The Monument Valley Game Is Amazing

Monument Valley

The other night, as I fired up my iPad and visited the App Store I noticed an intriguing game called Monument Valley.

Now I had heard of this a little while back but, not being a huge gamer, it completely left my mind. But, I’m a fan of puzzle games and I really like optical illusions. This looked like a cool game to try out, so I plonked down my 5 Aussie dollars and thought I’d try out a couple of levels before I got productive. You know where this story is headed, right?

Monument Valley is as much an architectural design masterpiece as it is a completely consuming puzzle experience. It’s a calm, meditative game that gives you control of a little character called Ida, and the purpose is really quite simple. Navigate Ida on these three dimensional platforms that use the mind bending optical illusions of the never ending staircase or the triangle that seems to have an impossible physicality.

You can manipulate certain specific components to create bridges, or simply twist the whole puzzle piece as a whole. There are crows that block your path on some levels and you have to use your wits to get around them, or even block them from obstructing your journey.

You know what? I’ve just told you about the game, but like any good art, you have to experience it yourself. There’s no urgency or time limits, there’s no death or violence, there’s just these amazingly designed environments that offer a graphically beautiful, almost tactile space. It seems to be made of four dimensional Lego pieces, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if someone was currently trying to replicate these levels with real Lego pieces.

This game, Monument Valley, unlike many games I’ve tried in the past, is not a port or a reinterpretation of a previous title. It’s been built from the ground up to be a native touch screen experience, and after completing all 10 levels, I’m actually looking forward to going back and looking at each level in more detail to see how they built such a brain twisting and enjoyable, immersive journey.

On a more macro scale, Monument Valley could be another watershed in touch screen app development. I don’t know of any other game quite like it, and given the ipad and tablets per se have been around for a while now, that’s quite an achievement. It really shows off the true power and purpose of hi resolution, responsive touch screen devices.

Now the bad news, Monument Valley is for the iPad exclusively right now, but apparently an Android version will be coming soon (update, it’s available NOW). When it does, do yourself a favour and grab Monument Valley. If you have any interest at all in gaming that stretches the mind, and gets you thinking literally out of the square, then it’s worth your while.

Oh and I’ve already noticed a bunch of walkthroughs for the game that people have posted. Don’t use these to get through the levels, they’re not that hard and you’ll get that little ‘eureka!’ buzz when the lightbulb goes off in your head.

What about you? What games do you play when you need a few moment’s distraction?

 

How Google Nest Will Change The World

Google Nest

Today’s big news was Google’s purchase of Nest for a massive 3.2 billion dollars. I met with the Nest crew back at the 2012 CES, and back then they had just the one product, a thermostat that enabled you to control and also learnt to efficiently manage your home’s environment. Recently Nest also launched a smoke detector, the Nest Protect. Now, Nest has always been interesting because it has this great fusion of design, functionality and app-based control all wrapped around a seemingly innocuous task of home environmental control.

But it’s not home temperature control that Google Nest is offering – it’s the concept of deeply embedded home automation, the idea that you can monitor and control any aspect of your environment. And what really got me thinking today about where Nest could be going with Google is when, just before I left the office, Google sent me an unprompted alert telling me how long it would take to get home from where I was.

Now the idea of controlling a remote device or appliance is not that far fetched, and Google Nest is knee deep in that technology space, and of course the internet of everything imagines a world where all possible objects have an IP address and can be monitored and remotely commanded.

But Google are already moving one step further away from that. By using the information it gathers on what you search for, where you drive on a daily basis, what parcels get sent to you, and what sports you follow, Google Now tries to predict what information you want and presents it to you before you even ask for it. For example, I’ve looked up the opening hours of a museum on my desktop and had the directions and travel time appear on my phone via google now seconds later. Didn’t ask for it.

So, take all that information, then apply it to your home and consider the kind of physical commands that could be performed in your absence – not just temperature control but everything else. For example, you’re on your lunch break at work and you read an article on a new TV series. Google sees this, and commands Nest to set your PVR at home to record that program so that it’s ready for you to watch when you return.

Maybe you have guests coming over and you SMS them to confirm what time they’ll be arriving. Via Google Nest, the pool filter turns on, the robotic vacuum runs around to do a few sweeps prior to your guests arriving, and the fridge churns out extra ice in anticipation of extra drinks because making late night cocktails is what you planned in your last hangouts session.

And of course, if there are going to be extra people staying the night, which might have been confirmed through a verbal chat, Google Nest quickly turns on the air con in air filter mode to clear out and purify the air in the spare bedroom.

Now all of this could happen without having to command it. Imagine that world, where Google has enough information to make these decisions on your behalf, and then has the hardware and infrastructure to make it happen. A driverless car could even pick the guests up at the airport without being prompted, just from the information shared in the communications going back and forth.

It’s this ultimate melding of Google’s predictive software and Nest’s internet-driven appliance control that gets me excited. Yes, there’s massive privacy issues that would need to be addressed, and one would imagine that Nest will eventually share it’s data with Google. But as a concept, where there is less time that needs to be spent making decisions, and then having the tools around us not just to turn things on or off, but your house and your car simply knowing what to do because of your behaviour, then we’re talking an exciting new chapter in tech development.

So… what do you think? Are my ideas of Google Nest your kind of utopian future where we become more efficient and hopefully have more leisure time, or is it more dystopian where Big Brother knows not only your online behaviour but your physical, home-based one as well?

 

Gmail and Google Plus More Tightly Integrated

Gmail and Google Plus

If you’re commenting on Youtube, then you’ve probably got a Google Plus account. If you have a Google Plus profile, you probably have a Gmail account. Just like the merging of YouTube and Google Plus, Gmail and Google plus are about to get a lot more cosy, and I’m sure there will be a lot of discussions around these changes.

I received an email from the Gmail team, telling me of some changes about to be made to the way we can contact Google Plus connections. Basically we will be able to email anyone in our Google Plus circles without knowing their actual email address. Now this might actually be a good idea if you want to get a little closer to some of your Google Plus friends. After all, email is much less transient, and more permanent as a communication tool, leaving hangouts and other chat platforms for casual chats.

However, the ability to email is not going to be limited to anyone within just your circles – you’ll be able to email anyone on Google Plus. That’s right, you can email any of the hundreds of millions of people using (or at least existing) on the Google Plus platform without knowing their email address, as long as their privacy setting allows it.

Now, how does this work? Do you sign up for this new feature? No. Your Gmail account will automatically switch over to making your account completely open to any and all Google Plus members to search for you and start sending you stuff. In other words, this is an opt out feature, not opt in. And while I’m not yet convinced that linking Gmail and Google Plus is a good thing for anyone but Google, I’m extremely uncomfortable with making it a global change that you then have to reverse.

And I get the strategy here. Setting it to open by default increases the percentage of people that leave it open, through laziness or not understanding how it works, thus increasing the potential network connections for Gmail and Google Plus. Except we are talking about email, a much more private, personal space for most users than the more open social networking and in and out chats.

After all, even Google hint at their strategy themselves in the email I received, suggesting that if I get an email from someone outside my circles, which assumes you’ve left your privacy settings pretty loose, then I can add them to my circles and start a new conversation.

For me, email seems to be the last bastion of reasonably private communication. Now, unless you adjust your privacy settings to keep the hordes out, you may be bombarded with a bunch of emails from total strangers. And granted, these will be diverted to your social inbox on gmail. And I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before some smart spammer finds a way to hit all half a billion Google Plus users all day, everyday, and that would really annoy me.

So remember to opt out and change your privacy settings over the next few days if you don’t want every tom, dick and harriet knocking down your virtual door. What are your thoughts, does this sound like a good move for Gmail and Google Plus, does this make you love or hate Google more?

 

Michael Bay’s CES Meltdown Could Have Been Worse

Michael Bay

When I heard that the legendary Michael Bay would be presenting at the Samsung event at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, I was pretty pumped. I couldn’t care less what the critics say, I’m a big Transformers fan from my childhood and this dude has brought my little imaginary robot fight scenes to life in the most bombastic, loud and adrenalin charged movies – regardless of plot or script.

Then I heard of the slow motion car wreck that the event actually became – and also how much publicity Samsung received as a result. Whether or not it was nerves, or a case of being massively unprepared, Michael Bay simply forgot his lines for what should have been a by-the-numbers event for Samsung’s new Curved TV launch.

Instead, the instant social media reaction to Mr Bay’s walk off stage in an apparent stage freeze became the most memorable moment of the CES for many.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that Michael Bay had made headlines for a consumer electronics launch for the wrong reasons. At an LG launch Michael Bay admitted he didn’t use that brand’s phone and instead brought out a Samsung phone from his jacket pocket, much to the astonishment and horror of onlooking LG sponsors.

So it got me thinking… what if we took that experience to the nth degree and Michael Bay ended up promoting a heap of brands other than the one he was actually representing on the day? That would indeed be headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Here’s my version of Michael Bay’s Samsung Meltdown moment. Enjoy!

 

 

John Legend’s All of Me, The Gadget Addict Version

John Legend's All Of Me

Okay, so after the “confession” video a couple of months ago, I really wanted to extend that “performance art” into something even more… serious (if that’s the right word). So I wandered around, looking for inspiration from any place or person. After all, obsession with tech products is kinda my thing, and it was fun, even though there was an underlying truth to the message, to perform a monologue that spoke to my enthusiasm for all things tech.

After hearing the lyrics of the song “All Of Me” by John Legend, I knew I had found the perfect vehicle to a) make a total fool of myself and b) take the gadget obsession one step further.

After assembling all my recent working tablets and smartphones, I learnt the lyrics as fast as I could to this song, and used a pool, a shower and Ritchie’s Room as the setting for this completely cringe-worthy but totally fun video.

Once again, the comments I’ve received through my Youtube channel have been more positive than I originally expected, and seemed to touch a nerve with people that either shared my obsession or knew someone who was in thrall as much as I am over these little tastes of bleeding edge technology.

Enjoy the clip, and feel free to laugh at me, if not with me. For all those fellow gadget addicts out there, I give you “All of Me”.

 

Youtube Forces Commenters to Use Google Plus

Google Plus Youtube

In one of the most unpopular moves by Google in recent memory, Youtube users have been forced to either sign up for, or start using their existing Google Plus profiles in order to post comments.

This move sparked a massive movement, not only by the YouTube viewer community but also by popular Youtube personalities as well, who began boycotting the commenting platform altogether in order to make their own form of protest.

The outrage was of a standard that hadn’t been seen since the likes of Facebook was lambasted for their questionable privacy behaviours that shifted many account holders into a public profile from their previous settings that may been been heavily private.

Many saw Google’s move as a strategy to leverage the popularity of one platform to gain traction in a much more weak and much less popular social platform.

Being a Google Plus user, more for news feeds and other interests than for “friend” networks, and having my own “Ritchie’s Room” account, I wasn’t as instantly disgusted by the move, but I could definitely see and appreciate the issues that were being brought up all over the world by viewers and Youtube creators alike.

I had recently watched Taken, an awesome quotable movie with Liam Neeson as the main protagonist whose daughter has been kidnapped. In one scene which has gained mythic status, Liam Neeson talks to the kidnapper over the phone.

I thought it would be rather funny to use this scene to describe how the Youtube controversy might be applied to Liam Neeson’s character in Taken. Enjoy!

 

Confessions of a Gadget Addict

confessions blog

I’ve loved monologues since studying Shakespeare’s Richard III. So, in a complete change of pace from my usual articles and segments, I have tried my (completely amateur) hand at my own monologue.

So what topic did I choose for my performance art? Looking around me in my room, it was pretty damn obvious – my predilection for all thing tech.

Although tongue in cheek, as the saying goes, in every joke there is a an ounce of truth. When I looked at the amount of time, energy and emotion I pour into my gadgets, it’s quite discomforting to realise just how all encompassing this obsession can be.

And interestingly, some of the comments I’ve received on the video have been people who either can identify with my thoughts, or know someone who “needs help”. Maybe you know someone like this yourself?

With no further delay, here is my performance piece, entitled, appropriately, “Confessions of a Gadget Addict”.

Touchless Google Voice Search on Nexus 5

google voice search

Voice control has been the holy grail of computing for many years, and smartphones are the perfect platform to see if this control system could actually deliver real benefits to users. Google has now released touchless Google Voice Search, and the first model that it appears on is its own Nexus 5.

The big question for voice control and voice recognition is not only how well the software can pick up and understand words, but the overall question or command that the user is trying to convey.

The first part of Google Voice Search is the ability to always be listening out for your command to activate search, in this case using the term “OK, Google”. This can be said while you’re on any home screen, and will bring up the voice search dialogue box.

From there, the test we did was not to trick Google Voice Search, but to use plain terms that we might use in everyday situations. After all, the point of intuitive voice control is not to have to learn any formats or sentence structures, but to simply recognise and comprehend the meaning of the command or search query.

This is exactly where I have been very impressed with Google Voice Search. Aside from the touchless control, which is still limited in that you have to be on a home screen, the questions I posed were not always that direct.

For example, when I asked Google Voice Search if I needed to wear sunglasses, I didn’t say “is it sunny” – Google had to work out the context for my question.

The other conversational aspect of the new Google Voice Search is the ability to follow up with new questions that don’t use all the original question information – for example, I asked “how deep is the deepest ocean” and, and after the answer followed up with “which ocean is that?” and Google Voice Search understood.

But instead of telling you about it, here’s a short segment on Google Voice Search with some cool and sometimes challenging voice-based queries.

 

 

 

Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Surface Tablet

In a surprise announcement this morning, Microsoft announced it would be manufacturing its own Windows 8 tablet, known as the surface.

The Windows 8 Surface tablet is only 9.3mm thin, with a full magnesium case and weighing 576 grams, this is the first PC product that Microsoft will be offering outside of its traditional PC manufacturing partners.

Along with Windows 8 on board, apps such as Netflix will be preloaded, and it will include expected features such as semantic zoom, which allows a two finger gesture to show the entire Metro layout.

The Windows 8 Surface tablet has a built in stand that Microsoft claims does not add any thickness to the tablet. An optional cover converts into a touch type keyboard for productivity sessions, with the keyboard turning on and glowing when clicked onto the Surface.

Windows Surface Tablet

Microsoft enters the PC Hardware game with Surface for Windows 8.

Ports on the Surface include USB 2, HDMI, front and rear cameras, plus Gorilla Glass 2 protecting the Full HD display.

The Windows 8 Surface tablet will come in both Windows RT, which restricts apps to the Windows Marketplace. The Windows RT model will come in 32GB and 64GB capacities and powered by nVidia ARM processors.

Surface for Windows 8 Pro will be powered by Intel Core Processors and will provide the full computing experience including third party programs. These will be released in 64GB and 128GB capacities, and priced along Ultrabook PC lines.

The Windows RT model will be available from the launch of Windows 8, with the Windows 8 Pro model expected around 3 months later.

 

Asus Transformer Infinity First Look

We’ve been following the Asus line of Transformer products ever since they were released, from the first Honeycomb tablet to include a keyboard dock, to the Slider, and then to the Transformer Prime, which set new benchmarks for the Google OS line of tablets. Now, we have the latest model - the Asus Transformer Infinity.

Asus Transformer Infinity Tablet
Anyone up for a quad core high definition super bright super-slim tablet?

 

This release is an important one, not just for Asus, who have been flexing their innovative muscles in the Android tablet domain since the introduction of the category, but for the tablet market as a whole. Why? The Asus Transformer Infinity can truly go up against the new iPad, the incumbent market leader in this category, and offer a substantial answer to all of the iPad’s propositions.

As you’ll see in the following videos, the Asus Transformer Infinity has great hardware, software, a robust operating environment and is supported by a maturing app store in the form of Google Play. Asus have addressed areas like wireless connection issues and GPS performance to produce a tablet all-rounder.

Asus Transformer Infinity GPS
The Asus Transformer Infinity has a plastic strip on the top rear to maximise GPS performance.

 

The hardware component of the Asus Transformer Infinity is far from flimsy, with a metal casing ensuring no flexing or bending on any part of the device. Despite the screen upgrade (which we’ll get to in a moment), the tablet on its own does not gain any weight, staying at 586 grams, exactly the same as its Prime predecessors.

The Asus Transformer Infinity also retains the ports that made the Transformer series so attractive, with Micro-HDMI and Micro-SD slots on the tablet body, and a further full size USB port and SD Card slot on the keyboard dock component.

Asus Transformer Infinity with keyboard
The usefulness of a tablet with a keyboard cannot be fully appreciated until you have to type an full length article about one.

 

Inside the Infinity is an upgraded quad core Tegra 3 chip, quoted at 1.6GHz but benchmarked at 1.9GHz. The OS is snappy, with Android functions and App commands all working unhesitatingly.

Just in case we thought we were being a little biased because of our fondness for the Transformer line up, we thought it prudent to quantify this and to see just how the Asus Transformer Infinity could handle the pressures of the job compared to another fairly popular tablet… say, the iPad?

This is where we became REALLY intrigued. Not only did the Infinity beat the iPad in many benchmark tests, but some by a huge margin. The graphics test, which saw the Prime pale beside the iPad in our earlier experiences, still showed Apple to have a command in that particular area. When it came to browsing, Java script handling and computational processing, the Asus Transformer Infinity swept the field.

The other big news was the high definition display. The big visual test was to see (literally) if there was a marked difference in the Infinity’s screen and the iPad’s highly praised display. And yes, there was a huge difference – the Asus Transformer Infinity was way brighter. Other than that, at normal viewing proximity, both screens delivered great detail and clarity. At massive zoomed enlargement, the iPad didn’t stray from its perfected image, and the Infinity showed some signs of pixelation. But that’s not how we view a tablet in normal circumstances.

If we seem a little lathered up in our praise of the Asus Transformer Infinity, it’s because this release shines a bright light to a competitive market across ecosystem platforms, where hardware vendors are creating innovative new products. As we always say, competition is a great thing for the industry and the smartphone, tablet and Ultrabook markets are hotbeds of design and technology fusions.

Asus Transformer Infinity lid closed
The future of mobile computing in our hands?

 

If you have any questions, please leave them below and we’ll find out the answers for you.

Until next time!