Can Facebook’s Buffy “Stake” Its Claim In The Smartphone Market?

I swear, that’s my last bad “Buffy” pun.

Various news outlets from The New York Times to the BBC are reporting that Facebook is reconsidering an entry into the smartphone market.

For some time now, the social media giant has teased the idea of launching a phone of their own. However, early reports indicated that the project started and stopped several times until it was ultimately determined that the actual complete process of making a phone from concept to manufacturing was harder than anticipated, and the idea was scrapped.

Now though the project seems to be back in earnest. Codenamed “Buffy” (which is odd considering Buffy was a TV character that slayed things that were better off left dead), the smartphone’s hardware is reportedly going to be worked on by HTC Corp, while Facebook will internally handle the software development, which could include an independent operating system. To help get the phone out by its alleged 2013 target date, reports are that Facebook is looking for former Apple and other high end smartphone developers to add to the team, of which they may have already hired almost half a dozen.

Everything revealed so far has suggested that Facebook is taking this project very seriously. The word around the company is that Mark Zuckerberg is worried that if Facebook doesn’t make a play to start its own phone service, that it will become just another mobile app and get lost in the shuffle of the new world order of smartphone superiority. Not to mention that Facebook could lose out on advertising revenue if it starts being accessed primarily through a third party device.

Facebook still carries a lot of name value, and its internal app market could potentially be very popular if kept exclusive to its new phone, but I still think this sound like a case of overreaching. If the initial conclusion was that smartphone development was going to be too complex just a year ago, I don’t know what could have changed their minds in the meantime. Well, besides that slightly embarrassing public offering fiasco of course.  But if this is all an effort to extend Facebook’s reach enough for them to wipe some egg off of their face, things could turn ugly.


Apple Owners Rejoice! Free Apps Are on the Way

Since spearheading the Android App Market and launching the Kindle Fire, Amazon has seemingly been on a mission to promote themselves as the kinder, gentler Apple alternative. While stopping shy of ever viciously calling out their rival, the message is clear that they believe themselves to be more of a service “of the people” than their counterpart. One of the ways they have done this is by offering a Free App of the Day service that allows its users to snag a free download of an app selected by Amazon. Ranging from games to useful services, it’s a must have feature that, until now, has provided Android owners with another feature to rub in the face of the iMasses.

I say “until now” because it looks like the empire has caught on to the rebel plans.

Yes, its happy days again Apple owners. Apple is now offering its own free app service, only this one will be a free app of the week and not of the day. The good news is that the first app of this service is the brilliant and addictive “Cut The Rope: Experiments” game, which went from “should be essential” to “no conceivable reason not to download” courtesy of the new promotion. Not content to just borrow from one rival, though, Apple has also introduced an “Editor’s Choice” feature (seemingly a replacement for their staff picks and game of the week features) that highlights the newest and best apps for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The initial showcases are Facebook Camera, “Extreme Skater,” “Air Mail” and Sketchbook Ink.

Of course, all jokes about theft are actually jokes. Developers have been running their own free app promotions since the start of the market, and independent sites have been offering the same, as well as highlighting the best new apps for the same period of time. In truth it is refreshing to see Apple offer these services on their own, and considering that the Apple app market is richer and fuller than that of its rivals, even an app a week instead of one a day is an astoundingly good deal that should produce something of must have quality each outing.

Although it should be noted that the “App of the Week” feature hasn’t officially been confirmed as a permanent addition. However since they’ve launched a new Twitter tag for it, not to mention those large banners for the service on their site, things look good. It’s going to be interesting to see if Apple looks at the success of this initial offering to judge if it will continue in the future. It’ll be interesting because we can’t know if Apple will look at giving away lots of free merchandise as a positive marketing ploy, or the root of all known evil.

Again, joking.


Being the UnPWNed Gamer

Image Courtesy of Flickr

When you’re really fearless, nothing fazes you. So, you’ve still got the NES you’ve had long enough for it to be an antique. Who cares what everybody else thinks? So, you still work a job that’s embarrassing to mention when people ask what you do. Who cares if you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do? The point to remember is that no one is going to PWN you because yours is the attitude of victory.

Some people think that being victorious is an external thing, and is all about validation. You grind constantly, and then you form a group and do the same mission that a million other people have done before you. While that is one technical way to “win,” that’s not real victory. Real victory is something much deeper than that. In a sense, you have to walk a path that nobody else is either willing or able to go down if you want to really make it as an individual. Champions have to be different enough to not need a group in the traditional sense, and it can get a little lonely.

The Individual Path

Being undefeatable isn’t about doing what other people have done before you. It’s an entirely different mindset than the one a lot of folks take into their games. In a sense, it’s almost hard to describe what a real individual’s path can be like, both because it’s so potentially variable and because it’s so rare to see. You don’t have to think about yourself by anybody else’s rules or put anybody else’s tape measure up to how far you’ve gone. You have to “do you,” as DMX once said.

Naturally, when you strike out on your own individual path, you’re going to have to face a lot of resistance. Initially, you might be concerned about what other people think when you try something completely different. This is reasonable because you’ll probably get some static for it. Whenever you climb to the top of something, even if it’s just an idea of being better than you used to be, you’re going to have people trying to detract from it. Remember that they don’t really care about what you’re doing, other than the fact that it points out how deeply worn the path they’re taking is.

Abandoning the Labels

Who cares about labels? Are you a nerd, a geek, or perhaps the increasingly rare dweeb? Or are you something different? When you strike out on an individual path, you begin to change in a way most people are never going to understand. You become a force of nature that the world rarely sees, and even more rarely knows what to make of at first. Welcome this change, as it heralds a whole new set of exciting challenges. It’s like when you use Droid phones and discover the vast ocean of possibilities that an open source environment creates. It’s a little scary having basically unlimited options, but it gives you an incredible amount of room to grow.

Gaming and Personal Development

When you game, it isn’t just about having a good time and seeing your friends in a place where you can beat them with mythical weaponry. While those are great parts of the process, they’re not the whole thing. Ultimately, the way you game is the way you live, and you can change both at the same time. To be the unpwned gamer, you’ve got to change the whole way you see yourself. Victory and self-improvement have to become the new fundaments of your very nature. If they aren’t in place, you’ve already PWNed yourself.


Is This the Next Leap in Motion Technology?

For a peripheral that is somewhat overpriced, underutilized, and in general vastly inferior to the Nintendo Wii console it seemingly got most of its motivation from, the Xbox Kinect has made quite a splash in the motion based control field.

There are of course the Guiness Book of World Records worthy initial sales figures to back this up, but the real proof of this impact is evident in the creativity this device’s impressive technology has inspired in its users. See while game developers can’t seem to make a good Kinect game that isn’t a dance simulator or Wii sports rip off if their jobs depended on it, the Kinect users have managed to hack into the device to make the basic technology that runs it do some incredible things. These include the entertaining (light saber simulators), the sci-fi worthy (robot controller), and the practical yet cool advancements in basic human interface:

Motion controlled interface has been a dream of sorts for consumers, especially since it was popularized in the movie “Minority Report.” With devices like the Kinect and iPhone, we have gotten closer and closer to this goal, but have yet to fully realize it. Even the impressive demonstration in that video was marred by the fact that the movements needed to actually control the system had to be very blunt, and required full body commitment to make even the simplest of motion commands.

San Francisco based company Leap Motion thinks they might have the inevitable solution. Their device (called the Leap) is about the size of an iPod and works through a USB input your PC or Mac. It reads a space four cubic feet in size, and is supposed to be 200x more accurate than anything else on the market. This means accuracy to within 1/100th of a millimeter, which should allow for subtle finger movements (instead of whole hand and body motions) being able to produce the desired results.

The extraordinary video the company released seems to back that up.

We’ve been promised the moon with motion sensors before, but I have to say that given the advancements in the motion field over the past few years, I see no real reason that the Leap shouldn’t function in the way it claims to. My only real red flag in that video is the video game controller sections. I still feel that we are a ways off from total motion control in games without the use of any buttons, especially in titles designed with mouse/keyboard in mind. Of course in menu heavy titles like Real Time Strategy Games or RPG’s, I could see this device making formerly monotonous navigation somewhat enjoyable.

Even if it’s not yet perfect, at a modest retail price of $70 (pre-orders are being taken now), many consumers might give this device a shot and find their own ways to make use of it when it’s released early next year. After all, that’s the only explanation as to why the Kinect is doing so well.


The MaKey MaKey; Changing Input One Banana at a Time

Confused by the headline? Well, it’s about to get stranger.

That’s thanks to this new invention called the MaKey MaKey. It’s another project that’s finding success on Kickstarter, and its goal is to inspire the creative side out of everyone that uses it, and try to turn the world into inventors.

And it’s achieving that with little more hardware than a circuit board and some alligator clips.

If you couldn’t watch that video (or if you were just as befuddled as I was when I saw it), I’ll elaborate. The Makey Makey is a small circuit board that provides inputs meant to function in place of your basic mouse and keyboard set up. You simply plug one end of the alligator clips into the inputs you desire and then attach the clips to any item that can conduct any form of electricity (bananas seem to work very well, but a pencil drawing, Play-Doh, or a million other items would theoretically work), and that item now functions as the input device.

Examples shown so far include a series of bananas substituting for the keys of a piano, Play-Doh being formed into the shape of a controller to play Super Mario Bros., and four buckets of water filling in for a Dance Dance Revolution dance pad. But from the looks of it, anything is possible.

Again the device’s main goal is to inspire creativity in its users and to try to blossom the inventor in everyone. It’s seems to be meant mostly for artists, amateur creators, and of course children, where it might ultimately find its biggest success in the toy market.

Of course just like another hot invention of recent times, The MakerBot, I think that the Makey Makey’s biggest contributions lay in the technology the invention is based off of and not the actual invention itself. Still with almost $130,000 dollars raised so far for the Makey Makey, it looks to find success in one field or another immediately, whether or not there is still more promising things it can lead to down the line.