Advertisement

Facebook has announced that they are going to let users choose a custom URL for their profiles and pages. This isn’t terribly huge news, it is something many other sites offer, but due to the size of Facebook’s user base people are interested in how it will play out. At 12:01 am EDT on June 13th, technically tonight on the west coast, you are going to be able to go to https://www.facebook.com/username and sign up for one.

Users will be able to use their real names now in the URL of their Facebook profile, which previously was long strings of numbers. This is great for people who often link to their Facebook page, either in email signatures or on a business card, etc. To get one for a Facebook Fan Page you needed to have at least 1,000 fans by May 31, 2009, to be allowed. The info page doesn’t state whether or not pages with fewer fans will be able to get them in the coming weeks or not, but I am hoping so.

People are worried about the Facebook URL gold-rush and I’ve even heard the term “face squatting” used to describe those who squat on a Facebook user name in attempts to keep other people from getting it, similar to a domain name squatter. If you have a common name you might not be able to get the URL “facebook.com/yourname” because someone else with the name might have already registered it. This isn’t so bad because there are a lot of variations on names and spellings so in a lot of cases this isn’t going to be a huge deal unless you have a super popular name. Facebook took precautions to prevent people from using some business names, and profanity in their usernames, but I’m sure people will find ways to trick it. For more information, you can check this news post on Facebook concerning the new usernames. I’ll sure be up tonight trying to register my name, who’s with me?

Google released the first developer preview of this software in January as a compliment to Google Mobile for iPhone, and it is now available to the public. It is a Mac-only piece of software, and it reminds me a little of Quicksilver. It searches for files on your computer, searches the web, and can complete tasks such as playing music and launching apps. It even has a built-in Twitter client so you can post to Twitter using nothing but Google Quick Search Box.

While the app is running you can hit either Control + Space, or both Command keys to bring up the search box. Then you start typing and the search begins. You can type the name of an app to launch it, you type the name of files, websites, contacts, and Quick Search will launch them all in your default apps. You can put in search queries and it will search the web. You can put in the name of an artist, album, or song and it will play in iTunes. It is a very versatile app.

Once you have the item you’re looking for, such as a file, pressing the Tab key brings you to the Actions menu. A picture file, for example, will let you convert it to different formats, get info, move to trash, open, quick look, rotate, and scale. Looking up a music artist and pressing Tab will show you all their albums, which you can then press the arrow keys to see the songs in the albums.

As for Twitter you just start your text string with a blank space, then type your tweet, and then hit Tab and it gives you the option to send it as an update to your Twitter status. Very basic, but helpful if you need to send out a quick tweet while you’re in the middle of doing other things. It is by no means a replacement for a full-fledged app like Tweetie, but it could come in handy from time to time.

If you are a fan of application launchers and desktop searches I think this one deserves a look, if you have a Mac anyway. I was always overwhelmed with Quicksilver so I never used it, but this is something I could see myself using from time to time. It’s open-source, and constantly being updated so it will probably get better with new functionality in the future too. You can get it for yourself at the Google Code site.

Fieldrunners is a gem amongst a slew of mediocre titles trying to cash in on the popularity of Apple’s iPhone. For a while it seemed like the only good games you were going to get for the iPhone were ports of existing titles that you could find on other platforms. With new IPs from indie developers being created exclusively for this device, you are going to start running into more exceptional games like Fieldrunners.

It is basically a Tower Defense style game, you build defenses to prevent enemy units from running from one end of the screen to the opposite side. You have four (note: more have been added via an update) different defensive structures you can build that all have their strengths. They can then be upgraded two times per structure. As you kill enemies you earn money to strengthen your defenses. It sounds basic in concept but as a whole, this game excels. Building the game with the device in mind the control system works perfectly. Since by default it is a grid-based game, placing your units is as simple as placing a piece on a chessboard, using your fingers to navigate is very intuitive.

Subatomic Studios did a fantastic job on the graphics and sound as well. Each enemy unit and each structure has a unique sound that you can identify as soon as you hear it. The 2D graphics look great, and the cartoony style and bright colors really make it pop.

I don’t want to go through this entire review without any constructive criticism though. I do think they should maybe go back and tweak the helicopters. You can have a ton of Lightning, Missile, and Goo Towers and fend off every oncoming enemy wave, but eventually, there will be nothing you can do about the helicopters and you will lose because of them. They fly quickly, have a lot of health, and sometimes spawn so many so close together that you are helpless. That and perhaps a couple of new maps, maybe some that aren’t just rectangles, would make this already great game even better.

Needless to say, I have sunk quite a bit of my time into playing this game. There were some less busy days at my job that I spent a little time playing since you can pause the game any time, even exit to the Home screen and still resume your game later. Even though I build almost the same set of structures in the same places every time I play I always feel like I can do better so I play more. It is really a very addictive game. For $4.99 this is a game that anyone with an iPhone needs to have.

I remember playing this game maybe 10 or more years ago on America Online. You would type in an AOL Keyword and the game would load up. I haven’t thought about it much since, and then I just saw it on the App Store and had to get it. Again, this game benefits from the Apple iPhone’s touch controls, it seems to just fit.

The game is played on an 8×8 grid, and you and another player take turns placing pieces on the grid. If you place four pieces to create a square you get points. The larger the square the more points you get, you even get extra points for squares that are at an angle. The game goes up to 150 points and the first player to reach it wins the game. It is almost exactly the same as the version I remember.

Placing the pieces with your finger seems very natural as opposed to clicking with a mouse. The graphics are crisp and look great on the small screen. The game also comes with a couple of different skins so you can change how the board and the pieces look.

It is a fun game but I got up to level 10 or so and I couldn’t outplay the computer. Playing the game multiplayer is a little more fun because you don’t have a super-smart computer opponent. Unless you’re playing someone with a really high IQ you should be pretty evenly matched with another human. If you like brain games that make you think and analyze your moves you’ll like this. And if you’ve played the old one back on AOL you might want to get it just for old times sake like I did.

Frenzic is an interesting puzzle game originally developed for Apple’s Mac OS X which has now been ported to the iPhone. I had played the demo for Mac some time ago but came away unimpressed. The use of the Apple iPhone’s touch screen for controls really made the game a lot more fun than it was for the Mac.

The game consists of a ring of six circles that are all cut into six slices. There is a seventh circle and this shows your current playable game piece. The game pieces are the slices of circles in either green, orange, or purple. You need to fill the circles entirely to score points, but you can only place a slice if there isn’t one already in that same spot. Filling an entire circle with pieces of the same color scores you bonus points and gives you an extra life. Each piece that is played starts a new timer, you have to place the piece before the timer runs out or you lose a life, and the timer goes faster as you go on. There are also power-ups in the game such as Double Score, Slowed Time, and an Explosion that clears all your circles.

Using your finger as opposed to the mouse makes the game a lot easier and you can more quickly place pieces. The graphics are still very much the same as they were on the Mac and they look great on the iPhone. Even though it is mostly static images they are very pretty and polished.

I did find though that it wasn’t very engaging. I played it a bit here and there but eventually found myself not even loading it up anymore. If you are a die-hard puzzle game fan or if you like quick, twitch style play, you might enjoy it a bit more than I did because it is a very unique game.

That is one more WWDC down and another round of speculation out of the way. Today’s keynote started off with some hardware announcements, moved into software and then right back into hardware. One of Apple’s SVPs, Phil Schiller, emceed this presentation, and based on the crowd’s reactions to the announcements, it seems clear to me that as long as Apple keeps on innovating and creating lust worthy products they will get along fine once Jobs inevitable steps down from his CEO position (not that I want that to happen or anything).

Notebook Rebranding

They started the day’s proceedings with some tweaks to their line of notebooks. The aluminum unibody MacBook has not been invited to use the MacBook Pro monicker. Now MacBook only refers to the white plastic model. All 13″, 15″ and 17″ unibody notebooks are now called MacBook Pros, besides the Air of course which gets to keep its own name. Apple seemed to be listening when consumers spoke because they brought back FireWire 800 to the whole lineup, including the 13″. The 13″ and 15″ now sport brand new SD card slots, for the 15″ this comes at the sacrifice of its ExpressCard slot. The 17″ has ExpressCard and no SD. All MacBook Pro models now come with the built-in battery which before was only on the 17″. Many other specs were bumped while prices were slashed. This really seems like it could increase their already monumental notebook computer sales.

Snow Leopard

The big news to come away from here is that they are going to be releasing Snow Leopard as a $29 upgrade disc in September. They’ve been talking a lot about how Snow Leopard is going to dramatically improve the performance of your machine, and at $29 I think it will sell incredibly well, people who might have skipped 10.5 are going to jump right in at that price. The entire architecture has switched over to 64-bit which offers a lot of technological benefits especially in the amount of physical memory the OS can address, allowing for up to 16 Billion GB of RAM. There were a lot of other features and upgrades to existing apps, but if you are very interested you can most likely find that info on Apple’s website.

They talked more about OpenCL, the standard they’ve been developing for harnessing the power stored up in your graphics processors. When not playing a game or watching HD video your graphics processor sits idle for the most part, there is an incredible amount of untapped power in there so they are now going to use it to speed your machine up. OS X 10.6 now has full Exchange support built into Mail, iCal, and Address Book so you can more seamlessly start integrating Macs into existing PC/Windows only corporate networks.

Safari 4 which they’re releasing today is also coming pre-installed on 10.6. They claim Safari 4 to be the fastest browser out there with JavaScript execution even faster than Chrome 2. It also integrates many HTML5 specifications and passes the web standards Acid 3 test with a 100 out of 100 for which IE8 scored a 21.

iPhone OS 3.0

They showed off some of the iPhone 3.0 updates but most of it was the same as what they showed at the iPhone 3.0 event a few months ago. New things included buying and renting videos on the iTunes store over Wi-Fi, additional language support, HTML5.0 in Safari, Find My Phone built into MobileMe suite, remote wiping of your phone’s data, and turn-by-turn directional GPS. Two other things I was upset to hear were that in the US, AT&T isn’t going to roll out MMS over iPhone until later in the summer and they haven’t made any announcements about tethering the phone for mobile Internet on your laptop. Apple is trying to build the best device it can, but here in the US, AT&T is preventing it from being the best. I hope they change their ways soon. iPhone OS 3.0 is going to be available as a free download for iPhone owners on June 17, it’ll be $9.95 for iPod Touch owners.

The Holy Grail, iPhone 3GS

This is the announcement everyone was waiting for. The new model iPhone, the 3GS is at least 2× faster than the 3G in many benchmarks, sometimes up to 3×. New hardware features include a 3-megapixel camera, with auto-focus, auto-white balance, auto-exposure, 30 fps VGA video recording, better light sensitivity. You can edit video on the phone although I’m sure there isn’t that robust of a toolset. You can upload them to YouTube, send them via MMS, and upload to MobileMe. They’ve added in Voice Controls which I think is cool. You can voice dial, and control your music with it just by holding down the Home button. There is a built-in digital compass (really?). Text to speech is built-in so it can read to you, hardware encryption, Nike+ compatibility, and increased battery life.

The 3GS will look exactly like the 3G, glossy back and all, it will come in 16 GB and 32 GB flavors for $199 and $299 respectively, in both black and white, it launches June 19th. In the meanwhile, the regular iPhone 3G is going to stay on the market at 8 GB for $99 in black. The $99 price tag is going to blow the doors down for this one. I know so many people who have been on the fence about an iPhone for 2 years now and this just might get them to jump in.

On Apple’s website, I did find this little juicy detail which I hope changes before launch, scroll down to the bottom and read the second line.

To get it for these low prices you need to be a new customer or eligible for a hardware upgrade through your carrier. iPhone 3G owners who got their phones last summer aren’t yet eligible for upgrades since AT&T’s upgrade cycle is I believe 24 months. So existing iPhone 3G owners will have to pay $599 and $699 for their choice of the iPhone 3GS if they want to upgrade. When the 3G came out last year I believe AT&T allowed existing iPhone owners to upgrade even though they weren’t eligible yet, but I’m not sure if or when that will happen this time around. Apple’s website says they need to pay full price, and I put a call into my local AT&T store and they too said I would most likely have to pay full price. Hopefully, that changes or they will have throngs of angry 3G owners cursing at them.

All in all, I think it was a good and exciting keynote and I can’t wait for everything to launch so I can try it all out. If you have an Apple computer or are planning on getting one soon this is all great news.

Google Wave is a new suite of technologies being developed at Google to bring online communication into a more modern and social age. The project leads, the Rasmussen brothers, showed off this technology at Google’s I/O 2009 Developer Conference held at the end of May. It is going to be entirely open-source with plenty of APIs so you can incorporate many of its features into all kinds of web and desktop apps. I’ve included the presentation and more details about Wave below.

At its core Google Wave is a communications system, some things they showed off in their presentation were it working like email, instant messaging, a collaboration tool, a photo-sharing system, and many other things. A Wave, as the threads are called can be controlled by one user, and any number of other users can be invited into a Wave. Inside of a Wave, private sub-waves can be sent between a small sub-section of the users. It is very hard to really explain what it is capable of without having a demo like in the video. I really suggest that if you are interested at all in this kind of thing that you watch their presentation.

Wave is open source and can be distributed on your own servers just like how corporate email works. It is completely customizable so developers can develop plugins to use Wave for things even the creators never thought of. The APIs allow you to integrate Wave into your own apps, as an example, they showed off how Google Wave can interface with Blogger.

I really think this is the future of the Internet and I am going to keep a really close eye on where this goes. Google Wave is built with HTML5, which is one of the reasons I don’t think we will see a full rollout for a while. HTML5 is still not a finalized standard and isn’t fully supported by all browsers yet. Within the next couple of years, this is going to dramatically change the way we communicate on the internet and I can’t wait.

I’m not kidding, the title I used for the post is pulled directly from Microsoft’s introduction page for Bing, their new search engine. Bing was launched earlier in the week and is already getting some great reviews around the web. The thing about Bing is that it aims to not only search the web for results but to help you make decisions and take action based on its results, they’re calling this a “decision engine”. I hope to not get too technical in this post, but to really see what it does you should use it yourself for a bit.

I looked at a lot of information about Bing and Microsoft is really trying to revolutionize here and try to out of the 3rd place spot they’ve held in the search market. They’ve done a lot of testing to see how users interact with their search engine, how they enter queries, and how they inevitably refine their query when they don’t get the results they are looking for. This helped them in ultimately putting together a product that is more user-friendly and gives you answers to your queries and not just a huge string of links to pages that may or may not have the answers you are looking for.

The first step Bing does to try and get you to where you need to be is their auto-suggest feature that suggests queries based on what you’ve already typed in. Once you settle on a query, they try to find you a “Best Match” to list on your results page. From the best match, they pull data right onto the results page so you don’t necessarily have to click through if the info you need is right there. They pull links, phone numbers, addresses, and search boxes off of some pages and put them right in their results page so you get the info you need quicker.

Results are also categorized as well to help you get the info you need quicker. A sample search I did for Buy Buy categorized my results into categories such as Catalog, Appliances, Coupons, Careers, Customer Service, etc. They have specialized results pages for certain searches like Travel and Shopping as well.

One of my favorite features is that there is a quick look type pop up if you hover near the right side of a result. This will pull some data from the page into a popup so that you can see if it is indeed a page you want to go to. This will save a ton of time and prevent you from going to sites that have nothing to do with your search.

With Bing, Microsoft is also trying to connect with web content providers. They make a full set of development information available on the site https://www.bing.com/partners/developers. There are APIs for integrating Bing search and other services on your site, site analytics tools, and other information on how to enhance your site and drive traffic using Bing.

So far every new search engine launch hasn’t really tempted me away from Google. This looks promising, but only time will tell. I’ll probably try it out for a few weeks and see how I feel then. If you use the web a lot you should check it out and see if it meets your needs and helps you get better results online.

Announced way back at CES, this phone has been making its way around the Internet ever since. With its eminent June 6th release, I figured there would be no better time than now to give my thoughts on the device.

Hardware

I like the design of the device, it is very sleek and smooth looking. I do like the fact that it has a slide-out hardware QWERTY keyboard which the iPhone lacks. My one concern is that the keyboard will be very cramped. Maybe they should have gone with a width-wise slide out instead of height-wise and it wouldn’t have had to be so small. As it is, the keys on most Palm devices are very small and close together and the Pre does not deviate from that.

The Pre has a 3.1″ touchscreen display with a 480×320 pixel resolution. Below the screen is a black gesture area for more controls, and there is a single button under the screen just like the iPhone.

There is a 3-megapixel camera with an LED flash. It has a removable battery, built-in Wi-Fi b/g, Bluetooth, light and proximity sensors, accelerometer, large speaker on the back, 3.5mm headphone jack, MicroUSB port for charging/data transfer, built-in GPS (with software), 8 GB of built-in storage for apps and media with no card slot for expanded memory.

Software

The Palm Pre is running a custom OS that Palm developed for this device and newer ones that will be released after the Pre. It is called webOS because most of its apps are based on existing web programming technologies. The OS is built on a Linux core and the apps are coded with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

The UI is truly beautiful and very colorful. They use subtle drop shadows and transparencies to really accentuate the interface. It is all touch and gesture-controlled, and they really tried to make it as intuitive and responsive as possible.

They’re working on a system they call Synergy which will merge or stack your contact information compiled from multiple sources so that you don’t have to manually keep one master contact list. It can pull contacts from Facebook, Gmail, and Outlook amongst other things. It looks for duplicates and tries its best to remove all the headaches for you. They are also using this technology to merge conversations across multiple services. Let’s say you’re sending SMS messages with a friend and then switch to AIM later, it will keep all the messages in a single thread so nothing gets out of context.

Palm legacy apps will run via an emulation engine coded into the OS. This is great news for old-school road warriors who have tons of Palm apps.

The built-in web browser is built on WebKit, so it will probably render the web very comparably to the iPhone. Palm is shooing to have a Flash plugin by the end of the year which will put this device leaps ahead of the iPhone in web usability if they can get it working right.

And the best thing yet is that they built it to be able to handle multiple simultaneous applications. You switch between open apps using a deck of cards type interface. You can flip through apps, and rearrange them just like you would cards in a deck.

The Pre looks to be the stiffest competition facing Apple right now. After the Blackberry Storm failed to live up to the hype, all eyes are on the Pre. It is going to be released on June 6th on the Sprint network for $199 with a 2-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate. I’ve heard it will be available on Verizon and AT&T starting in 2010. So far the only major US carrier to not announce it is T-Mobile.

WWDC is next week and if Apple’s rumored new iPhone fails to wow, they might seriously have to worry about the Pre. People are very upset with AT&T’s service, and this is launching when a lot of original iPhone owners’ contracts are due to expire. I for one can’t wait to get my hands on the device and actually play with it at a Sprint store. I’m also looking forward to playing with the SDK, I made a couple of iPhone apps and would like to learn a new platform. Hopefully, Palm supports the developer community and offers tools the same way Apple does. I’m interested in seeing how this all plays out.

You can see from my last post that I had quite a bit to say about Microsoft’s announcements at this year’s E3 convention. Well, today was Sony and Nintendo’s turn to wow the crowd, and in my opinion, they both fell short of what Microsoft managed yesterday. I do own products from all three of them (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP, and a Nintendo DS) so I was kind of interested in what they all had to say. I hate to say it, but I think Nintendo’s conference seemed to be a snooze, nothing of real interest to me at all. Sony made the PSP Go official, and the only other thing of note was the announcement of some great games.

Nintendo made announcements for Wii Fit Plus, Wii MotionPlus, Wii Vitality Sensor (are you kidding Nintendo? Come on!) and a couple of first and third-party titles, mostly first. The first party stuff is the same old Wii Sports this, and Wii Play that nowadays, which bores me to death, so the only announcements that I was interested in were the couple RPGs they announced, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Mario & Luigi, and Golden Sun. All said and done, I was severely let down from their display, but then again, I wasn’t expecting much.

Sony on the other hand made a couple announcements of their own. The PSP Go is official, drops on October 1st, for $249. All PSP games from now on will be released as digital downloads and as retail-ready UMD discs. They’ve added a lot of video content to the PlayStation Network which can now be downloaded straight to the PSP via Wi-Fi. Games were a big part of this presentation and rightfully so, MAG (256 player online battles), LittleBigPlanet on PSP, new Metal Gear on PSP, Final Fantasy XIV (an online exclusive to PS3), Last Guardian (Fumito Ueda’s latest opus), and God of War 3 were some of the highlights for me. Next they announced a motion control of their own. It is based on the EyeToy but you wave some magic wand around and it tracks the motion. Apparently the precision on it was great even though the demos looked a bit rudimentary. To be honest this is the farthest thing from anything I want right now. I have completely removed myself from this whole motion gaming thing, it is why I don’t have a Wii, why I won’t get Microsoft’s Project Natal and ultimately why I won’t get this new Sony thing. I just have no interest in it. But we’ll see who can pull it off best and maybe get me interested in a year or so when they’re all out on the market together. Last but not least was one of my favorite announcements of the week and is something I will definitely be looking forward too. Sony announced PodNation Racers, a new franchise that they are billing under the “Play. Create. Share” banner along with LittleBigPlanet. It is at its heart a kart racing game, but it is all about customization, customizing your character, building your own race tracks, and sharing them with the world.

Microsoft really turned the Xbox into an all-around media device, Sony looked to improve its game library for 2009 and beyond, and Nintendo showed off a couple of silly products that I’m sure will make them millions of more dollars. 2009 looks to be an interesting year for us gamers as these three titans continue their competition with one another. I for one am excited.