Game Day: Apollo Justice Ace Attorney

Apollo Justice Ace Attorney was originally released in 2007 by Capcom for the Nintendo DS in Japan. This week, it debuted on iOS, remastered to take advantage of the iPhone’s and iPad’s touchscreens.

Apollo Justice is the fourth game in the Ace Attorney series. In the earlier games, which are available as a single iOS app, you play as attorney Phoenix Wright, but in Apollo Justice, Wright has been disbarred and accused of murder. Your job as Apollo Justice is to defend Wright at his trial.

This is not your typical courtroom drama. The storyline and flamboyant characters are bit bizarre. Consider this Capcom description of Apollo Justice's nemesis for instance:

Facing Apollo across the courtroom is the highly talented and flamboyant prosecutor Klavier Gavin who, in addition to being a legal genius, is also lead singer with Gavinners, a highly successful rock band with a string of hits to their name.

As odd as the backstory is at times, it's a quirkiness that works, adding a level of humor and intrigue that held my interest.

The story of the murder plays out in and out of the courtroom as you tap through the dialogue among the characters. At numerous points during the trial, you have the opportunity to press witnesses for additional information. Along the way, evidence is also gathered that you can examine. When you discover a contradiction between the testimony and evidence, you present it to the judge who decides whether you have advanced your client's case.

This isn't a realistic courtroom simulation game and the story is better for it. Instead, the trial is the conceit for exploring a mystery. You're challenged to think and examine details in a sort of interactive mystery novel. It's a format that you can play through in a leisurely, self-paced way that I enjoyed.

I didn't play the original Apollo Justice on the Nintendo DS. This is my first encounter with the game and the Phoenix Wright series. Comparing the iOS version to screenshots of the original, Capcom has done a great job updating Apollo for iOS, which should make the game a no-brainer for fans of the original series. But even if you are new to the franchise as I was, Apollo is worth a try at just $0.99 for the first half of episode 1 if you enjoy mysteries and puzzle-solving.

The first half of episode 1 of Apollo Justice is available on the App Store for $0.99. That's more game for your dollar than it sounds like and plenty to determine if you want to play through the rest of episode 1 and episodes 2-4. The remainder of episode 1 is $1.99 and episodes 2-4 are $4.99 each, or you can buy everything for $14.99.


Amazon’s New AI Tools for Developers

Interesting announcements from Amazon at its AWS event this week: the company is rolling out a suite of artificial intelligence APIs for developers to plug their apps into. These tools are based on the AWS cloud (which a lot of your favorite apps and services already use) and they leverage the same AI and deep learning that has also powered Alexa, the software behind the Amazon Echo.

Here's April Glaser, writing for Recode:

Drawing on the artificial intelligence that powers Amazon’s popular home assistant Alexa, the new tools will allow developers to build apps that have conversational interfaces, can turn text into speech and use computer vision that is capable of recognizing faces and objects.

Amazon’s latest push follows moves from Google and Microsoft, both of which have cloud computing platforms that already use artificial intelligence.

Google’s G Suite, for example, uses AI to power Smart Reply in Gmail, instant translation and smart scheduling functions in its calendar. Likewise, Microsoft recently announced it’s bringing artificial intelligence to its Office 365 service to add search within Word, provide productivity tracking and build maps from Excel with geographic data.

It's increasingly starting to look like "AI as an SDK" will become a requirement for modern apps and services. Deep learning and AI aren't limited to playing chess and recognizing cat videos anymore; developers are using this new kind of computing power for all kinds of features – see Plex, Spotify, and Todoist for two recent examples. I've also been hearing about iOS apps using Google's Cloud Vision a lot more frequently over the past few months.

I think this trend will only accelerate as AI reshapes how software gets more and better work done for us. And I wonder if Apple is considering an expansion of their neural network APIs to match what others are doing – competition in this field is heating up quickly.

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Connected, Episode 119: Tiered Levels of Surprise

This week, Stephen and Myke talk about CNN’s acquisition of Beme before answering questions about Relay FM, self employment and Casey Liss.

Myke and Stephen (for whom, by the way, I issued an official pardon) had a fun episode of Connected without me this week. You can listen here.

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Spectator, the Spectacles Video Player

One of the coolest features of Snap’s new Spectacles sunglasses is that they take circular video. That means whichever way you turn your phone to view the captured video, there are no black bars surrounding the footage. Users have been uploading the videos to Twitter and Instagram, but the results aren’t great – the video looks like it’s been taken through the peephole in a door.

Tim Johnsen, the creator of iOS utility Opener, has come to the rescue with a solution. Johnsen’s new iOS app, Spectator, displays the video just like Snapchat does. Here’s a video Johnsen made to demonstrate:

Started building a rotating video player for Spectacles videos uploaded to Instagram and Twitter

A video posted by Tim Johnsen (@timonus) on

Using Spectator is easy:

You use Spectator by copying links to Spectacles videos on Instagram or Twitter, then launching the app. It’ll prompt you to play the video you have copied shortly after launch, and keeps a list of the videos you’ve recently watched. If you’re looking for a list of videos to try out I’m curating one here. Enjoy!

I’ve tried Spectator and it works like a charm. The app has also made me want to try Spectacles more than ever before, which makes me think that this is an app Snap should have made to help spread the buzz about its new product.

Spectator is available on the App Store as a free download.

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How Aqua and Bondi Saved Apple

Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels has published a book called Aqua and Bondi: The Road to OS X & The Computer That Saved Apple, a history of the critical role OS X and the iMac G3 played in Apple’s comeback from the brink of financial ruin in the late 90s. As Hackett explains in the introduction to the book,

OS X and the iMac’s stories are intertwined, but are often told separately. Apple’s strength is most obvious when its hardware and software are working in harmony, and that’s what was needed to save Apple in the late 1990s. Turns out, it worked.

Aqua and Bondi shares that story for those who haven’t read it before. It’s a consideration of Apple at a very interesting time in its life and the products it shipped.

I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Aqua and Bondi and love it. Not only is the story of OS X and the iMac G3 told in a compelling and accessible way, but the book is full of fantastic photos drawn from numerous sources, including Hackett’s own collection of colorful iMacs.

Aqua and Bondi is available from the iBookstore and as a PDF from aquaandbondi.com for $3.99.


Partly Sunny Review: Weather Reimagined

When Apple introduced the App Store in 2008, much of the excitement spanned from the opportunities and functionalities these new apps would bring to the iPhone. Many of the first apps were forays into markets untouched by the stock apps – games, social networks, and read-it-later services.

Eight years later, the trends are different; with millions of apps covering almost every genre imaginable, a lot of this year's best apps are refinements or new takes on the same functionalities some of Apple's stock apps offer.

That's where Partly Sunny comes in – it's a weather app that, at first glance of its icon, looks almost identical to Apple's Weather. But after tapping into it, Partly Sunny shakes the similarities and introduces a robust, beautiful new way to view weather information.

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Workflows of a Casual Apple Pencil User

One year ago, Apple launched a new product to accompany its first ever iPad Pro: the Apple Pencil. Presented not as a replacement for touch input, but as a tool geared toward specific tasks, the Pencil immediately endeared itself to creatives who sketch or illustrate. In the weeks following the announcement, I remember scouring Twitter and Instagram for any first impressions I could find from people who had tried this new device. Some of the best came from Apple's visits to Disney and Pixar, where many of my favorite movie makers seemed thrilled about the Pencil. It looked like the perfect tool for artistic tasks.

Apple's pride in creating the Pencil has been clear since they first announced it. In its already jam-packed September 2015 keynote, the company dedicated significant time and attention to the product, including a video introduction from Jony Ive and three live demos that put the Pencil to use. In this past March's keynote, when Apple announced the 9.7" iPad Pro, Phil Schiller called the Pencil "the greatest accessory Apple has ever made." High praise from a proud parent.

My initial take on the Pencil was that it seemed like a great device, but it wasn't for me. I don't sketch, I'm not a fan of handwriting notes, and using the Pencil for system navigation never appealed to me. But I bought one to give it a try. Apple's return policy made sure no money would be wasted if the Pencil became merely a pretty paperweight in my life. Within a few hours of use I discovered that while the Pencil isn't a daily-used tool for me, it is a device that, for specific tasks, I would never want to be without.

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Apple’s Plans for the (RED) Campaign Against AIDS Are Bigger Than Ever

Apple, which has a long-standing relationship with (RED), today announced that:

In honor of World AIDS Day, Apple® is offering more ways than ever for customers to join (RED) in its mission to create an AIDS-free generation. Apple is the world’s largest corporate contributor to the Global Fund, and this year marks its 10th anniversary supporting (RED) in the fight to end AIDS.

In an interview with Buzzfeed, Tim Cook said the (RED) campaign is "designed to reach people via all the different ways in which a customer might touch us." Apple certainly seems to have accomplished Cook’s goal with an impressive array of plans this year:

  • 400 Apple Stores will turn the Apple logo on the stores red or display special window treatments;
  • 20 games are offering special (RED) content as in-app purchases, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Global Fund;
  • Apple will offer special products, including a Product (RED) smart battery case for the iPhone 7 (pictured in this article on The Verge), a (RED) leather case for the iPhone SE, a (RED) Beats Pill+ portable speaker, and (RED) Beats Solo3 wireless headphones, which will join the year-round Product (RED) products that Apple offers;
  • From December 1-6, Apple will donate $1 for every Apple Pay purchase made on apple.com and at Apple Stores up to $1 million;
  • Bank of America will donate $1 for each Apple Pay transaction made with its cards up to the same $1 million maximum and for the same period as Apple; and
  • iTunes has an exclusive (RED) holiday album from The Killers called Don’t Waste Your Wishes, 100% of the the US proceeds of which will be donated the Global Fund.

Tim Cook elaborated in his conversation with BuzzFeed on why Apple participates in events like the (RED) campaign against AIDS:

“We look for ways we think we can uniquely contribute to the world in which we live,” Cook said. “And we’ll always touch more people through our products than anything else. … It’s that area — an area in which we have expertise — where we think we can make a contribution that multiplies well beyond simply writing a check. We want to advocate for human rights in a way that people can look at what we’re doing and say ‘you know, I could be a part of something like that’ — ‘I could do something like that.’ For us this is critically important.”