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Friday, May 14, 2010

TGIF: Kittens In AutoTune

Technically I should thank @feliciaday for the find, but I doubt she needs my traffic. Enjoy the weekend, people.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Google Destroys Apple With Giant Robot

The Internet is a great place for misinformation at times. I mean, let's go back to all the wonderful FUD which arrived prior to the PlayStation 3 release which had at least two sources claiming that Sony would block used games from being played (which would be nearly physically impossible) and BoingBoing declaring that it wouldn't play Sony's flagship product - Blu-Ray movies (which was tinfoil at best).

On May 10th, the NPD group - a market leader in consumer demographics that many of us gaming bloggers know quite well as "the start of half the fanboy wars on any given forum", made this statement:

The Android operating system (OS) continued to shake up the U.S. mobile phone market in the first quarter (Q1) of 2010, moving past Apple to take the number-two position among smartphone operating systems, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. NPD’s wireless market research reveals that based on unit sales to consumers last quarter the Android operating system moved into second position at 28 percent behind RIM’s OS (36 percent) and ahead of Apple’s OS (21 percent).

“As in the past, carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role in determining smartphone market share,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD. “In order to compete with the iPhone, Verizon Wireless has expanded its buy-one-get-one offer beyond RIM devices to now include all of their smartphones.”
-- Android Shakes Up U.S. Smartphone Market

Now let us take a step back and actually read this statement. It is saying, in relatively clear English, that in the first quarter of the year 2010 in the United States, Android outsold Apple's iPhone by some seven percent and that the spike was largely credited to Verizon extending buy one, get one free deals to Android that had previous been limited to RIM's Blackberry.

And that is pretty much all it is saying. Not quoted here is the fact that it does not include enterprise sales here - only consumer.

This was widely reported. In increasingly poor ways:

The iPhone gets the bulk of the mind share, but in actual U.S. smartphone sales, the iPhone trails not only Research In Motion's BlackBerrys but also now handsets built around Google's Android mobile operating system.
-- NPD report: Android outselling iPhone; BlackBerry number one

So kinda right. For one thing, you may note that the original NPD report avoided declaring that Android was outright outselling the iPhone - rather that is "shaking up the market". This is probably because Android taking second place in one quarter of one year by a somewhat slim margin thanks to marketing deals is probably not a strong indicator that the iPhone is doomed to a #3 spot.

We can quickly move from this statement to the just plain wrong:

The Android operating system has moved past the iPhone to capture the No. 2 ranking in smartphone operating systems in the first quarter of 2010, with 28 percent of the U.S. market, according to the NPD Group. The Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) OS was still No. 1, with 36 percent marketshare, based on unit sales to consumers. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone OS held steady with 21 percent.
-- Android Elbows iPhone Out of Second Place in US Market

Comparing first quarter sales to market share is like, uh, well, like comparing apples to the barrel in which they arrived. This mistake would be repeated and once again, NPD results would eventually kick off many a fanboy flamewar.

This is reality:

Android is suspected to take 10% of the overall smartphone market in 2010. Currently the market leader? Not even RIM - but Nokia with around 40%. In 2009, the Symbian OS held 47% off all smartphones.

Short version: even if Android outsold RIM in the first quarter of 2010 - they would be hard pressed to be in double digits market wise, much less second place.

That's not to say the report isn't news. It is, because Android sales have been increasing, and nearly every analyst seems to expect it to contiue to do so. The next couple years are likely to be very formative for the OS - but that does not mean it suddenly dominated Apple.

We have to remember that Apple just got into a massive PR campaign with Adobe over Flash, HTML5, the iPhone OS and the future of the web in general. Adobe responded by buddying up with Google and making several comments about how great Flash runs on Android. Then the NPD releases their report and pretty much the entire techsphere went off to the races.

Course, we also have the opposite end of the spectrum. Beatweek Online seems to specialize in reporting about two things: how great boy bands are and how great the iPhone is. Their homepage literally has two categories: Music and iPhone+iPod+iPad. Suppose in some ways it makes sense, many people listening to pop music do it on an Apple device. It's just a shame that they are so embarrassingly fanboy in their reporting, and so shamefully bad at it:

The report yesterday claiming that Android has now surpassed the iPhone in marketshare has been revealed to be more or less total bullshit, as it turns out the the claim was based on not on a head count of actual users of both platforms or a measure of total recent sales, but instead an online voluntary survey consisting of a grand total of a hundred and fifty thousand participants, a number representing less than one half of one percent of the number of people who’ve bought an iPhone. If anything, the statistically invalid survey confirms only that Android users are more willing to take online survey about their cellphone usage than iPhone users are. This new revelation not only completely negates yesterday’s claim that the Android is outselling the iPhone, it also calls into question the validity of the same survey’s claim that the BlackBerry is outselling them both.

In light of this news, it’s unlikely that any “data” or claims from NPD will be taken seriously any time soon, and we’re back at square one in terms of knowing how each smartphone is currently selling in relation to the next.
-- iPhone-Android “marketshare” turns out to be bulls— online survey

While not mentioned, this seemed to come in response to Apple's press release on the subject ... which seems to be the main basis of all of Beatweek's tech news. You can read the brief twitter spat I kicked off in response. When the extent of one's journalistic skills can't get beyond revealing something which was in the original report as shocking (which, with other statements by Beatweek, suggests they never bothered to read said original report) - one might consider a different hobby than writing about technology.

I have feeling NPD's "data" will still be widely accepted.

Back to work people. Sorry for the long post, short version: Verizon gives away free Droid phone with purchase of Droid phone. Droid sales increase dramatically.

TV Watch: Lost, Across The Sea

I was actually so distracted by the fact that Allison Janney was in this episode that it took me about a half hour or so to realize we were finally getting The Island Flashback Lost fans have been talking about for some time.

Early in the show, "Mother" tells the soon to be departed mother of Jacob and Not Jacob that asking her questions just leads to more questions. And just as much as this episode gave us a glimpse to the show's backdrop, but it was also indicative of the show itself - the questions you ask ... the more questions you get back.

Fan reactions to this episode seem mixed, and granted some of the hockey "the light is life" type stuff was a little thin - this episode was in many ways a final rounding out of story's core mystery: the relationship between the island, the "others" and the protector. I was more or less enthralled from the first minute on.

But praise is boring. Let's talk about the relatively bizarre contradictions in this episode.

Mother tells us (and the kids) quite implicitly that she has set things up so that they cannot hurt each other. Yet, Jacob pummels his brother not once, but twice AND kills him in the end (well, maybe kind of ... more of that in a bit). So Mother would seem to have been just sort of making that up. Also, Mother has more than a bit of a freakout when she realizes Not Jacob has figured out a way to tap into The Light with the Donkey Wheel. Yet, since we know said wheel as the Frozen Donkey Wheel Locke uses to move the island - Jacob apparently continued on with Not Jacob's work - apparently both with tapping The Light and cultivating people who arrive or are brought to the island.

Let's jump specifically to what may be the core question of the episode: Is The Smoke Monster Jacob's brother? Or is he dead and buried with Mother? Mother said that touching The Light wouldn't kill someone - it would be worse. So it would seem the answer is both. The apparitions on the island seem to be either representations of The Smoke Monster, who look like one person but are really Old Smokey (SmokeLocke) or are real ghosts (Alpert's wife). And since Alpert's wife is trying to get SmokeLocke killed, I think we can assume they're on different teams.

As we saw Not Jacob on the beach with Jacob, talking about doing all this stuff Old Smokey is now doing, I'm guessing The Smoke Monster is whatever Not Jacob transformed into - leaving his body behind. I'm also guessing that the writers made a big deal about Adam and Eve because Not Jacob's body will become a factor in the finale.

At least I'm hoping, because the amount of attention they poured into the fact that two recent characters with no real names are in fact Adam and Eve was a bit much. The flash-forwards didn't seem necessary, I think most Lost fans saw the connection and compared to other "revelations" from this season (Christian was Smoke Monster, whispers are ghosts) it got a lot of screen time.

Sadly, I'm thinking The Light (or The Source as some are calling) is going to get the Wallace's Briefcase treatment from Pulp Fiction. In fact, they might even be the same thing. With one normal episode left before the finale, I'm not holding my breath for any more complete explanation than the one Mother gave Jacob.

So in the long run - it was an interesting episode which gives us at least some depth ... even if not filled with answers.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Game Play: Warpgate (iPhone/iPad)

Elite is considered by some to be one of the greatest games ever made - but at the very least you have to give credit that it was a seminal piece of work. Creating a massive world (using some creative procedural methods), players could simply fly their ship around and ... well, do whatever they want for the most part. Fast forward a couple decades, and we have Grand Theft Auto IV.

Well, OK - similarities are there but we can save that for another post. We also have Warpgate for the iPhone and iPad. Longtime Mac game publisher Freeverse drops you into a galaxy, puts some touch controls on your free starship and lets you run around. There is a story, but you are welcome to ignore and wander around blowing stuff up, finding viable trade routes, and essentially just exploring.

The core of the gameplay is quite good. The touch controls work well, the graphics are great and the level of detail given to the different ships, planets and galactic factions provide plenty of depth. Combat is pretty simple button mashing affair, not exactly strategic - but at offers little in the way of frustration. The story missions often manage to offer twists to the gameplay so that not every one degenerates into "fly to X and then fly to Y" type affairs.

Actually, my only core complaint is the difficulty. Or the lack of it. At one point in the game I realized I could essentially hover around for some two factions to duke it out, and then pick the (occasionally very valuable) cargo that was left floating around. Wash, rinse, repeat ... and I had a shiny new starship. After that, some shiny new weapons and after that I don't think I lost many battles until much later in the game.

There's also the occasional bug - but in the latest release nothing too crazy. Worst one is when my ship would mysteriously freak out and the appear in a random spot in the map - but that generally just takes some patience to get back to civilization. I'm also suspicious of some of the battle math, occasionally it feels like all my big guns do no damage at all.

However the bottom line is that even after I have finished the story (which I wouldn't call a good story - but it was some fun twists and turns and a great dose of humor), I'm still playing it. You can easily listen to your own music while smacking down space pirates - and there is also the challenge of hunting down even better trade routes while trying to catch to everyone on the online leaderboard.

And Freeverse, this would be a great game to offer some DLC for - new ships, new missions, new weapons. I'm sure there are many Warpgate fans willing to shell out a couple bucks for an extension to the storyline.

Thumbs up, easy recommendation for the iPhone / iPad lot.