Game Day: Reigns

Have you ever wanted to rule your own kingdom? Of course you have. With Reigns you can do just that – while you stand in line to buy groceries. Reigns, an Apple Editor's Choice, is a card-based adventure game with an clever interaction model. Touch Arcade and Pocket Gamer liken Reigns to Tinder, which I get, but it’s also a little unfair because it ignores the depth and personality of the game that underlies the Tinder-like mechanics.

As king, you are presented with a series of decisions in the form of cards that are brought to you by advisors and other characters. Each decision has only two options that you choose between by swiping left or right – hence the comparison to Tinder. But there’s much more to Reigns than just flicking cards. Every choice you make has consequences, some of which affect future generations, and it's not unusual for a decision to spin out of control quickly ending in your death.

Each choice you make also has an impact on the strength of the church, your subjects, the army, and your finances, which are tracked at the top of the screen. As you play, you can swipe cards part way to the left or right to get a hint of which metrics will be affected by your choices. To survive, you must carefully balance each variable. Allow one category to get too high or too low and your reign will end badly.

All reigns end eventually, but each time one does, you are reborn as a new king and given a series of goals like “Lose yourself in the dungeon,’ ‘Meet the devil,’ or ‘Try the blue one.’ Meeting goals unlocks cards and new aspects of the game keeping it fresh. There are also mini-games like dice and dueling scattered throughout Reigns.

Reigns is perfect for mobile, though it is also available on the Mac via Steam. Swiping left and right to make decisions about your kingdom is quick and easy wherever you are. The combination of the number of cards, consequences that span generations, and need to balance multiple statistics adds an interesting level of strategy. But above all else, what has endeared Reigns to me most is that the artwork and questions are imbued with a sense of humor that gives Reigns a unique personality unlike any iOS game I have played recently.

Reigns is available on the App Store for $2.99.


Logitech Announces ‘Pop’ Switch for Smart Home Devices

The latest announcement from Logitech sounds like a good idea: Pop is a physical switch with support for third-party smart home devices that can turn them on individually or trigger scenes.

Pop is a simple switch for controlling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled smart devices, including products from LIFX, Phillips Hue, Lutron, and INSTEON, Smart Things and more. Plus, it works with IFTTT for control of a broader range of products.

Each switch can be used to trigger three different custom commands. For instance, use a single press to turn all the lights in a room on or off. Or, use a double press at dinner time to dim the lights and turn on your favorite Sonos jazz station. And since it works with Logitech’s Harmony hub-based remotes, you could even set a long press to start Movie Time in the living room.

Over the past year, I've bought a few home automation devices to bring more convenience into my life. Sometimes, I miss the ability to press a physical switch instead of fumbling with an app or a widget. The upcoming HomeKit card of Control Center in iOS 10 has improved this aspect, but it doesn't support IFTTT or Sonos.

With the Logitech switch, I could create a recipe to turn off my lights and start recording with Manything as soon as I leave my house with one press. I'm intrigued, but I can't find a European release date on Logitech's website.

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IFTTT Launches Developer Platform for App Integrations

Interesting move from IFTTT: the company has launched a developer platform to let third-parties enable recipe-building functionality into their apps.

We’ve worked closely with a select group of partners to add IFTTT directly into their apps. Users will be able to discover and activate IFTTT Recipes without having to leave a partner’s app. These native experiences make IFTTT more accessible than ever.

Our partners all have one thing in common: the desire to add value and enable a more seamless experience for their users.

Explaining IFTTT's web automation is probably the biggest hurdle to get started with the service. Having a streamlined recipe interface inside multiple native apps could help.

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Fast Company’s Complete Interview with Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi

Fast Company published an article on Monday about Apple’s approach to product design. Today, it posted the full text of its interview with Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi that was the basis for much of the article. I enjoyed Rick Tetzeli’s piece, but there’s nothing better than reading the quotes that were pulled for the article in the context of the whole interview.

Tetzeli’s conversation with Cue and Federighi is filled with additional details about how Apple approached the development of Apple Maps after its rocky launch in 2012. Tidbits like this from Cue on how app usage helps Apple improve Maps:

Let me give you a good example: a golf course. How do we know when a new golf course opens up? We’re not exactly driving around looking for golf courses. But we know it’s there, because there are all these golf apps that get used at a golf course. If we see that all these golf apps are being used at a particular location, and we don’t show that as a golf course, we probably have a problem.

Federighi, who didn’t have many quotes in Tetzeli’s article, had this to say about how Apple approaches new features and products:

We think in terms of experiences. We all use these devices every day, and we think about what we’d like them to do for us. Those aspirational experiences lead us down all sorts of roads technologically, to all kinds of problems that we need to solve. So we think, "Oh, we’d like your Watch to unlock your Mac," because we need to unlock our Macs every day. It doesn’t start with, "Hey, we’ve been doing development in wireless and they want something to use their technology for."

Finally, Federighi confirmed what I have always felt has had a profound effect on the way Apple has been run since the late 90s:

I think it’s significant that upper management has lived through periods of austerity [1999 to 2001] and appreciates that this hasn’t been a straight ride up. People who look at Apple’s success and think we look at it as "okay, great, we’re done" don’t appreciate what’s really going on here.

That’s just a small sample of the sort of detail contained in the over 4500 word interview with Cue and Federighi, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

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Google Docs and Sheets Add Split-View Support

Earlier today, Google Docs and Google Sheets for iOS were updated with Split View support. Google Docs also added the ability to insert images and page breaks in documents. With iOS 9, Apple introduced the ability to run two apps side-by-side on certain models of the iPad. In the ensuing months, Google Docs and Sheets were updated regularly, but Split View remained conspicuously absent. Now, on the eve of the release of iOS 10, users who rely on Google Docs and Sheets can finally write and work on spreadsheets on the iPad alongside another iOS app.

Update: In addition to Docs and Sheets, Google has updated Slides for iOS with Split View support.


Google’s Chrome Browser to Block Flash

Yesterday, Google announced that its Chrome browser will begin blocking Flash that runs in the background of webpages in September and make HTML5 the ‘default Chrome experience’ in December. According to Google:

Today, more than 90% of Flash on the web loads behind the scenes to support things like page analytics. This kind of Flash slows you down, and starting this September, Chrome 53 will begin to block it. HTML5 is much lighter and faster, and publishers are switching over to speed up page loading and save you more battery life. You’ll see an improvement in responsiveness and efficiency for many sites.

In December, Chrome 55 will make HTML5 the default experience, except for sites which only support Flash.

It has been more than six years since Steve Jobs penned an open letter titled ‘Thoughts on Flash,’ in which he concluded:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 250,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Jobs’ open letter was controversial when it was published. In 2010, Flash was everywhere, serving much of the video on the web and acting as a platform for online gaming. HTML5 was making headway, but it was the clear underdog.

Adobe’s initial response to Jobs came from none other than Kevin Lynch, who was the CTO of Adobe in 2010, but is now a Vice President of Technology at Apple, leading the development of watchOS. Lynch announced that Adobe was shifting its focus away from the iPhone and iPad in favor of implementing Flash on Android and other mobile platforms.

Flash never got a firm foothold in the mobile world. Roughly eighteen months after Jobs’ open letter, Adobe abandoned Flash for mobile and began to embrace HTML5. Since then, HTML5 has been incorporated into many of Adobe’s products and Adobe has actively participated in its development. The decline of Flash on PCs has been slower, but is likely to accelerate given Chrome’s browser market share, which, according to NetMarketShare, exceeds 50%.

Chrome is notoriously hard on laptops’ battery life. In what struck me as a significant understatement, Google says that:

Aside from [being prompted to enable Flash on Flash-only sites], the only change you’ll notice is a safer and more power-efficient browsing experience.

In a consumer PC market dominated by laptops, better battery life and safety may be the ‘only’ benefits users will notice, but they are nonetheless significant.


Apple Responds to Australian Banks’ Request to Collectively Boycott and Negotiate Over Apple Pay

Late last week Apple made a preliminary submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in relation to the request for permission from various Australian banks to boycott Apple Pay and collectively negotiate with Apple. Apple's submission is comparatively brief at just three pages, but it clearly highlights the approach Apple will take in opposing the banks' request.

In its submission, Apple is quick to highlight the collective dominance of the banks in Australia which account for 66% of credit card balances in Australia, whilst characterising itself as the "new entrant to the Australian market" having only launched Apple Pay in November 2015.

The other angle of attack from Apple is more surprising, and in the submission it appears quite clear that Apple is asserting that the closed nature of the NFC antenna in the iPhone is pivotal to maintaining the security of its users.

Now they ask the ACCC for explicit permission to negotiate with Apple as a collective group. The goal of which is to force Apple and other third party providers to accept their terms, allow them to charge consumers that choose to use Apple Pay, and force Apple to undermine the security of its mobile payment service by opening access to the NFC antenna, placing at risk the consumer experience of a simple, secure, and private way to make payments in store, within, applications, or on the web.

Apple notes that it will make a further, more comprehensive submission, at a later date. But a key purpose of this prelimary submission was to persuade the ACCC that the banks should not be given any interim approval, and that the ACCC should take the "normal 6 month statutory period for assessment".

A few other interesting tidbits from Apple's submission:

  • Apple's discussions with Australian banks in relation to Apple Pay began in "late 2014". Apple Pay launched in the US in October 2014.
  • One of the applicant banks "has refused to even enter into a confidentiality agreement with Apple to allow for preliminary discussions about the terms under which it would participate in Apple Pay".
  • Apple argues that "interim authorisation of a collective boycott will have a lasting and irreversible impact on the adoption of Apple Pay and other third party wallets, and the Australian payment market".
  • Apple suggests that Apple Pay is not a competitive threat to the banks; "Unfortunately, and based on their limited understanding of the offering, the applicants perceive Apple Pay as a competitive threat".
  • Apple writes "These banks want to maintain complete control over their customers", I would wager the banks would say the exact same thing about Apple.

(via AFR)


iPad Pro Plays a Role in the Stranger Things Poster Art

Adario Strange of Mashable takes a look at how artist Kyle Lambert created the 80s-style poster art for Netflix’s original series Stranger Things using an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, Procreate, a Mac, and Photoshop.

I used the iPad Pro to do the preliminary composition ideas and the sketch that became the final Stranger Things poster. I chose to use the iPad Pro for the drawing stage of the poster because I find that I am able to sketch in a very natural way on the device using the Apple Pencil. The device in general is nice to hold for long periods of time, it is really portable and Procreate, the app that I used, has some really great Pencil brushes for drawing with.

Lambert exported the image to Photoshop on a Mac to do detail work using an Wacom Intuos tablet, which involved editing hundreds of layers. In the final stage, Lambert exported a flattened version of the art back to Procreate on an iPad Pro to add a “more fluid sketch style” to parts of the final product.

Image: Kyle Lambert

Image: Kyle Lambert

The depth and detail of Lambert’s process and artwork are fascinating and demonstrate just how powerful Procreate combined with an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil can be in the hands of a talented artist. Check out the full article on Mashable to learn more about how Kyle Lambert created the Stranger Things poster.

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