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Mobile gaming and where it will leave dedicated gaming handhelds

By on June 20, 2011

We are already seeing the convergence.

Let’s be honest, before the iPhone came along in 2007, the idea of gaming on mobile phones was relegated to Tetris or Snake, or something equally menial. Nothing could come close to the actual handheld gaming experience of the NDS or the PSP. Nokia tried it with their N-Gage platform and failed miserably. Microsoft also tried it out with their Xbox Live service on Windows phones, but that didn’t pan out either.

Do not want.

Now with the iPhones and Android smartphones providing us Infinity Blades and Angry Birds all over the place, making millions of dollars in revenue from an amazingly low cost of development, the handheld gaming scene is changing.

Firstly I’d just like to mention the fact that no handheld system out in the market right now has the ability to make phone calls (except PSP via Skype) so they’re already at a huge disadvantage. Secondly, none of these systems provide an internet browsing experience anywhere close to what smartphones nowadays are capable of. I haven’t seen PS Vita in action, so I can’t say anything over there; but on the 3DS it is a painful process indeed.

Do not want either.

Let’s not even get into the whole Apps business because they expand the usability of your smartphone substantially, compared to handheld gaming devices whose functionality will only ever increase if their manufactures add something in the next system update. One can make the argument about hacked/jailbroken handheld systems; the PSP certainly is a prime example of expanded functionality outside of Sony’s jurisdiction. Even then, there’s hardly anything a hacked NDS/PSP can do that a regular (or eve jailbroken/rooted) iPhone or Android device can’t.

So in all manners of functionality, today’s mobile phones have current handhelds (and seemingly the PS Vita) beat. Even for downloading movies, TV shows and music, you won’t find a store as comprehensive as iTunes or any of the other Android compatible services for the 3DS or PS Vita.

The trump card that handhelds have over smartphones, then, is developer support. You most certainly won’t see the Mario or Uncharted or any other Nintendo and Sony system selling exclusives on smartphones. At least not in this generation of handhelds. Outside of that though, it’s fair game. When you hear about titles like Infinity Blade raking in over $10 million from sales or Angry Birds having been downloaded over 250 million times, every major and indie developer will start migrating towards the bigger and more lucrative market.

Do want!

Hardware wise the 3DS, and especially the PS Vita have any existing smartphone completely outmuscled. The PS Vita’s quad-core A9 and Power VR MP4+ chip is literally double what the iPad 2 is currently capable of. However, this dual-cored ARM A9 CPU will carry over to the iPhone 5, as are dual-cored CPUs coming onto Android smartphones (like the Galaxy S II). Surely by next year the hardware would be on par with what the PS Vita is capable of, and by 2013 you’re talking about iPhone 6(?) and Android (whatever) being more powerful than any handheld on the planet, let alone PS Vita and the already outdated 3DS.

Basically in two years’ time, current handheld consoles will be obsolete compared to smartphones, and we’ll be seeing the exact same scenario of ‘consoles vs PCs’ that has been going on for so many generations. Except this time, the superior hardware isn’t the one suffering from lack of developer support, because at the end of the day, productions costs will be cheaper on smartphones (or maybe not), and more importantly, the reach to hundreds of millions of people worldwide (even billions!) is too much for developers to ignore.

Game over man! GAME OVER!


Nokia Connections 2011 – Our Expectations

By on June 18, 2011

What can we expect from Nokia to show this week, and their product focus for the 2011-2012.

Nokia Connection 2011 goes down in Singapore on Tuesday, and we’re expecting big things from the stumbling phone giant. Nokia has big gaps to fill in as it was once considered an indutry leader and now it trails in the back of smartphones line up. No fewer than four vice presidents will be speaking at the summit, along with CEO Stephen Elop, who has promised some market changing devices. We will get to know about them in coming week. So, what are our expectations or predictions, read on to find out.

1. Nokia N9: MeeGo phone to be shown as a reality: The Nokia Intel relationship over MeeGo has experienced a roller coaster ride, with lot of expectations from the platform yet with no real outcome. Some consider that MeeGo has already lost considerable time to reach market and it will be hard to penetrate. But samething could have been said about Android when it started to target iOS, and today Android owns more market share than iPhones.

2. Nokia Windows Phone in flesh: A prototype was already shown. But now a working and real device would be shown in the conference. The same device they aim to release in 4th Quarter of 2011. So, what will Nokia and Microsoft partnership bring special to Windows line-up of phones, other than the Ovi platform? We still have to see.

3. Lower priced smartphones for masses: One of great things about Nokia is their low priced line up of phones that still are more in sales than any other phone. Nokia is still persuing Symbian OS for that. And we expect to see newer devices at the conference which feature Symbian S60 and S40 to power cheap phones that mimic powers of smartphones of today.

4. A Nokia tablet: Nokia boss Elop said back in April that he doesn’t want Nokia to “be the 201st tablet on the market that you can’t tell from all of the others. We have to take a uniquely Nokia prospective and so the teams are working very hard on something that would be differentiating relative to everything else that’s going on in the market.” What that could be, we’re not sure either but we’d be interested to see just how Nokia intends to get in on this growing market.


Having fun with Microsoft Windows

By on June 15, 2011

It’s been a fun week full of discoveries and reboots.

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If you’ve been following my blogs, you’ll know that I have recently switched from OS X to Microsoft Windows 7 for my home computer. Let me tell you what is wrong with Windows.

You see that screenshot above? All I did was plug my Logitech mouse reciever out of one USB port and into another one right next to it. It took Windows almost 2 minutes and 30 seconds to re-install drivers of the same device on the same USB controller and during that time, my rodent was inaccessible. That same procedure on a Mac takes less than a couple of seconds.

Here is another one for you. This one isn’t from my PC but a Samsung notebook that I am currently reviewing.

Seriously? Is one week a bit too much for Windows to handle without going for a reboot? Samsung certainly thinks so. I’ll wait to form my opinion after using my PC for a month or so because during my first week, I’ve been rebooting multiple times every day installing drivers and updating Windows.

Fun aside, I’m actually enjoying my move back to Windows. Or maybe it’s the tri-monitor setup that I am still awed with. I have my browser in the middle monitor with my emails and tweets on the left monitor and my widgets and other non-essentials on the right. It is simply awesome to have all that information to look at without having to switch windows. Can’t wait to play WoW on it.


Is innovation at Apple slowing down?

By on June 13, 2011

Or are they playing catch-up with iOS 5?

“Redmond, start your photocopiers” is a line made incredibly popular by Apple in 2005. It’s how they view Microsoft copying things in Windows that Apple has already done on their desktop operating systems. However, with the revealing of iOS 5 last week at WWDC, it was Apple that was copying things from other mobile operating systems.

Is the innovation at Apple slowing down? Probably not. However, Apple is finally realizing what worthy competitors Google and RIM are and is thus trying to play catch-up in areas that devices based on Android and BlackBerry OS excel at. How many times have we looked at our iPhone and wondered how nice it would be to have a certain feature from a competing device. This is precisely what Apple has done with iOS 5.

If you check out the article I did on the Top 5 features in iOS 5, you’ll see that my top two features- the Notification Center and iMessage, are features ripped right out of Android on how it displays notifications and the insanely popular BlackBerry Messenger. Another feature, the new Lock Screen, takes one of the best things about the older version of Windows Mobile and sticks it on the iOS.

Innovation is good but you have to stop and smell the Humus as well. There is no denying that iOS changed the way mobile phones are used but it starting lagging in certain areas because Apple doesn’t have the exclusivity on innovation. And the popularity of the Jailbreaking community showed that.

Competition is a great thing- it makes you work harder and you can bet that Google and RIM are working on ways to make their devices more appealing to the end user as well. What they don’t do is blow their own horn. It can come back to bite you.


The Post PC era begins

By on June 8, 2011

Cloud Computing will go mainstream with iCloud.

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At the launch of iPad 2 a couple of months back, Mr. Steve Jobs ushered us into what he calls a “Post PC” era- a new chapter in the history of computing. Some people made a quick jab at that, rightly stating that your iDevice was useless until it was connected to a computer to activate it. Well, with iOS 5 revealed just a couple of days back, that argument no longer holds any water and with iCloud, you can clearly see where Apple is headed.

Now Apple might have gotten it wrong with their cloud computing the first couple of time- even Steve Jobs admitted the failure of Mobile Me, but iCloud certainly sounds interesting- at least at the consumer level. So basically, the next time you buy your new iOS device, you simply take it out of the box and activate it with your iCloud account right then and there and watch your data sync wirelessly on it. No PC/Mac required.

This might sound a bit familiar to anyone who has Microsoft Exchange or even Google Apps, however, Apple’s strength is in their eco system and you’re not just downloading your email, calender, contacts and documents- you’re also getting all your songs, pictures and books which still require manual sysncing with your PC on other platforms.

I also like the idea of icloud keeping your multimedia synchronized- so taking a picture from your iPhone automatically brings it to your iMac or AppleTV or your iPad. Similarly, you can start writing a document on your PC and complete it on your iPad. No need to transfer anything back and forth.

What you are basically doing is seperating your devices- computers, tablets and Smartphone from your data. Again, a concept that isn’t anything new but with Apple’s eco system and their ability to make everything easy, I can see more and more people moving to the cloud. It also beats the hell out of backing things up continuously!


The future is a Pad-Phone-PC-Laptop

By on June 6, 2011

It’s all about convergence.

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Isn’t it about time we had one device that can be a mobile phone, laptop, tablet and PC all at the same time? If you really think about it, mobile phones these days are about as powerful as full fledged PCs were a couple of years ago. Why then, do we need to buy four different devices, when you have all that processing power in your phone?

The ASUS PadFone

If you really think about it, your mobile phone could easily power most of your computing devices. But what about the form factor, you ask? It’s too impractical to have a 7″, 10″ or 24″ mobile? We’ll, you don’t need a phone that big. All you would need is a dock for different devices. So, that’s one powerful smartphone to act as your processor and then a simple dock for your laptop, tablet and PC.

The advantage to such a device is multifold. One, if you ever felt the need to upgrade your hardware, you could simply get a new phone and you’d have four faster devices. That goes for the operating system too — one upgrade is all you need. A second advantage is that you would have your data all the time — no more having to copy files from a PC to laptop to phone — it’s all in one place. Let’s not forget the huge cost benefit as well. It will surely be cheaper buying a laptop pod than a full-fledged laptop.

Of course, while I state this, I can hear all the arguments against it in my head. Why would PC and Laptop manufacturers want to sell less computers by creating such a device? Mobile phones will never be as powerful as PCs. I won’t be able to play Diablo 3 on a mobile phone when it releases, and so on. And of course, when I suggested such a device a few years ago to David Reeves, ex CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, he said, “What if you lost your phone with all your data? It would be the end of your world.”

In reply to the naysayers, cloud backups are easily available for data. Phones will get more powerful and with processors getting smaller and smaller, one day you’ll easily be able to play the likes of Diablo 3 on your phone (if Blizzard eventually releases it).

A glimpse of the future is already here. Recently, ASUS announced the PadFone, a mobile phone that can be placed in a tablet dock to be used as a tablet device. The Motorola Xoom comes with a similar capability where it can be placed on a special laptop dock to function as a laptop. All steps in the right direction. Steps that will hopefully lead to the Pad-Phone-PC-Laptop.


My new PC- part 2

By on June 1, 2011

So the configuration has changed a bit.

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Last week I spoke about the system I want to build for myself for giving PCs another shot. To quickly recap, it was supposed to be a Core i7 2600K CPU running on the MSI Big Bang Marshal motherboard with 8GB RAM and a GTX590 graphics card. But then my wife saw the expenses and that was pretty much the end of my dream machine. What I am not giving up is on a three monitor setup.

So I looked for components that were already lying around the office to minimize the financial hit. Here is the revised version of my PC specs. I should have all the components in by today and the build-up process will also commence today.

First up is the chassis- I realized that the MSI Big Bang Marshal Motherboard is of the XL-ATX form factor and sadly none of the chassis available in the region support that. So I decided to go small- real small. I picked up the Silverstone SUGO02 which is an oversized Shuttle XPC supporting microATX. The chassis cost me AED270 (US$75). With that, I got a Corsair 750W PSU which was another AED475 (US$130).

I checked our office for microATX motheboard and we have the ECS H67H2-M sitting with us. This is the older B2 stepping and ECS wasn’t picking it back up so I decided to use that. I am not going to be overclocking this system at start so the H67 chipset seems good enough. Priced at US$90, the ECS H67H2-M has a couple of Gigabit Ethernet ports and USB 3.0 that I could possibly use.

My choice of CPU got downgraded from a Core i7 2600K to a Core i5 2500K. The reason for that is purely the price- the 2600K was costing AED 1275 (US$350) whereas the 2500K is AED850 (US$230). For games, the HyperThreading functionality is almost useless although the slightly lower cache on the i5 will result in a small but hopefully not so noticeable performance difference.

RAM is cheap and I decied to get two sticks of Corsair 4GB DDR3-1600 at AED175 (US$50) each. Finally, I was lucky enough to find a pretty good VGA card in the office- the MSI R6970 Lightning which retails for almost US$400. Had it not been available, I might have gone for something a bit less flamboyant costing around the $250 mark such as the GTX560 or the HD6950. The MSI R6970 Lightning card is a pretty long card measuring almost 12″ which is another reason I went for the SUGO chassis as none of the other MicroATX casings available here supported cards that long.

I had some drives sitting with me so that didn’t end up costing anything. In this system, I will have a 128GB Kingston SSD for OS and apps while a 2TB WD Black with 64Mb cache will handle all the user data and game installs. Finally a 1.5TB Seagate will take care of all the backups.

So there you have it- that is my system as of now. In all honesty, this is more or less a test platform. If I do end up sticking with Windows, I will probably replace the chassis with a slightly bigger one that can take an ATX board because I do plan on using the Z68 with a 32GB Intel SSD as a buffer for the 2TB hard drive.

To recap, my new system has a Core i5 2500K CPU on an ECS H67H2-M motherboard with 8GB corsair DDR3-1600MHz RAM and an MSI R6970 Lightning Graphics card. All of this is wrapped up in a SUGO02 chassis by Silverstone powered by a Corsair 750W PSU and boots from a 128GB Kingston SSD with a 2TB Western Digital Black Hard Drive for data and games and another 1.5TB drive for backup.

I’ll be back in a month with another blog sharing my experience on using this.


Honeycomb tablets are good, but iPads are better, right?

By on May 29, 2011

Honeycomb vs iOS

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Tablets in the mass market are still a new and continually expanding segment in consumer technology. While tablet PCs have been in existence for over a thousand years, the first commercially available tablets didn’t come to the mass market until 1989 when Samsung introduced the MSDOS based GRiDPad. And since then, as with desktop operating systems, we’ve had a long history of software updates with visual and features upgrades to accommodate the needs of the modern era.

Well, we’re living in as modern an era as it gets, and for our daily consumption of the internet and all the knowledge available to consume therein, we need yet another device to fit in our lifestyle. Desktops and laptops aren’t enough anymore, nor are smartphones that can provide virtually any sort of information virtually anywhere. No, we need tablets to spend more time sitting on our comfy couch, or even on the bed, and the throne (if the situation demands it) to see more of what we already saw on our desktops, laptops and smartphones.

Smartphones are too small, and laptops are too big, we need something in between. Netbooks are a tad bit cumbersome, and these 7” to 10” tablets are just the perfect way to browse the internet, check up on Facebook, Twitter and emails, as well as well as play the occasional extremely addictive mini-games.

So if I’m to use said tablet to fill in the gap in my modern lifestyle to consume digital media, while also paying around AED 2k to 3k+ (USD 500 to 800+), why should I compromise on my “feature-rich” experience?

As an end-consumer, all I want my tablet to do is perform exactly how it’s advertised, and do it good. A lot of tablets get the former right, but fail on the latter point. I’m not going to open the can of worms accompanied by ‘jailbreaking’ your iPad or ‘rooting’ your Android tablet, so let’s stick to the basics here.

We all know of iPad, and therefore the iOS4 in some capacity or the other. It’s visually simple, but very elegant, and the A5 chip in the iPad 2 makes everything run ultra-smooth. The App Store has over 500,000 apps; going through them all takes a truly patient (wo)man. There is, of course, not as much freedom in the type of apps that are available on Apple’s App Store, but everything that comes through there is safe and secure. You’re giving up freedom of customizability for a safer, faster and more polished experience.  Yes, there’s no Flash support, but the majority of videos online are written with iOS device playback in mind. Not to mention the whole shift from Flash to HTML5.

Google’s Android Honeycomb OS is a completely different beast from the iOS4. On a fundamental level they’re both the same operating systems, with the same type of features and eventual usability. The Android platform offers something visually different to the iOS, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better. And because Honeycomb can run on a variety of different hardware configurations from various manufacturers, it means that it’ll almost never have the same polished finish and feel as iPad. The simple act of scrolling through apps, let alone homescreens crowded with widgets, feels strained. While browsing the net, I never get a feeling of elegant gesture controls from Honeycomb tablets as I do from iPads. The Android marketplace is filled with apps that are still unoptimized for Honeycomb, and as such look incredibly ugly. Yes, there are a lot of apps that will make you personalize your Honeycomb tablet, but it’ll all just end up slowing down your tablet. I can see a lot of potential in Honeycomb, but Google has to make long strides yet to be able to go toe to toe with Apple.

It’s funny, back when Apple launched the iPad, it was one of the most laughed at gadgets in the world. Just a year later, with nearly 20 million units sold, and well over $2 billion in revenue through apps on the App Store, the rest of the world is now playing catch-up.

Of all the tablets that have come out, whether they are different flavors of Honeycomb or  Windows, or even RIM’s PlayBook, nothing has the refined feeling and smooth UI experience of the iOS. Competitors are even now coming up with “better and more improved” features, yet Apple is still ahead of the curve. To be sure, the iOS4 is stagnating now, but let’s wait and see what the iOS 5 will bring.


Time to try Windows once again…

By on May 25, 2011

Yep, the reason is for a game.

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Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a dedicated Mac user. From my Mac Pro at the office to the iMac at home and the MacBook Air in between, I am pretty integrated with OS X. However, I always give Windows a chance every once in a while and recently, I started thinking about building a Windows powered PC.

The idea triggered because of two things. First, our components guru Taimoor is currently testing graphics cards using a three monitor setup and I must say that the games he showed me running on three monitors looked pretty amazing. Second, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is coming up at the end of the year and sadly, it’s not being released on the Mac.

The new system will replace my aging iMac at home though I’m not sure how the wife and kids will react as they use the iMac on a daily basis as well. Hopefully the three monitor support will be distracting enough for them to accept the change. So with three monitors in the picture, it was time to decide the hardware that would power it.

Obviously I would need a heavy duty system and I figured I’d start with the new Core i7 2600K Sandy Bridge CPU as well as a P67 Motherboard, of which, we have a few sitting in the office- the MSI Big Bang Marshall is looking pretty good. But I’m not necessarily a fan of huge casings so I might go for a micro ATX motherboard and a smaller form factor. I’ll probably add 8GB of RAM to the system considering how cheap RAM is.

On the graphics side, I’m still not convinced on a dual card setup so my choices were between something based on the NVIDIA GTX590 or the AMD HD6990. However, the AMD solution is insanely noisy and being a Mac user I prefer to keep things as silent as possible so the GTX590 will probably be it.

Lastly, for storage, I will be mixing things with Windows and applications on an SSD for fast bootup and app launching, games on a 300GB Raptor for fast loading and higher storage and finally data on a mirrored drive- probably the WD Black edition with 2TB capacity. For the optical drive, I’ll get a Bluray with DVD writing.

I know that will be a resonably powerful and fast enough system to play Skyrim. I just hope its good enough to make me stay on Windows and not plug my iMac back after a month.


The double faced media

By on May 19, 2011

Was the ASUS promotion really worth reporting?

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Recently, a story posted on Gulf News website named and shamed ASUS Middle East for offering rewards to journalists based on their products coverage. I really did not see anything newsworthy about that. Let me share why.

First of all, there was absolutely nothing in that email by ASUS about “good reviews for their products.” Just plain and simple reviews and news coverage that every company out there wants from the media. There are barely a handful of media outlets that can actually review their products and they will continue churning out fair reviews regardless of what they get or not. Other so called “tech journalists” will continue printing whatever is written on the back of the box and post it as a review.

Secondly, what they have done is nothing new. Almost every single event that a tech journalist attends is followed by a “goodie bag” that has some kind of gadget or a present inside it to create warm and fuzzy feelings. And I have yet to see a single journalist refuse these schwag bags- I get them all the time and so do representatives of Gulf News and other media. So why single out ASUS? Even Google handed out a new 10.1″ tablet and a Chromebook at their latest event to all attendees- journalists included. I didn’t see The Wall Street Journal reporting over the ethics of that.

Frankly speaking, I’d much rather get the latest tablet from ASUS than a holiday package. I had received that email from ASUS about their promotion and discarded it because there was nothing new or of interest for me. Why was this reported in the media is beyond me.

Maybe it was a slow news day…


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