Saturday, February 28

Alto’s Adventure: Snowboarding, Monument Valley Style

Last year’s breakout iOS game, Monument Valley, merged simple gameplay – guide Princess Ida through an Escher inspired puzzle maze – with stunning visuals worthy of its inspiration. This year brings us Alto’s Adventure, a similarly visually stunning game mixed with the fun and thrill of snowboarding. A few years ago, I wondered if iOS games had reached the extent of their full potential, and would never live up to the early hype of eventually supplanting consoles as the mainstream gaming platform. Clearly, I just lacked imagination.

Speaking of imagination, I think it’s completely plausible that the similarities in visuals between Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure is a complete coincidence. After all, games with this kind of visual styling take a long time to create and, unless the team behind Alto’s Adventure got a sneak peek at Monument Valley, it doesn’t seem like they could have created a copycat game so quickly.

Friday, February 27

Google Now Won’t Let You Run Empty

Google Maps plus any smartphone is already a knock-out combination that occasionally might cause you to think to yourself, “How did I ever get by without this?”. But now Google is taking it a step further with its automated notification service, Google Now. The ever-evolving contextually aware service now features a Google Now card that shows you gas stations on your route.

Regardless of how you feel about Google’s brand of snooping and tracking, you have to admit that they are doing some pretty incredible things with the information they collect. If you can ignore the privacy concerns (a big “if” for a lot of people, but not all), then Google is bringing a lot of value to their computing platforms. I can see a lot of utility in a platform that collects, analyzes, and protects a lot of information about its users. I just hope Google recognizes the importance of that last task and is able to find a way to monetize their platforms without giving away the farm.


“The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.”
Tuesday, February 24

Is Dell’s New XPS 13 Better Than the MacBook Air?

Is the new Dell XPS 13 better than the MacBook Air? If you trust AnandTech or Ars Technica, then the answer is a resounding “yes”. The Verge isn’t ready to hand the ultrabook crown over to Dell just yet, but kudos to Dell for making the race a whole heckuva lot closer.

The Verge highlights three big reasons why the XPS 13 isn’t quite ready to take the throne – battery, touchpad and webcam placement. Interestingly, AnandTech and Ars Technica both claim superiority for the XPS 13 in battery and neither had anything particularly negative to say about the touchpad – highlighting the shift to Microsoft’s Precision touchpad standard as a mostly successful endeavor. I’ll talk about the webcam in just a second.

One standout feature of the XPS 13 is what Dell is calling their ‘infinity display’, a 13 inch display packed inside an 11 inch laptop frame, thanks to a 5.2mm bezel on three sides of the display. Based on the reviews, it sounds like the display delivers beautiful pixels in a coolly slick and svelte package. I don’t think this feature alone makes the laptop the envy of MacBook Air owners everywhere, but it’s certainly something I wouldn’t be disappointed to see come to Apple’s ultraportables. One caveat is webcam placement. It seems that 5.2mm bezel wasn’t quite enough space to pack in a webcam, so the next iteration either needs to trade some chin space for the forehead or some sort of new behind-the-screen camera technology needs to hit the mainstream to help prevent awkward up-nose or knuckle shots.

I’m undeniably biased in favor of Apple’s software and hardware, but I’ve long felt like Windows-based PCs could make major leaps forward in hardware equivalence by concentrating on the touchpad and the battery. I’ve never personally used Microsoft Precision touchpad hardware, and I’m suspicious of the audacious battery life claims from Anandtech and Ars Technica, though I normally trust both sources. Regardless, it looks like Windows-centric ultraportable fans have some great hardware coming their way. My day job is a Windows-centric environment (and, specifically a Dell-only shop) and I certainly wouldn’t mind getting my hands on the XPS 13. Predictably, that’s not in the cards as we tend to use the business-friendly Latitude line. If you get to spend some time with an XPS 13, hit me up on Twitter and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear how the battery and touchpad fare for you.


“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
Monday, February 23
Sunday, February 22

Do More with IFTTT: Rebranded and Specialized ‘Do’ Apps

If you’ve never heard of IFTTT, then you’re probably not that much into automation. I’ve heard of IFTTT, but I never could quite find a rhythm with using it. There are certainly some neat things you can do with it, but an obvious need never popped out at me. The makers of IFTTT must see this as a common barrier to entry for their service and apps because they recently introduced a few standalone apps that each specialize in one particular task that can be tied into IFTTT’s automation services. The aptly named apps are Do Camera, Do Note, and the more ambiguously named Do Button.

Do Camera

Do Camera is pretty straightforward. The app provides you with an interface for taking a picture and then doing something1 with the picture. You can select between one of three pre-selected recipes2 that you can swipe between using the app. Some examples include taking a picture and emailing it to a preset email address, posting the picture to a service like Evernote or social network like Facebook, or even configuring Philips hue lighting system to match the color of the photo.

Do Note

Do Note is for text notes/input as Do Camera is for pictures. You can use Do Note to add appointments to your calendar, quickly type out a status update or a tweet, or save a quick note to your favorite note-taking app/service. Again, you have the option of preselecting three quick actions to swipe through. Type your note, choose an action and Do Note takes care of the rest.

Do Button

While all of the Do apps are fairly open-ended, Do Button is the app for automating repetetive tasks that don’t require any input other than “go”. You can connect Do Button to IoT3 products like Nest, WeMo, or hue to set the thermostat to a certain temperature, turn on the coffee maker or turn out the lights. You could setup a pre-drafted email with a message notifying a roommate or spouse that you’re on your way.

Obviously, the more IoT or social networking services you use, the more uses you can get from a service like IFTTT and its specialty apps. The three ‘Do’ apps are great starter apps to help introduce you to the idea of automating your life and could serve as a gateway into more custom automations that you can setup through IFTTT’s rebranded IF app.

  1. Hence the name of the app.  ↩

  2. IFTTT calls their automation scripts ‘recipes’ so they don’t have to call them something nerdy like ‘automation scripts’.  ↩

  3. Internet of Things.  ↩

Thursday, February 19


“It’s the type of thing Apple would never ship, and I mean that in ways both complimentary and critical.”
Tuesday, February 17

Inside Out

If Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography left you wanting more – more insight into Steve Jobs the man and more insight into Apple the company – then Ian Parker’s recent profile of Jonathan Ive for The New Yorker just might fit the bill. Parker seems to have gained unprecedented access not only to Ive, but to his studio of designers, as well as other Apple executives like Tim Cook and Bob Mansfield. Parker builds his narrative around the period leading up to and following the announcement of the Apple Watch and on to the present developments with Apple’s still-under-construction Campus 2, a project in which Ive is intimately involved.

If you’ve ever been curious about anything Apple-related I highly recommend Parker’s profile. It’s a great read with revelations that practically supplant any outsider perspective of the company I’ve ever read. One thing the profile makes clear – Ive’s design team has a significant role in all aspects of product development at Apple; from hardware – internal and external components – to software and all the way down to how a product is manufactured.

Update: On this week’s episode of the Accidental Tech Podcast, John Siracusa notes that Parker’s profile borrows liberally from Leander Kahney’s book about Jonny Ive. That might make my statement about the significance of Parker’s profile a little bit of a reach, but if you’ve read Kahney’s book (I haven’t), then maybe you can think of Parker’s profile as a bit of an update.