Tag Archives: iTunes

MotionX Poker: Fun with great touches

Heading to dinner tonight with Torrey, he mentioned how much he’s been enjoying the MotionX Poker (dice) game for his iPhone. It was also getting favorable reviews on the App Store (4 1/2 stars) so when I got home I went online and bought a copy.

Go buy this game!

I found myself saying “just one more roll!” more times than I’d like to count. The animation is fantastic, with dice bouncing around the table and colliding with each other; the sound of the dice hitting the table and the sound track are cool; shaking the iPhone to roll the dice is fun; and the overall game play and style is just darn neat. 

What really got me though were the little flourishes the developer added. Sometimes the dice come to rest sort of on their edges against each other. If you shake gently or violently, the dice get thrown the same way, and if you shake and keep shaking, the dice keep bouncing around until you stop.

But my favorite touch is the shadows beneath the dice: they shift as you move your iPhone, as if lit from an actual light source. This was so cool that at first I thought I was imagining it, but no, here are screenshots proving it (the first one is straight up vertical; the second rotated 90º counter-clockwise; the third is upside down; click on each to see it full-sized):

With 39 dice designs, 14 collectable gems, and five table designs, all of which require you to achieve certain goals and milestones to unlock, I don’t see this game getting dull anytime soon. And at just $5, it’s priced right.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll just give it one more roll….

iTunes Plus DRM-free music price drop, still can’t upgrade individual songs

Less than a year ago iTunes announced iTunes Plus, higher quality songs for $1.29 instead of the regular $0.99. I loved the idea of better sounding music, but I was ticked off that I couldn’t upgrade individual songs for the incremental cost ($0.30 per song). Instead I’d have to upgrade my entire library at once: not an inexpensive proposition.

Now iTunes is selling those iTunes Plus songs at the same price as regular songs. It’s great: I’d much rather buy DRM-free songs, and I’d certainly rather not pay a premium to do so. Now, there’s no reason not to buy a DRM-free song if it’s available, and one less reason to search Amazon’s MP3 store for a song (although Amazon does still sell many songs for $0.89 each, also DRM-free).

Alas, I still can’t upgrade individual songs to DRM-free versions. I don’t mind paying something for the benefit of owning a DRM-free copy, but the additional $0.30 isn’t an understandable price. Before, it was the incremental cost: a regular song cost $0.99, the DRM-free version cost $1.29, you pay the difference.

Now there is no difference, yet I still have to pay $0.30 per song, and I have to do it on all of my songs. I might really like Here I Am (Come and Take Me) by UB40, but not enough to pay a third of the price again.

iTunes, please let me upgrade individual songs to DRM-free!

Netflix Player by Roku

I love Netflix. I’ve been a subscriber for about two years (on the three-at-a-time, unlimited plan). I list the movies I currently have at home on this site, along with an ad for them (if you sign up from the ad I get a small commission). I even own a bit of Netflix (NFLX) stock (which has gone up about 37% since I purchased it a few months ago).

My biggest complaint with Netflix has been my inability to use their service to stream video to my computer, because they don’t support Macs. That may all be moot now, since they’ve announced a new device that handles the streaming, directly to my TV.

Called The Netflix Player by Roku, it’s a tiny rectangular box you connect to your high-speed internet connection, and to your TV via HDMI, composite or component cables. In some ways it’s a competitor to Apple TV, TiVo & Amazon’s Unbox partnership and Vudu.

It’s biggest advantage though is its price: a mere $100. If, like me, you’re already a fan of Netflix and joined at least the $8.99 a month plan, there is no other cost. (If you’re not yet a Netflix subscriber, join up and try it for two weeks for free.)

Of the 268 titles in my Netflix queue, only 22 are available for streaming, including Funny Girl, Supersize Me, MI-5 Volume 1, and Superfly. Among the complete collection (about 10,000 titles of the 100,000 in Netflix) are the likes of 30 Rock (NBC), Passenger 57, and a bunch of old TV shows like The Incredible Hulk, Gimme a Break and Charles in Charge.

Not exactly a vast and exciting selection, and you won’t find many recent releases here like you would on Apple TV or TiVo/Amazon Unbox, but, like The New York Times suggests, The Netflix Player is the “first shot of the revolution“. It’s a one-point-oh product which can only improve as content selection and internet speed improves.

Apple TV is a better product in many ways, from the higher quality (720p HD with Dolby Digital 5.1) to new movies released the same day as the DVD. If you mostly watch new movies, don’t have Netflix, and own an HDTV, Apple TV is a better choice.

I’m a huge TiVo fan (I own three, one now decommissioned but operational), and can use the Amazon Unbox service with it, and yet I’ve never bought or rented a download through their service. I think it’s because I don’t like the idea of paying $3.99 to rent a movie for 24 hours, or $9.99 to own a movie when I could get the physical DVD for the same price. (Which is odd, as I have no problems buying music through Amazon and iTunes.)

If you already pay for Netflix, though, and like (or would like to see) classic or little-known movies and TV shows, or, like me, don’t yet have an HDTV (horrors!), The Netflix Player, at just $100, might make a nifty addition to your home theatre setup. I expect it’ll soon have a place in my home.

Several sites have already done reviews. Take a look at CrunchGear’s review (pictures, including approximate video quality), CNET’s video review, or engadget’s first impressions.

Ignoring Macs for parental controls

I’ve long been frustrated by San Francisco Chronicle’s “computer guy” column by David Einstein. He regularly ignores Macs in his columns, either willfully, through ignorance, or because he believes that his audience doesn’t care about Macs.

In his most recent set of questions and answers, from May 5, 2008 included a question about setting limits on computer usage for middle schoolers. In his response, he said:

If your computer is running Windows Vista, the User Accounts and Family Safety feature in the Control Panel will let you create a user ID for your child and restrict the time of the day when he or she can sign on.

If you don’t have Vista, don’t despair, because you still have options.

How disappointing that those “options” didn’t include anything other than Windows. The latest version of Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard” has great parental controls, including the ability to limit total computer time (say, 3 hours a day), with separate limits for weekends, and prevent use during specified times (“bedtimes”).

You can also limit who your child emails and chats, allowing only certain email and chat addresses, and restrict which websites can be viewed. You can even limit which applications can be used.

Beyond what’s provided by Leopard itself, other applications include their own parental controls. For example, iTunes lets you restrict movies and TV shows by rating (G, PG, etc.) and to prevent purchase of “explicit”-tagged content. You can even prevent access to iTunes Store completely.

For parents, Leopard provides a significant control over how a child uses their computer. I don’t understand how Mr. Einstein could fail to acknowledge the Mac at all in his response, and it bugs me every time he does it.