to say, Apple's breakup with Google hasn't gone as swimmingly as the company expected.

After about a week out in the wild the tech clueless are still wondering where their YouTube went. Meanwhile the tech smart are up in arms over how awful Apple Maps is.

Apple has pulled, what I'll refer to as a Sony. They released an update that removed two important features, and replaced one with an inferior version. While Apple Maps isn't that bad, it's just not very good either. GIS (geographic information system) is difficult to develop. Google has had years to build their maps app. While I don't have statistics, Maps is most likely their number two product in both usage and revenue. As a result, it's very good and constantly kept up to date. It has to be.

Apple on the other hand has inherited old data. It points users to roads that don't exist, or simply lacks ones that do. It misplaces major landmarks, lacks the same level of detail, and has sent some users miles off course. The problem with Apple is they're a hardware design company. Google specializes in search, Apple does not.

The switch does make business sense for Apple. They do not want to give royalties and visibility to a company that produces a competing product. Though offering an inferior one hurts the brand. Especially if it's a feature people rely on for their daily lives. Given the choice, I think even the most ardent of Apple fanboys would still pick Google Maps.

Equally foolish is Google dragging their heels on their own Maps app for iOS. However, you can still use the 3D Google Earth app, or the web version.

Second problem on the list is the removal of YouTube. Granted the original iOS app wasn't that great, and has been neglected for years, it worked. Now it's gone.

As soon as Apple released iOS 6, Google came in with their own app, and it sucks. A whole host of users have lined up to complain about speed issues, lack of AirPlay support, no integrated volume control, and ads galore. Thankfully there are some free alternatives made by third parties. The iPhone is not looking like quite the multimedia powerhouse it used to be.

Looking at the big picture, neither of these issues will be fixed anytime soon. It will take Apple years to play catch-up with Google on maps. Google doesn't seem interested in bringing proper support to iOS either. They never have given it much thought. So looks like you're stuck with iOS 5. At least until some ingenious developer in jailbreak community ports both apps over.

Boy was I wrong on the iPad

By Mike on 10:35 am

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Occasionally I like to look back on some of the old blog posts I've written. I came across my scathing first impressions of the original iPad. Needless to say, I didn't like it. Though in my defense, I wasn't the only one.  I chided it as a giant iPod Touch. After all "nobody in their right mind is going to buy a neutered tablet, and nobody is going to buy a super sized iPhone."

The laundry list of things I wanted in an Apple tablet are laughable. 

Full Mac OS X
When the iPad came out, I hated the fact that it ran iOS. In fairness, iOS 3.2 was not exactly ideal. However, putting a desktop OS onto the iPad would have been an abject failure. Look at what Microsoft attempted to do with Windows 7 tablets. Now they're finally releasing their own tablet OS.

Desktop operating systems are just not designed to be used with a touch screen. Would it have increased the functionality ten fold as I originally claimed? Well, my iPad gets used far more than my laptop does so that argument speaks for itself.

Intel Atom Processor
At the time, the Atom was faster than the A4. It also consumed more power and would have required a bigger battery. My main argument behind it was porting x86 applications over to the tablet space. Which in hindsight was stupid. Ever try running a modern non-linear video editor or Photoshop on an Atom or Brazos? They barely run Windows. x86 applications just aren't tuned for mobile. Aside from that, Atom's built in GPU is useless. It can't handle proper HD video decoding. Nobody would want an iPad that couldn't even do video.

External connectivity
This is one thing I was right on and is still a lingering problem to this day. The iPad does not support external storage. However, a wide range of surprising peripherals have come out. Even ones that turn your iDevice into point of sale units, and medical scanners. That and the camera kit was capable of far more than it was advertised. You could run USB keyboards and external microphones through it, or hack the iPad for external storage.

Adobe and Apple have yet to reconcile their differences. Almost three years later and there's still no Flash on the iPad. Not that it's a big deal. It's implementation on Android tablets was a disaster. Flash just isn't great at hardware acceleration. Nowhere near as good as HTML5 is. It requires more system resources, so is struggles a lot with HD content. Since then only a few holdout sites are incompatible with the iPad. Guess they didn't get the memo that Flash is dead. Long live HTML5!

Better software
The demanded that the iPad get iChat, iLife, and it's own office suite. They did come. iWork was released at launch, chat apps came shortly there after. In fact everything I wanted is pretty much available on the iPad now. Even a professional grade non-linear video editor, Pinnacle Studio. Photoshop, it's there. As Apple relaxed their submission policy, better and more functional apps came. It's gotten to the point where the iPad can replace a laptop. It even has that iSight camera I wanted, two of them.

The iPad wasn't a solution for a problem that didn't exist. It was a solution for a problem you didn't know you had. Now we all work, read, surf, and play on tablets. So I guess it did revolutionize the way we consume media. So much for a dumb idea.

iOS 6 has been jailbroken already, for iPhone 4

By Mike on 10:31 am

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That didn't take long. iPhone Dev Team has just announced the first official RedSn0w jailbreak for iOS 6. It currently only works with A4 based devices such as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and fourth generation iPod Touches. If you own an iPad 1, you're out of luck since it was left out of this OS upgrade. That's Apple's legendary planned obsolescence for you. It's worth noting that due to a hardware flaw, A4 based devices are fairly easy for hackers to jailbreak.

This is a tethered jailbreak and does not work with newer A5 and A6 based iDevices. So if you own one, you might want to hold off upgrading to iOS 6 for now. Redmond Pie is also advising people who use unlockers to avoid this jailbreak as well, as it will break that function.

Source: iPhone Dev Team and Redmond Pie
Image courtesy of Evaystyle.com

7 reasons why the Vita will be my last Playstation

By Mike on 11:52 pm

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Sony, why have you forsaken me? I was such an adamant defender of your brand. Now like the battered housewife, I have come to realize it is time to leave. Yes, unless they can pull a rabbit out of their hat, the Vita will be my last Playstation system. They've really done it to themselves by failing to keep up with the competition, or just outright disappointing their fans. Here's seven reasons why Sony and I are getting a divorce.

1. Openly embracing the anti-used movement
Whenever you buy a used game, an single tear rolls down Kevin Buttle's face. Sony has chosen to openly adopt a stance against the purchase of used games. They haven't gone as far as to outright ban them. Instead they act like the greedy troll under the bridge, demanding you pay the toll to cross into the land of multiplayer. In fairness, PSN is free to use and you could argue paying full price is like paying to use it.

Sony's real beef is with Gamestop for not profit sharing on used sales. So their automatic response is to begin treating penniless college students like greasy pirates. Talk about robbing Peter because you weren't paid by Paul.

2. Banning the use of third party peripherals
I loved Beatles Rock Band. Even though I was never a huge fan of rhythm games, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It's the Beatles for god's sake. How could you not love it? That is until my fun stopped, when Sony decided my guitar was not officially sanctioned by their powers that be.

The Guitar Hero/Rock Band official guitars were too expensive at the time. Bought a used official one and it didn't work so I returned it and got the Nyko Frontman. It worked great and it was cheap. What more could a guy want? I spent hours jamming with John, Paul, George, and Ringo on that thing. Then a firmware update ended my fun. Secretly tucked away in the code, like an evil little gremlin, was something that killed my Frontman. Sorry, Sony said, you have to buy the official guitar to keep rocking. So ended my tour as the fifth Beatle.

3. Firmware updates that do nothing
Sony releases a lot of firmware updates. That's cool, everyone does. You should see how many updates my Linux box wants me to download. Hence my quest to find an ISP that offers unlimited bandwidth, that's not operated out of a boiler room. The problem is that each time they release an update, you can't go online until you download it. Then you find out you wasted precious bandwidth because update does nothing at all. It just gives so vague promise of improving stability. That's all well and good but why do you have to kill my online features for that?

4. Firmware updates that break your system
Also known as removing features you paid for. Awhile back, somebody figured out how to exploit the Other OS feature to create a rudimentary jailbreak for the PS3. It didn't do anything besides allow the system to run simple home brews. However, Sony freaked and decided to remove Other OS. While not many put Linux on it, Sony had advertised it as a selling point, only to take it away.

Another classic case is the perpetual fear that Sony's latest firmware will murder your system. When Sony promised in-game XMB in Firmware 2.4, gamers jumped for joy. They could now check their shiny new trophies without quitting the game. They gleefully loaded the new firmware, booted up their PS3, and nothing. Dead as a door nail. Nice job lads.

5. Sony loves messing around with hardware...
The Playstation 3 went through a lot of incarnations. Fat, Fat with software PS2, Fat with no PS2, Slim, and a rumoured even slimmer. The original PS3 was a beast of a system, a gamer's dream. Robust media capability, full Playstation 2 comparability, the works. Over the years it's been slowly whittled down. You lost your PS2, your SACD, Other OS, flash reader, two of your USB ports, but hey, at least you got HDMI bitstreaming. Sure the originals were expensive but an awful lot was sacrificed to get the price down. A lot of what made the PS3 such a great system. Now it's just another sheep in the crowd.

Sony did the same with the PSP, releasing three full redesigned. Then they said "to hell with it" and made the worst handheld disaster since the Virtual Boy: the infamous PSP Go. A download-only system that was awkward to use and incompatible with UMD discs. Most PSP games weren't even available for download at the time. It was a big flop for the company.

You'd think they'd learn but Sony threw us another curve ball with the Vita. You thought expensive, proprietary memory cards died with the PS2? Think again. The Vita's cards cost double what comparable MicroSD cards cost, and offered lackluster performance. With no internal memory, these pricey addons were mandatory. One step forward with the PS3's standard hard drives, two steps back with the Vita.

6. ...but ignores the software.
Piracy didn't kill the PSP. Crappy games killed the PSP. Now the same thing is happening to the Vita. According to my own unscientific studies, there's a direct correlation between how bad your game is and how little people are willing to pay good money for it. The PSP was a system with high hopes. Stellar hardware and great launch titles. Then the games dried up quicker than a Nevada rain storm. The ones that did get released were generic and laughable in quality.

The Vita, a stunning piece of hardware started with good games. Then they dried up, to be replaced with laughably bad ones too. Except this time, it's gotten worse. Resistance is an important first party franchise for Sony. So you'd think they'd put some effort into the Vita game. Well, not exactly. Resistance: Burning Skies received a pitiful 60% aggregated review score on Metacritic. Out of 455 reviews of Sony published games, it ranks in the bottom 50. It's also the lowest rated title from a major Sony franchise on any PlayStation system, and ranks 12th on the Vita. That's frankly embarrassing.

The PS3 almost suffered the same fate until a pair of small, art house games called Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid 4 got the ball rolling.

7. You can fry a mean egg on it
Sony and their fanboys love to gloat over how reliable the PS3 is over the Xbox 360. Ha, you got the red ring of death, what a n00b. At least that's what they used to say before the fat PS3s started biting the dust en mass. They suffer from the exact same problem as Microsoft's console. They just take a lot longer to cook themselves to death. In this case it's bad airflow as opposed to a wimpy fan. There's no greater heart break than seeing that yellow light flash and hearing that dreaded triple beep. That's karma for you. Shouldn't have made fun of your friend's 360.

So you begrudgingly sent it back to Sony, paid somewhere in the ballpark of $150 like I did, and got it back. Six months later and it was toast again. So much for the professional repair job. Another $300 spent to buy a new PS3 Slim that had all those great features removed. Ever want to know how your dog felt after getting neutered? Become a Playstation fan.

Twitter app update and a legitimate use for Installous

By Mike on 11:19 am

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Twitter released a god awful update to their iPad app today. Some brilliant engineer decided that it was wise to dump all its tablet friendly features. Why not make it exactly like the iPhone app but add a nice 3D cube effect? Oh, and it's useless for people like me who have multiple accounts. The handy tool bar at the side, that lets you quickly navigate, is now gone. It's replaced instead with the same "switch accounts" menu in the iPhone version.

So what do you do when an app maker releases a bad update. If you're like me, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have a bad habit of not backing up my iPad. I have committed tech's greatest sin, I know. Thanks to iCloud, it's not something I have to consider. All my important information is stored there. Apps? They hog a lot of space on my laptop. If they're large in size and I don't use them that often, they get stored on there. The others don't. So I have no way of reverting back to the old, functional Twitter app I loved so dearly.

What sort of devilry is this?
Installous to the rescue. The infamous repository for pirating iOS apps. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of jailbreaking. If you're not a pirate, it's good for two things. Apps that have been pulled from the official store can usually be found there. It also tends to carry multiple versions of popular apps. Don't like Twitter 5.0? You can still get Twitter 4.0 and get your beloved tool bar back. It's still visiting the grey market, and still questionably legal, but it gives you at least one way around a bad app update.

To use Installous, you must jailbreak and add the app via Cydia. You can Google Installous to find the repository address. Since the app is mostly used for black market purposes, I will not share those links here.

Images courtesy of DomainGang and Twitter

Ubisoft allegedly pulling the old bait and switch

By Mike on 11:54 am

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As if Ubisoft couldn't hold any more contempt for the PC gaming community. Yet they still continue to surprise me with their antagonistic behaviour.

Their latest stunt comes from Lean L, a poster on Anandtech Forums. He alleges to have purchased a copy of Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut from Ubisoft's online store. The game was being advertised on the store and through Slickdeals as being free. Lean L jumped on the deal, installed it, and started playing. After he completed a few missions, he received this lovely message from Ubisoft.

"WE'RE SORRY! It turns out we made a pricing mistake with the Assassin's Creed: Director's Cut Edition. Unfortunately, this means we will have to revoke your game serial key within the next 48 hours. As a token of our apology, we would like to offer you a 50% off coupon good for your next purchase* on the UBIShop."

This seems like a classic bait and switch to me. Wikipedia defines it as baiting a customer with a product of significantly low price, later claiming it's unavailable, then directing them to more expensive items. It's widely considered to be a form of fraud and an unethical business practice.

This story is just one tale from a random person on the Internet. I'd be interested to know if more people were affected by this, and how Ubisoft plans to respond if these allegations are true.

If anything, it highlights the problem with modern DRM. The game was legally purchased. Even if it was a pricing error, the store should just live with it as a cost of doing business. However, DRM provides a path to revoke your ownership of things you legally own. This is why it's not just pirates who should worry about  intrusive copy-protection.

If you do find yourself in this situation, unfortunately, there's not much you can do. If you live in the UK, it is a criminal matter. In most jurisdictions, it's a civil one. All one can do is file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and stir the pot online. Hopefully Ubisoft does the right thing and gives Lean L his game back.

Source: Anandtech Forums
Image courtesy of Gaming for God

As a side note, sorry about my lack of articles lately. I've been very busy with work. We've just launched a new website and app, which I'll talk a bit about when it comes out of public beta.