Monument Valley

Monument Valley

My latest iOS gaming obsession is Monument Valley, a new platformer inspired by the art of M.C. Escher. You play as Ida, a silent princess who must navigate a series of seemingly impossible architecture by solving puzzles and avoiding the Crow People and other strange inhabitants.

Each level presents a structure that looks impossible to traverse at first, but by moving or rotating sections of the environment, you can alter these optical illusions to create a path where none existed before. Watch the official trailer and you'll see what I mean.

Monument Valley - 2

As noted in a behind-the-scenes video, every stage is like a different work of art, beautiful enough to be printed out and hung on a wall. As you interact with Ida's world, you are greeted with pleasant sound effects and music, so I recommend playing with headphones for the best experience. (I wonder if the developers plan to release the soundtrack, because I would buy it.)

Monument Valley is one of the most gorgeous and thoughtfully considered games I've seen on iOS, one that answers the question, "Are video games art?" with a resounding yes! And it's only $4, so there's no reason not to treat yourself to one of the best iOS games of 2014.

My Squarespace 6 Wish List

As you may know, Unretrofied is a site powered by Squarespace 6. There are a whole lot of things to like about the service, but it's certainly not without its faults. Considering the way Squarespace seems to be keeping the entire podcasting industry afloat with all those ad-spots and sign-up offers, it would appear that a lot of people are still switching to the service in droves.

I think it's only fair that they know what to expect after signing up, don't you? So what I've done below is write something of an open letter to Squarespace, asking them to fix these basic issues that have been lingering around for months and months.

Now, I should note that I have absolutely zero information about what the developers are working on behind the scenes. For all I know, they could already be ironing out at least some of the issues I'm about to list. This is just my list of complaints as it stands right now.

Review: Quotebook for iOS

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
– Carl Sagan

Sometimes when I’m browsing the web, or reading a book or article somewhere, I happen across a quote that strikes me in some way, and I feel compelled to save it somewhere for later. The reasons vary of course, but the most common one is simple: inspiration.

I’m not talking about the fluff you’d find on cheesy motivational posters, but rather genuine insight given to us by the great minds of the world. The kinds of teachings that show us how to be more than we are; that inspire us to achieve greatness.

Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover

As my readers may or may not know, I recently took a week-long trip to Disney World. I just happened to be there the week before Stephen Hackett, who I work with over at Tools and Toys but haven’t yet had a chance to meet in person. We flew back maybe a day or two before he got there, which, talk about timing, right? I just hope he was able to locate all the “easter eggs” I’d strategically strewn about the various Disney parks for him.

Although I could have asked Shawn ahead of time to take off from my Tools and Toys duties, I figured I could just continue posting during downtime at the hotel each night. I mean, those posts aren’t required to be insanely long or anything, and I already had a few ideas lined up. Easy peasy right?

Wrong.


Status Board for iPad

Three years and one month ago, the guys at Panic (one of my favorite Mac/iOS development studios) unveiled a cool project for their office: the Panic Status Board. It contained all kinds of useful and up-to-date info concerning:

  • Ongoing projects (deadlines, who's working on what, etc).
  • The number of support emails that are queued up for each of their apps.
  • The office calendar.
  • A revenue tracker.
  • Even a local bus route schedule.

And what kinds of results did they see in the office after putting up the Status Board? Here's how they described it:

Mophie Juice Pack Air

 MacStories recently featured a crazy-good-but-temporary deal: $15 for a refurbished Mophie Juice Pack Air for iPhone 4. If you're not familiar with the Air, it's a rechargable power case that allows you to essentially double your phone's battery life. Normally, these things go for at least $60 brand new, and we just happen to be going on a trip to Disney World in a couple weeks, so I couldn't pass this deal up.

In fact, I bought two of them; a white one for myself (I wanted a red one but they were sold out already), and a black one for my wife. They just arrived in the mail a couple days ago, and I wanted to share my thoughts so far.

Stephen Hackett Reviews the Pebble

"It’s clunky, and made worse but the fact that when the Pebble and iPhone lose connection, the Pebble has to be re-setup.

This means turning off the iPhone, flipping it to Airplane Mode or simply leaving it on your desk when you go to lunch means your phone will forget what its supposed to do. Or leaving your watch inside when you mow the grass. Or leaving your phone in your bag when you workout. Or do anything a normal human does, really. It blows.”

Yikes. Glad I didn't hop on the Kickstarter bandwagon with this one.

One Night, Two Major iOS Releases

First up, Google Maps.

I've been playing with this app for the last hour, and I have to say that it's pretty nice. Animations are smooth, most settings are easy to find, and the voice navigation works well. One really cool feature: when using Street View at a particular location, tap the little double-arrow icon at the bottom left, and you can move the phone around to pan the camera on-screen, augmented reality-style.

One setting I disabled immediately was the 'Shake to Send Feedback' option. I won't be sending feedback to Google about incorrect map data enough for this setting to be useful, and in fact might be a hindrance if triggered accidentally. Also, when I first opened the app, I had the option to uncheck a tiny box that sends data to Google automatically. It's got to be one of the most difficult checkboxes I've ever attempted to tap.

In the end, I don't have any real reason to switch back from Apple Maps, but very nice work by Google here. Also, it seems that this app is only available for iPhone, no iPad version yet? Odd.

Next, 1Password.

Developer Agile Bits has released an entirely new version of their popular password generator/storage app. Everything has been redesigned from the ground up, and it looks great. Kinda reminds me of a Tapbots app, really (which is a good thing). The new icon is especially lovely. Currently on sale for $8, over 50% off from the normal price.

If you're at all concerned about password security, or if you're the type to use the same password for everything, you should get this app. You'll wonder how you lived without it before.

If you want a super-detailed review, Macstories has you covered.

Kind of a crazy day, what with these two apps plus Flickr's wonderful update earlier.

New Flickr App for iPhone

This morning saw an update to Flickr's maligned and oft-ignored iPhone app. Until today, it was basically usable for browsing photos and maybe uploading here and there, but the experience wasn't all that great. With this new update though, Flickr has decided to bring their 'A' game.

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Clearly the new UI has been inspired by Instagram, right down to the addition of photo filters. As popular as Instagram has become, I guess it was inevitable that Flickr would one day see them as a competitor.

While the old app was a big sluggish and weird, the new app is sleek, beautiful, and quick. Photos load nearly instantaneously, and scrolling through the gallery of recent uploads by my contacts has been a joy. The new photo filters aren't too bad either. This was my first test shot:

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I only recently started getting back into Flickr after years of neglect, but it feels like I'm late to the party because I don't see as much activity going on around there as I used to. Of course, there are still a few remaining diehard fans who have poured years of their lives into the service, but the rest? Who knows.

Now, with this fantastic update, I can imagine lots of people returning to their Flickr roots and I'm honestly pretty excited about that. It's Yahoo's one killer service and I think it deserves a chance to stick around for a long time. It's certainly been the topic of discussion on my Twitter feed today, and I'm taking that as a good sign.

Either way, I'll certainly be spending even more time on the service.

Slim Wallet by Supr

Back in August, I backed the Slim wallet on Kickstarter. The Slim is a tiny wallet made out of an elastic material, and is only designed to hold a few of your most commonly used cards, rather than any cash or other items people tend to keep in their wallets.

The project was a resounding success, managing to get over $200K from backers when their goal was only $10K.

Since then, they've been releasing updates about the R&D/manufacturing process, with a few delays along the way, and about a month ago they began actually shipping the wallets out from their factory in Chicago. I just received mine last night, and wanted to share my thoughts from the first 24 hours.

I love how minimal the packaging is.

I love how minimal the packaging is.

Coming from a large wallet I bought from Wal-Mart years ago, I'm now having to narrow down to my most essential cards. I've managed to distill my main collection down to five items: two debit cards, my driver's license, a loyalty card that I use a lot, and my GoGo Stand (which comes in handy more than you'd think).

Rarely-used items being left behind — stuff I can grab from home as needed — include my voter ID, some medical/dental insurance stuff, several business cards I've collected, and a ton of other loyalty cards that will now live in my wife's purse, since we're usually eating at those restaurants together anyway. I was able to comfortably cut out a surprising number of things.

View from above.

View from above.

The Kickstarter promo video claims that the Slim is capable of holding up to ten cards, and that's true, but that's a very snug fit and I quickly found that anything more than five items made it difficult to retrieve any specific cards when I needed to, instead forcing me to pull everything out at once. Not ideal.

The Slim definitely lives up to its name. I can't get over how thin and light it feels in my pocket. I'm still getting used to checking the inside of my pocket to make sure it's there, rather than patting the outside of my jeans as I used to.

A few small points:

  • I like that the Slim's minimalist design has forced me to rethink what's truly important to have on me at all times.
  • The elastic feels like it will hold up well, but only time will tell for sure.
  • I don't often carry cash, but if you're the type who does, this might not be the wallet for you.

If you're interested in one for yourself, you'll have to wait a while as they complete their first batch from the Kickstarter campaign, but you can sign up to be notified when that happens. I definitely recommend it.

iPad Mini First Impressions

I wanted to write this post up yesterday, but things didn't really go according to plan. I had to go into the office for most of the day, and when I finally made it to the mall where our local Apple Store is, the entire place was so packed that I couldn't find parking, and the baby was screaming anyway so it just wasn't in the cards.

A little later in the evening, while on a dinner run for my wife and I, there was just enough time to stop at a Best Buy on the way (where the parking lot was practically empty, *snicker*).

I found that this clearly wasn't the ideal way to check out the iPad mini, because their display table keeps the devices tethered in such a way that it requires actual effort to keep the thing in your hands without it snapping back to the table like a bungee cord. I wanted to see if the thing was as light as everyone keeps saying, but it was nearly impossible to tell. Oh well, at least I got to overhear a Best Buy associate refer to another customer as a "moron" so the trip was still worth it.

I was determined to make it to the Apple Store today to check this thing out properly, and managed to do so just before the mall closed. I just returned from there, and here are my thoughts.

First of all, the iPad mini truly is amazingly light. I was blown away at how easy and comfortable it was to hold one-handed. Reading in iBooks and across the web felt very natural, and since reading is likely to be one of my primary uses for the device, I was pretty excited that they nailed the experience so perfectly. Now I see why people are being so forgiving of the lack of Retina display.

Even without Retina, the screen is actually quite crisp to my eyes (the disclaimer being that I have appalling eyesight without my glasses, of course) and I had to put the screen up to my nose to really make out any pixels. I managed to find a demo area where an iPad 4 and mini were sitting right next to one another, and it was only when comparing the two side-by-side that I noticed the difference.

Many companies have tried releasing "iPad killers" over the last few years, but I think the only real threat to the standard iPad would be an iPad mini with Retina. That product will absolutely dominate the market when—not if—it releases.

While I had the 4 and the mini side-by-side, I decided to try some basic speed tests, such as opening the same apps simultaneously, visiting web pages, that sort of thing. Overall, the lack of an A6X processor doesn't seem to hurt the mini in the slightest. In fact, there were certain apps that opened even faster on the mini than on the 4, although I admit that could also be chalked up to whatever the 4 was running in the background at the time.

Typing in portrait was way more comfortable than I expected, and landscape wasn't too terrible but I did have to stretch my thumbs a bit when accessing the middle of the keyboard. Not uncomfortable, but it dampened my typing speed somewhat.

A few smaller observations:

  • The mini was quite cool to the touch, while the 4 was bordering on hot. This may be an instance where not having a Retina display is actually a benefit rather than a drawback.
  • Due to the slimmer lengthwise bezel of the mini, picking it up off a flat surface while the screen is on can be somewhat awkward, and may still require two hands if you don't want to accidentally tap something on-screen in the process. I don't personally feel negatively about this, but felt I should mention it.
  • On-screen elements on the mini were noticeably smaller than they were on the iPad 4. It's a bit odd holding something the size of a tablet and having to tap things that are sized equivalently to what you'd see on an iPhone screen, but again, this wasn't something that bothered me personally. Your mileage may vary.

After getting to see the device in person, I now realize that my concerns about a lack of Retina display were unfounded. The iPad mini is definitely the one I'm going to purchase, and I would recommend the same to anyone that doesn't require an iPad for professional purposes. If you're a web designer or professional photographer, or even a cafe owner using it as a Square register, I'd say stick with the larger iPad.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the iPad mini simply becomes the standard iPad one day, while the larger device becomes the "iPad Pro," in the same vein as MacBooks and MacBook Pros.

I'm truly impressed with the iPad mini and can't wait to pick one up soon.

Loren Brichter's New Game, 'Letterpress'

Transient

Loren Brichter, creator of Tweetie (now known as the official Twitter client for iOS), is back to developing apps independently. Today, he has released a new game called Letterpress for the iPhone and iPad.

Transient
Transient

(note: both of these screenshots display the 'Retro' theme and not the default 'Light' theme)

It looks a bit like SpellTower, but the mechanics are totally different. The object of the game is to take turns with another player, creating words on a 5x5 board of letter tiles. As each player creates words, letters on the board are highlighted in their respective colors, until either the entire board is colored or both players have passed their turn in a round. The biggest difference between this and SpellTower is that you can create words using letters that are not connected together in any way.

The rules as explained in the app:

  • Words must have at least two letters.
  • Words may only be played once.
  • Words may not be a prefix of a previously played word. For example, if Player 1 plays the word "QUILTS", Player 2 cannot play "QUILT" (but "QUILTED" and "QUIT" would both be fine).

The sounds and animations in the app are charming, the asynchronous nature of the online multiplayer makes it easy to pick-up-and-play whenever you feel like it, and even the typography is pleasant.

The game itself is free, but you can also unlock the full version for $0.99 within the app, which allows you to have multiple games going and also unlocks the other themes. I definitely recommend this game.

Letterpress (App Store Link)

Update: MacStories did an interview with Loren, wherein he described how he created the sound effects used in the game. Not what I expected.