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July 21, 2011 / Alistair

iOS 5 Review – a first look at the new iPhone operating system

Apple has responded to critics by adding a far improved notifications system for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch with the new iOS 5 operating system.

Along with Notification Centre, iOS5 includes a BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) rivaling free messaging service called iMessage, and an all-new Reminders app.

Yes, I need to update my apps more often

Notification Centre

Notifications have been pushed to iOS devices for a few years now, but they provided little information, forcing the user to quite what they’re doing and go to the relevant app requestion attention. Now, though, all notifications are displayed in a panel that can be accessed by swiping down from the status bar, whether you’re at the home screen, or in an app already.

Notification Centre: bringing stocks, weather, and my inbox

 Notification Centre can be customised to show a ticker of your share prices, the local weather and, of course, notifications from the phone, mail, messages, Facebook, Twitter and any other app that demands your attention. Previews of messages and emails are shown, and the notification can be acted upon by tapping it.

Before, notifications always appeared in the same way – an SMS-style box in the centre of the screen that had to be dismissed before being able to do anything else. Now, though, notifications can be set to appear as a small message at the top of the screen, which doesn’t interrupt what you’re doing. Games don’t pause, for example; and the box disappears after a few seconds.

Chose notifications to appear as banners, alerts, or nothing

The lock screen has also been tinkered with, showing a clearer list of any calls, messages, emails etc that you’ve received while the phone has been locked. Swiping over a text or email takes you right to the relevant app.

iMessage

BlackBerry owners are all too aware of BBM, the free messaging service that lets BB owners sent text messages to each other for free. The service works well, and more comprehensively than regular texts because messages are encrypted through the BB servers and sent and received messages are included; but it requires adding contacts with incomprehensible PINs.

iMessages is very similar to BBM – and only available to iOS 5 users – but, to use an old Apple phrase, it just works. If your friend who you text often upgrades to iOS 5 their next text will appear just like before, in the same chat, but it’ll be sent as an iMessage. Your iMessages send exactly like texts, but they’re blue instead of the usual green. If you’re out of reach of mobile internet or have 3G turned off, messages will be sent as SMSs instead. Simple.

Delivery reports are included and an icon appears to show when the recipient is typing a new message.

It’s a shame that iMessage is only available to iOS 5 users, but everyone and their dog has an iPhone 4 these days, and note that iMessages can be sent between iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Reminders

There’s loads of to do list apps available for the iPhone, but Apple has decided to make their own and include it with iOS 5. The app is, as you’d expect from Apple, very simple to use and does exactly what it says on the tin. Reminds you of stuff.

Reminders: clean and simple

Simply add something to be reminded of – buy some milk, for example – set a time, and you’re done. A notification just like any other will appear – along with an alarm if you so wish – and the time you set.

But there’s a bit more than that. If you want to get that milk after work you can set Reminders to remind you leave work – providing you have GPS turned on and you have work set as a contact in your address book.

Location-aware reminders. Useful

Reminders can be set to alert you at a time, or when arriving or leaving a certain location. But the requirement to have that location as a contact is annoying. If I want to be reminded when I leave the train station, I can’t pick it on a map, I have to add the station to my address book, then select it.

UPDATE: I’ve tried the location-based reminder feature and, well, it didn’t work. I asked the application to remind me to take some paperwork with me when I left my home address. It didn’t work, even when I was 20 miles away and with the GPS on the whole time. I\m currently updating to the newest beta (4) so I’ll try again later and report back.

Volume up as camera shutter

Using the camera app has always been difficult with that on-screen button that’s nowhere near your fingers actually are. Apple has finally noticed this and, as a certain camera app developer did recently, given users the option to take a photo using the volume up button, which is located roughly where the shutter button would be. The only downside is now the lens isn’t where it would be in a camera. It’s under your hand. Never mind, it sort of works when holding the phone with both hands.

Twitter integration

While Android offers great Facebook integration, Apple has gone down the other social networking group and got into bed with Twitter. The result is that once signed into the micro-blogging service once, Twitter is available systemwide, letting you tweet links and photos from anywhere in the iDevice, and attach your current location, too.

iOS 5 provides system-wide tweeting

Ability to access camera app from lock screen

Apple want more people to take photos with the iPhone 4 – despite it already being the most popular smartphone on Flickr – and to aid this along they’ve made it possible to access the camera from the lock screen.

Home button twice. Camera icon once. Snap

Tap the home button twice when the iPhone is locked and a button appears next to the slider, tapping this opens the camera app. Even if you have a passcode on your iPhone or not, only the camera can be used and your photos cannot be viewed until the phone is properly unlocked from the lock screen.

Wi-Fi Sync

iOS 5 lets devices sync wirelessly with the computer that they’re paired with. So just plug your iPhone into it’s charger and night and Wi-Fi sync does the rest, keeping your music, photos, contact and everything else up-to-date on your phone and computer – providing they’re both turned on, obviously.

Also this means that no more will you receive a text during a length sync and be unable to read it, for risk of canceling the syncing process. It works fine, as you’d expect, and is one of those ‘oh, that’s useful’ features, rather than being a flagship upgrade.

Along with the increased lack of wires, iOS 5 supports over-the-air software updates, so the operating system of your iDevice can be updated automatically an wirelessly over Wi-Fi.

There’s a load of other features too, but these are the big ones that I’ve noticed while having a play with the developer preview. iOS 5 will be available to the general public in the autumn, along with iCloud – more on that soon…

February 6, 2011 / Alistair

Exclusive Nintendo 3DS hands on

The new age of gaming and entertainment is finally making a giant leap into the 3D world where those pesky glasses are not needed to experience the three dimensions of the virtual world. Guest writer Dan Fewell takes the Nintendo 3DS for a spin

Photo: Dan Fewell

The event

I went to the preview of the new handheld console from Nintendo; the 3DS. My exclusive hands-on took place at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick lane.

On arrival I was greeted by an array of lovely ladies, so Nintendo, you’re currently in my good books at this point, and I hadn’t even seen the console yet!

The first room I encountered was a lobby that contained a museum-like exhibit of the history of handheld Nintendos, which was once loved by the gamming community.  There was the Play and Watch, the Game Boy and the original DS.

Then the event began, the hosts showed us to a white mat where once you stepped upon it squares would appear at your feet, as more people stood on the mat, more squares appeared, which were all joined together with lines, symbolising the “Street Pass” System.

This system is a lot like the “Recently Played With” system shown on online service like Xbox Live and PSN. They are encouraging players to have their 3DS on standby so as you roam the streets and neighbourhoods, you share data such as your Mii avatar and achievements with other players

The affect that this ‘always on’ feature has on the battery life does concern me, and I have read on forums and news sites that the 3DS can last up to 4 hours without WiFi, which could be decreased by the uncontrollable use of the “Street Pass”. I am fairly sure that it can be disabled or if all else fails the console can be turned off fully. Also, I can’t imagine many users opting to carry the 3DS around with them all the time, like they would a mobile phone.

The event had several themed rooms, one with people performing martial arts in relation to Street Fighter, and another with actors who were infected with the ‘T-Virus’ from zombie-shooter Resident Evil.

Jonathon Ross was at the launch of the 3DS last month, and today he was back, albeit on television screens. Due to technical issues his voice couldn’t be heard, but thankfully our female host saved the day with some improvisation, gaining herself a round of applause.

Finally we were led to the consoles themselves in a room that felt more like a nightclub than an expo.

Hands on

The 3DS feels great in the hand, very comfortable and the buttons are all well placed, as you’d expect. The addition of an analogue stick is a welcome one, and it felt much more comfortable to use that the stick on a PSP.

The 3D use in the Pro Evolution Soccer was truly amazing and a good place to start my 3DS experience, it was so immersive and incredible. I could see the crowd in the background, I could see the scoreboard floating in the foreground; but it wasn’t the sickly feeling I had when I played GT5 in 3D with glasses for the PS3, which did feel really uncomfortable to watch.

The next game I played was Asphalt, which was a racing game with an eccentric style much like the Need for Speed titles, involving huge jumps and massive nitro boosts. Here, 3D was used in the menus to show statistics floating around each car, so you have to use the analogue stick to rotate the car to see the statistics in full, which in itself was very impressive.

I was so impressed with the 3D effects in Asphalt that I kept crashing from getting distracted by the impressive visuals. The HUD (Heads up display) was the thing that jumped at you the most and moved in accordance with the direction your moved the car, also the back end of the car seems to be the nearest object to you on screen, with my opponents moving “deeper” into the screen as they pulled away from me.
Next up was Street Fighter. I was greeting with some amazing graphics, the best I’d seen on a console of this size, very similar to those found on the Wii but ever so slightly better!

Before the selection of my character, I was surprised by a certain choice I had to make for my camera view, I had to choice between “Normal View” or “Dynamic View” and of course I picked the most interesting of the two choices. After selecting Dynamic View and my character I was now ready to take on my opponent.

The controls for the fighting were basic fighting controls you would expect from any game of this genre; punch, kick block etc. But the clever use of the touch pad is where the special moves were contained, instead of having to memorise button combination for an attack as if it was an exam, you could simple tap and wait to “Bring the Pain!!” which was so satisfying seeing a Japanese girl fly about 6 feet into the air before being burnt on the bottom by one of my many fire balls, which spawned from my hands, and yes I did restrain myself from shouting “KO!”

The 3D in Street Fighter was very similar to that in the other titles, but one place where it stood out was the loading screen showing your character pictures, and a dramatic background of the upcoming fight. It really felt good with the cell shaded cartoony look, much like a popup book like you used to read as a kid.

The last feature we were shown really showed off the pinnacle of the 3DS capabilities.

Reality, Jim, but not as we know it

The first activity I was treated to in this room was the AR games (Augmented Reality), which The set up for these games was very simple, a small card was placed in a well lit area on the desk which I had to locate and identify with the 3DS’s camera, and from this a box came to life in 3D on the screen.

From this I had compete view of the object, I could walk around this cube like reality and see every face and edge of this object as long as I kept the card in line of sight of the cameras. This then turned into a game where I had to shoot various targets where I had to physical move around this desk to hit the target correctly, the thing that impressed me the most about this feature was the card “sunk” into the desk and I had to lean over and shoot down a hole to hit the target, which felt amazing.

Then I had to fight this small little dragon creature and shoot him until he was defeated. I kept forgetting I could move around the dragon so I could shoot him in areas that I couldn’t when facing head on, and at the end of it all I put down the device and the card was still there. I had completely forgotten about it!

This augmented reality game is one of the many preinstalled features on the console, and to extend my excitement further the hosts said that there are many cards that come with the Nintendo 3DS, such as a Mario card which brings our little Italian friend to life and lets us experience him in the digital flesh.

Another preinstalled feature is a game called Face Raiders, which takes a photo of you and places it on various Japanese characters, which you could then control and use to shoot targets with.

This was a good feature but not the most impressive of the day, but certainly showed the potential for a wide range of games on the 3DS.

The Nintendo 3DS is able to take 3D photographs with the two cameras located on the back of the console. This produced great photos with good depth and I can see this really opening up the market for 3D photography!

We saw trailers for Metal gear Sold: Snake Eater, Mario Kart and Star Fox, all of which looked very impressive in their all-new 3D format.

To conclude…

In conclusion I truly enjoyed the 3DS and after experiencing it I can see why it’ll be priced at around £200, higher than the standard DS. The preinstalled software alone makes up for this price increase.

The only doubt I have with the Nintendo 3DS is whether the 3D will be seen more as a gimmick than a useful feature? Also, will the content of the game distract the gamer from the true beauty of the 3D effect?

Either way this is the big step in 3D that the entertainment industry should be paying attention to, with the photos becoming 3D I expect digital photo frame manufactures to truly embrace the technology.

Nintendo have really out done themselves this year and with the upcoming titles and the creative spark alive, it’s now down to developers to bring more interesting content to the table. I can see gaming on this device being a very enjoyable experience for any generation of gamer, which has always been one of Nintendo’s strongest assets.

 

Dan Fewell can be found on Twitter @directdan

September 29, 2010 / Alistair

Nintendo delays 3DS until next year

Misses out on crucial Christmas market

3DS brings 3D gaming. Minus the daft glasses

Gaming giant Nintendo announced today that their 3DS – which will allow gamers to play in 3D without the need for groovy glasses – has been delayed until March 2011 in Europe and the US.

Read more…

August 25, 2010 / Alistair

Apple announces media event on September 1st

iLife update incoming?

Invite to Apple event

As we reported earlier today, Apple is set to host a media event next month. Only it’s coming a little sooner than we thought. Wednesday September 1st is the chosen day for Apple to do it’s keynote thing and show us some exciting new products.

Read more…

August 25, 2010 / Alistair

Apple’s September 1st event; what to expect

Update: Apple has now sent invitations out to the usual media for an event to be held on September 1st.

As you may have heard, Apple is rumoured to be hosting a media event on September 7th. This event is tipped to showcase the new iPod touch 4th gen and a re-vamp of the Apple TV.

So, let’s start with the iPod touch. This week we’ve seen images of what is tipped to be the front case of the new iPod and, low-and-behold, it’s got a little hole for a camera.

This means Facetime.

Read more…

August 25, 2010 / Alistair

New Apple TV and iPod touch next month?

Media event tipped for September 7th

Rumours are flying around the Internet today saying that Apple will be hosting a media event on September 7th, during which it will announce the 4th generation iPod touch and a new Apple TV featuring streaming of TV shows.

Read more…

August 24, 2010 / Alistair

iTunes U offers 350,000 files

And has had 300 million downloads to date

iTunes U: lectures and seminars on your Mac

Today the iTunes U service broke the 300 million downloads barrier, and now offers over 350,000 files to download from over 800 universities all over the world.

Read more…