Instagram Begins Signups for Android App

Instagram Begins Signups for Android App

Mar 26, 2012

Instagram, the popular iOS filtered photo service and social network, has taken one more step toward its next big step: Android. Teased at various intervals, now a registration page to be alerted when the app goes live is up on the Instagram website.

This may be the most-demanded app from Android users, and the concern from Instagram with launching may be if their servers can handle a massive expansion of users, because they do host the images themselves. There is an API available to access Instgram images, but this appears to be view-only; actually posting to Instagram requires deeper hooks that may only be available on a limited basis. One of the few known 3rd party Instagram apps is Hipstamatic, which is still on iOS. That’s not helping Android users out. Until then, users can use apps like InstaRoid for phones or HoneyGram for Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich tablets, or even Google TV.

But until that day when Instagram for Android is loosed upon the world, we’ll just have to put up with third-party photo filtering solutions like Lightbox. Sigh.

The Hills Are Greener: “Angry” About Cloud Saves

The Hills Are Greener: “Angry” About Cloud Saves

Mar 26, 2012

Angry Birds Space launched recently, and much like a space-bound rocket, it took off to the top of pretty much any chart it could be on. One notable feature was omitted from the game – cloud-based saving. Rovio announced a while back that they were working on an Angry Birds Sync service, that has yet to materialize. How has the world reacted to this notable omission? By barely reacting at all, if the lack of discussion on social media is a reliable indicator. There are a few tweets here and there grousing about the omission, but it’s apparently not enough of a deal for people to go out and be angry about it.

So, if the biggest franchise in the world releasing a new game without cloud-based synchronization between even devices on the same platform is not a big deal, do people really care? Perhaps not. Maybe the number of people that like to play between devices is so few that it’s just not worth the headaches to implement.

And really, whenever I speak to developers about implementing cloud saves in their own games, they do mention that it’s headache-inducing. There are so many possible errors that come up, from the same game being loaded up on multiple linked devices, to what happens when a device goes offline, that many just prefer not to mess with it. While I frequently mention the omission of cloud-based saving in games (especially on iOS where the iPad/iPhone split is prominent, and iCloud does exist as a solution), it’s something not being picked up en masse.

But maybe users aren’t complaining because they don’t know that it’s something that is technically possible. The “cloud” in general is a confusing concept, one that requires explanation to non-technical people. It’s something they use every day with their email, or even accessing Twitter or Facebook, but the idea of the cloud is obscure. So, people may not even realize that it’s technically possible for games to transfer their data from one device to another, even from one platform to another.

And really, the frustrating thing is that off-the-shelf tools for cloud synchronization exist. Apple has the much-ballyhooed iCloud service that few games implement – and even fewer implement in an error-free way. OrangePixel’s games all synchronize between devices using OpenFeint – even between operating systems! OrangePixel is a one man studio from Holland. So, while it may not be easy, if it’s possible for one person to use a free service to synchronize game saves, surely my Angry Birds Space scores can transfer from my Xoom to my iPod touch?

Of course, why should Rovio spend the work implementing it if no one really cares?

Tablet Remote Makes Tablet Usage While Hooked Up to a TV Easier

Tablet Remote Makes Tablet Usage While Hooked Up to a TV Easier

Mar 23, 2012

Like to use tablets hooked up a TV? That micro-HDMI port included in many tablets is very nice to use. Tablet Remote is here to help in situations like that, to use the tablet while not sitting physically close to it. Users download the app on the device they want to control, and on the device they want to use to control the tablet. They then follow the app’s setup instructions to setup its inputs and Bluetooth discovery, then a phone or another tablet can be used to control another Android device. This includes four-way arrows, media control buttons, and the built-in Android buttons. While Android is setup for keyboard control with arrow keys, some apps don’t work as well; including mouse emulation would help out a lot as some apps do need to be directly interacted with via the touch screen.

Still, this app has its uses. Watching videos from a tablet is easier, and for users who just can’t sit close to where there tablet is plugged in to, this helps. I mean, it’s a first-world problem, but it’s still something that may have some uses. The interface is animated in a unique way, that’s almost worth the free download from Google Play on its own.

Tablified Market Makes Finding Apps for Tablets Easier

Tablified Market Makes Finding Apps for Tablets Easier

Mar 23, 2012

A particular downside with the Android Market when compared to the iOS App Store when it comes to tablets is that it’s harder to find tablet-optimized apps. Apple designates between iPad and Phone/iPod touch optimized apps, along with offering apps that run explicitly in either mode. Google Play doesn’t have any kind of designation for an app that’s meant to be specifically optimized for a tablet.

That’s where Tablified Market can help. From the developer of Thumb Keyboard, this is an app with a curated list of apps that are meant to be run on tablet devices. Apps and games listed in a variety of categories are available to browse, and then purchase from Google Play. This even includes a special category of apps for root users. While the list of apps is curated, so presumably not every single tablet app is listed, it’s still a fantastic start for users looking for tablet apps. Tablified Market is available in a free ad-supported version, and a paid one with additional features, both from Google Play.

Open Video Codecs on Mobile Are All But Dead Thanks to Mozilla.

Open Video Codecs on Mobile Are All But Dead Thanks to Mozilla.

Mar 23, 2012

Mozilla made an announcement recently that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but is important. They’ve added native H.264 video codec support to Firefox Mobile, adopting the closed format, in addition to supporting open codecs like WebM and Theora. H.264 is the codec that the industry has largely adopted as the widespread video codec of choice – it’s everywhere from Blu-rays to iTunes to being used to distribute pirated TV shows. It’s the one thing pirates and the copyright industry can really agree on, that H.264 is a swell video codec.

Now, mobile Firefox will natively play back these videos in HTML5 with the

Mozilla says that they had to make this decision to sacrifice some of their principles for an improved user experience. Not supporting H.264 video is a killer lack of a feature to have in a mobile browser. This is because after years of numerous competing standards, H.264 is the closest thing to a unified video standard in the industry right now, and so much video supports that format. File containers are still a mess, especially as everyone likes their own container, and the MKV container, despite its usefulness, is something legitimate contest industries won’t touch because of its association with piracy. WebM and Theora just had no hope on mobile. And as Mozilla points out in their blog, Google hasn’t been cashing the checks their mouth has been writing as they still push H.264 video in many forms.

The idea is ultimately that codecs shouldn’t matter, that video should just play anywhere. Would it be better if the leading codec was free as in freedom? Yes. But isn’t it more important that our videos play in some format, period?

Theme Thursday: Color Box EX

Theme Thursday: Color Box EX

Mar 22, 2012

After a few weeks of ADW Launcher, I have finally switched back to a theme from, in my opinion, the superior GO Launcher named Color Box EX. The last few themes have revolved around darker themes that didn’t involve much color but Color Box EX, as its name implies, breaks that mold. As stated in previous posts, consistency and continuity are one of the biggest factors of a great theme.

The best themes are those that smoothly blend unsupported app icons in with the custom themed icons. Color Box EX does this better then any theme that I have reviewed so far. The colorful icons are a treat and fit nicely in with the chosen background. Color Box EX places existing and unsupported icons into randomly colored tiles that blend in perfectly with the default embossed ones. This turns the app drawer into a veritable bag of Skittles as opposed to the usual mindless crawl of mismatched icons. Going along with the colorful layout is the simple yet brilliant multi colored bar along the bottom of the screen below the dock. This neat accent plays perfectly off of the dark, textured background that comes default with the theme, and the candy colored icons really pop when placed against this great wallpaper.

Contrasting again to the bright, boxy containers are the app drawer and home screen icons. These wire-framed, glowing blue logos stick out and note the difference and importance of the command they represent. The 2 dollar price tag does not bother me at all because it is obvious looking at Color Box EX that a lot of personal care was put into this theme and I was really impressed with it from the moment it started running. The great play between the dark, textile background and the bold colorful icons combined with the perfect continuity throughout make this a theme that is well worth checking out for those with GO Launcher.

Angry Birds Space Review

Angry Birds Space Review

Mar 22, 2012

Angry Birds Space is exactly what it says it is. It’s Angry Birds in space. Not even gravity or the lack thereof can change what it is at its core – for better or for worse.

For those living under a rock or in a comatose state the past two and a half years, Angry Birds is a physics puzzler where players must launch birds with different properties at pigs, who are positioned both on and in structures of wood, stone, and ice. The goal is to destroy all the pigs before running out of birds, and to score enough points to try and collect three stars in each level.

Of course, everyone probably knows that because the Angry Birds franchise is absolutely gargantuan. The big twist here in Angry Birds Space is that the game takes place in space, which means that various levels of gravity come in to play. Levels incorporate the alteration of gravity in two ways. First is that there are zero-gravity sections, where objects travel in a straight line, losing no momentum unless they hit an object. Second, some moons will have their own gravitational field that can be used in various ways, like either pulling a pig from zero-G to fall to his doom, or for a bird’s flight to be altered by flying around it. Some levels actually play more like traditional Angry Birds levels, taking place entirely inside a gravitational field.

The gravity switching is a neat trick, and it’s the heart of this game. The new wrinkle brings some creative new levels to the process, yet it does all feel very consistent, and it still feels like Angry Birds. The controls are still effective and easy to use, and the physics engine is top-notch, even with all the new gravity effects. Everything feels like it works the way it should, and that’s especially important here, where things do get all topsy-turvy. Due to all the new gravity effects, the dotted line showing the expected flight path appears to be extended. It helps out a lot with understanding what the birds are going to do, considering that the different gravities can be confusing.

Tablet owners will be glad to know that the game runs perfectly on the high-resolution devices. My Samsung Captivate, a 2010 phone, runs the game extremely smoothly as well , so I must say that Rovio has done an excellent job at optimization. I’m also rather impressed and satisfied that they managed to launch it on Android simultaneously with iOS, instead of the typical delay between platforms. There’s the ad-supported version on Google Play and Amazon Appstore, and an ad-free one on the Amazon Appstore with a special Kindle Fire version as well; the ads are non-obtrustive, so going with the free one is my call.

What I am curious about with Angry Birds Space is how the casual audience is going to react, and if they’ll enjoy it the way they have with previous iterations of the series. With the way that gravity doesn’t the same thing in one level to another, it can get confusing because while the physics engine ensures everything works the way it ‘should’, the way it should work is not entirely clear! Granted, this is largely a matter of perception, and figuring out what effects are going on by looking around the level and becoming acclimated to it all, but understanding the physics is a more involved process than it was in any of the other games.

I would love to see more of the golden Eggsteroid levels that pay homage to classic video games like Super Mario Bros. and Arkanoid, especially those Arkanoid ones as they really mess with the core physics of the game in an interesting way. The free version seems to be missing the “Danger Zone” levels that are unlocked in the iOS versions.

As well, the gameplay is really just the same as it was in its previous iterations. The gravity’s different, and the birds behave a little differently, but it’s still Angry Birds at its heart. The “launch birds at pigs” formula just can’t change that much. It’s still a good formula, and I had fun with it, but it’s clear to me now that no matter where in the universe this game goes, it will always be the same.

Angry Birds will love this game because of what it is. It’s sixty-plus new levels full of more pigs to launch birds at, and the new gravity effects are legitimately interesting to play around with. It is more complex than the other games, but that’s a good thing for the future of the franchise, to have an iteration that sticks out a bit. The older versions aren’t going away, and they actually got new levels recently as well. Those sick of Angry Birds might enjoy the new gravity effects for a short period of time, and to see how they change things up, but this is still Angry Birds, and altered states of gravity can’t change that.

Save Your Booty App Helps Make Item Cataloguing Easier, with a Pirate Theme

Save Your Booty App Helps Make Item Cataloguing Easier, with a Pirate Theme

Mar 22, 2012

Save Your Booty is a serious app with a somewhat-silly name. It is not a butt-rejuvenation app. Sorry to all the aging curvy mamas out there. No, what this app is designed to do is to catalog items for insurance policies. That’s not the most exciting way to describe an app, but this is an interesting use of technology to help users protect their valuables.

What this app lets users do is to simply scan the UPC of the items in their possession by using their device’s camera by accessing it through Barcode Scanner. Then, the app automatically fills out its sections for Photos, Item Name, Description, Value, and can use GPS to note its location. It’s possible to edit all of these categories, including adding additional timestamped photos.

This then makes it easier to report the items as damaged or stolen, should damage or theft occur. There will be detailed descriptions of the items, with photographs, and GPS-determined location of them. This should increase the likelihood that insurance claims will be successful because of the detailed information that will have been catalogued. Developer App-Order works regularly with governments, so they have experience in making apps for official purposes such as these.

All this information is saved to the web, so in case the phone that catalogued this information gets stolen, that could hypothetically be catalogued and claimed as well. The website doesn’t feature the pirate theme than the app, but this may be to not have it seem illegitimate when users need to use it for serious purposes – or because it’s based off of a similar backend for their more serious applications. Curiously, for an app based on physical security, digital security is not well tended to when registering an account, as it displays the user’s desired password in plain text. This is something that needs to be fixed in an update.

For users looking to take collection cataloguing into the 21st century, this seems like a useful tool. The app is available now for free from Google Play.

Angry Birds Space Now Available: Pop Those Pigs… in… Space!!!

The day after we learned that Zynga has purchased OMGPOP, the developers of Draw Something, we are reminded what a real franchise in the mobile world is. Angry Birds with it’s 600+ million users is expanding.

Angry Birds Space is now available on just about everything with a screen. This of course includes Android. Angry Birds Space is available now on the Amazon App Store: Free, $0.99 (ad-free), $2.99 Kindle Fire HD version. It includes 60 levels in the initial release. For a quick round-up of Angry Birds Space, see the post from Carter on the game from yesterday.

Talking yesterday with Peter Vesterbacka, CMO of Rovio, we can expect to see regular updates to Angry Birds Space over the coming months — much as we have seen with the other Angry Birds games. We also learned from Peter today that we can expect four additional Angry Birds games this year. Rovio will also be launching a brand new franchise this year, separate from the Angry Birds brand. Something to look forward to!

We’ll be posting our review of Angry Birds Space in the morning. But we’re guessing if you are Angry Birds fans, you won’t wait for our word on the game. So grab it now!

Not the Angry Birds Space Preview

Canabalt HD Review

Canabalt HD Review

Mar 21, 2012

It’s been a long time coming, but one of the prominent examples of the endless runner genre, Canabalt, is now on Android as Canabalt HD. Ported to Android by Kittehface Software from the original source code by Semi Secret, this is the same core gameplay. Run along rooftops, billboards, and through billboards, trying not to miss a jump, and trying to anticipate the sudden alien objects that come down from the sky. The Android version boasts one new feature: re-designed three-dimensional graphics. They’re totally optional, as it’s easy to switch back to the traditional graphics.

The game is still as sublime to play as it ever was. The visual style is still unique in its limited color pallette, and the soudntrack from Danny Baranowsky is still headphones-worthy. All the little clever strategies for longer runs, like discovering the boxes that slow the player down are actually a good thing at time for keeping the pace manageable, are all in place. The gameplay is absolutely attuned in a way that makes it great.

There is one very strange thing with Canabalt HD compared to the iOS version. Like clockwork, a window section appears within the first 500 meters. Practically, if not literally, every time. It is definitely more often than in the iOS version. I know because I kept testing to try and figure out why my iOS scores were so much higher. Are there other potential environment generation tweaks? It would be hard to figure out, and the window sections may or may not be an intentional tweak, but there is definitely something different at launch.

As well, the high score account system in use appears to be the same as in the iOS version, as my typical username was taken. However, there’s no way to recover accounts at the moment. The leaderboards are cross-platform though: I can see my high score that I made on the iPad version while testing out the different versions, but I can’t log in to that account. It may just be an error at the moment, but it is somewhat annoying.

Still, these are minor complaints in an otherwise-fantastic product. Fans of endless runners need to play this one if they haven’t arleady. It’s part of the Humble Bundle for Android 2 as well, for a limited time.

Kickstarter Spotlight: Proppa

Kickstarter Spotlight: Proppa

Mar 21, 2012

This week’s Kickstarter Spotlight focuses its attention onto a quirky little game from a college professor and a few ambitious students. The appropriately simple and phonetic name for this project is Proppa. The game revolves around helping a few wronged “Proppas” (surprise) in their quest to recapture their floating eggs. Seeing as this would not be a game without a challenge, standing in the way are legions of black, floating ghost snakes. The game is played in waves as more and more of these ghost snakes attack, some even taking the form of “dragon snakes” that seem to be the silhouette of an angler fish. The game takes place in three worlds so far, each with a different theme and with the hope of separate enemies in each world.

Initially the need for Kickstarter isn’t initially apparent as this project seems to be doing well enough on its own and has the backing of a university professor with years of experience working for established companies such as Midway. The problem is that most of the work is being done by students who are doing this as an unpaid internship, and there is no way for them to become paid because they are not actually working for a real company or startup. Their appeal to Kickstarter is not only for money to aid in development of the game but also to make this small club of people into a more legitimate company. Instead of offering these students a place where they can learn a trade for no pay and then search the market for a real paying job, this Kickstarter project, if funded, will allow this group to actually become these students’ first job right out of college. Instead of waiting to get their careers started, these students can start working right out of college in an environment they are already familiar with and begin earning valuable experience and a living.

So, I strongly encourage anyone to check out this Kickstarter project to help make Proppa and this project a reality both for these students and future game design students.

The Humble Bundle for Android Returns with Five New Games Debuting on Android

The Humble Bundle for Android Returns with Five New Games Debuting on Android

Mar 20, 2012

The first Humble Bundle for Android was a smashing success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies to benefit charity and the independent developers behind the titles. The bundle is now back for a second round, and it’s more exciting than ever for Android owners. See, all the games released in the first bundle were previously available for Android. This bundle? All new to Android.

Canabalt HD: Adam Atomic’s endless runner, one of the finest examples of the genre, makes its debut on Android. Originally released back in 2009, this stylish game featuring music by Danny Baranowsky has players jumping from rooftop to rooftop, trying to run as far as possible before meeting their demise. The Android version features special 3D effects exclusive to this game. The desktop version features a hotseat 2-player mode as well.

Zen Bound 2: Use rope to tie up wooden sculptures, with the goal being to cover a set percentage of the figure to complete it. The game was known on iOS for making use of three-dimensional space, requiring an order of thinking not seen in many other games.

Cogs: This puzzle game takes sliding puzzles, and adds gears to them. The goal is to make each board’s gears all turn each other, by sliding the pieces around to get the setup just perfect. Other levels involve elements like pipes, and even three-dimensional cube levels.

Avadon: The Black Fortress: Explore a world inspired by the RPGs of old in this game by Spiderweb Software, only available for tablets. This should appeal to fans of turn-based games, and computer RPGs of the 90′s with its theme and isometric, grid-based gameplay.

Swords and Soldiers: In this strategy game taking place on a layered two-dimensional plane, players summon soldiers and resource collectors to try and overwhelm their opponent on the other side. This game is only available by paying above the average price of the bundle.

That’s a rundown of the five titles, all making their debut on Android. The bundle title is somewhat inaccurate, as it does feature the PC/Mac/Linux versions of the games, and in Canabalt‘s case, features a new version of the game not seen outside of the Winnitron arcade cabinets. The bundle is available now, and is on sale until April 2nd.