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24
Jun

Recommended Reading: Apple’s original television aspirations


Apple Is a Step
Closer to Making
Its Own TV Shows

David Sims,
The Atlantic

While the company’s television aspirations remain largely a mystery, Apple hired two big names this week to help build its slate of original shows. Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg, presidents of Sony Pictures Television, will make the move to Cupertino this summer with experience making hits like Damages, Breaking Bad, Justified and other series. The Atlantic offers a look at what this means for Apple and what we can expect from Eddy Cue & Co. in the months to come.

The 50 Best Good Bad Movies
The Ringer

Just trust me: You need to read this roundup.

Sorry, Han Solo, Star Wars Don’t Need No Stinking Directors
Peter Rubin, Wired

Lucasfilm parted ways with the director duo of the upcoming Hans Solo movie this week, but quickly replaced them with Ron Howard.

The Secret Lives of Playlists
Liz Pelly, Watt

An interesting look at who’s really behind some of those Spotify playlists and what you need to know about how it all works.

Welcome to the Wikipedia of the Alt-Right
Alexis Sobel Fitts, Wired

What do you do when you think Wikipedia is run “by the left-wing thought police who administer it?” You make your own alt-right version.

24
Jun

Bezel-less phones might be futuristic, but they come with compromises


The race for a truly bezel-less smartphone is well underway. More and more manufacturers are determinedly and deliberately shrinking down the dead space between smartphone screens and the metal frames that invariably surround them. But the pursuit of a 100 percent screen-to-body ratio, resulting in a phone that is pure screen when viewed from the front, is causing some issues.

What if the perfect smartphone aesthetic doesn’t make for the most functional device? The unpalatable truth is that most of us will accept a drop in usability for a design that gets our hearts beating a little faster. Right now, today, bezel-less phones look futuristic. And, perhaps just as importantly, big bezels are beginning to look decidedly old-fashioned. For a quick bezel comparison, take a look at our bezel-off between a handful of top smartphones.

Killing the bezels

Bezels are the edges of a phone that sit around the screen on the front. The idea of a bezel-less phone has been around in concept form for years, but it is only relatively recently that we’ve seen mass-market devices heading in this direction. The general trend towards bigger displays and smaller bodies, has definitely given way to a general clamoring for a truly bezel-less design.

A truly bezel-less design is still some way off. But make no mistake – it’s coming.

The Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge dispensed with bezels at the sides of its 5.1-inch screen, but it still had a screen-to-body ratio of 71.7 percent. With the Infinity display of the S8, named after those pools whose surface simply drops over an invisible edge, Samsung managed to pack a 5.8-inch screen into an even smaller body, for a screen-to-body ratio of 83.6 percent.

The recently revealed Essential Phone, manages to push that ratio up to 84.9 percent, with its 5.71-inch screen, and the trendsetting Xiaomi Mi Mix matches Samsung’s 83.6 percent, but with a huge 6.4-inch display. Naturally, rumors abound that the next iPhone might be bezel-free.

As pundits will point out, a truly bezel-less design is still some way off. But make no mistake – it’s coming. TV manufacturers have been successfully shrinking bezels for quite some time — but we don’t hold TVs the way we hold our smartphones.

What do you do with the speakers, the buttons, the fingerprint sensor, and the front-facing camera? Are bezel-free phones more breakable? How do you hold the phone without accidentally triggering the touchscreen?

The bezel trade-off

No one has really solved all these problems yet, but they’re not insurmountable.

Shifting buttons onto the screen is easy enough and it’s a convention that’s been around in Android for years. It does eat into your screen real estate, but only for a moment when you need them. Physical home buttons, with capacitive counterparts, have largely been consigned to the design scrap-heap and, for the most part, we don’t miss them.

Fingerprint sensors have been moving around to the back, even in phones with relatively large bezels, like the Google Pixel, so that’s an easy sell. Though, some of us find it irritating to have to pick our phones up off the desk to unlock them.

It’s universally acknowledged that dual front-facing speakers produce the best sound experience if you’re not using headphones, but even the company that pioneered them – HTC – has been moving away from that design. Most of us will wear headphones when we want good sound anyway, so maybe shifting speakers to the top and bottom edges isn’t a big deal.

The front-facing camera is a stickier issue, especially in the selfie age. Essential’s inelegant solution is a cut-out that dips into the screen to house the selfie camera, while Xiaomi dropped it to the bottom. Both look decidedly weird and detract from the overall design. If manufacturers can’t figure out a way to put a front-facing camera under the screen, this could be the main stumbling block for truly bezel-free phones.

The front-facing camera is a stickier issue, especially in the selfie age.

The idea that cutting down the bezels makes the phone more fragile doesn’t seem to hold water. The front face of our phones has been all glass for a long time now, regardless of the bezel size. Maybe the display is more likely to get damaged in an impact, making the repair more expensive, but it’s not a deal-breaker. If we really wanted more durable phones, then we’d buy them – there are rugged phones out there. But we don’t buy them because they’re ugly.

Most people who worry about breaking their phones buy a case, though we must admit that nothing kills the beauty of a bezel-less design, with curved glass melting into a metal frame, faster than a thick rubber shell round the outside.

You’re holding it wrong

What about the issue of accidentally triggering the touchscreen and pausing your video, or suddenly scrolling at light speed and losing your place on the website page you were reading because you had to adjust your grip? It’s annoying as hell. There’s no denying that. So is watching a video and wondering why it’s so quiet, before realizing you’re covering the speaker with your finger.

The thing is, all of these issues melt into insignificance when you hold a near bezel-less phone. If you’ve criticized the Galaxy S8 without picking one up, then you don’t have the full picture. It’s not just about having a bigger screen, it’s about truly beautiful design. The kind of style that makes you want to touch it and gaze at it just because it looks so damn good.

The pursuit of a bezel-less design is the pursuit of beauty. It may be shallow, but like the cut of clothes, and the curves of classic cars, the right look can seduce you. Familiarity breeds contempt, so it’s no wonder that we’re bored of the thick border around our glass rectangle. It looks and feels like yesterday. Most of us will accept some functional compromise to get the feeling that we’re holding the future in our hands, and that’s what the bezel-less design represents.




24
Jun

Comparing smartphones to find the most bezel-less design


A bezel is the name of the frame around displays, like your TV or smartphone. TV manufacturers have long been shaving down these edges to offer frame-less designs, and it looks like the smartphone bezel may soon become an endangered component as well. In the quest to give us bigger and better screens without creating clownishly huge phones, manufacturers have the bezel firmly in their sights.

Talk of a bezel-less phone has been swirling in recent months and the screen-to-body ratio has been steadily climbing in many of the top new releases. The bezel-less look is distinctly futuristic and, despite some compromises, we are creeping inexorably toward it. We decided to compare some of the top phones to see who can boast the smallest bezels right now.

Essential PH-1

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 84.9 percent
  • Screen size: 5.71 inches

The upcoming Essential PH-1 from Android co-creator Andy Rubin’s company instantly won praise for the edge-to-edge screen design. This is as close as we’ve seen so far to the front of a phone being entirely screen. You’ll find the thinnest of bezels on the sides and top of the screen, which has rounded corners, like the LG G6. There is still a fairly big bezel on the bottom, though it doesn’t visibly house anything — the fingerprint sensor is on the back. The Essential PH-1 raises an obvious design problem with bezel-less design – where does the front-facing camera go? The designers decided to include a curved dip at the top of the display that eats into the screen. It’s an interesting move that has divided opinion, but regardless of whether you like it or not, this is the leading smartphone when it comes to screen-to-body ratio.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 83.6 percent and 84 percent
  • Screen size: 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches

With a 5.8-inch curved “Infinity Display,” the Galaxy S8 may be the best-looking phone on our list. Its big brother, the S8 Plus, actually boasts a slightly higher screen-to-body ratio with its 6.2-inch screen. There is still a thin bezel top and bottom, and an even slimmer one around the sides, though it’s not really noticeable when you look at the phone head-on because of those sloping edges. Samsung ditched the home button and used Android’s standard navigation icons on the screen, so the bottom bezel is empty, but the top bezel still contains the iris scanner, proximity sensor, earpiece, and selfie camera. These are some of the biggest screens on the market, but they’re packed into svelte bodies — largely because of the 18.5:9 aspect ratio.

Xiaomi Mi Mix

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 83.6 percent
  • Screen size: 6.4 inches

You may not have heard of this huge phone, but if you have it was almost certainly because of the edge-to-edge display. Xiaomi claimed a 91.3 percent screen-to-body ratio, but when the phone landed it turned out to have very thin black borders around the screen on the sides and top, resulting in an actual body-to-screen ratio of 83.6 percent. It was still top of the charts at the time, and Xiaomi deserves credit for being in the bezel-less vanguard, but it has now been surpassed. Xiaomi solved the selfie camera conundrum by housing it in the fairly large bottom bezel, which is an awkward place to put it. The Mi Mix 2 is expected before the end of the year and rumored to have a 93 percent screen-to-body ratio, but we would take that claim with a pinch of salt.

LG G6

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 78.6 percent
  • Screen size: 5.7 inches

It was LG that kicked off the widescreen trend, creating a 5.7-inch screen with an unusual 18:9 aspect ratio. Alongside the shrinking bezels, this is another way to pack in more screen space without making phones too big to comfortably handle. Some argue it’s a bit of a cheat, boosting the screen size, which is always measured diagonally, but even with letterboxed content it’s a trend we like. More screen is more screen regardless of aspect ratio and a lot of content is filmed in widescreen format anyway and then cropped later. You’ll only find a logo on the bottom bezel and the thin top bezel houses the camera, earpiece, and sensors. There are thin bezels at the sides, too, but it’s the rounded corners on the display that have proved to be a jarring design decision for some.

HTC U11

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 71.4 percent
  • Screen size: 5.5 inches

In our HTC U11 review, we felt compelled to mention the dated look of the front face and the relatively big bezels. Glancing further down the list at some of the phones with even bigger bezels than the U11, we can see how quickly and far this trend has come in the last few months. The U11 has lozenge-shaped, recessed, touch-sensitive fingerprint scanner at the bottom and the usual mix of speaker, camera, and sensors at the top. It does also have side bezels which are exaggerated slightly by the curved glass as it blends into the frame. The U11 also has Edge panels, enabling you to squeeze to launch the camera and trigger apps, which may account for an extra slice of width on the frame.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 69 percent and 71.2 percent
  • Screen size: 5 inches and 5.5 inches

Despite shifting the fingerprint sensor onto the back of the phone, Google’s duo of Pixels still sports a massive bottom bezel. The top bezel looks matched proportionately and contains the camera, earpiece, and proximity sensor. The side bezels on the Pixel phones are also quite big, but it’s the large, entirely unused bottom bezel that really stands out. The Pixels were actually manufactured by HTC and reportedly in a bit of a rush, so it will be interesting to see if shrinking the bezels is a priority for Google next time around.

Sony Xperia XZ Premium

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 68.4 percent
  • Screen size: 5.46 inches

Ridiculed unfairly as the king of the big bezels, Sony’s phone design is not actually as bezel-loving as critics would have you believe. The side bezels have melted away, but we still get that thick band top and bottom, accentuated by the boxy angles. At least Sony makes use of the space with dual front-facing speakers, but that big top bezel still has space for a logo alongside the camera and other sensors.

Apple iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 65.6 percent and 67.7 percent
  • Screen size: 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches

In general, the smaller the screen, the lower the screen-to-body ratio, and so it’s not a big surprise that the iPhone 7 has the lowest screen-to-body ratio on the list. However, even the 7 Plus, with its much bigger display has stonking big bezels. The round, recessed Touch ID demands a lot of room at the bottom and that seems to be matched by a thick band at the top, which only houses the small front-facing camera, earpiece, and sensors. Both Phones also have noticeably bigger side bezels around the screen than their competitors. We would be shocked if Apple didn’t at least shrink the bezels in its next iPhones, and rumors of a bezel-less iPhone persist.

Lenovo Moto G5 Plus

Kyle Wiggers/Digital Trends

  • Screen-to-body ratio: 67.1 percent
  • Screen size: 5.2 inches

The budget smartphone market has just caught up with the glass and metal trend, when the goalposts are moved again. The Moto G5 Plus still has big bezels, but interestingly the screen-to-body ratio is still higher than in the iPhone 7. Lenovo has a large recessed fingerprint sensor on the bottom, and there’s room for a superfluous logo in the huge top bezel, along with the camera and everything else. The shrinking bezel movement seems to be a distinctly high-end trend for now.

Table for comparison at-a-glance

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

 Phone
 Screen Size
 Aspect Ratio
 Screen-to-body Ratio
Essential PH-1
 5.71 inches
 19:10
 84.9 percent
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
 6.2 inches
 18.5:9
 84 percent
Samsung Galaxy S8
 5.8 inches
 18.5:9
 83.6 percent
Xiaomi Mi Mix
 6.2 inches
 17:9
 83.6 percent
LG G6
 5.7 inches
 18:9
 78.6 percent
HTC U11
 5.5 inches
 16:9
 71.4 percent
Google Pixel XL
 5.5 inches
 16:9
 71.2 percent
Google Pixel
 5 inches
 16:9
 69 percent
Sony Xperia XZ Premium
 5.46 inches
 16:9
 68.4 percent
Apple iPhone 7 Plus
 5.5 inches
 16:9
 67.7 percent
Lenovo Moto G5 Plus
 5.2 inches
 16:9
 67.1 percent
Apple iPhone 7
 4.7 inches
 16:9
 65.6 percent




24
Jun

Word macro used to break into the ‘more secure’ Windows 10 S


Why it matters to you

Windows 10 S might be more locked down, but that doesn’t mean you can be any less diligent in keeping your system safe from attack.

Microsoft produced its reduced-functionality version of Windows 10, dubbed Windows 10 S, for a few reasons. For one, it locks down app installs to the Windows Store and limits what users can do with the OS, and thus it’s easier to manage in restricted environments like educational institutions.

Another important reason is that by locking down various administrative tools and ensuring that only apps that have gone through the Windows Store vetting process, Windows 10 S should be more secure. That’s an important claim that deserves its own vetting, which is exactly what ZDNet did in a recent report.

In order to verify if Windows 10 S is actually safe from attack, ZDNet enlisted security researcher Matthew Hickey to see if he could get past the hurdles the OS places in front of hackers. After just over three hours of work, Hickey was able to break through Windows 10 S’s security features and install an illicit payload.

Interestingly, it wasn’t Windows 10 S that was vulnerable to Hickey’s attack. Rather, it was Microsoft Word, which by itself has demonstrated its own vulnerability to attack because of its macro functionality. The version of Word that’s available in the Windows Store is capable of running macros, and that’s precisely the vector that Hickey used to break into the Surface laptop used for the test.

In addition, the attack didn’t involve the OS merely being hacked. Hickey injected a piece of malware into a macro-based Word document and loaded it from a local trusted network. That bypassed Office’s Protected View, which would have more explicitly blocked it if downloaded from the untrusted internet. However, Word still required Hickey to click on the “Enable Content” banner at the top of the Word document in order for the malware to execute and infect the system.

In spite of the fact that Windows 10 will not run the command line interface or the PowerShell, the malware was still able to grant Hickey administrator access to the machine and remotely control the machine from a cloud-based command and control server. Essentially, he was able to take complete control over the test system.

It’s important to note that running the Word macro did require user intervention, and so Windows 10 S was nevertheless more locked-down. For its part, Microsoft stands by its “no ransomware” statement regarding Windows 10 S, and the attack is likely not as much an indictment of Windows 10 S as it is of Microsoft Office’s macro functionality, which has been the source of other attacks. Perhaps most important, it reinforces the need for all of us to remain diligent with our systems, avoiding unsafe content when we can and never allowing anything to run on our systems that we do not fully understand.




24
Jun

Best casual games for Android


casual-games-super-mario-run-hero-.jpg?i

The perfect cure for a rainy day or your morning transit commute.

Not everyone wants to commit hours of their day to playing games on their phone. That’s why casual games exist! Championed by iconic mobile games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga, these games have proven wildly successful. They’re designed to be played on the go and at your own pace — as laid back or competitive as you want.

Most casual games are free, offering in-app purchases and some ads, while a few may cost you a dollar or two, but they’re totally worth it. We’ve collected some of our favorites from the past, along with some newer games that are great to keep on your phone for a little gaming break during your day.

  • Super Mario Run
  • The Battle for Polytopia
  • Reigns
  • Fast like a Fox
  • Smash Hit
  • Blek
  • Piano Tiles 2
  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Fruit Ninja Free
  • Angry Birds 2
  • Dumb Ways to Die 2
  • New Words With Friends

Super Mario Run

Everyone’s favorite turtle-stomping plumber is back on Android in Super Mario Run. While Super Mario Run might be a bit of a disappointment for those of us dreaming of a full-fledged Mario game on a non-Nintendo handheld device, it’s a great casual game that’s sure to be a hit with Mario fans young and old.

Most of the Mario mechanics you know and love from the classic side-scrolling games of the past is here: you’re running your way through eight different worlds made up of three levels and a boss battle as you try and rescue Princess Peach from the scaly claws of King Bowser. But rather than giving you full control over Mario, he’s automatically running to the left and you control his jumps. It’s a game that’s designed to be played with one hand while you’re riding the subway, which is the goal of most casual games.

The game is free to download and play the first world, but then you’ll need to pay $9.99 to unlock the full game.

Download: Super Mario Run (Free w/IAPs)

The Battle of Polytopia

If you love in-depth strategy games like Civilization 5, but don’t typically have 10 hours to burn playing through a full campaign, you should check out The Battle of Polytopia. It’s a casual strategy game that borrows heavily from the Civilization franchise but offers a fresh take on the genre for Android.

Upgrade your technology tree, explore new lands, and decimate your enemies in solo and multiplayer modes that are great for quick pick-up-and-play or lengthier gaming sessions. Everything is wrapped in colorful poly graphics and it’s surprisingly robust for a free-to-play title.

Download: The Battle of Polytopia (Free w/IAPs)

Reigns

If you haven’t played Reigns yet, you need to check it out — it was one of our favorite games of 2016 and won Google’s first Indie Game Award. It’s built around a very casual gameplay mechanic (traditionally found in dating apps): you play as a King ruling over your kingdom who must make “yes” or “no” decisions to the advisors, citizens, and talking animals that wander into your palace.

The aim is to live as long as you can. When you die, you take up the role of your successor and the new reign begins (get it?). Featuring a great mix of mystery and gallows humor, this game is filled with fun surprises to discover the longer you play. Well worth the price of admission, this is a game you can casually play — but be prepared to get addicted to its simplistic gameplay and engaging storytelling.

Download: Reigns ($2.99)

Fast like a Fox

Search for stolen coins, emeralds, and diamonds as you race through multiple worlds in Fast like a Fox. The retro-style geometric design of your little hero fox and the landscapes he runs through are fun to watch, and the soundtrack is zippy and catchy.

The game claims it’s “easy to play, hard to master” and that’s just what you want in a casual game; it will keep you coming back until your fox has claimed all of the treasure he can. The game also uses a rather unique control scheme that lets you tap the back of your phone to control the speed of your fox. In-app purchases are available for removing ads or unlocking secret character, but they are unnecessary for enjoying the game.

Download: Fast like a Fox (Free w/IAPs)

Smash Hit

Unwind in your downtime by breaking virtual glass in Smash Hit. No consequences, only loads of points when you shatter the glass obstacles in your path in beautifully designed game levels.

The music and audio effects change as you progress through the game’s stages, over 50 of which are available in the free download. An optional in-app purchase gives you premium perks such as the ability to save and access checkpoints, new game modes, and cloud save access across all of your devices. If you have a Samsung Gear VR, you’ll definitely want to check out Smash Hit VR, too. Less casual, but a super cool VR experience to say the least!

Download: Smash Hit (Free w/IAPs)

Blek

If you often find yourself mindlessly doodling, Blek is a game designed with you in mind. The multiple award winning game takes doodles to an artistic level as you find patterns and draw your way to more challenging levels.

The concept is simple and hooks you in right away. Use your doodling skills to draw a continuous line that collects all of the colored balls in a pattern. Succeed and your doodle becomes its own piece of art; make a mistake and you try again. Blek is easy enough to play on your downtime, yet challenging enough to busy your mind. With full support for the S-pen, this is a must-own for Samsung Galaxy Note owners.

Download:Blek ($2.99)

Piano Tiles 2

Building on the popularity of the original Piano Tiles game, Piano Tiles 2 lets you play along with the band to classical music and modern pop songs. Use your fingertips to tap the black keys as they scroll down your screen to the music.

Play in friendly battle of bands-style competitions against your Facebook friends or against other music lovers from around the world. In-app purchases unlock additional songs. A tremendously popular game with a beautiful built-in soundtrack? That’s an absolute must have.

Download:Piano Tiles 2 (Free w/IAPs)

Candy Crush Saga

The Candy Crush franchise is the most popular casual puzzler for phones. In the latest twist on the Candy Crush game, you match three of the same candy on the game board to create, spread, or clear away jelly. Your nemesis is the Jelly Queen and you can battle her alone or test your skills against your friends.

The game has added new candies you’ll wish you could buy and eat in real life. If you’re connected to Facebook you’ll have access to a leaderboard that shows you how well you’re doing and who your biggest competition is. There are over 100 levels of sweet, silly fun to be had, and the games are as short or as in-depth as you want them to be.

Download:Candy Crush Saga (Free w/IAPs)

Fruit Ninja Free

Enter the world of Fruitasia, where your Sensei is waiting for you with fruit fight missions. All you need to know to get started with Fruit Ninja is to slice the fruit, not the bombs; once you master that, you’ll be slicing and dicing like an old pro in no time.

As your game improves, you can upgrade your blade and join new Dojos. Learn how to handle bananas and multi-slice pomegranates, not to mention the rare 10 fruit Great Wave. It all sounds funny and a little on the ridiculous side, but it’s also all for fun and distraction; that’s the perfect casual game.

Download: Fruit Ninja Free (Free w/IAPs)

Angry Birds 2

The Angry Birds franchise is one of those iconic smartphone games that has reached heights that even the developers couldn’t have envisioned when the first game landed on mobile over 7 years ago. What started out as a simple game pitting upset birds battling the green pigs that stole their eggs has spawned several spin-offs and sequels — and even a freaking Angry Birds movie!

If you’ve never played it before, here’s the skinny. Every bird comes with a unique skill, designed to ruin the evil pigs and restore order. You fling the birds at obstacles, power up their skills with features like a Birdquake (hint: it’s exactly what it sounds like), or make a one-time purchase of the Mighty Eagle and show those pigs who the real bosses are. It’s loads of addictive fun for gamers of any age or skill level. Angry Birds 2 is the sequel, which adds more birds, more powerups, and more fun!

Download: Angry Birds 2 (Free w/IAPs)

Dumb Ways to Die 2

This casual game is based on the cute, animated Australian public service announcement about train safety that went viral a few years back. All you have to do is stay alive, and that would be easy if your character wasn’t so dumb. Dumb Ways to Die 2 is actually a series of mini-games, perfect for those little moments when you want to play a game but can’t invest loads of time.

In the Dumb universe, you don’t throw the javelin, you catch it. Have you always wanted to swim with dolphins? Try your hand at the Dolphin Rodeo and try not to break your neck. Don’t forget to join the local curling team and play with dynamite rocks. Invite your friends in the multiplayer mode and see who can jump the ever-rising electric fence.

Download: Dumb Ways to Die 2 (Free w/IAPs)

New Words With Friends

Fancy yourself a wordsmith? If so, get on board with Words With Friends, the Scrabble-based game you play at your own pace, whether it’s one word an hour or one word per day. Just check your gameboard whenever you have a few free moments and play tiles to earn points and climb the real-time leaderboard.

The in-app chat feature lets you converse with your friends as you play, so you can send them an innocent taunt or gentle reminder that you’re waiting for them to take a turn, or you can congratulate them on a complex play. You’ll also be able to access your game from your desktop, laptop, tablet, and phone, so your game can just keep on going.

Download: New Words With Friends (Free w/IAPs)

Keep it casual

We want to know what are some of your favorite go-to casual games? Tell us all about them in the comments!

Update June 2017: Revamped our list and added some of our favorite newer casual games — Super Mario Run, The Battle of Polytopia, and Reigns!

24
Jun

Sony is losing its grip on the indie market


Here we go again.

In 2011, Microsoft was the indie king. The industry was just blossoming thanks to services like Steam and Xbox Live Arcade, which introduced independent games to huge, hungry audiences. Indie Game: The Movie was about to debut, giving fans a deep, behind-the-scenes look at the perils and triumphs of small-scale development. The Xbox 360 served as the foundational platform for the film’s major projects, Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid.

And then, the pendulum swung — in 2012, Journey landed exclusively on the PS3. It served as a lightning rod for discussions about emotion and art in video games, and it gave Sony the momentum to transform its indie ecosystem. By July 2013, Sony had opened up its processes, allowing indie developers to self-publish their games on the company’s next console, the PlayStation 4. Even Microsoft still required indies to partner with established publishers, at this point.

Microsoft attempted to regain its indie dominance with the ID@Xbox program, though that turned out to be more complicated than most developers would have liked. The launch of the Xbox One was a low-key disaster, while Sony continually dropped the mic, showcasing indie games at E3 to widespread acclaim while Microsoft played catch-up. As recently as E3 2015, Sony’s head hung heavy with indie jewels.

Which brings us to today. Just one week after E3 2017, Sony’s reign as indie king doesn’t feel stable any longer. It showed zero indie games during its E3 press conference (excluding some VR options), and developers on the show floor whispered about the company’s increasing silence. Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive’s head of global marketing, said in an interview just days ago that indie games were “less relevant now.”

When it comes to indies, the air around Sony is thick. It feels like the pendulum is about to swing back, indie-crown in tow.

“A few years ago, Sony was the champion of indies and I think it made their platform much stronger, honestly,” says Johnneman Nordhagen, the co-creator of Gone Home who’s currently building Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. “It gave them a whole group of devs that were coming up on the PlayStation platform that would then go on to do bigger and better things, and I think it’s a mistake for them not to keep that farm team growing, in a way.”

Sony’s indie operations haven’t halted entirely, of course, but they have changed in a tangible way. Two pivotal indie evangelists and outreach specialists, Adam Boyes and Nick Suttner, left Sony in 2016. Boyes headed to Divekick studio Iron Galaxy, while Suttner landed at Oculus.

Around the same time, Shawn Layden’s role grew: He transitioned from president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America to president of SIE America and chairman of SIE Worldwide Studios. Layden has hosted the past two PlayStation E3 press conferences, both of which were short on indies, by recent standards.

“There was a specific person at Sony who’s not at Sony anymore, but I know for a fact that he cared so deeply and passionately about [indie games],” Ben Ruiz, the creator of Aztez, says. “And he was this big mover and shaker, and I think when he finally moved on he took a lot of the passion with him. The weird thing about Microsoft is that they’ve had people who it always seems like they’ve been assigned to indie games, as opposed to like, ‘I love them so give them to me.’”

The people at each of these major companies make all the difference for Ruiz. A few years back, Sony felt like an approachable space with people who were excited about indie games, while it seemed Microsoft was simply going through the motions. Erin Robinson Swink, designer of Gravity Ghost and creative director of the Games and Playable Media master’s program at UC Santa Cruz, agrees with Ruiz.

“Sony was very good about approaching indies and finding us at PAX, and going to our booths and just talking to us, playing the games and really getting to know us,” she says. “Microsoft kind of came in with a business card and said, ‘OK. Thank you.’”

This was back in 2013 and 2014, but today, many developers say they don’t see much difference between Microsoft and Sony. Microsoft is ramping up its indie-outreach efforts, sending folks to the IndieCade booth at E3 to make deals with new developers, and lining up a few high-profile launch exclusives, including Tacoma, Cuphead and The Last Night. Meanwhile, Sony is pulling back. This puts both companies solidly in the middle of the road.

“Our contacts at Sony are not as reliable as those at Microsoft, to be honest,” says Roy van der Schilden, business director of indie studio Wispfire. He was showing off Herald at the E3 IndieCade booth. “I don’t know them as well, they’re less engaged with what’s going on here at IndieCade — I’ve seen the Xbox people all over here all the time. I see, definitely, a difference.”

Microsoft and Sony aren’t the only two players in the indie world. Nintendo is ramping up its own outreach efforts (“They have opened up with their new Switch portal,” van der Schilden says. “It’s amazing how well they’ve learned from past experiences.”) and new companies, like Raw Fury, Finji and even Iron Galaxy, are diving into indie publishing from a grassroots angle. These are independent developers who found their audience, saw success, and are now helping newcomers get started.

And then there’s Devolver Digital, a company that represents the largest threat to Sony’s — and Microsoft’s, and Nintendo’s — tenuous hold on the indie market.

Devolver doesn’t do paperwork

The history of Devolver is intricately entwined with that of Hotline Miami. It’s a symboitic relationship — Devolver gave Hotline Miami the support it needed to become one of the most successful indie games in history, while Hotline Miami cemented Devolver’s reputation as a one-stop shop for all of the neon-tinged, blood-splattered, pixel-specked titles about to burst onto the scene. Either would be able to exist without the other, but they certainly wouldn’t be the same.

“I was almost finishing up school to become a kindergarten teacher,” Wedin begins. Before he continues, let’s pause and really consider that statement. The co-creator of Hotline Miami was going to be a kindergarten teacher if his whole “ridiculously violent slaughter-fest of a video game” idea didn’t work out. Talk about irony.

Wedin carries on:

“So, we kind of just decided to make the game that we couldn’t play, the game that we really wanted to play ourselves. And that became Hotline Miami. We didn’t care if anybody was going to play it or any of that. It was just us putting all the cool stuff we that wanted to see in a game, in there. And then Devolver got their hands on it, and it wasn’t our choice — we sent it to some friends who worked on the Serious Sam indie games, Vlambeer, and they just gave them the demo.”

Vlambeer, the studio behind Ridiculous Fishing and Nuclear Throne, was already working with Devolver on a trio of games set in the Serious Sam universe but made by established, independent studios. This was in 2011, and the indie-focused marketing move put Devolver’s name on the wider gaming industry’s radar. It also shifted Devolver’s own plans, pushing the company toward indie publishing and, luckily, Wedin’s last-ditch demo.

Devolver’s Nigel Lowrie got his hands on the tiny, arcade-style demo of Hotline Miami, he made a deal with Wedin and Dennaton co-founder Jonatan Söderström, and the rest is history. Wedin says a lot of developers are afraid of signing on with publishers, worried they’ll lose control over their creative visions or be buried in weeks of mind-numbing paperwork. He didn’t have those concerns with Devolver.

“Devolver was very simple,” Wedin says. “The contract was one page. It just said, like, ‘We get a certain percentage because we did marketing, but you own the game.’”

The paperwork problem cannot be overstated. Independent developers are generally not legal experts or communications majors — they don’t want to accidentally sign their rights away or waste time haggling over contractual details. Paperwork was (and perhaps still is) one of Microsoft’s biggest hurdles as it tried to snap up independent developers at the height of Sony’s indie reign.

Vlambeer, the studio that introduced Hotline Miami to Devolver, actually made its hotly anticipated survival game Nuclear Throne exclusive to the PS4 at launch because it didn’t want to deal with Microsoft’s restrictions.

“They had so many weird rules,” Wedin says. “Like, Microsoft is all about paperwork. … I’m sorry, I’m making video games. I’m not doing this.”

A cacophony of curious circumstances led to Devolver’s success as an indie publisher, but much of its appeal comes from its no-bullshit, anti-corporate approach to the industry. If indie developers are afraid of working with major publishers, it makes sense to position your company as a small-fry, easy-going, no-rules kind of establishment.

It makes sense to hold a satirical, anti-E3 press conference during E3, complete with lots of fake blood. It makes sense to buy out the parking lot directly across the street from E3 every year to host a three-day mini festival filled with games, food and beer.

The independent gaming industry is now large and stable enough to support publishers like Devolver, Raw Fury and Finji, which are focused on innovative titles from small teams. Indie games are their own genre and the market is shifting to accommodate more experiences, more developers and more publishing opportunities. The community itself is also established, allowing veteran developers to support newcomers, offering advice on publishing, marketing and, yes, paperwork.

This is Sony’s competition now — other indie developers and companies like Devolver, the anarchist, neon-tinged publisher who does E3 out of an Airstream trailer parked next to the Hooters in downtown Los Angeles. Microsoft may be making moves in the indie space, but many developers are bypassing the big names altogether, choosing to exist in Devolver’s new kind of AA limbo. Hey, at least, they have beer.

“I think indie publishers are really becoming a thing,” says Ben Wander, a former BioWare developer currently working on A Case of Distrust. “Devolver, we know a few people at Raw Fury who really want to help us out.”

What could have been

If this were the Sony of years past, a highlight of the company’s E3 2017 showcase could have easily been Where the Water Tastes Like Wine. It comes from Nordhagen, who worked on the BioShock franchise before creating Gone Home, a breakout indie hit that defined the modern genre of non-violent, narrative-driven, first-person games.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine would have been a fitting, powerful breath of fresh air at Sony’s E3 press conference, too. It’s a stunning independent game from an established developer, and it generated sizable buzz when it debuted at The Game Awards in 2015. A follow-up presentation at Sony’s E3 2017 showcase — complete with a new trailer backed by original folk music dripping with the sweet humidity of the American South — would have swept through the audience with a piercing kind of familiarity. As gorgeous, rolling plains and mystical creatures filled the screen, Sony would have subtly prompted the audience, Remember this game? Yeah — we thought it looked incredible, too.

It would have been a chance for Sony to show it’s still on the same page as its audience — the same audience that devoured every advertisement, trailer debut, late-night talk show appearance and pre-order bonus for No Man’s Sky, an indie title that premiered at the 2013 VGX award show, was featured in a huge way on Sony’s stage for two consecutive E3 conferences, and promptly became one of the most infamous games of the current generation. Infamous, but still furiously popular.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine — or any number of eye-catching, prominent independent titles in development right now — could have been Sony’s chance to prove it still believes in indie games. Attention on any indie title would have bolstered its E3 press conference and helped cement its reputation as a creative, supportive community for independent developers — a reputation it seemed to relish in building over the past few years. Instead, Sony didn’t bring a single developer on-stage, and its show centered on big-name, AAA experiences and VR.

Of course, it isn’t 2014 any more. Selling indie games becomes more difficult every day, as the market is saturated with new experiences. The folks at Sony might be onto something here: Let the indie industry curate itself and form its own publishing ecosystem, and then work with these companies in a more traditional third-party structure.

More traditional, perhaps — but less independent.

“It really seems like there’s a lot less support from the big console manufacturers out there,” Nordhagen says. “I don’t know why that is — whether that’s a reflection of changing market dynamics or things like that. Selling indie games right now is really hard for everybody.”

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

24
Jun

‘Rocket League’ will die without cross-console multiplayer


All online games eventually die. But the difference between the original version of World of Warcraft and, say, Call of Duty: Ghosts is that WoW was more of a service on an open system (PC). Players were able to gradually migrate to its annual expansions, while remaining a part of the overall population.

Comparatively, CoD is a franchise with annual sequels on several different pieces of hardware, each with cordoned off players who jump from one game to the next. But sometimes you don’t want to stop playing a game just because seemingly everyone has moved on after 14 months. Rocket League developer Psyonix’s Jeremy Dunham has an idea for how to fix these fractured player bases: opening up cross-platform multiplayer.

“We’re not trying to build six Rocket Leagues,” he said. “We’re not looking forward to when Rocket League 2 and 3 and 4 are coming out. Rocket League is the game we’re gonna keep updating. It’s important to us to keep that going, cross-generation, across multiple platforms without sacrificing anything.”

He made the analogy of “connective tissue;” something is needed to maintain a healthy player-base for any game, not just his. Once the next round of consoles is out, the chances of not being able to play something with the friends you used to because they either haven’t upgraded to new hardware, or they switched from Xbox to PlayStation could become a real problem. Especially when a game is essentially multiplayer and nothing else.

“That’s eventually gonna happen if we can never have true cross-network play as the systems get more and more complex,” he said.

It’s a matter of course that players will move on to the next big game and that companies will shut down servers because there isn’t enough of a community for a given title. For example, Team Fortress 2 was a part of The Orange Box compilation from Valve on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game had a short window of popularity when it was released in late 2007, but finding other players on consoles was difficult after that. Fast forward ten years and it’s still one of the most popular shooters on PC. Same goes for Counter-strike, or to a lesser extent, Left 4 Dead.

Of course, Dunham and his studio have a vested interest in cross-network play. Last spring the team announced that it’d figured out how to connect players on different brands of hardware and that all that was standing in the way was the platform holders. Since then, Psyonix has added PlayStation 4-to-PC competition, Xbox One to PC, Switch to Xbox One-and-Switch to PC cross network play.

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I don’t view it as a competitive loss to allow cross-network play; I view it as a competitive disadvantage not to have it.

Jeremy Dunham, Psyonix

Sony is the only hold out for connecting its PS4 players to folks on other consoles. Dunham said that since Rocket League’s launch, at least one person from his team has been in contact with PlayStation “every single day” since. The topic of cross-network multiplayer has come up several times, but the response rarely changes.

“There have been slight variations on how it’s been presented to us, but essentially it’s the same answer,” he said. “It’s ‘not right now” or, ‘It’s something we’ll consider.’ That’s paraphrasing, but there hasn’t been any movement.”

In contrast, when Psyonix approached Nintendo about cross-network play, the studio had a positive response the same day. Microsoft took a bit longer.

“I think it was only about a month after our release, maybe less, that [Microsoft] said, ‘Okay we’re gonna go ahead and do it. You guys are gonna be the first [to have cross-network play].”

Dunham said that once cross-network play is available for every game — not just his own — that games with shorter lifespans (think: the yearly turnover of CoD) will naturally reverse the attrition.

He gave the example of a family where one cousin could only afford a $299 Nintendo Switch and another had the $500 Xbox One X. Both will be able to play Rocket League and Minecraft together this fall despite being wildly different pieces of hardware and technology. “That means a lot to that family. Imagine how many friends and families that’d mean a lot to.”

Warm sentiments aside, cross-network play makes a lot of sense for other reasons. Having access to more players would result in faster matchmaking, better matches and access to better opponents, according to Dunham. In fact, Sony has already allowed it for games that have a dismal player count. Early last year DC Universe Online (a PS4 launch title) opened up cross-platform play between PC, PlayStation 3 and PS4. Last autumn, Eve: Valkyrie for PlayStation VR could connect to players on both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for online space dogfights. Knowing that the company can do it, Sony only looks stubborn for not playing nicely with competitor’s consoles more broadly.

Seemingly, in response to Sony’s recent comments that cross-network play wouldn’t be appropriate for players of all ages, Dunham said that his team already has safeguards in place.

You can’t use voice to communicate via cross-platform, for instance. All you can do is use pre-written quick chat messages. If a Steam user has an off-color name, there’s a filter in place to block it out. Essentially, you can’t even tell if someone you’re playing against is on a different piece of hardware than you.

“We have all these protections in place to ensure your experience isn’t terrible,” he said. “There’s always gonna be trolls that can find a way to do anything, but that’s not platform agnostic — that’s universal.”

Psyonix has tested cross-network play extensively in closed environments to make sure that Xbox-to-PlayStation play is actually possible, and Dunham said that it works seamlessly. It’s just a matter of matching network protocols and requirements from the disparate systems.

“I don’t view it as a competitive loss to allow cross-network play,” he said. “I view it as a competitive disadvantage not to have it. Especially if you’re the only one [holding out].” With Sony being the odd company out, if there’s enough public demand for the feature hopefully the leading console seller will reconsider.

“I don’t think anything is ever a done deal,” Sony’s Jim Ryan recently told Eurogamer. “Anybody who is dogmatic in that manner is typically a fool.

“That said, to my knowledge, there is no live conversation ongoing at the moment.” So much for that idea, then.

Follow all the latest news from E3 2017 here!

24
Jun

New Apple Park Drone Video Shows Off Steve Jobs Theater as Lobby Lights Up


Drone videographer Duncan Sinfield has posted a new video on his YouTube channel today, giving viewers a fresh look at Apple Park as a small number of employees begin settling into the campus and more buildings take shape. It’s been nearly two years since Sinfield originally started providing monthly drone footage for what was previously referred to as “Apple Campus 2.”

Now, Sinfield’s late June 2017 update provides a glimpse into Apple’s ongoing construction progress at Apple Park, including a noticeable progression in the number of trees and other pieces of greenery within the “spaceship” building’s circular courtyard. Early on in the video, viewers can also catch a shot of the main atrium of Apple Park, with its floor-to-ceiling glass doors that originally began to take shape in November 2016.

Notably, the new drone footage provides one of the best looks yet into the Steve Jobs Theater, with Sinfield gathering footage of the campus auditorium as lights turn on inside. The lobby of the theater is visible in the video, thanks an all-glass construction that offers visitors a 360-degree view of Apple Park. On two sides of the lobby, spiraling stairs lead downward to the underground auditorium where Apple will host future events.

In last month’s drone video update, provided by Matthew Roberts, the Steve Jobs Theater still had multiple window coverings and construction equipment housed inside, so Apple is making fast progress on the building. The company has yet to confirm when the auditorium will officially open, but it’s expected to sometime later in the fall.


The Steve Jobs Theater is capped with the world’s largest freestanding carbon-fiber roof, and sits atop a hill at one of the highest points of the 175-acre campus. When Apple announced Apple Park’s official name back in February, along with the new name for the auditorium, CEO Tim Cook commemorated Jobs and the new Steve Jobs Theater by saying, “Steve’s vision for Apple stretched far beyond his time with us. He intended Apple Park to be the home of innovation for generations to come.”

Tag: Apple Park
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24
Jun

The Morning After: Weekend Edition


Hey, good morning! You look fabulous.

Welcome to the weekend. We have Galaxy Note 8 rumors, and information about an Amazon beehive — we’ll explain.

Hopefully, that’s the only thing exploding.Wallet-busting Galaxy Note 8 expected to launch in September

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After an unfortunate end to the Galaxy Note 7 saga, Samsung is apparently ready to pick up where it left off. A rumor from VentureBeat suggests that the next Note will launch in September, and despite rocking a slightly smaller battery for obvious reasons, will be the most expensive one yet at around $900 unlocked. For that price, you should expect its trademark stylus, plus 6GB of RAM and, in a first for Samsung, a dual-lens 12MP rear camera.

Making the leap from good to great.OnePlus 5 review

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Surprise! OnePlus is back with another phone that matches mostly high-end specs and design with an affordable price tag. The OnePlus is blazingly fast, with a good dual camera and solid battery life. Ultimately, despite some compromises, it’s still an excellent value.

Hear us out.Amazon dreams of putting a giant drone beehive in your city

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We don’t know if it will happen, but Amazon has patented its concept for a warehouse that services drones as well as trucks. It manages to pull double duty with a beehive-style cylindrical tower that could spit quadcopters in any direction. It’s just an idea, but remember who told you first when one is going up on top of your local Whole Foods.

Be careful.Tesla driver in fatal Autopilot crash ignored safety warnings

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This week the NTSB released its report on a crash involving the use of Tesla’s AutoPilot feature. While it debunked reports that the driver may have been watching a movie at the time of the accident, it indicated that he might have only had his hands on the wheel for 37 seconds of the 25-minute trip, ignoring the system’s warnings. The NTSB’s next step will be to report the probable cause of the accident and make recommendations to prevent similar ones in the future.

A ‘previously undisclosed covert measure.’Report: Obama authorized a secret cyber operation against Russia

Late last year the Obama Administration publicly sanctioned Russia in response to cyber attacks on the US election system. Secretly, according to a new report by the Washington Post, it also authorized a new kind of cyber operation in response, placing in critical Russian networks that could later be triggered remotely.

Good to know.Scientists may have solved a key barrier to fusion power

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A new article published in Physical Review Letters details how to solve a dangerous issue with runaway electrons that has, until now, posed a major problem for fusion reactors. The team discovered that it’s possible to decelerate electrons by injecting heavy ions, like neon or argon, into the fusion reactor. The electrons collide with these neutral atoms, resulting in energy loss and slower speeds.

But wait, there’s more…

  • ‘Modern Warfare Remastered’ heads to PS4 without the bundle
  • Good riddance to SIM cards, it’s time to embrace the eSIM
  • Caltech’s ‘lensless’ camera could make your iPhone flat
  • Sega Forever makes Genesis classics free on mobile
  • Imagination puts itself up for sale after being dumped by Apple
  • Our favorite games of E3 2017

The Morning After is a new daily newsletter from Engadget designed to help you fight off FOMO. Who knows what you’ll miss if you don’t subscribe.

24
Jun

Key Stanford Medical Researcher Joins Apple’s Health Team


Apple has hired the lead doctor of Stanford University’s digital health initiative, Sumbul Desai, to take on an unspecified role in one of the tech company’s health projects. The hire was rumored earlier this month, but Stanford Medicine confirmed it to Internet Health Management on Friday.

Desai headed up Stanford’s Center for Digital Health, launched by the university’s School of Medicine in January 2017. The center’s mission is to enhance Stanford’s digital health initiatives by collaborating with technology companies and undertaking clinical research and education. The center also helped develop MyHeart Counts, a cardiovascular disease app built using ResearchKit in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

Desai worked at Stanford since 2008, beginning as a resident physician of internal medicine, before holding numerous roles including: Medical director of strategic innovations, assistant chief of strategy, clinical associate professor, associate chief medical officer of strategy and innovation, vice chair of strategy and innovation, and chief for the Center of Digital Health.

Apple has not revealed what role Desai will play at the company, whether she might join the team working on ResearchKit, HealthKit, and CareKit, or if she will work on an unrelated project. Apple has made several healthcare-related hires in recent years. In September it recruited Dr Mike Evans, a staff physician from St Michaels Hospital in Toronto and an associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto. Two months later the company also hired Dr Ricky Bloomfield, who was director of mobile technology and strategy at Duke University Health System.

Apple has also hired Stanford doctor Rajiv Kumar, who has experience using HealthKit to help patients with diabetes, and Dr Stephen Friend, who helped build the data infrastructure for many ResearchKit apps.

Apple has kept quiet regarding what kind of products its health team is working on, but the company is known to be investigating advanced medical monitoring features, possibly for a future Apple Watch. The company is said to be working on implementing a new glucose monitoring feature and interchangeable smart bands, for example, while Apple CEO Tim Cook was allegedly spotted testing a prototype glucose monitor connected to his Apple Watch last month.

Tags: HealthKit, ResearchKit, Stanford University, health and fitness
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