Good Things (come to those who wait)

It is important to realise that the iPhone (king of the smartphone kingdom) has had a number of generations, and the opportunity for Apple to learn from the innovations and mistakes of others, as well as making their own. However, what is often overlooked is how much the foot has been shaped by the shoe, so to speak. Since the original iPod, and possibly the Mac itself, we have been slowly and subtly trained in how to use Apple products. This cannot be overlooked in attributing the relative success of different smart phone platforms. So, moving to a different metaphor (namely Metro) is pushing comfort zones we didn’t know we had.

Nokia Drive
This is a really positive experience. Although this GPS navigation app isn’t on every WP7 device, it is downloadable and wonderful. Drive gives everything a GPS app should: clear 2 or 3D display, turn by turn navigation, free pre-downloadable maps and configurable voices. It totally blows away the paltry iPhone app in so many ways; too many to mention in fact. And it’s free.

Text to speech to text
After I ditched the iPhone compatible headphones, because the mic wasn’t working with the Nokia, I discovered how convenient the speech recognition is. Ok, it’s no Siri – but I’m not falling for the hype – but it works well. For example, I was stuck in an Olympic Torch traffic jam in Newport on Friday. The Nokia tells me (through headphones) I have a text from Victoria Jones. I say “read it” then “reply” and speak “stuck behind torch, will arrive half past five” with the blowers on full, windows down and cheering crowds outside, but the Nokia gets it first time. Even if it hadn’t, it’s easy to try again. And all this without me faking the hand from the wheel or eye off the road.


Free GPS software 9/10 – its chosen route isn’t always the best.

Hands free SMS Handling – 10/10 – simple, sleek, efficient

Little Things

This will inevitably sound like a rant against WP7, but it needs saying. To set a context though, many of these issues were the same for the first iPhone generations, and probably Android too for that matter; you’d have thought though that entering a mature market would mean not making the same mistakes to ensure parity. Who knows, maybe Windows 8 will address these problems?

Memory of a Goldfish
One of the features I’ve come to rely on, switching between apps, is persistence. Copying text from one app to another. Flicking between web browser and email. Doing that multi-tasking thing my wife tells me I should be doing. However, trivial tasks that would be simple on an iPhone, were virtually impossible on the Nokia: web pages reloaded, draft emails disappeared, etc. I even lost the first version of this post, switching back and forth; this used go happen with draft emails on the iPhone, but its been a while since I’ve had to rely on saving drafts manually 🙁

The second draft I lost when the Nokia froze just now, for no apparent reason. D: It’s always useful to know how to force restart a phone. I’m not sure if app switching by holding <- is as amnesiac as using the standard navigation. I definitely remember this being an issue for iOS 3 but the hardware must be capable of doing more than WP7.5 is allowing.

This lack of persistence is a big issue in terms of the usefulness of the phone. No background or multi-tasking extends to many features, with file uploads, etc, requiring you to stay in an app until it has finished; thus preventing the phone from being used for anything else. Furthermore, screen locks cut network connections, so auto screen lock is not a good option if you are trying to upload files. At one point I had to sit using the iPhone to research using WP7 for AudioBoo while the Nokia was stuck uploading a voice recording for over an hour; more on that later.

Words with Friends
Sometimes, the only contact I have with my wife is over a nice game of Scrabble Words With Friends (WWF); we’ve played across oceans and continents, waiting in queues, and even across the dinner table. My wife is VERY good at letter/word games; the only time I ever beat her at Scrabble was when she was in labour! So, the lack of a WP7 version when its available on everything else, was a disappointment. The lack of Flash on WP7, despite being “announced” for Windows Phone by Adobe in 2010, even prevents the FaceBook version, along with 80% of the internet. Not sure what happened, prior to Adobe dropping mobile Flash generally, but this isn’t a matter of principle as it was for Steve Jobs. Silverlight is great, but this wasn’t the last app for me to yearn for NOT being available. I’ve already mentioned that stalwarts, like Twitter and FaceBook are behind in functionality – something Mac owners are used to in contrast to PC applications – but this starkly shows the inverted nature of the mobile space, when Microsoft is the poor cousin. Here’s an example:

AudioBoo…Audio Who? Audio BOO!
Some readers may have come across the 4m33s hash tag on Audioboo, a terse audio blog I have been running for a few years, featured on local and national radio and included in the British Library UK Sound map project (hash tag uksm)…

[And HERE I had to swap to editing this post on the web version of WordPress because THE WP7 WordPress App WOULDN’T LET ME SCROLL DOWN ANY FURTHER…! Actually, while I’m on the subject of text entry and handling web forms, etc, there are a few niggles:

  1. There is no easy way to scroll to top of web page – on iPhones tapping the top status bar does this
  2. You cannot select text in emails, even in replies (!) unless it is your own typing
  3. Positioning the text cursor is counter intuitive, with a weird press and hold then slide to try to get it in the right place, as simple tapping just selects the word, rather than position the cursor.
  4. Losing text entry focus in windows unless you manually scroll, which might be related to the problem I had in WordPress, so you cannot see what you are typing when it gets over a certain length.
  5. Bloody Search button accidental presses when lying in bed, as well as not being able to turn off auto-rotate, which is less of a text specific problem, but made worse when typing on the phone screen.

End of digression]

…ah where was I? Oh yes… so I am a big fan of AudioBoo. Surely, there’s an app for that! It’s even on the Nokia Symbian OS. However, no. There’s no WP7 version. Searching (on the iPhone 4) I discovered that you could send Voice Recorder files to BooMail. er… No. The email that Voice Recorder sends, just contains a link not an audio attachment and BooMail doesn’t pic it up. Nor does Voice Recorder allow you to edit the email, to add tags, images, etc, so scratch that; and *I* thought the Internet was always right!

Ok, another app that allows AudioBoo uploads is available… No, wait, it’s not official and according to comments doesn’t actually work. Or… Voice Memos Lite? Yes! It’s free – always good – and can send to AudioBoo or SoundCloud. Yes! Oh… no. Linking the app to AudioBoo fails because a PIN is never generated during the pairing process; AudioBoo recognises the link, but the app doesn’t. Oh, well, let’s buy the paid version that was mentioned a year ago as being in development, because the Lite version only allows one account to be connected. Maybe AudioBoo’s API has been updated…

Oh (again). There is no paid version. The web site has disappeared. The last post on the facebook page – not counting the forlorn ones from users asking where the web site has gone – is from november 2011. Looks like abandonware. So, that didn’t work either. A shame as it looked like the most promising solution.

In the end, I had to try to email myself the Voice Recorder link, which inexplicably went from being 4m59s in total length to 6m44s, which seems to imply that the counter on the recording page is wrong. So, I have up. Is there anyone who knows how to accurately record 5 minutes of audio and get it off the WP7 and up on to AudioBoo?

Mike’s Killer app suggestion number 2: an AudioBoo client


AudioBoo: 0/10 (a complete fail)

Text entry in apps and browser forms: 3/10 (predictive text was pretty good, but other aspects awful)

Next Time
Really, Cameras. Honest.

And some stuff I think the WP7 does better than iPhone 4. REally. Honest!

Well that didn’t go so well

It’s the end of the first day, and I’ve downloaded FaceBook, Twitter and WordPress and played with IE9 and Bing.
Social Apps
Both FaceBook and Twitter are pretty much what you’d expect. However, neither is really as smooth as their more polished Apple equivalents, with performance issues (stuttering scrolls) and annoying refresh problems making it hard to keep track; these were problems on the iPhone too one or two versions ago.
Well, actually this is more about the keyboard. It’s early days but generally I like the portrait keys better than the iPhone. However, the location of the Delete key seems to be annoyingly close to the CR key. After some practice I’ll probably not notice.
Bloody BING!
Which brings me to BING. I’m sorry, but it’s just a pile of crap. What makes it worse is that it has a dedicated button right there, which you cannot yet reallocate and gets hit accidentally ALL the time! The main reason I don’t like BING, apart from the fact its search is poor, is all the sponsored ads that jump all over the place. If I could remove it entirely I would. Google Search is now installed 🙂
Headphone Woes
Finally, my Sony in ear headphones are incompatible with WP7 because the mic doesn’t work 🙁
So, it looks like I’ll have to buy some new ones.
FaceBook and Twitter 6/10
Keyboard 7/10
Headphones 1/10
Camera and other stuff

OK… here we go!

Well, after receiving a nice WP7 phone to do some XNA development on, and my iPhone 4 nearing the end of its contract, and looking for a new mobile provider, and generally feeling uncomfortable with “how well” Apple devices have slotted into, and shaped my existence, I’ve decided to see if I *can* transfer all the services and conveniences that iTunes and three generations of iPhone have given me, to alternative platforms. First off, it is the Nokia Lumex 800, so the front facing camera I’m used to (occasionally) using has gone; if you had the new 900 this would be fixed, but this was a freebie, so I can’t complain.

The Nokia headphones provided are TERRIBLE, not fitting my ears at all (HTC ones are no better, sadly). Having said that, the Apple default ones are awful too and I generally buy Sony “in ear” headphones, as they help with my hearing impairment – too much head banging in my YOOFF – but the lack of on mic volume buttons means the Nokia ones HAVE TO GO! So, one change I won’t accept, but one I’d effectively already made anyway. In fact, I think over the years I have spent about a whole phone’s worth of money buying replacement headphones; this is not an exaggeration, as I’ve kept all of the various broken headphones for some art piece I may eventually get round to. So far, either an earpiece starts buzzing, or makes no sound, or is wrenched off, or the mic breaks or the plug cable wears out. I am a HEAVY podcast listener, clocking in at over 20 hours a week, so it is understandable that I will get through them at an alarming rate, but it is frustrating how expensive headphones are, when bought separately. So, the Sony MDR-EX38iP are recommended as they tend to last a few weeks longer than most, especially because the phone jack is a right angle type, rather than sticking annoyingly out to get caught and bent and broken in trouser pockets.

iTunes Withdrawal
Which leads me to the first and most major hurdle with letting go of my iPhone 4! As I said, I have a rather voracious podcast habit – mostly science, games, technology and occasional audio books – and while many slate iTunes, it is a damned convenient way to subscribe and manage podcasts, and is cross-platform; I have macs at home and a mix of windows and macs at work, but we have a few iPhones, as well as various iPods in use daily, so currently the home iMac is the default location of my audio. The first major stage then, apart from unlocking the iPhone 4 so it can go to my wife when (if?) I manage to wean myself off it, is getting my podcasts either from iTunes to the Nokia, or reproducing my subscriptions in Zune Marketplace, which many podcasts feed into. The latter is difficult as it involves me setting up a PC as my hub for the phone, but the former is a kludge, even with the new, greatly improved Mac Connector software:

So, let’s take the apparently easier path of using Mac Connector with my existing iTunes files. Mac Connector makes this relatively simple, but already I’ve got a problem. My iPhone 4 is 32GB, but the Nokia is 16GB… Time to selectively choose what podcasts I can have on the phone. Firstly, the interface for choosing what podcasts to sync to the phone is not that dissimilar to what you’d get in iTunes. However, a live feed of file size estimation is missing, until after the sync is complete. So, it’s trial and error as to whether you have picked too much content to fit onto the limited memory. Syncing also still seems MUCH slower, as the files used to be uploaded each time, rather than intelligently recognised as already being there. However, it appears that this has been fixed in the new version; doesn’t explain why it’s still slow though. And, unlike the iPhone 4, you cannot access audio while the phone is syncing, but have to unplug it from the computer. However, even quitting the Mac Connector software doesn’t release the phone functionality, which is problematic if you are trying to charge the phone at the same time! 🙁

I already have a problem, I suspect, because I’m not entirely sure if listening on the Nokia will flag to iTunes that the file has been “played”, but syncing is set to all unplayed files; I’ve already had to cut down by at least 50% what I am putting on the phone already. If Mac Connector doesn’t “set” played files for iTunes, then that is another manual task that may need completing… Let’s see, shall we…!

Talking of syncing, anyone who knows me has probably heard my rather distinctive ring tone, which I have carried since I first had a Sony Ericsson P900: It merely states in a female voice, ” is anybody there? “, which always raises a smile. However, Mac Connect has an odd idea of what is a compatible ring tone. So, I need to change hello.m4r to hello.m4a in Quicktime player, then reimport to iTunes and create an mp3 version. THEN get it onto the phone… we’ll have to wait until the podcast syncing has finished to try that.

While we’re waiting, I am looking forward to the MS Office app on the phone, as I get stupid amounts of word attachments on my work email, and being able to see stuff the way colleagues do will be an advantage. And the lack of games (sic) means it will be harder to distract me 🙂 Mind you, I HAVE to have Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook to be truly diverted. So, it’s a good thing that these are there, even if the first is rather different to what I am used to.

Right, it’s all synced and backed up now. So,let’s listen to a short podcast, in this case the BBC World Service “60 Second Idea to Change the World”, which is understandably a rather brief programme. The first thing to notice is a big “subscribe” button. Hey, maybe I can go iTunes FREE! We’ll have to see. However, the big problem I am immediately aware of is the lack of 2x play speed. Now, if you haven’t clicked yet, I listen to A LOT of podcasts, and one of the ways I do this is by using the double speed playback that iPhones allow. This does take some getting used to, but after your brain speeds up to the rapid flow of speech – rather like visiting Italy and learning Italian! – it is PAINFUL to listen at 1x playback speed as everyone seems to be speaking S O S L O W L Y! General impressions of the podcast playback, apart from the lack of double speed, is that fast forward doesn’t allow sped up audio, like the Apple playback, and on the Nokia at least, FF makes files fly past in a way that is much too quick to be really useful. Not a major thing, but this leads to my first KILLER APP idea for WP7: a decent player that can access the podcasts on the phone, but able to play at variable speeds, such as 1.5x or 2x as well as allowing FF and Rewind review of the audio. I am amazed that there is no decent podcast playback app in the marketplace.

OK, after listening, then syncing again, something sort of works in flagging files as played in iTunes, but the last played date/time is not set; not a major problem although it does make it slightly harder to see what files have been listened to, with the only indication being the far left blue ball icon. In that respect, this is also a great improvement on the first generation of Mac Connect.

Headphones functionality 6/10 (no on mic volume control; a clearly slower response to pressing the button; no option to shuffle based on double click.)

iTunes functionality 7/10 (this score based on Mac Connect, which has notably improved since I first checked it last year)

Podcast functionality 5/10 (mostly because of playback speed; no audio review option; inability to change order of podcasts in interface)

Next time
Getting my Social Apps ON!

My review of Reviews of Fez

Ok, here’s my take on @polytron and Fez. But first a disclaimer: I haven’t finished the game. But I won’t be posting links to other reviews, even though this is a piece about those reviews (Google them). But there’s a reason I feel qualified to comment. But before I explain that I’m going to summarise in one sentence so the haters can jump in to the comment section:

“Fez is about losing childhood.”

But am i ready yet to do the growing up?

Many reviews focus on the mechanics – retro 8 it platformer reflecting the days were games were real games and hard – or the multi-layered “get everyone talking in the playground (Internet forum?)” under the surface content. Some think it clever this is concealed (though what truly is when “walkthrough” is one of the most used word in search engines?) while others worry people “won’t get it”. Still a few naysayers accuse Phil Fish, who is invariably described as “outspoken” or linked to the GDC Japan games thing (Google it), of cunning manipulation. Of course, what’s always worse than a smart arse is a successful smart arse.

So, let’s take a look at what I have gleaned from “Fez: The Review: The Game” (FTRTG), which unlike “Fez: The Movie” (aka the Indie Game Movie that stubbornly resists being torrentable, and will only be shown once in the UK in Sheffield this year :-(so I’m not holding much hope of seeing any time soon) or “Fez: The Game”, which remains firmly unfinished (see my second but). Because I AM finished with FTRTG. All the various takes on Fez in print and web seem to each miss a different but important element – author’s blindspot, limited space or deadlines? – and only reading a selection can you see a growing theme. Like Gomez suddenly being aware of his 2D existence, but having a limited pallet to manipulate it, and his journey of discovery in a frankly bewildering world, I feel (yes, feel) there’s a metaphor here to our own childhood’s end (mistaken for nostalgia by many reviewers). It also cleverly refers to the mainstreamification of Games into modern culture. However, the obvious (and sometimes subtle) references aren’t only to games as some have suggested: the NYT review references meaningless hyroglyphs translated as “Help I’m a prisoner in a Fez factory” but fails to spot homage to a great children’s book “Help I’m a prisoner in a toothpaste factory” sadly, and there are other missed connections to innocent times. Fez is far deeper than many will give credit for. Maybe not deliberately on Polytron’s part, although I suspect it is, but this is, by the external requirements – QR codes, cyphers, and a (deliberately?) confusing multidimensional map – the players’ hero’s journey NOT that of Gomez.

Fez is an impressive addition to the canon of games that will require me to keep digging, and trying to not type “walkthrough” into Google. My only regret is the ephemeral nature of its meta content: will we still be able to use the QR codes in 20 years? it might take me that long, and a series of red rings, to fathom it all.

I did not like (Dan Golding’s review of ) Fez

It all started with a tweet:

@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

Something about the controversial title didn’t sit right. Checking it out, I couldn’t help feeling it was more rhetoric than reason. After reading the ‘review’ I replied on twitter asking Dan where it was going. It seemed nowhere. Dan asked if I thought his critique was unjustified. So, I said I’d read it again.

It read as a bash Fez for no reason emotional attack. Rather than calm me down, maybe think I’d over-reacted, it just made me feel more angry. So, I commented with a fairly inflammatory response. Go read his post first, and the “me too” comments; no doubt by now others may have sprung to defend him. Maybe they’re right, but something about this article is not right. Anyway, in case my reply has gone to moderator’s hell, here below is my comment on his article reproduced.

Like a previous poster, I’m going to quote this:

“But Gomez’s smile is empty and hollow. It is less a naive expression of nostalgia than it is a simpering, mincing appeal. He has nothing else to say, so he just grins.”

but not in order to praise the author. More than anything else, this piece of rhetoric belies the fact that this is a one dimensional opinion piece, playing on the topicality of attacking what is currently getting (undeserved?) praise. It’s not big, and it’s not clever. It’s just the first to burst the Fez hype balloon; like the mainstream media’s habit of building up, then tearing down people through the currency of celebrity.

The overwhelming (if temporary) love fest (fezt?) that is the specialist game journalism coverage of this long awaited Fish product is as much his creation as the game itself; wheels within wheels of viral marketing that shows a credible awareness of the culture of game and how its members can be manipulated. However, if people are happy to be gently massaged, or creatively led through a series of superficial mysteries, who are we to judge. It just makes Fish’s achievement that much more canny. This isn’t shallow propaganda, it’s effective and clever marketing.

The author introduces the idea of “smart” indie games without justification, then straw man argues against his own categorisation as judgemental, then states that all video games would not stand up to Ballet, should we slip down the slope of cultural comparison.


Most reviews of Fez appear to be joyful description of play, rather than actual critique – for example – but this article presents itself as a critique:
@dangolding: I did not like Fez. Here’s why:

@DoctorMikeReddy: @dangolding ok, but what next. Your piece starts but doesn’t end. Where should we go?

@dangolding: @DoctorMikeReddy Well, it’s a critique, not a manifesto. I don’t want to dictate directions so much as analyze current trends.
*** Twitter ***

However, there is no meaningful analysis or identification of trends. It just resorts to a superficial description of what it describes as nostalgia, namely jumping and rotating, which doesn’t “say” anything.

Phil Fish doesn’t need to say anything; given his recent GDC running off at the mouth, this is probably a good thing. However, he maybe does need to “work the room” to make sales – something we should openly debate – and this he has done with remarkable success. To attack elements of the game instead of debating Fish’s multi-pronged technique to build interest in a long in the tooth product, just comes across as jealousy. Perhaps Dan resents the effectiveness of this manipulation, as I can’t see any other reasonable explanation for the vitriol. I can understand this, if it is accurate, but let’s call a spade a spade. Fez encourages a sense of (often bewildering) exploration, both within and without the game. A depth Dan’s article would do well to emulate.