Updates from Google I/O – What is New on Google Play and Chrome

 900M Androids

Once again, the Google I/O event was an opportunity for Google to showcase what magic and innovation they have been cooking up in their labs. This year, they did not disappoint and came through as usual. Here is my take on what I loved about the new developer tools.

900 million Androids activations as of 2013 was probably the big opening news during the event. The android ecosystem is truly amazing and continues to grow. Another notable addition was Cloud Save when gaming which allows you to pause a game and continue playing on other devices.

 Google Play

I0 Public View

 Optimization was also a big deal during the event. Google now offers optimization tips to help you see where you can improve your apps. This includes giving you such services like App Translation Services and tablet usage to help you determine where your users are coming from and how you can make their experiences better.

Referral tracking is another new feature to help you determine which ads are most effective. By showing which channels are bringing you most traffic, usage metrics will also be available together in the same place without having to navigate to Google Analytics.

Revenue Graphs now allow you to see revenue streams at your fingertips down to specific countries and time. Beta Testing & Staged Rollouts were also introduced to help you manage app rollouts.

Chrome

I0

Chrome was created to make the Web a better place. Google announced that the Chrome user growth has now reached 750 million active users. With most of this increasing new growth is coming from mobile, Google showcased a demo of Web GL which comes to Chrome that was not available just last year.

The browser is a means and not an end in itself, and Google seems to be concentrating on bringing Chrome capabilities to mobile by increasing JavaScript speeds. The introduction of WebP image format was also showcased with an animated GIF of a cat.

Video formats encoded in H.264 and VP9 were also showcased, with the later being 69 percent smaller which would translate to less bandwidth costs. To enable adoption of these new technologies, Google introduced data compression on Chrome for Mobile to enable web pages load faster. It was also announced that YouTube will soon be offering support for the new VP9 video format.

Autocomplete for checkout has also been simplified to make shopping on mobile phones much easier. One you do an initial checkup, Chrome saves up all of your info. The next time you come to fill out the checkout form, it is automatically populated saving time.

You can also build your own HTML tags with the introduction of web components which is where Google wants to take web development.

A nice demo of a game using Web sockets to keep different devices synchronized during gameplay was also showcased.

The rise of personal assistant apps

Google Now Personal Assistant
Google Now Personal Assistant

Mobile personal assistants like Siri and Google Now have changed the capabilities of our mobile devices.  They have allowed us to experience the web in a new way by simplifying how we organize our contacts, meetings, travel and even personal information. While these two assistants are probably the most popular, they are not the only ones that offer the service. A new breed of personal assistants is on the rise.

If you are looking for alternatives to Siri or Google Now, you will be spoiled with options. As mobile apps get better at pulling our personal information and analyzing it, they are able to let us quickly and efficiently locate what we need, and even predict our next steps.

Innovative new personal assistant apps

2013-05-09_09h52_52One of these recently launched apps is Osito (formerly known as Sherpa), created by Bill Ferrell, a former Google Adwords product manager. The app brings a new approach to “predictive assistance” by anticipating your next step and pushing that information to you. Osito is able to pop up tasks from your calendar based on your location. It will, for example, bring up hotel reservation information as soon as your flight has landed as opposed to digging for that information when in a taxi. If it is expected to rain soon, Osito will bring up that information 15 minutes before it starts raining, letting you make the necessary choices before you are caught unawares.

A wild Siri clone appears!

We are also seeing a number of Siri clones appearing on mobile devices. The Optimus series smartphones from LG, for example, now sports the LG Q Voice (formerly Quick Voice), which is an intelligent voice recognition software. Aisha is another voice recognition app which helps to query your contacts and make calls, send messages and know the nearest pizza outlet among other details. BlackBerry users also have their own personal assistant by the name of Vlingo, which is also available on iOS devices as well as on certain Android phones.

Some personal assistants can be quite interesting and offer unique interactions. Iris for Android, for example, allows your phone to talk to you on topics ranging from stock prices to music. Skyvi, on the other hand, is able to pull information about local businesses and even tell jokes. Have you ever wanted to access Facebook and Twitter via voice? Skyvi now allows you to do that. Voice Answer is a robot that answers detailed questions and can assist in many tasks.

Even Windows desktop users have also not been left out. Mitini is a voice over control app, similar to Siri, that runs on the platform.

Donna is another personal assistant that is basically designed to help you get where you need to be. It estimates the time and distance to get to your destinations, taking into account transportation methods like walking or driving and other stuff such as parking and getting to the building. Over time, it gathers your personal habits such as your favorite places to snack. It will even dial straight into conference calls or Skype if you are scheduled for an online meeting.

Conclusion

We are seeing more personal assistant apps coming out nearly every day. When one app doesn’t work for you, you now have a list of options to choose from.  Since its difficult to make an app that fits the lifestyle of everyone, we can expect to see personal assistant apps to start coming up for different niches and lifestyles.

Are you using a personal assistant app? Which is your favorite?

Google Now for iOS: A real reason to use location services

Google Now HomeI am a tech geek. I love technology, I constantly download the latest apps, I do my very best to have hands on experiences with the newest devices, and I am generally constantly reading about new advancements.

That being said, Google Now has completely blown me away.

Google Now: The future is here.

Coming from Apple’s iOS as my primary platform, I have been salivating over Google Now via YouTube videos and tech articles for a long time now. I initially stumbled on it while looking at comparison videos between Siri and Samsung’s S Voice. In the rabbit hole that is YouTube, I eventually ended up watching plenty of videos comparing Google Now to S Voice and Siri, and Google Now handily beat them both every time.

Needless to say, this bit of software was something I was excited about, but honestly was not fully confident that it would make it to iOS. However, as is the trend with Google, they always feel releasing their incredible software on iOS is more beneficial for them than it is detrimental for their Android platform. Lucky for iOS users!

Google Now is basically nested within the Google Search App which can be downloaded from the App Store.

First Impressions

I downloaded the app on April 29th, the day that it was released, and I was blown away right off of the bat. Once I installed it, I went into the Google Search app, and dragged the Google Now interface from the bottom into full view. I was curious what type of “Cards” I would be seeing since it was my first time on the app.

Important note about setting up Google Now

To use Google Now,  it is highly recommended to turn on your Location Services. Without that, Google Now literally does not function. It will just sit there and tell you there are no location services, and show you nothing else. Also, if you have a Gmail account, logging into it will greatly enhance your experience. As far as I can tell, virtually everything is taken from your Google relationship, and generally a Gmail account is the anchor point for that relationship.

2013-05-01 11.14.01Once I had my location services enabled and logged in with my Gmail, I scrolled through my cards. The first thing I noticed were two cards that had the information of two packages that I had ordered from Amazon. I immediately tapped on one, and it showed me all the information about when the order was made, who was shipping it, and gave me a button to “Track Package.” This was the first feature that truly surprised me because it required Google to sort through my email, understand the email from Amazon, take the data and reorganize it for the card, and present it to me with a link that goes directly to the USPS tracking site. That is just plain intelligent, and it’s the type of tech I have been waiting for for a long time!

To be fair, the tracking on the package was rather basic, and didn’t go to the USPS site the first times that I used it. It was still able to tell me the latest status and the delivery day, but wasn’t showing me step by step statuses as the package made its way to my house. However, I noticed that today, when I track a few additional packages that I recently ordered, the “Track Package” button goes directly to the USPS website, and shows me the exact up-to-date status which is even better than using the Amazon app to track things.

Location Awareness and Navigating

I have to admit, this is the category that excited me the most when I looked at all the Google Now videos. Sure, it is incredibly fast at understanding a question and giving you data immediately, but what was being shown for built-in navigation seemed like true predictive and future technology. In these YouTube videos I watched, they showed how Google Now would alert you when to leave for work in the morning based on the traffic situation, basically predicting what time you needed to be at work and alerting you if traffic was jeopardizing that. Since Google Maps navigation has always been the most reliable app on my phone, I was excited by this type of tight integration. So how did it work?

Once I set my Home location in Google Maps, the Google Now integration was absolutely fantastic. However, it relies heavily on having a place to go. While that might sound obvious, what I mean is that this data needs to be in a form Google Now recognizes. For my appointments over the last few days, I had to add them to my Google Calendar (including location)and then it would sync to Google Now.

The result was quite impressive. For example, I put in a doctor’s appointment for the next morning, and when I woke up and went into Google Now, the top card was how long it would take me to get there and a small map highlighting the traffic situation, and of course a button that links to immediate navigating in Google Maps. Pretty cool. Even more, when I was finished with an appointment (or out anywhere for that matter), it would always have a card suggesting the traffic back home. A few times, this made it seem like it was reading my mind, as I was actually heading home.

Again, this is all understandable, and a natural progression of technology, but here is what really surprised and excited me: I was at a doctor’s appointment, and it was my only appointment in my calendar for the day. Naturally, Google Now was suggesting Home as the next destination and that was all. However, I needed to get some blood drawn for a test my doctor wanted, so I started using Google Search to find lab locations around the area, identify their operating hours and perhaps make an appointment. As I was walking out of the doctor’s office, I casually glanced at Google Now to see if there were any interesting new articles it thought was relevant to me, and the top card was the traffic and time estimate to the lab I looked at! Talk about predictive technology.

Location based results that I have experienced:

  • Restaurants nearby that have Zagat ratings attached
  • The weather and forecast wherever I am
  • Traffic to my next destination (if it’s in the calendar), or back home

Some cool location features I have yet to test:

  • When traveling, it will display a translator for you based on the country you are in
  • It will show you the current time zone you are in, and occasionally flash back to your home time zone so you see the time there
  • Depending on the country you are in, it will offer up the current currency exchange in that area
  • It will suggest local venues and shows going on, including movies

Sports and News CardExperience with Google Search Integration

As the magical addition of my Lab location points out, Google Now is heavily integrated into Google Search. Here are some things I have searched for that Google now later assisted with:

  • Locations I have searched for (like the lab), especially when I am near them
  • Sports teams I have searched for future schedules or past scores (they start appearing in cards with results)
  • News articles featuring the type of tech articles I have been searching for and reading (not many, but they were on target)
  • Restaurants nearby

Aside from these types of integration, the Siri-like feature of being able to search with your voice is just plain spot on. Not only does it show you what you said in text so you can visually confirm the search, it does so as you type. The second you say a word, it is on the screen, and you can see it correct itself by the context of your sentence if it got a word wrong. The result is a flawless voice translation that always has gotten it right for me, and leads to a fast and easy search. It generally can find an answer to just about anything, and is way better than Siri (and much faster).

Is this an invasion of privacy?

I am very sure there will be two camps regarding the privacy issue, one saying that of course it isn’t, and one saying Google is an evil corporation and is trying to sell your soul for money. I have always been a part of the former, but with this increased integration, I can really understand the latter. Much of the impressive things Google Now has done has honestly been absolutely creepy. It seems to know what is going on in my life, before I even know I am looking for it. However, I suppose that I am technologically minded enough to find these advances awesome and necessary, and the sharing your information part of it is just a necessary evil for large jumps in life quality.

iOS Drawbacks

One of the largest differences between iOS Google Now and Android Google Now is simply the level of phone integration that you can attain. For example, when you tap on “Get Directions” on the traffic part of iOS Google Now, it will open Google Maps (thank god it’s not locked to Apple Maps for some silly reason). However, in the Android version, you also have choices like notify the person you are meeting that you will be a few minutes late.

Additionally, and one of the absolute worst limitations for iOS is that push notifications are not allowed. This severely limits the usability of the app because you must have the app open to get the benefits. For Android, your phone will alert you that it is time to leave for work (or whatever appointment) based on the traffic and the time. For iOS, it knows you have to leave, but it can’t say anything to you. It’s up to you to notice the time, and check the app for the traffic update. That is a huge downside, but given all the wonderful other features of the app, I found that I am in it regularly enough to notice things before it alerts me.

Final Thoughts

Google Now is still young on iOS, but it is clearly a winning product. Of all the apps to have ever come out on iOS (not counting Google Maps return to iOS), this is hands down the one that I am most excited about. True predictive technology is something that tech companies have been working on for ages, but nobody has been able to really nail. Google seems extraordinarily close, and if they can develop this to know virtually everything I want to do before I do it, then all the other companies will be scrambling as their market share absolutely tanks.

The best part is that I don’t think any other company really can do it the way that Google can, because they don’t have all these integrated services like Gmail that are constantly pulling in information from every aspect of your life. Time will tell if this is truly the future, but I am very certain that this is a large step in the right direction.

Meet Uber, your on-demand private driver

2013-04-11_09h49_14Thanks to the Uber app for iOS and Android, gone are the days of standing outside trying to hail a cab or find a car service. I was recently in San Francisco for work and I met a friend for dinner across town. We were about to leave, and I said to her, “I really hope there are cabs in this area.” She looked at me and said, “You don’t have the Uber app?” I immediately pulled out my iPhone and download the app, within 5 minutes I signed up and had a taxi waiting for me outside the restaurant.

How it Works

Set up an account

First, you download the app to your iOS or Android device and create an account. You must enter a credit card in order to complete account set up. An email will be sent for you to confirm your information

Right now Uber can be used in the following cities: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Hamptons, London, Los Angles, Melbourne, Milan, Minneapolis-St Paul, Napa, New York, Orange Count, Paris, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Washington DC.

Select the type of vehicle you want

The types of vehicles are listed below; however, not every type of vehicle is available in every city. When you launch the app GPS will locate what city you are in and give you the vehicle options for that area.

Taxi: No flagging or yelling required! Use Uber to request and pay for a taxi, at standard taxi rates plus a $1 booking fee. A 20% gratuity is automatically added for the driver.

UBERx: The convenience of Uber at a lower price with hybrid and mid-range cars in a variety of colors. Seats up to 4 people.

Black: Classic black car option is the default. Choose this and either a high-end sedan or SUV will be curbside in minutes. Note: choosing “Black” and being picked up by an SUV will not charge you the SUV rates. Seats up to 4 people.

SUV: When you’re rolling with more than four people, request only SUVs, for a higher rate. Seats up to 6 people

Use the app to tell Uber where you want to be picked up

You can use the map and your phone’s GPS to tell Uber your current location so they can pick you up. If the GPS does not find the exact location, you can manually type in the address.

www.uber.com
www.uber.com

Wait for Uber to respond

Uber will send you a text notifying you of how long you’ll need to wait before you can expect to be picked up, along with the driver’s name. When your Uber ride arrives, you’ll receive another text to let you know.

Wait for your payment to be automatically charged

Your card will be automatically charged, with the tip already included. You don’t need to manually hand over some cash or your card to the driver before you leave. It’s that simple.

Pricing

Uber’s pricing is similar to metered taxis, although all hiring and payment is handled exclusively through Uber and not with the driver personally. If the Uber car is traveling at a speed greater than 11 mph, the price is calculated on a distance basis. Otherwise, the price is calculated on a time basis. Prices are higher than prices charged by conventional taxicabs and 20% gratuity is automatically added.

At the end of a ride, the complete fare (which includes a tip) is automatically billed to the customer’s credit card. Uber has said that its high prices are the premium that the customers pay for a cab service that is not only reliable but also punctual and comfortable. Check out Uber’s website for prices per city.

Once the ride is over…

A receipt is sent to your email address (great for those who need to expense the ride) along with a survey to rate your experience. I also received an email for $10 off for every friend I get to sign up using the link they provide in the email.

Conclusion

Overall, my experience with Uber was great. The price may seem a little expensive to some people who give it a try, but when you work it out with the tip and realize that you’re paying for more of a high quality and convenient driver experience, it’s actually well worth the cost.

3 apps to make grocery shopping easier

grocery appFor most of us, heading to the grocery store can be a huge production. Even if it’s just to pick up that box of baking soda a new recipe just can’t do without. There are the canvas bags we always forget to bring in, carts that take up the best parking stalls, and hoards of people all trying to do the same: shop as quickly as possible. I usually come in with a list, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the layout. I’ll pick up frozen veggies, backtrack to the peanut butter, and become forever overwhelmed with the hundreds of cereal options that await.

That is, until I stumbled into the world of grocery apps. Free and easier than I would have ever imagined, now I can easily list, navigate, and save my way through the aisles with the help of a single app. Of course many options are available, but here’s an outline of some of the most popular (AKA best working) grocery shopping apps.

Grocery IQ

More than just a list, Grocery IQ allows users to put in their needed items, arrange them for maximum store efficiency, and even hear suggestions for sales in the area. A cohort of Coupons.com, print or email coupons straight from the site. As for the “IQ” bit, this app remembers most purchased items, allowing you to add them to future lists with ease.

OurGroceries

Perfect for families with multiple smartphones, OurGroceries lets users create and sync lists from multiple locations. Update, change quantities, or create different lists to suit each store; one for groceries, one for cleaning supplies, one for the hardware store, and so on. Homes with multiple smartphones often opt for this more versatile version.

Shopping List

Powered by recipe.com, this free app is great for regular site users; simply add ingredients straight from a recipe page and into Shopping List. Read items into your phone for voice recognition to pick up, scan, or type lists to receive area sales.

Conclusion

While it’s true that many of these grocery list-based apps hold similar traits, it’s also true that they help make life much easier. Find one that works best for you (free ones; many are paid but offer few upgrades from their no-fee counterparts), or choose the one that comes with a familiar face. All options will allow you to save time, cut back on funds, and save some stress along the way.

Thanks to these and other grocery-themed smartphone apps, shopping for food never looked easier.

How to cash in with Viggle: Earn money while watching TV

viggle logoFor those missing out on getting free stuff for watching TV, welcome to the world of Viggle. Open to all iOS and Android users, this app allows us to “check in” to live TV shows or movies, which earn points toward gifts and discounts. Free to download and working with our current tube-watching schedules, it’s an app that might change the way we indulge in entertainment.

How Viggle works

The next time you sit down to watch Bones or Who’s the Boss reruns, just click “check in” and point your mic toward the TV. Viggle then identifies the program (it’s usually right, but sometimes takes a few tries, or if the show can’t be located you can type it in) and rewards you that show’s respective points. The earlier you check in to the show, the more point will be rewarded. Ad points are also offered, and there’s a sign-up wall where points can be earned for signing up for credit cards, etc.

Of course this sounds too good to be true, but it works, I swear. In about 10 months, I earned $90 worth of gift cards to various stores. I checked in only when it was convenient and made no extra efforts to find a TV when I wasn’t already watching. BUT this was also during the glory days of Viggle. Shows were often rewarded at 300-400 points a pop, 75 and 100-point ads were given freely, and only 14,000 points were needed to earn a $10 iTunes card.

Living high and loose caught up with the brand, and now primetime shows are 50 points, most with trivia, and ads are few and far between. Earning $10 will now cost 20k points, or the equivalent in iTunes dollars (when available) costs a whopping 25k points.

Making it worthwhile

With these rapid inflation of points (and subsequent loss in what shows are worth), Viggle took a quick turn toward not being worth the effort. But, it’s still free money for watching TV, right? To earn the same amount of points, we simply have to get creative when using the app.

To earn more points:

  • Check in at the beginnings of shows. If you wait until the last half (even if you watched the whole show), points or prorated for the amount of minutes documented.
  • Watch sports. Sporting events offer more bang for your time. Check out local showtimes and cash in.
  • Play the games. Whether it be MyGuy, which allows players to earn based off players’ performances, or trivia, which gives points for right (and even wrong) answers, play along. These may drain your phone battery, but offer a significant swing in point totals. (Between check ins, ads, and trivia, I earned nearly 2k points during the Grammys.)
  • Watch the ads. Even if you don’t watch them, “watch” them (we can only stand the same commercial so many times). These can be anywhere from 5 to 150 points.
  • Check in at prime time. While these shows are listed at 50, Viggle is notorious for giving out check-in bonuses that often double or triple your points. We may never know what they’re going to be, but the surprise is definitely worth it.
  • For bulk points, check out Viggle’s wall. Many require shopping or company sign ups, but you can also find videos; the offers are always changing.

Who says you can’t get something for nothing? With Viggle, earn gift cards and merchandise just for watching TV. And with the tips above, you’re sure to earn as many points as possible.

A society drowning in cords, and how to manage them

power cordsFirst, we got our own cell phones.

They were friendlier than the previous in-car versions, offering the same talking abilities without location restriction. But they also required a charging cord to be carried around, forever nesting in our suitcases and/or purses. Then computers became mobile, and they needed a cord too, lest we be stranded without a way to play Oregon Trail. Then MP3 players became a thing (which needed headphones, another cord), and then tablets, and before we knew it, we were carrying around cords upon cords. A tangled mess of single colored adapters that must stay with us a majority of the time.

For a while we thought our Apple products would feed from a single-shaped device, but even they changed, forcing us to either upgrade all around, or continue with the business of multiple cords.

The same can tangled-ness can be said for our homes; electronics of all kinds require a constant source of power, leaving us with the wake of their lines. TVs, stereos, lamps, and more have us bowing to their needs with their ugly plug in needs.

So where did we go wrong? Now even cars are becoming electric, requiring even a larger cord to be toted while traveling. While some efforts are being made toward wireless charging and hot pad stations, the majority of “wireless” devices still require a standard outlet, and a power cord.

Managing the chaos

Until all our electronics re-juice ET style, all we can hope for is a more controllable mess. Crafty types can bind together toilet paper rolls (with optional paint) for a storage grid – though this isn’t ideal for travel. While messier folks just tote around a knot of coated wire, pulling out what’s needed as items die.

For an in-between, look to cord keepers or rubber stick-ons that “grab” the cords and make them stay put. Best for in-home cords, such as desktops, phones, or power strips, models can be affixed to the wall for semi-permanent keeping. For traveling, stick to wrapping features, such as circular items that hold both ends down during movement. Both items come in various sizes, adaptable for all types of cords.

Whether choosing to organize gadgets with more gadgets or living with the ever-growing mess, it’s safe to say the age of the cord is upon us. Our only option seems to be grinning and bearing the technological whirlwind we’ve created.

Astrid is a near perfect to-do list for both iOS and Android

Logo_Astrid-320Calendars for 2013 are still fresh off the printing presses, and even though we are only a few weeks into January, I suspect that most people’s New Year’s resolutions are being broken by the minute. I started with six, but unfortunately they are being picked off faster than zombies on the Walking Dead. So, in order to keep the three resolutions I have left, I needed to do something drastic.

Get. A. To. Do. List.

Yes, an actual to-do-list. I’ve avoided them for years – but in order to stay productive during the year it was my only option.

In my despair I download Astrid, a to-do-list app available for iPhone, iPad and Android. And to my surprise, the app was fantastic and the best thing to ever happen to my productivity.

Astrid has a smooth and efficient design, and is easy to use as well. The app is a free download, but also offers a premium service for $4.99 a month or $39.99 a year, which offers file storage, voice recording, and document backups.

But don’t worry; it’s not essential that you fork over your hard-earned cash for the premium service, because Astrid is still a fantastic app even if you only use the basics.

iPhone-personal-list

The app has a simple and sleek design that lets you compile a standard to-do-list with the traditional boxes to check mark a completed task. You can also input tasks with specific dates and times, in order to remind you what needs to be done. One great feature about the app is that Astrid will categorize your tasks into four separate lists: tasks that are late, due today, due this week, and tasks that have no due date. You can also categorize your tasks under home, personal, shopping and work, or even customize the categories to fit your needs.

iPhone-shared-list

Another fantastic feature offered by Astrid is the ability to connect with friends or family on Facebook and share or assign tasks via the app. My wife and I use a shared to-do list, which makes running our busy household so much easier, and, to be honest, fun. I went from despising to-do lists to actually enjoying using them, and now consider Astrid to be an indispensable app on my iOS devices.

One area where Astrid has come in handy is during my workouts (which, by the way, were one of my New Years resolutions). The app sends push notification reminders when it’s time for me to workout – but where it really comes in handy is by sitting in my ‘late’ box if I do not complete it on time. It irks me to no end to see a workout that I have skipped sitting in the ‘late’ box.

iPhone-speech-to-text

There are so many features on the app that I might have missed a few, so here’s a quick list of all the features that Astrid offers.

  • Cloud sync with push notifications
  • Voice recognition
  • Share tasks and list over e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter
  • See friends’ public tasks and give them encouragement
  • One-time or repeating reminders
  • Add notes and set priorities
  • Calendar integration
  • available for both iOS and Android devices

Overall I love Astrid, and have become completely addicted to using to-do lists. It may also be the best productivity app I have used in a while. If I had to rate the app I would give it a 10/10, and call it a must have for anyone looking to increase their productivity and get their lives more organized. It’s also a great way to keep your New Years resolutions on track. Astrid is a great app and I highly recommend it.

Game review: Jamestown, an arcade shooter for the modern age

The recent explosion of indie game development has produced a ton of amazing games and has revived several older game styles like the side-scrolling platformer (VVVVV and Braid being good examples). Unfortunately, those of us who were fans of arcade shooters like R-Type and Raiden have been left mostly in the cold.

Jamestown:Legend of the Lost Colony, an arcade-style shooter from Final Form Games, aims to correct that oversight.

Gameplay

Jamestown is a vertical scrolling shoot’ em up (“schmup”, if you’re fancy) which, according to Final Form’s website, is set on “17th-century British Colonial Mars”. The setting and narrative don’t make any sense, but they work as an excellent spoof on the horribly translated and often bizarre Japanese games in the genre.

Gameplay is simple: You are put in control of a ship. The ship has guns. There are enemy ships. They also have guns. Shoot the enemy. Don’t get shot.

Each level consists of waves of enemy ships followed up by a level boss. There are only a handful of levels available, but multiple difficulty settings, bonus challenges, and ship selections add variety to the game.

The brevity of a single play-through may not make much sense to someone new to the genre, but this is a game that’s meant to be re-played ad infinitum, building twitch skills and becoming in-humanly masterful at avoiding enemy fire.

Shoot the ships. No, not your ships, their ships. Image Credit: Final Form Games
Shoot the ships. No, not your ships, their ships. Image Credit: Final Form Games

The artwork, soundtrack, and gameplay are all excellent and fit together well. Pacing is perfect and it’s obvious a lot of work went into timing and designing each level.

Availability & pricing

Jamestown is available for PC & Mac via Steam, D2D, and GamersGate for $9.99.

Final Thoughts

The one piece that doesn’t quite work is the co-op mode. Huddling around a keyboard with three of your best bros, while true to the game’s arcade roots, just doesn’t sound like much fun (all of those bros take up quite a bit more space than they once did.). Even playing with two players on the same keyboard was a bit cramped.

An online co-op mode would take this game from “very good” to “almost perfect”. It’s possible that the high-speed, low-latency nature of the game may make this challenging from a technical perspective, but it would be an excellent addition.

How to rip DVDs to your iPad

Watching movies or TV episodes is probably one of the top things most people do with the iPad. You can rent or purchase movies through iTunes, but what if you want to watch a DVD on your iPad that you already own? You can convert your existing movies into a file format that is iPad friendly.There are plenty of sites offering free DVD converter software, a good number of which attempt to up sell you into a paid product.

The program I chose for importing DVDs is Handbrake. This software works the same way on both the Mac and the PC, however, for this how-to, I used a Mac.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to rip movies from DVD.

Step 1: Download and install required software

First you’ll want to download Handbrake. This software is free for both Mac and PC. You’ll also need to install the equally free VLC media player.

Step 2: Insert the DVD

You will need to insert your DVD into the computer that you are using.  This may cause your computer’s DVD player to launch and begin to play your DVD.  If that occurs, press stop on the DVD player and be sure to completely exit the program.

Step 3: Open Handbrake

Upon opening Handbrake, it will bring up a window that looks like the one below.  Handbrake is asking you what source that you would like it to scan for files that it can convert.  In this case, you will direct Handbrake to the DVD that you have inserted into your computer.  In the example above, the DVD is entitled, “PS_I_LOVE_YOU”. Select the contents and click Open.

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Step 4: Allow Handbrake to scan the DVD

Handbrake will scan the DVD for the movie file to convert. It will automatically select the file with the longest time duration to convert, which is almost always the movie that you want on your iPad. As you can see in the picture below, while there are many other files on the DVD, the longest file is selected is the movie.

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Step 5: Choose a location on your computer to save the movie

Click on the “Browse” button in the Destination section of the window.  This will allow you to choose the destination where Handbrake will save the file. You may want to save the file to your desktop so that it will be easy to find later.

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Step 6: Rip the movie to your computer

Click on the “Start” button at the top of the window and allow Handbrake to do its magic!  Your movie is now being saved to the location you selected in a file format that the iPad can use.  This process can take a while, depending on the speed of your computer.

Tip: Do not let your computer go into sleep mode during this process, the movie will stop ripping and you will not get a complete file.

Step 7: Move the converted movie into iTunes

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Now it is time to move the movie file (that you decided where to save in Step 5) into iTunes.  In order for this to happen, simply select the movie file and drag it into the movie section of the library on the left-hand side of the iTunes window and drop it there.  iTunes will begin to import the movie into its files at this point.  The movie will show up in the “Movies” section of your library with the original title of the file.

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Step 8: Sync the movie to your iPad

Select your iPad from the menu on the left-hand column of iTunes and select “Movies” at the top of the iTunes window.  Be sure that the box next to “Sync Movies” is checked and the box next to “Automatically sync all” (in the drop-down menu) movies is NOT checked.  Browse to the movie that you just imported into iTunes and check the box next to it.  Select the “Apply” button in the lower right-hand corner of the iTunes window and your movie is happily being synced to your iPad.

Step 9: Open the movie on your iPad

Open up the Videos app on your iPad and verify your movie is there.  Select it and you can now watch your movie without needing Wi-Fi.

This may take you longer the first few times you do it, but before you know it you will be a pro.