Here's a famous quote that sums up the reaction to yesterday's surprise announcement by HP to stop supporting webOS, and, by extension, the TouchPad tablet, as well as get out of the PC business, courtesy of the classic 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!". We all knew that Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker was a software guy, we just didn't realize that meant he'd pull the rug out from under consumers and do a dramatic IBM-style business shift. At least we can still buy their printers, right? ... Anyone?
This affects me personally, because I was working on TouchPad For Dummies, which would have been my third book for 2011, to go along with the recently released, Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, and the upcoming, My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE. While these events are much bigger than me and others will be affected far more dramatically, I thought I would still give my personal impressions, starting first with a little background on the book stuff, some discussion of the TouchPad itself, and then get a bit more into an analysis of the present situation within the industry.
OK, it's actually the Worldwide Developers Conference (WDC), rather than E3, but the timing is the same and I like to keep the headers consistent, so kindly deal with it. After starting off with Microsoft and Sony, it's now Apple's turn (leaving only the elephant in the room to cover, Nintendo). Here goes:
Now, for the big iOS stuff (On a side note, I think all but one of the AA staff has iPhones at this point, and at least three of us have iPads, so, while Apple's mojo hasn't worked on us from the MacOS side of things, it sure has on the iOS side.):
I had recently written about what I perceive to be the false notion of console gaming holding PC gaming back (and, frankly, with a recent release like L.A. Noire and future releases like Skyrim, again, it's hard to make that argument outside of a purely superficial (audio/visual) - not contentual - standpoint). Perhaps, as this new article puts forth, it's not consoles, but tablets, that the traditional PC industry has more to worry about?
Of course, as far as I'm concerned, we're actually still at least a few years off from that happening, at least until Apple breaks the required link between their iOS devices and a computer equipped with iTunes (and that's a question of "when", not "if"). Android devices are of course close to completely breaking free of the computer tether, but there are other issues for those classes of devices to overcome first. Other tablet OS's, present and future, are probably somewhere in-between the two.
Interestingly, there's a girl here at my day job who had bought an iPad 2 about a month back and then recently got an iPhone 4, but was frustrated that there was no way to copy what was on her iPad 2 (purchases) over to the iPhone 4. You see, she considers her computer horribly outdated and really didn't want to go through iTunes on her rickety old PC! Obviously, very flawed thinking, but it's very interesting what the non-techies have in their thought processes (and in this case how she wants to basically compute outside of work exclusively on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4)... Definitely a paradigm shift of some type! In any case, it's the old argument that it's not so much computers that are being challenged, it's the limited generalized definition of what a computer is that is being challenged. Does a computer really mean that desktop or laptop many of use a good portion of the day? Sure, but that's not all it means. As an iPad 2 user - outside of the tethering restriction for the occasional iTunes sync - I can argue that my tablet is as much of a computer as most desktops and laptops, with strikingly similar functionality (and in some cases, then some).
Ultimately, I think it's clear we're all headed to a connected eco-system of devices, where a lot of stuff is in the cloud, with minimal need for local storage. You'll simply use whatever device is handy or whatever is best suited to a particular task (say a touch screen or a keyboard). We even already have brilliantly functional cloud gaming services (and of course, VOD, like Netflix), so, outside of artificial bandwidth restrictions by ISP's, there's little reason to think that the future has anything to do with increasingly more powerful traditional computers. For some of us who have been in love with technology since our earliest memories, this is a tough sell, but it's hard to argue that's not where we're headed, and perhaps it's just as hard to argue that it's even a bad a thing. I'm sure even the most hardcore among us have tired of the upgrade/incompatibility/instability cycle at some point, if only briefly.
Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, has grave doubts about the games industry as we know it--specifically, he's worried that the ubiquity and popularity of cheap iOS apps are making it impossible to sell big-budget games (like the next Unreal): "If there’s anything that’s killing us it’s dollar apps,” he said. “How do you sell someone a $60 game that’s really worth it? They’re used to 99¢. As I said, it's an uncertain time in the industry. But it's an exciting time for whoever picks the right path and wins." My take on it? Boo f**** hoo.
Everybody here knows how much I love Her Interactive's Nancy Drew series. These are great adventure games with fun characters and charming atmosphere. Her Interactive has recently expanded its offerings to Apple's mobile line, starting with a game called Shadow Ranch, currently $2 for iPhone/iPod and $5 for iPad, which is in HD (holy cow, I'm jealous). I recently completed the game on my iPhone 4, and am pleased to say it's a fun game that's quite distinctive from its desktop predecessor. I don't think Her Interactive (HI) has really tapped the full potential of the platform, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
Well, Apple did it, they actually lived up to the hype yet again. Steve Jobs coming out on stage and doing the presentation was a brilliant touch. No matter what you think of Jobs or Apple, good for him. As for the iPad 2, well, Apple didn't merely iterate slightly, they did actually make a true "2", no now all those silly rumors of an iPad 3 coming out in the fall can be put to rest. 1.3 pounds, THINNER than my iPhone 4, new A5 processor, improved graphics, dual cameras, available in black and white, AT&T and Verizon from day one, 10 hour battery life, $499 starting price (maxes out at $829 for 64GB with WiFi/3G), HDMI mirrored output up to 1080p, smart covers, etc. I think my hemming and hawing over what tablet to get was for naught as the decision has been made rather handily for me. Apple is just too far ahead of the competition at this point. Maybe that will change within a few years, but right now, all things considered, the iPad 2 is the only logical choice in tablets. It hits the US on March 11 and rolls out to 26 more countries on March 25. So, what do you guys think? Are you sold or do you think there will be better options in 2011?
As I'm sure many of you have seen by now, Motorola's Xoom commercial during the Superbowl attracted quite a bit of attention. For those who don't know, Motorola's Xoom is one of the first tablets to run Google's Android operating system specifically designed for tablets, Honeycomb. Previously, Android tablets were running a version of the operating system optimized for smartphones, not tablets, so the release of a true Honeycomb device is big news in that it's the first real competition for Apple's dominant iPad. Anyway, the commercial is Motorola's send up of Apple's famous 1984 Superbowl ad, which pitted a free thinking Apple against the oppressive dictatorship of IBM. Of course, Apple got the competitor wrong. It wasn't IBM, it was Microsoft, and it almost cost Apple its business if not for an improbable comeback in mobile devices. Ironically, Motorola has similarly misidentified its true competition. It's not Apple, it's other Honeycomb tablets. Just like what happened in smartphones, where Android devices have overwhelmed the market with devices and risen to a position of leadership despite a somewhat fragmented marketplace and at-manufacturer-will upgrade paths, the same scenario is likely to play out in tablets, with Apple carving out a dominant - but not market leading - niche all to itself in the long-term. Priced at $800 with a bizarre requirement for a minimum of one month of 3G data to "unlock" wi-fi, Motorola has seemingly done everything to cripple its otherwise impressive device right out of the gate.
As I've discussed multiple times, I've been practically begging for a Honeycomb tablet to capture my techno-lust before the iPad 2 comes out, but if we're going to see efforts like this in what is already a late bloomer in things like tablet-specific apps and developer support, I'm becoming more and more pessimistic such a scenario will happen. In fact, if these Honeycomb tablets don't start coming out in reasonable quantity and at more attractive price points relatively soon, it will take even longer for them to wrest away Apple's 90% market share in the segment, and we may even be entertaining ideas of not what happened with Apple versus Google in the smartphone market, but what happened with Apple versus everyone else in the portable music player market.
Check out Motorola's Superbowl ad below:
Gamasutra has an interview up with one Matt Rix, designer and developer of a simple iOS game called Trainyard. Although he did all the work during his work commute, the game has already netted him enough cash to quit his day job and found his own game company. I love what he says here: "I’ve learned a ton of lessons, but the biggest one is to pick a goal then follow through till you’re done. You’ve got to be motivated and determined to finish your game, or else you just won’t. I see way too many people biting off more than they can chew, attacking huge games or just working on prototype after prototype ad nauseum. I think you’ll learn way more from finishing and releasing a single game than you’ll ever learn from working on dozens of prototypes." Touche!