Nintendo’s doubling down on the gamepad + screen combination, and their successor to the Wii U looks like they’ve finally got it right. Well, maybe not right — we don’t even know the specs or price yet — but the Switch seems far more functionally fascinating than it’s predecessor. I’m particularly intrigued with the two wireless slide-out controllers, which mirror button layouts to allow for two-player play.
My main concern relates to build quality, and whether the constant attaching / detaching of controllers and screen will feel like a premium experience. If the side slots for the controllers are a little loose or the screen doesn’t fit snuggly into its case, the whole device will feel cheap. Modularity aids in adaptability, but it also raises the risk that any one piece could condemn the whole.
I’m happy to see Nintendo continue pushing into the mobile space with their own hardware. Although I appreciate that I’ll be able to get games like Super Mario Run on my iPhone, I also want a thriving, competitive mobile gaming industry. iOS and Android dominate the casual gaming market, but there’s definitely room for a high quality, high performing, mobile gaming device.
We’ll have to wait for more details, but I’m optimistic. If I have one complaint, it’s how large and unsightly the “Nintendo Switch” logo looks on the console casing. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?
Before his first few appearances as a teenage striker for Arsenal, Alex Iwobi used to cast his eye over the names of the opposition team, trying to identify his direct opponent.
In most cases, he would find himself up against a player he had never faced. His manager, Arsène Wenger, and Arsenal’s coaching staff would offer counsel, but in lieu of experience Iwobi also would turn to another trusted resource.
“I’d look at his name,” he said, “and then try to remember how good he was on FIFA.”
Other sports video games have similar systems for viewing digital player data, but none have the same global reach or popularity as FIFA.
Bruce Schneier, cybersecurity expert and fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard:
The problem isn’t the users: it’s that we’ve designed our computer systems’ security so badly that we demand the user do all of these counterintuitive things. Why can’t users choose easy-to-remember passwords? Why can’t they click on links in emails with wild abandon? Why can’t they plug a USB stick into a computer without facing a myriad of viruses? Why are we trying to fix the user instead of solving the underlying security problem? […]
We must stop trying to fix the user to achieve security. We’ll never get there, and research toward those goals just obscures the real problems. Usable security does not mean “getting people to do what we want.” It means creating security that works, given (or despite) what people do.
Digital security is already a paramount issue in our current world; yet, in practice, “usable security” is often neither. It’s going to take a large amount of educating and designing before users can stay safe despite doing “what people do” online.
I’m curious which you find more enjoyable: Mr. Ginter’s writing or his product photography. I appreciate his skill in both.
Regarding the review, I was somewhat relieved to see Mr. Ginter reference something I’ve noticed on my own iPhone 7:
On occasion, I’ve found the iPhone 7 Plus’ A10 Fusion chip to be too fast for the new home button. iOS will begin to return to the home screen before I can double press the button to bring up the multi-tasking app switcher. It’s not a bad experience at all, it’s just a small downside of the new home button.
A small downside for sure, and a flaw I attribute far more to iOS than the new home button engineering. Even double pressing as rapidly as possible on my iPhone 7, the home screen feint is still present, and I’d wager a future software update will fix the issue.
But for the average consumer, the thrill of virtual-reality gaming with PlayStation VR may be fleeting. Initially, virtual reality will probably mesmerize you because it’s so unlike any gaming experience you have ever had. But the scarce number of good games available today, combined with the fatigue you will experience after 30 minutes of game play, may drive you back to gaming on your smartphone or television screen.
Adi Robertson, reviewing the Sony PlayStation VR for The Verge:
All this adds up to a system that is, more than anything else, good enough. There’s no one game that justifies buying PlayStation VR, and no technical breakthrough that will revolutionize how you experience the medium. But it offers a balanced, interesting launch catalog and a headset that’s a joy to wear, with weak points that hurt the system but don’t cripple it. It effectively costs more than an actual PlayStation 4 console, but for many people, it’s still within the range of a holiday splurge or a generous gift. And it’s got the backing of a company that, even if it’s being cautious with VR, seems in it for the long haul.
Twitch Prime is an expansion of, and eventual replacement for, Twitch’s Turbo scheme. Twitch Prime includes Turbo benefits like storing broadcasts for 60 days, exclusive emotes, and removing ads, then throws in extras. Twitch Prime members will get a new freebie every month, like free games or cosmetic guff for free-to-play games. They also get a free month’s subscription to one channel every month (which means access to things like subs-only streams) and the channel still gets paid for it, which is nice.
If you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber, Twitch Prime membership is included at no extra cost. However, unlike the now-defunct Twitch Turbo, Twitch Prime is not being offered as a standalone upgrade; if you want Twitch Prime, you buy Amazon Prime. This differs from what Amazon has done with Audible, their audiobook arm, where an Audible subscription remains independent from any existing Amazon Prime membership.1
If you already have Amazon Prime, play video games, but have little interest in Twitch, there’s one other reason you might consider signing up. Users who link their Twitch and Amazon accounts will receive discounts on new-release games sold through Amazon, for up to two weeks after launch. By preserving prelaunch discounts for two weeks, I hope more people avoid preordering and wait for the reviews to hit.
Audible Channels, however, which normally cost $60/year, are included for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member. I know, it’s confusing. ↩︎
Blizzard Entertainment, regarding the deprecation and diversification of what was once collectively called Battle.net:
Battle.net technology will continue to serve as the central nervous system for Blizzard games—nothing is changing in that regard. We’ll just be referring to our various products and services using the Blizzard name instead. You’ve already seen this recently with things like “Blizzard Streaming” and “Blizzard Voice,” and more changes are on the way.
I always thought Battle.net was a great name (and domain), but as Blizzard has grown and expanded into other areas, it makes sense to start branding their technologies directly under the company’s name.
Thanks to the expanded Taptic Engine, we’ve been able to pinpoint exciting moments in a run and tie them to more precise vibrational feedback. Now, you’ll feel a nice jolt of satisfaction upon collecting a wayward llama or sliding over an ice boost. The golden burst of a super coin or powdery landing of a huge combo will hopefully be a little more thrilling.
I’ve played a few rounds, and Haptic Feedback does make the game feel slightly more engaging. If anything, getting physical feedback for onscreen events brings iPhone closer to the experience of console controllers, which have used vibrational feedback for years.
Having experienced Haptic Feedback for a couple of weeks now, I’m fairly confident this type of subtle physical feedback will fall under the category of iPhone features — along with buttery-smooth scrolling and keyboard performance — that you won’t always remember exist, but will certainly notice when using devices without them.
Details are sparse, but here’s Rebecca Ford for The Hollywood Reporter:
Good Universe is teaming with independent video game developer and publishing company Campo Santo to develop content for both video games and feature films. The companies will create a home for talent to develop projects that can bridge both the video game and feature film worlds. Their first project with be a film adaptation of Campo Santo’s first video game, Firewatch.
Browsing through Good Universe’s past work, there’s very little that carries the tone and cinematography I imagine a Firewatch film would have, but who’s to say. I doubt many saw a Panic-backed video game either.
An interesting bit buried in Ms. Ford’s piece is that Firewatch “has sold almost 1 million copies to date.” The last sales estimate I could find was from Panic’s Cabel Sasser back in March, where he pegged the number at “around 500,000”.
Editor’s note: Just over a year ago, I purchased an Apple Watch and intended to write up some thoughts and observations. That draft then made its way into a soup of other text files, and I eventually forgot about it. However, this past week, I stumbled back across my old notes, and given the recent launch of Apple Watch Series Two, I thought it would be fun to publish my thoughts on the previous model. Readers should note that although these observations were written over a year ago, I did take an hour to do some light copyediting, as the original was not quite publish ready.
Furthermore, the Apple Watch I purchased a year ago doesn’t technically exist anymore. When Apple announced Series Two, they also upgraded the processors in the now-available Apple Watch Series One. One could make an argument for calling my model Apple Watch Series Zero, but such an argument would be laughed out of the AF newsroom.
What I will miss most about my Apple Watch is the Sport Band. I think you could focus an entire review on the variety of bands and the incredibly intuitive latching mechanism. Truly, I’ve never worn anything quite as comfortable as when I wore my Apple Watch.
Wore, as in the past tense. I no longer own an Apple Watch, primarily due to what I saw as the functionality to cost ratio being tipped ever so slightly in the wrong direction. This cost-benefit analysis will probably go through the minds of many first generation Apple Watch buyers, although I’m sure many will end up keeping theirs. For me, it was a little too much money for too little functionality.
At my local Apple Store, I tried on the 42mm Apple Watch Sport edition in black. I paired it with the high-performance fluoroelastomer1 with pin-and-tuck closure Sport Band. $450 later, they were mine. Around three days after that, they were Apple’s again. What follows are some of my initial impressions of the hardware, software, and how they’re trying to come together.
WatchOS feels constrained, but in a good way. Constraints force us to make tough design decisions, and Apple’s decisions tend to be in favor of the simple and intuitive. Some of these decisions work better than others, but some of my favorites were: tilt your wrist, see the time; push through the screen (Force Touch) and you could change the watch face; spin the Digital Crown too far past the end of a list, and the watch would vibrate like a rubber band had snapped.
Overall, I liked WatchOS. Part of my enjoyment is because there are so many new design patterns, all created for this tiny screen on a flagship product. Of anything related to software, I’m most excited to see how Apple molds and matures the design language of WatchOS in the future.
Price was the primary factor when it came to choosing an Apple Watch model. However, even if I had been comfortable paying for the normal Apple Watch in stainless steel, I don’t think I go home with anything but the Sport edition. This is for two reasons: a.) personally, I find the aluminum to be more aesthetically appealing than the stainless steel, and b.) my primary usage of Apple Watch would be centered around fitness, so the lighter, more sporty model makes sense.
Getting access to WatchOS means that my iPhone also now had access to the Activity app, which tracks and logs your, well, activities. The health data is what you’d expect from this type of fitness tracker, but I already get many of the provided data points from my current wearable: a Fitbit HR. After going running, the data from both devices was similar, and from a purely data perspective, it really comes down to what you do with the data that makes the whole experience something more compelling.2
With Apple Watch, the data exists, but that’s about it. On the other hand, Fitbit’s accompanying app lets your data be used as a motivator for both you and your network. I’m biased and conditioned to want this type of thing — I’ve been using my Fitbit for a number of months — but the lack of any friend-based competition makes the experience with Apple Watch feel lonely. This is a shame, because one of the best parts of owning a Fitbit is getting to see how you’re doing against all your friends. Daily steps, as simple a metric they are, can be a huge motivator to get back outside and log a few more laps around the apartment; particularly if you’re just a couple hundred of steps behind 1st place.
When compared to other trackers, Apple Watch isn’t just competing on features; many times it will have to compete against a pre-existing support network.
Ironically, given my enjoyment of tracking fitness data, the health-related feature I enjoyed most were the hourly reminders to stand up and walk around. It was a great example of how Apple Watch could slide into the background, but also help you make small improvements to your daily health.
Health and fitness feel secondary to Apple Watch’s main functionality: offloading notifications from your phone to your wrist.3 After a couple of hours, I found not needing my phone to triage notifications a pleasant experience, which is a far cry from the torment I was prepared for. This positive reaction can be attributed in large part to the excellence of the Taptic Engine, which offers a very satisfying, and convincing, tapping sensation. This subtle, silent form of notification is pulled off to near perfection, and you really need to feel it for yourself to understand. When a notification comes in, I felt a small tapping on my wrist, at which point I could turn my watch upward to reveal a slick little animation that ushers new content onto the screen. It worked great, and I loved the vibrant colors and typography, underscored by the superb San Francisco Compact typeface.4
However, interacting with notifications quickly became a one-way street. Notifications could come in, but responding and interacting with them was a mixed bag of emotions. This was particularly maddening when replying to text messages. On WatchOS, the only way to create text on-the-fly is to dictate your message to Siri.
Once you’ve finished dictating your message, there is no way to edit it. You get one shot, which leaves you at the mercy of Siri and her a.) availability and b.) accuracy - neither of which performed well for me. Often times the whole experience with Siri would veer from excitement to “what just happened”.
Apple Watch tries to do a lot, but it’s currently at a cost that was hard to justify. Of all the apps I tried using, the only two that were partially useful were OmniFocus and Due. OmniFocus let me quickly check off items as I was doing them, and Due’s reminders were a fantastic demo of how useful notifications can be on your wrist. That’s just two apps, out of tens that I had available.
I feel somewhat confident in saying that Apple Watch is in the same place that the original iPhone was at launch: polished in many areas, but lacking functionality. I’m hopeful that Apple Watch can mature into a compelling product, especially once the SDK is out, but it’s not there yet. For some, the health benefits may justify the price, but the overall performance and functionality doesn’t do it for me. If you want an Apple Watch purely for the fitness abilities, I’d encourage you to first check out the competition. If, however, you want Apple Watch for the coolness, then go pick one up. It was undeniably cool.
Only having it for a couple days meant that I will have obviously missed many of the subtleties that would accompany a week or more of usage. My ownership began and ended within a work week, so I didn’t use it over a weekend. Additionally, I probably didn’t get more than 75 total notifications; although that’s probably more about my popularity than anything applicable to this piece.
Those things being said, now that I’ve returned everything, I do find myself missing things about Apple Watch. I’ll miss most everything about the physical interactions: the Taptic Engine, the Digital Crown, the Sport Band. I’ll also miss some of the ways it augmented my usage of certain apps, albeit most apps seemed to provide just short of the enjoyment threshold needed in order to be worth using at all.
Apple Watch felt like a device with tremendous potential, and for something permanently attached to your body, it was incredibly comfortable and svelte. However, much like child of a product it is, there are indicators all throughout the experience that Apple Watch isn’t sure what it wants to be when it grows up. Time will certainly tell.
Whenever it comes to personal data, particularly personal health data, privacy is paramount. However, I’m not arguing for any sort of Game Center-style integration (although that does play into the gamification of exercise); rather, I’d be more interested in a Find My Friends approach, where the data sharing process is both granular and intentional. I’m not sure why this sort of thing isn’t there at launch. ↩︎
Ultimately, there’s not a lot you can do within WatchOS 1.0. The software is limited to displaying apps that do all of their processing on your phone, which ultimately means that you spend a decent bit of time waiting for apps to launch, waiting for data to be refreshed, and waiting for calculations to be performed. It’s not a good experience. ↩︎
Francisco Sans might have been fun too, although I’m sure west coast natives would have my head for bastardizing the name like that. ↩︎
To close us out for the night, here’s co-creator of OpenType itself, Microsoft:
Today, we are announcing the biggest enhancement to OpenType since the OpenType specification was first released nineteen years ago: OpenType Font Variations. […]
Variable fonts will also give document creators a broad palette of typographic features without having to manage hundreds of font files. Variable fonts are all about doing more with less. […]
The Windows engineering team at Microsoft is actively engaged in implementing platform support for OpenType Font Variations for release in an update to Windows in 2017. Some very-limited functionality is already present in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, and more complete functionality will be visible in Windows Insider preview builds in the coming months.
Nice to see an actual, albeit fuzzy, target date mixed in with all of the other co-announcements today. I also like the “doing more with less” part from above; it succinctly conveys what variable fonts are all about.
As for getting early access to variable fonts — well, that just might be this year’s most compelling argument for installing Windows at all.
John Hudson penned a joint announcement for Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Adobe, introducing the variable font format, which is set to be introduced with OpenType 1.8. Medium tells me the whole piece takes about 23 minutes to read, so I’ve gone ahead and picked out some of the better bits:
The technology behind variable fonts is officially called OpenType Font Variations. It has been jointly developed by Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Adobe, in an unprecedented collaborative effort also involving technical experts from font foundries and font tool developers.
A variable font is a single binary with greatly-reduced comparable file size and, hence, smaller disc footprint and webfont bandwidth. This means more efficient packaging of embedded fonts, and faster delivery and loading of webfonts. The potential for dynamic selection of custom instances within the variations design space — or design-variations space, to use its technical name — opens exciting prospects for fine tuning the typographic palette, and for new kinds of responsive typography that can adapt to best present dynamic content to a reader’s device, screen orientation, or even reading distance.
Within the design space created by the axes of variation in a font, the font maker can define specific positions as named instances. A named instance appears to users as if it were a separate font, e.g. a Light or Bold weight of a typeface, and can be utilised in documents exactly as if it were an individual non-variable font. Because these named instances are defined as coordinate positions within the design space, and not as masters, there is a great deal of freedom for the font maker in deciding how to arrange and name instances, and in fine-tuning the interpolation of the named instances.
Because OpenType Font Variations is a new technology, it requires substantial updates to font handling infrastructure in operating systems and/or applications, and has very limited backwards compatibility; this also differs between the TrueType and CFF flavours.
Five more-or-less common axes of variation have registered axis tags in the OpenType Font Variations specification — Weight , Width , Optical size , Italic , and Slant — and these have some assumed behaviours. Font makers can also define custom axes with their own four-character tags and localisable names stored as strings in the ‘name’ table. Additional common axis tags may be registered in future, if these emerge as font makers engage with the technology.
In the twenty years since OpenType was first invented, it has only grown more confusing, with the addition of new name IDs for specific platforms and style-mapping models. The concatenation of style names in fonts follow no fixed pattern among font makers, and may reach to ludicrous lengths. What one font maker calls ‘Acme UltraBlack Condensed Display Roman’ another may call ‘Acme Roman Super Black Display Condensed’.
Like so much else driving change in the font business, a big part of the answer is webfonts, and the need for more compact and faster ways to deliver dynamic fonts for the Web. Variable fonts also have the potential to enable new kinds of typography for electronic documents, responsive to things like device orientation or even viewing distance. Compact and faster fonts also provide significant advantages for embedding fonts in devices, especially for East Asian (CJK) and other fonts with very large glyph sets and character coverage. The smaller device and disc footprint of variable fonts has been a major factor in encouraging support for the technology in software companies.
It will be important for tools to provide font makers with intuitive ways to navigate the potentially complex design space of variable fonts with multiple axes, intermediate delta sets, and axis variation. As discussed previously, maintaining flexibility in the relationship of design masters and the arrangement of variations in a font will enable font makers to tailor fonts to the needs of customer.
There’s a lot more in this piece, but a good deal of it revolves around the technical sides of the variable font spec. I find that stuff fascinating, but I’m already at, if not way over, what I consider a reasonable amount of quotes from a font format proposal. Regardless, the amount of thought, work, and collaboration that went into this format appears to be staggering.
(Pro tip: the appendix and table terms is at the bottom of the post — no need to have Google open in another window like yours truly.)
In what amounts to humor in a font format announcement post, I enjoyed when Mr. Hudson began discussing how Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Adobe were working to integrate variable font support into their browsers and operating systems. On Apple:
Apple, characteristically, are least forthcoming about future plans, but they have a head start on variable font support in their TrueType GX infrastructure, and have played an active role in bringing the technology to OpenType.
“Least forthcoming” may be one of the more kinder assessments of Apple’s future plan disclosure policy.
Tim Brown, Head of Typography for Adobe Tyepkit and Adobe Type:
Just minutes ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, the world was introduced to a new kind of font: a variable font. Jointly developed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, a variable font is, as John Hudson put it, “a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts”. Imagine a single font file gaining an infinite flexibility of weight, width, and other attributes without also gaining file size — and imagine what this means for design.
There’s a lot to digest here, but the gist is this: much smaller font file sizes; incredible control and granularity over presentation; and (arguably most importantly) collaboration from big vendors. This isn’t just noble effort, either; all of this technology is being built into the OpenType format:
To facilitate just such advancements, people from our four companies (along with notable independent contributors) have been collaborating for more than half a year on a significant improvement to the OpenType font file specification that now includes a new technology: OpenType Font Variations, which allows type designers to interpolate a font’s entire glyph set or individual glyphs along up to 64,000 axes of variation (weight, width, etc.), and define specific positions in the design space as named instances (“Bold”, “Condensed”, etc.).
(That last bit answers one of my biggest questions: given an extremely customizable format, how do you guide usage towards simple, sensible configurations?)
It’s clear there’s still a long way to go, and Mr. Brown calls on type designers, browser vendors, and web standards groups to help get it done. Yet, even in its infancy, variable fonts seem downright impressive. Color me excited.
Alexis Kennedy, founder of Failbetter Games, wrote a great piece on the psychology of indie studios as they develop then launch their games. He interweaves his own experience with the presumed mindset at Hello Games, which results in a sound and empathetic take on No Man’s Sky’s launch.
The whole piece is worth a read, but this bit about buying games stuck out to me:
IT HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER TO FIND OUT EXACTLY WHAT A GAME IS LIKE ON LAUNCH DAY, AND IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS, YOU CAN WAIT A WEEK AND YOU CAN BE ABSOLUTELY SURE.
It’s not Kickstarter, it’s not politics, it’s not marriage. You’re not buying land in the Wild West or shares in a startup or payment protection insurance. You’re not being sold drugs or gambling. Whatever you think of Metacritic and the gaming press, a couple of days after launch they had done their job, and you could find out with one Google query that NMS was a 70/100, or in English, Buy With Caution If You Like That Sort Of Thing.
Somewhat buried by all the news surrounding Apple’s recent product event, Google announced that it will be using Chrome’s strength in the browser market to push for HTTPS everywhere. This will come in the form of, eventually, all HTTP pages being labeled with red Not secure messages in the address bar. Emily Schechter, for the Chrome Security Team:
Studies show that users do not perceive the lack of a “secure” icon as a warning, but also that users become blind to warnings that occur too frequently. Our plan to label HTTP sites more clearly and accurately as non-secure will take place in gradual steps, based on increasingly stringent criteria. Starting January 2017, Chrome 56 will label HTTP pages with password or credit card form fields as “not secure,” given their particularly sensitive nature.
In following releases, we will continue to extend HTTP warnings, for example, by labelling HTTP pages as “not secure” in Incognito mode, where users may have higher expectations of privacy. Eventually, we plan to label all HTTP pages as non-secure, and change the HTTP security indicator to the red triangle that we use for broken HTTPS.
That last sentence should hit hard, because this is a huge change in the world’s most popular web browser. It’s also just the latest step in Google’s quest for all HTTPS all the time. Two years ago, on their official Webmaster blog, Google hinted at the importance of secured content by announcing that HTTPS would become one of the ranking signals used to determine where search results appear on the page:
For now it’s only a very lightweight signal—affecting fewer than 1% of global queries, and carrying less weight than other signals such as high-quality content—while we give webmasters time to switch to HTTPS. But over time, we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.
Google search rankings are important, but arguably less so than they used to be. Folks are getting more of their news and content from social networks, so there’s a diminishing influence Google can have on encouraging users and webmasters to use HTTPS. However, slapping a big red Not secure message on every HTTP URL — now that’s a direct statement. Additionally, because this change is in Chrome itself, there’s no way to circumvent Google’s opinion on the security of the page you’re on. If a page isn’t secure, they want you to know.
This is good for the web. Even so, I can’t help but feel a little melancholy. My first webpage, and many of the ones I first enjoyed on the web were all simple HTML, served over plain HTTP. Seeing an HTTPS page usually meant you were at your bank’s website or on a checkout page. To think, in a few years, someone’s first webpage will be adorned with a red Not secure label is a little disheartening. Even with services like Let’s Encrypt, which offer free SSL certificates, it still takes some technical knowhow and server access in order to enable and maintain a good HTTPS connection. The bar has been raised.
However, there’s no reasonable argument for HTTP over HTTPS. With today’s premium on privacy, secured content is only going to become more important; a basic web-citizen’s right, even. The future is HTTPS everywhere, and Google’s not waiting around.
Fun, thumping supercut of all the announcements from today’s Apple event. The tight editing, upbeat tiempo, and typography are similar to Apple’s 40 Years in 40 Seconds video, released earlier this year, but this new one feels more youthful. My favorite bit: “Oh yeah and the headphone jack from over 100 years ago has been removed (shocker)”.
(The heavier San Francisco weight looks great too.)
Update: This spot was done by NYC-based creative studio Gretel. Excellent work.