It’s no secret that I’m a fan of paper airplanes, so it comes as no surprise that I’m enjoying the latest game from Pangea Software. The venerable creators of my favorite classic Mac games have a modern iOS hit on their hands with Air Wings. After re-releasing some older OS X games on the App Store like Nanosaur 2, Bugdom 2, and Cro-Mag Rally, Pangea has moved on to new material.
Air Wings puts you behind the controls of a maneuverable paper airplane, flying through a variety of household environments like a cardboard box fort or a sandbox. You pick up weapons (spitballs, rubber bands, pencil missiles, etc) to engage in multiplayer online battle through Game Center.
The controls are similar to any other accelerometer-based flight game. Tilt the iDevice to direct your plane and use buttons to fire, select weapons, boost, or calibrate the accelerometer. There’s a pretty low flight ceiling, so don’t expect to haul up on your iPhone to pull a loop and get the drop on a tailing opponent – you’ll just straighten out into a level flight at max altitude. Controls are responsive and can be adjusted for sensitivity. The 3D graphics are nice, but hardly revolutionary. It’s a lot like Bugdom in that respect, set in a miniature environment filled with everyday objects like flashlights and concrete blocks.
Unlike Pangea’s other games, Air Wings uses a freemium payment model. This means that the app is free to download and play, but you can pay via in-app purchases to unlock more planes and maps. By default you can use only the most basic plane and one combat arena. This isn’t too bad though, since multiplayer battles take place in any randomized map whether you’ve bought it or not. Buying a map just allows you to use it for practice flights. The plane upgrades are worth buying, since the basic “Dart” airplane is easily outdone by the upgraded models. There are two upgrade packs for purchase, each containing two airplanes. I recommend getting only the second plane pack if you’re strapped for cash, since it gives you the extremes (the fastest, least durable plane and the toughest, slowest one) to nicely round out your arsenal. The game includes unobtrusive iAds which are removed by purchasing any upgrade.
Air Wings is the first multiplayer game I’ve played that uses Game Center for matching opponents, and it works remarkably well. You can invite friends or compete against up to three random opponents. The game builds in audio support, so you can chat with your enemies as you shoot them from the sky. Don’t worry – this can be disabled if they get upset and start shouting profanities (or if they don’t speak your language!) Game Center doesn’t seem to match players by skill or award visible points for wining or losing, but it does keep a tally of your worldwide rank just like any other game.
Overall, this is a great simple flying game for iOS. It’s not a flight sim, and it’s not for tweakers or achievement hunters. You’re not scored, nor can you change or customize your planes. But if you want to take a few minutes to strafe another paper airplane with rubber bands, sticky darts, and firecracker mines, it’s a lot of fun. After only a few hours, Air Wings has earned a permanent place in my Games folder.
Lukas Mathis wants iOS to adopt some things from HP/Palm’s ill-fated webOS.
I had no idea webOS was this awesome.
I got an iPhone 4S last month, and I’ve been wondering how to review it properly. The problem is that so much has been written about Apple’s latest phone since its October release that there’s not much to add. If you’re thinking of buying one, chances are you know all about it already. So I opted instead for a quick bullet-point breakdown of how it’s treating me:
- The outside of the 4S is the same as the 4. It was the thinnest smartphone last year, but it’s not anymore. It’s positively chunky compared to an iPod touch.
- The glass and stainless steel sandwich feels incredibly solid. I’m not as afraid of breaking the glass as I thought I’d be.
- The rear camera is really good. Not as good as my Nikon Coolpix S8100, but that’s up at the high end of point-and-shoot cameras. It compares very well to my old Sony Cybershot or my girlfriend’s camera. I use it all the time, while my Nikon sits and waits for LEGO photo shoots.
- The front camera is not so good. It’s only useful for cheesy self-portraits and checking your hair after a windy bike ride. And FaceTime, but I’ve never tried that even once.
- The volume buttons on the side are much more reliable than the rocker on my old iPod touch. The home button still gets dust permanently stuck in it. My black iPod got white fuzz stuck in the button within a week, and my white iPhone got black dust in there. Speaking from experience, it won’t ever come out.
- I bought the white one. I’m still a big fan of Apple’s “white phase,” probably because I was re-introduced to the Apple world through a white iPod 4g, my friend’s white iMac, and my white MacBook.
- It’s really fast. Far faster than my girlfriend’s iPhone 4, and I’ve yet to experience any lag or app crashes. Such a massive difference from my glacial iPod touch.
- The Retina Display is outstanding. I knew it was good from trying out the demo models in the Apple Store, but it’s something else entirely when you see it every day. Every other screen now looks washed-out and blocky. I do wish the screen was slightly bigger though – 4″ might be the sweet spot without getting unwieldily.
- Battery life is disappointing. I’m a heavy user, meaning that I use it for about an hour straight in the morning as I comb through my RSS feeds. Then I listen to podcasts for the next six hours at work. At night I play Super Crate Box like a crack addict and read Instapaper. All this makes it stoop below 20% battery by the end of the day, and I often end up charging it a little around 5 pm. Even if I barely used it, I doubt I could stretch the battery for two days. The iPhone 4, on the other hand, accomplishes this with ease. We’ll see if iOS 5.1 helps, but it’s pretty clear that the A5 chip is sucking a lot of power.
- iOS 5 is a huge step up from 4.2. There’s a lot that’s changed, but suffice to say that I’m mostly satisfied.
- Apple integrates Twitter with the OS, but not Facebook. It would be great if any service could use this integration, much like they can on Android or WP7. I’d kill for integrated Flickr or Instapaper.
- Apple needs better stock wallpapers. The gray rain background just doesn’t do it for me, but thankfully the internet has thousands of decent replacements.
- Siri is ok, but it gets a lot wrong. Keep in mind that Siri is clearly a work in progress, and I’d expect to see it get better over time.
- Notification Center is handy, but needs to be more visible. My girlfriend, for example, never thinks to use it.
- Same with the multitasking drawer. And would it kill Apple to rotate the icons in the drawer when the iPhone is in landscape?
- I haven’t jailbroken it, but I probably will once my warranty expires. Jailbreaking made my iPod touch incredibly slow and unstable, but it let me play Pokémon on a handheld again. That’s almost worth the tradeoff, but we’ll see if I can handle it on my phone in a year or so. There’s also the issue that jailbreaks are getting harder and harder and can’t handle each new software update.
- I thought I’d use a case far more than I do. I have the Smallworks Brickcase and the Apple Bumper. Unlike most people, I actually love the Bumper. It doesn’t make the phone too thick in my pocket and gives just the right feel to the iPhone’s hard edges. I use it when I need to use my phone in lab a lot, because the raised edges mean I can put my phone on the lab bench without worrying about scratches or the bench’s cleanliness.
- I don’t use the Brickcase as much, but it looks great and provides a lot more protection. I’m ordering some 2×1 plates on Bricklink to make a retro Apple logo on the case, which will make me want to use it a lot more. This is basically the perfect case for a geeky convention like Brickworld or Macworld, which I hope to attend one of these years.
- Service is great, even in my house that AT&T couldn’t deign to cover. It’s my first Verizon phone, so I haven’t seen much of the company yet. I will say that purchasing it took forever, but the salesman was actually quite helpful. It probably didn’t hurt that I knew exactly what I wanted and had no interest in looking at anything else.
Overall, the 4S is an evolutionary upgrade from my trusty old iPod touch. It’s a little bigger, but the screen size and OS remain pretty much the same. It’s far more reliable, but it hasn’t changed my life since the iPod already accomplished that. If you need a new phone, I’d recommend it over any other smartphone right now, primarily due to the great apps on iOS. Despite Android pushing out some interesting new designs and WP7 looking sharp with the Nokia Lumia, Apple is still the gold standard. iOS 5 is far from perfect, and the 4S’s design is over a year old, but they’re still better than anything else out there. Just please don’t drown the iPhone in a huge boxy case – it can hold up fine on its own and will look far better. Keep in mind that it costs $700 to replace, and you’ll treat it right regardless of what it’s wrapped in.
To continue with my series of posts wrapping up the first year of legomac, I thought I’d share my writing and publishing workflow. I always like hearing how other people work, and I think my strategy is a little unusual.
From what I’ve gathered, there are two main established systems for publishing a blog. If you’re a casual writer, the browser suffices. Typing directly into WordPress or any other service is easy and fast. The other way, usually for more serious bloggers, is to choose a favorite text editor like TextEdit, Byword, or MarsEdit and save posts to your hard drive. After editing, posts are uploaded to the website and published.
I dislike WordPress’s browser composition page, so I tried experimenting with text editors last year to find one I liked. That wasn’t perfect either, since few programs let you seamlessly sync between a computer and an iOS device. That’s gotten a lot easier with the advent of a whole new genre of minimalist writing apps which invariably sync well. At the time though, nothing fit my needs. Another problem was the limitations of writing in plain text. As the name implies, plain text prohibits style formatting unless one writes in Markdown or HTML, and including all that code was a real pain while writing. I’m much more of a GUI type, and I’d much prefer just hitting command-b.
So I resolved my dilemma by turning to the oldest tool I could find – email. The issues I was running into with sync, saving drafts, and formatting were all solved by the Apple Mail client on the Mac. WordPress allows users to post via email, so I just compose a new message, style it however I want with Mail’s capable formatting controls, and hit send. I can even include inline photos, videos, or tags with ease.
The best part is the ease of transferring drafts to any other device. I use my iCloud account with legomac, so I can fire up iCloud.com on any computer and have an attractive and full-featured writing app at a moment’s notice. I’ll never lose a draft or lack a complete history of every post I’ve ever sent.
At this point, you might be wondering how this all translates to my iPhone. After all, iCloud.com doesn’t work in mobile Safari, and the iOS Mail app doesn’t do formatting. For composing on the go, as I am right now, I use iOS 5′s handy text expansion feature. I’ve configured shortcuts for the most common HTML style commands, and now I only need to type a few letters to autofill a command that would take forever to type on a touchscreen. For example, this blog uses links in every single post. On my iPhone, I type “href” and get “text” instead. Pasting in the URL is a piece of cake. I can do bold and italic text in the same way.
This system is both efficient and platform-agnostic, yet completely native on the devices I use every day. The many minimal writing apps on the App Store look great, but what’s more minimal than using the default Mail apps? It works for me, better than I thought it would. Now bus rides to work can be spent composing a new post, and it’ll be available on my work computer as soon as I arrive. It’s the future, using the tools of the past.
I’m a huge fan of old-school platformers. I freely admit bias in that area of gaming, but nevertheless I think this new iOS game looks incredibly fun. Not only does the developer stay true to the old monochrome palette and chiptunes, but someone finally understands how to make platformer controls! So many of the classic old games are ruined on a touchscreen by tiny virtual buttons, but this game needs only a tap on the right or left side of the screen. So simple, but so commonly overlooked. Will this sell like hotcakes? Most likely not, but I’ll buy it. Oh yes, and the 3D gameplay twist promises to make it play like a unique game, not just another Mario clone.
tap tap tap has an excellent breakdown of some virtually unknown iPhone shortcuts. Seriously, I had no idea most of these existed. 100% image zoom in Safari? 2-finger double tap. Page up or down? Double tap on the bottom or top third of the screen. My favorite is the autocorrect trick that allows you to easily type “we’ll”, “its”, “she’ll”, etc. iOS catches missing apostrophes well, but some words are still words when you remove the apostrophe. To skip the pesky apostrophe and get “we’ll” instead of “well”, simply type “welll”. Similar shortcuts for the others. I’m going to have fun playing with these and reveling in my newfound typing prowess.
Apple is obviously the bad guy in the mobile gaming space, removing the DOS emulators and giving the C64 emulator a hard time. You can’t find any classic emulators for GameBoy or PlayStation at all (unless you jailbreak of course, then it’s easy). Besides with the release of the truly exceptionally-marketed Sony XPeria Play, who wants to play any games on a touchscreen anyways? Apple is clearly doomed – there is no easy way to play outdated games designed for decades-old consoles on their 2011 phone.
But wait! Engadget tells us that Google just pulled ZodTTD’s PSX4Droid emulator from its market. I thought Android was open and the market was unregulated! That’s what makes it so awesome, right? Well, it looks like Google prefers not to upset its handset manufacturers by offering a way to pirate the very games Sony now hopes to sell in its new XPeria store. Who would have thought?
Now it’s just as easy to install a PS emulator on Android as it is on iOS. Jailbreak (or root), void your warranty, and off you go. No big deal, unless you need a repair or tech support. Besides, who do you even talk to about Android support anyway? My guess is internet forums who couldn’t care less that you have a rooted phone. I have a jailbroken iDevice, but I’m not stupid enough to ask Apple to fix it for me if it breaks. I have emulators on it, but I’m not audacious enough to demand that Apple host them in the App Store.
That’s why I agree with Google here. Emulators have always been a gray legal area, and Sony’s push into the Android game market was bound to stir up the PS emulation scene. It’s just amusing to watch Android apologists defending this move on the “openness” front. It’s fine with me if Google chooses not to host a possibly illegal program; just don’t try to tell me Apple is somehow horrible for doing the same thing.
“Don’t Be Evil” is now officially “Don’t Piss Off the OEMs,” and that’s a good strategy to make money and ensure the success of your platform. It’s just not open.
There were a few things I took away from Apple’s event today. First and foremost – welcome back Steve! Walking on stage to “Here Comes the Sun” has to be the best possible way to reenter the spotlight, and he looked healthy and strong. Even if you have some issues with how Steve has acted in the past (as I have), it’s great to know he’s ok.
A few things were missing today – this was a totally iPad-centric presentation, no iOS 5 previews in sight. That means either that another event is coming soon or they’ve eliminated the spring preview. Hopefully the former, since who wants to wait until June? Also missing: MobileMe upgrades, which by this time we’re almost positive will be arriving soon. You can’t even buy it online from Apple, though there’s a two month free trial, so they have some leeway before introducing the next version.
But that’s not the main course. No “One more thing” this time around – we just launch into the feature presentation. The iPad 2 has arrived, and it’s definitely better than rumor sites postulated. Yes, it’s a speed bump with a faster processor and (we hope) more RAM, cameras and better graphics. Except there’s much more too it this time – no one thought to break the rumor that the iPad is now thinner than Apple’s own “world’s thinnest smartphone.” It absolutely blows my mind that they could make it this thin and still keep battery life and such processing speed. Also, the new case team has outdone themselves this time with some really enticing smart covers. All in all, this looks like a killer upgrade. I know it’s probably the RDF talking, but I can’t imagine anything else on the market catching this anytime soon. Pricing is right and functionality is finally here with laptop-quality power.
I’ve been waiting for the perfect product to get my mother, who happens to be deathly afraid of all technology. She’s endlessly confused by file storage, desktops, windows, and just about everything else associated with traditional computing. That all could change with the iPad 2. Facetime alone would justify the purchase to easily talk to her when I’m away at grad school. As a professional musician, I imagine she’d get a kick out of GarageBand too. This really is THE product for the tech-challenged market, and Apple gets it. There is no shame in making a device more accessible to ordinary people, and the massive sales figures are proof. Jobs loves to talk at every keynote about how Apple is all about the intersection of tech and the liberal arts, but no one seems to pick up on it except the consumer who doesn’t want to install Cyanogen or dual-boot Ubuntu. It’s a great description of how Apple sees its place in the world, and they’ve been welcomed with open arms. If you still have any doubts, take the time to watch this. Just make sure you bring a tissue box.