Smartphones have replaced lots of types of small devices. iOS and Android have made it easy to build apps that perform all kinds of functions, replacing other standalone devices like media players and GPS. It's been wondered if they would replace handheld gaming devices, and for many people they have. For awhile, I thought they had, at least for my needs. But after trying to play games on touchscreen-only devices for years, I've largely felt unenthused about the deeper and more engaging games that would come from big studios. These games required a higher level of precision control that touchscreens just couldn't deliver.

The PS Vita caught my attention about a month before its launch in the US. It combines a lot of the best features of smartphones with the controls of console games. It has a gorgeous, large, high-resolution touchscreen (and a back panel that is touch-sensitive), as well as a tilt sensor and cameras for augmented reality games. But it also has almost all of the buttons of a typical PS3 controller, including two analog sticks. Sony managed to cram all of this functionality into a device that, while large, is not too big to fit into my pocket, and with long enough battery life for a busy day interspersed with some gaming. The combination of apps and games (which I will describe as just "apps" for the sake of this review) is powerful, and the hardware power and display size make it a compelling device.

Hardware

Put simply, the Vita is a delight to look at. Its black and silver case is easy on the eyes, and falls away while playing games. The device itself is almost entirely plastic, which does make it feel a little bit cheaper than the iPhone, but it's still quite comfortable to hold, if you don't have to use the back touch sensor (more on this below). The physical controls are small, but placed well; I have no difficulty moving my hands between the buttons and the analog sticks for the kind of twitch gaming that hardware buttons excel at.

The display is stunning to look at; at 220 DPI, pixels are almost never noticeable, and the color depth and contrast provide some incredible graphics. The pixel density is not as tight as the newest iPhones or Android phones, but it's just not an issue. The screen itself has a multitouchscreen with amazingly low latency; it feels ever-so-slightly faster to swipe something than the iPhone does (which may be real or not, but it's at least as good). There were some minor issues with the display. It seems prone to banding in a few cases (an issue where a smooth transition between two colors appears as stripes, or bands, on the display). And the graphics, while high-resolution, occasionally showed some slight jagged edges, especially in the OS UI. These issues are tiny, though, and aren't hugely apparent in gameplay.

Spanning the back of the device is a touch sensor which can be used for controlling games, which is as responsive as the front, but is almost too large. There are grips for your fingers, but these grips are too small for my hands. If you need to use them for a game which relies on the back touch sensor, I have to grip the device somewhat awkwardly. It's not uncomfortable, but it does make me worry a bit that I will drop the device due to loose grip (a problem that has never actually happened in use).

There are a number of input ports on the device. Along the top are two trays, one containing an accessory port, and one for inserting the tiny game cartridges. These trays have a plastic cap that I found incredibly difficult and frustrating to open with just my hands, which will probably limit how many physical games I end up buying versus downloading through the store. Along the bottom is a proprietary "multi-use" port similar to Apple's dock connector, a headphone jack, and a memory card slot. The memory card is the only covered port, which is thankfully far easier to open than the ports on top. I have to wonder if this was a conscious decision by Sony to encourage purchasing games over the Internet; make the old-style games hard to replace, but make the memory card (which you can store downloaded games on) easy to replace, and people will tend to buy more online. There's also front and rear cameras; these take terrible photos/videos, and are basically useless for anything other than augmented reality games, which are actually really interesting (more on that in the Games section below). But it's not like you're buying this to replace a camera anyway.

The usual wireless technologies are here. Wi-Fi worked pretty well and generally connected automatically to 802.11b/g/n networks. I paired my Sennheiser MM 100 Bluetooth headphones to the Vita and they sounded great. You can also get a version of the Vita with 3G data. I ran into several issues with these in common use. While I did not get the 3G model, it's limited to 20 MB downloads (so basically no games), and multiplayer games cannot be played over 3G. It's basically useful for messaging and browsing, and that's about it. If you have a smartphone with tethering, it's probably best to just stick with that. And while the Vita had no issue auto-connecting to the Wi-Fi at my home and my office, it didn't seem to want to connect to my iPhone's tethering Wi-Fi until I went into the settings app and turned it on. Similarly, the Vita had no end of trouble automatically connecting, to my Bluetooth headphones, leading to a similar jump through the settings app. Hopefully these are 1.0 issues resolved with software updates, but it limits their use when you only have 10 minutes to play a quick game.

OS

The system OS is pretty well thought out in terms of interaction, though it has some rough edges. It's completely controlled by tapping and gestures on the touchscreen; none of the buttons do anything. You can either use your index finger, or the combination of both thumbs, to access every pixel on screen, and all the gestures are usable by just a single thumb. This might be an issue if you have smaller hands, but I have no issues with it. Navigation around the home screen is more fluid than any touch device I've ever used, and animates at very high framerate (probably 60 FPS).

Your apps are listed on the leftmost screen, stored on multiple pages you can access by swiping vertically. You can organize them as you would on a smartphone, and assign different wallpapers to each page. Tapping on any icon opens its LiveArea, which you can use to then launch the game. This is one thing I rather dislike about the Vita OS, as it requires two taps to open anything.

To the right of the app pages, you can find the list of recently running apps. Each shows what Sony calls a "LiveArea", a nearly full-screen page showing information about the game, some meta controls, and recent activity about the game (when you last played, recent Trophies you've gotten, etc.). App developers can place stuff on the LiveArea, such as announcements and links to downloadable content. The system also shows some common controls for apps, like an update button, a button to do a web search for the game name, and on-device instruction manuals for the games. You can close any of the LiveAreas just by swiping from the upper right to the bottom left, with a nice paper effect of throwing the page away.

The graphical style of the OS is not great, but it's livable. App icons are glossy bubbles on the home screen, which looks kind of cheesy. As far as I can tell, the Vita doesn't use anti-aliasing (at least on the home screen), which causes the round bubbles to appear extremely jaggy. If the display were higher resolution, this might work, but it just isn't quite high enough to warrant eliminating anti-aliasing. The LiveAreas look nice, but some of the stock apps use this to excess with bright, conflicting colors that just look under-designed. But it works, and it's intuitive.

The interaction between software and the OS is generally pretty great. When inside an app, the OS disappears except for a few interactions (loading/saving data, for example). Some popups will appear occasionally, such as when you unlock a Trophy or a friend comes online, in the upper right corner. At any time you can press the PlayStation button to suspend the app and return to its LiveArea; you can then switch to a few of the other apps, such as Settings or the Twitter app, do something, and return to the app in the exact same state. Unfortunately you can only have one app open at a time, which can be annoying (specifically for the Browser app). But this doesn't get in the way all too often.

Apps

The Vita comes with a handful of stock apps, none of which are particularly great, but they get the job done. I haven't gotten to play in-depth with all of them, primarily as this is a gaming device first. The Friends app lists your PSN friends and who is online, but has a lot of whitespace, leaving you to see only 6 people onscreen at a time. The Messaging app is handy for chatting with your friends, and has no setup other than your PSN account, which is handy. Maps is pretty capable, using your geolocation to show you places and driving/walking directions, and storing favorites (but has no public transit, which is a dealbreaker for me personally). The Browser is okay, and can view basic pages, but anything taking advantage of newer HTML5 features will probably not render well. Hopefully these are 1.0 issues that will be improved with system updates

As of this writing there are four apps you can download from the PS Store - LiveTweet, Facebook, Flickr, and Netflix. I could not get the Facebook app to work, which just showed a "connecting to Facebook services failed" dialog and a cryptic error code. The Netflix app was slow and not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but it worked and you can stream video on it, pretty fast (and video plays very well). The best app is definitely the Twitter app, LiveTweet, which is a surprisingly full-featured Twitter client, supporting reading your timelines, pull-to-refresh, uploading images to the Twitter image sharing service, and lots of other little nuances in Twitter. It's a pretty great app, though it has some polish issues that will surely be resolved in updates.

The PS Store is the app you use to buy stuff and download free apps. It features one of the best LiveAreas in the system, showing popular content that you can find within the store. The Store itself works pretty well, albeit slowly and with some organization problems. You can see featured apps, new releases, and the most popular downloads. There are also a number of categories, such as Vita-specific games, PSP games, games that run on either the Vita or the PS3, and smaller games called "minis". These categories are generally grouped by their title, which is weird for me, as I prefer exploring all the games, not just the ones whose first letter is betweeen E and H. You can also sort games by genre, which is probably my favorite view (but is inexplicably buried at the end of the list). There are a number of genres (including both the "Shooters" genre and the "Shooting" genre) to explore games. Sadly the game pages themselves don't show screenshots, previews, or customer reviews; just an aggregate rating, a description, and the ESRB rating. This should really be fleshed out to show more detail, similar to the App Store or the Android Market.

UI-wise, there are some nice affordances. If you reach the end of a scrollable area, the content will either stretch (in the case of a single piece of content like a web page), or the items in the list will space themselves out (in the case of the Twitter or Messaging apps). Apps can fire off notifications, which appear in any app as a bubble and are collected in a notification space on the home screen, accessible by tapping the bubble in the upper right corner. Text input is generally easy, although there is no selection/cut/copy/paste (though you can tap-hold anywhere to zoom into the text to place the cursor where you like). The keyboard is pretty good, with a fairly intuitive layout and some OK autocorrect features which work similarly to Android's suggestion tray above the keyboard.

Games

There are over a dozen full Vita games available at launch, as well as a huge online catalog of PSP ports and mini games you can download through the PS Store. Of the games available at launch, I've played:

  • FIFA '12 (Vita)
  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)
  • Unit 13 (Vita, demo)
  • Fireworks (Vita, a tech demo)
  • Final Fantasy IV (PSP)

So far, my favorites have been FIFA '12 and Final Fantasy IV. FIFA is EA's well-known soccer game, and the extent of the game is pretty huge for a portable device. It's so complete, it feels like it belongs on my TV. Tons of gameplay modes, a huge array of national teams, an extensive Career Mode, and tons of character customization. The touchscreen controls are OK, but can be kind of gimmicky and in practice are only occasionally useful. It often takes too long to move your hand from the buttons to the touchscreen and back to use in action-packed gaming. It's more useful for throw-ins and other less intense moments. The rear touch surface lets you shoot the ball on goal extremely accurately, and this is where the touch controls truly shine in FIFA. And it just looks amazing.

Final Fantasy IV is a remake of the SNES original, one of the greatest Japanese RPGs ever made. Square Enix completely remade the graphics and made a great version for the PSP, and it looks great on the Vita's screen. PSP games have some additional features on the Vita, accessed by tap-holding on the touchscreen, such as changing how the image is upscaled and colored, determining which camera to use, and picking what to control with the right analog stick. If the $29 price tag is off-putting for a 30 year old game, at least you're getting a polished remake with high-quality pixel graphics with cutscenes and video, and a bunch of supplemental material.

Uncharted was a game I was looking forward to, but it has mostly been disappointing. The jagged edge effect is more noticeable here than in any of the other games, simply because there's a lot going on onscreen. The game has so far tended to hold your hand throughout the entire process; walk for 50 feet, then a cutscene telling you exactly where to look and what to do. The combat controls are fairly good, but with one huge exception. If an enemy gets too close to you, it enters "melee mode", which wants you to use the touchscreen to draw gestures on how to attack your opponent. As with FIFA, the switch from physical buttons to touchscreen is not fast, and the whole thing is somewhat jarring. The game uses the touchscreen for some "puzzles", which are so far pretty boring and repetitive tasks like "wipe this thing off" and "spin this object around to look at it". The one good use of the touchscreen is climbing. You can draw a gesture along rock walls to signal to the character where to climb, which is handy and doesn't seem to come during fights.

Unit 13 is a tactical shooter game by Sony, which makes good use of the physical controls of the device. The graphics look pretty good, but not stellar, mostly like a PS2 game. The controls work very well, and I had no problems with moving around or hitting my target. And the game doesn't coddle you - it doesn't point out where enemies are, and it will happily let you die mid-mission if you take a few shots from the enemy. It makes light use of the touchscreen for controls, but it does so when you're supposed to have cleared the room of targets, so you're encouraged to avoid using it while in twitch mode, and to use it when things calm down. That's smart use of the touchscreen, and I hope more game developers will do that. I only have the demo, but will probably pick up the full game soon.

Fireworks is a free tech demo published by Sony that uses the augmented reality feature of the Vita very nicely. The system comes with six AR "cards", which are about as big as the Vita, with QR-like shapes printed on them. The idea is that you set one of these down on a table, point the Vita at it, and the camera will recognize the card and project graphics on top of it. In the case of Fireworks, it showed a small house which was shooting off fireworks, and you tap the round to make it explode. I've played AR games and apps on iPhone, and found it to be lacking; if you moved the device, it was too slow to respond, leading to a disconnect between the real world and the augmented world. Not so on the Vita. The camera, display, and accelerometer work extremely well together, and it really feels like you're projecting onto the real world. If you move the device, the lag it takes to see the game update is nearly imperceptible. I can't really explain this one, you just have to see it in action. I hope to see more games (and apps) take advantage of this.

In general, games and demos look great, and the physical controls are quite snappy. This truly was built to be a gaming system first, and it shows. Touchscreen input is OK for instances where you don't have to make a lightning fast reaction, or don't need accuracy beyond a tap or a swipe, but you're not going to want to do it often. It sucks for all the reasons intense games suck on touchscreen-only devices. I'd love to see more use of the rear touch surface, though, which is handy because your hands are already there. And the augmented reality stuff could open up some really awesome possibilities, if everyone manages to keep from losing their AR cards.

Future

Sony is propositioning this as another long-life console, like they are with the PS3. It very well could be; it certainly has the raw horsepower, a great (if maybe too large for the average person) form factor, and a wonderful blend of console mainstays and fresher smartphone ideas. It's pretty clear that the smartphone manufacturers aren't terribly interested in making the input side of gaming much better. And Nintendo's 3DS is gaining some traction, but is certainly not as big a success as they'd hoped. The big question remains, can a gaming device remain a standalone product and gain enough traction to warrant being a separate device?

I, for one, hope so. The Vita is extremely capable and, with some updates to the stock OS/apps and some additional software, could be (and this is probably a stretch) a competitor to the iPod touch. It makes sense to me that, as people want to use technology in ever-more-mobile spaces, they'd want to bring powerful games along with them, and smartphones just can't provide that beyond flinging birds and other simple games. The Vita shines because of its ability to provide the immersive experience, and it does that very well. I can't remember ever seeing three hours disappear playing an iPhone game; I did that this weekend on the Vita.

One way they can definitely attract consumers is by expanding the available apps to include all kinds of content, as well as indie games. The mobile software industry is exploding right now on all platforms that offer everyone the ability to tinker, from massive companies to hobby hackers to teenagers. A Vita that ignores that opportunity is leaving money on the table, both from lost sales of software to unpurchased devices. Sony has announced that they're bringing an SDK for developers, called the PlayStation Suite, but it's unclear if this will be a less restricted approach like on iOS and Android, or a locked down and tightly controlled approval process that has been the status quo in the gaming industry since its inception.

If Sony can keep game makers interested in bringing massive new titles to the Vita, we are probably looking at some of the best days for mobile gaming ahead. Hopefully customers will notice, and be willing to fork over the premium for a better gaming experience. But it will be a tougher sell in a world of mobile computers crammed into smartphones.

Conclusion

Five days in, I love my Vita. I've been spending at least an hour or two on it every day, and that's only been going up. The games are pretty great for first-gen titles. This truly feels like a console experience merged with the best ideas the smartphone world has been building for years. There are some 1.0 issues, and some hardware quirks that are metaphorical rough edges, but the overall experience is solid and thought out. If you are a fan of gaming, or are disappointed in the state of gaming on cell phones, a Vita will be a great asset to you. Hopefully Sony can sell a bunch of these things and keep game developers interested over the long run. And hopefully they open it up to indies and app developers to add that much more value as a great Internet communication device.

Edit 2/27/2012: As Kevin Ballard pointed out, I incorrectly called the LiveArea feature "LiveTile", which is actually a feature of Windows Phone 7. The Vita's feature is called LiveArea.

 

Adobe is finally putting an end to Flash Player. They've announced they're stopping development of the mobile Flash Player, which is where the future of tech innovation is heading, and the writing is on the wall for desktop Flash Player as well. This is a good thing for a myriad of reasons, both technical and political.

However, it is important to remember that Flash drove much of the innovation on the web as we know it today. When Flash was conceived over a decade ago, the web was a glimmer of what it is today. Creating something visually impressive and interactive was almost impossible. Flash brought the ability to do animation, sound, video, 3D graphics, and local storage in the browser when nothing else could.

Without Flash, MapQuest would not have been able to provide maps for years before Google did in JavaScript. The juggernaut YouTube would not have been possible until at least 2009, four years after its actual launch. Gaming on the web, which has been around as long as Flash, would only now be possible a decade later. Flash enabled developers to create rich user experiences in a market dominated by slow moving browser developers. Even in 2011 Flash exists to provide those more powerful apps to less tech-savvy people who still use old versions of Internet Explorer.

Flash Player itself seemed like a means to an end. Macromedia, and then Adobe who acquired them, sells the tool that you use to build Flash content. Thus, Adobe's incentive was not to build a great Flash Player, but a pervasive one that would sell its tools. Its technical stagnation provided a market opportunity for browser developers to fill in the gaps that Flash provided. As a result it has a huge market dominance in tools for building rich apps for the web, tools HTML5 lacks.

This puts Adobe in a unique position. As HTML5 continues to negate the need for Flash Player, Adobe has the tools for implementing Flash within HTML5, and the market eager for those tools. Hopefully this move signals that Adobe will be moving in this direction. Because the web DOES need great HTML5 tools for people who aren't savvy in JavaScript, especially for the people who used Flash to do it previously.

HTML5 offers developers the ability to build high-performance, low-power apps and experiences. Browser innovation has never been faster; Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla are all competing to bring the best new features to their browsers in compatible ways. But they're just now filling in many features Flash Player has had for years. Adobe can harness this to help build a better web, and few others can. Hopefully they seize this moment.

 

JailbreakMe.com is a website that offers visitors the ability to jailbreak their iPhone without a computer-based tether. It does this by exploiting the system-wide ability for applications to read PDF files, where an incorrectly-formatted PDF file can lead a hacker to do anything they want to your system. While this bug CAN be used maliciously to steal all the personal data from your phone, the developers in this instance used it to enable jailbreaking.

Others will tell you why you should or should not jailbreak your iPhone. Others will decry the developers for bringing to light a serious vulnerability in the iPhone OS. In this blog post, I won't do any of that, but will instead point out some things you should and shouldn't do if you decide to jailbreak.

Backup first, and backup the backup

It should go without saying that, before you start mucking around with the internals of the software on your phone, you should back everything up with iTunes. Sync down all the data into iTunes, and explicitly backup by right-clicking the iPhone in the sidebar and choosing "Back Up". Once that is done, you should backup the actual backup files to somewhere safe. This way, if you ever want to go back to a vanilla iPhone, it's fairly straightforward. The files are located in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup.

Understand what you're doing

Jailbreaking lets you run apps on your iPhone that, for a variety of political and technical reasons, you could not run otherwise. Apple has gone to great lengths to prevent you from running unauthorized apps on your iPhone, and for several reasons; the most important is for security. Since jailbreaking is designed to let you run those apps, that means that in order for the jailbreak to work, several of those security measures are simply shut off and disabled. This does not mean that you'll automatically get viruses and have your data stolen, but it does open up more avenues for hackers to gain access to your data. You simply must be more vigilant and attentive about security when your phone is jailbroken.

Only add sources that you trust completely

When you jailbreak, you will notice a new app on your home screen, called "Cydia". You can think of this as the jailbroken App Store for your iPhone. You will be able to use this to install lots of apps; you can also install mods that change app icons and fonts, mods that change how apps behave, and mods that add new features system-wide. One way this differs from Apple's built-in App Store is that third parties can publish their own list of apps and mods at their own whim, and users can add those lists to Cydia. You can find lists of third-party sources available by doing some creative Googling.

Now, since you can add any third-party list you want, and those lists can contain mods which can access all of the data on your iPhone, you need to be extremely mindful of which sources you add. Seemingly innocuous apps, such as simple wallpaper lists, can contain code which subtly and sneakily siphons away your contacts, or worse. Since you don't have Apple vetting apps before they hit your phone, you won't be able to trust that an app isn't malicious if it's from an unknown source.

Only install what you need

Many of the apps and mods you can download through Cydia will not be things that you can technically do on the iPhone using Apple's published APIs. An example of this is the project which allows you to install a Growl-like UI for push notifications; it simply is not possible to do through the App Store. This means that you will have mods injecting code into the memory of other apps (sometimes into EVERY app). The more mods like this you have, the more they will start to clash with each other. This can lead to crashes, drained batteries, hangs, and system slowdown. You should consciously try to minimize the number of mods that you install, to preserve the experience of your iPhone.

Be mindful of OpenSSH

Packages in Cydia often times will require use of other libraries to achieve their goals. These needs are called dependencies in Cydia, and they will be listed when you try and install packages. There are packages which will blindly install a package called OpenSSH, which installs a server on your iPhone that allows you to log in via a Terminal. Now, this package uses a file on the iPhone to determine what the default password is, which happens to be 'alpine'. As you can imagine, many people don't change that password by default, and instead just let the default stick and never change it; this led to disaster last year when someone used the default password to extort lazy iPhone jailbreakers.

If you install this package, the absolute first thing you should do is change the root password.

Be wary of iOS software updates

In all likelihood, your iOS software updates will be far more involved than non-jailbreaking. The hacks used to enable jailbreaking are usually patched in the next update of the OS. This means that, if you want to keep your jailbreak mods, you will need to wait for the iPhone dev community to release an updated jailbreak procedure. Sometimes this takes hours, sometimes this takes weeks. Once the jailbreak is released, updating generally consists of backing up everything, restoring your iPhone to the new OS, re-jailbreaking, and reinstalling all of your jailbreak software. It is a far more involved process, on top of the already involved update process of the iOS. You will likely update the OS far less than you would if you were non-jailbroken.

 

A great app for viewing non-native video on the iPad.

 

iPhone had the first two store UIs; the iTunes Store for content like music and movies, and the App Store for software. The iPad will add a third, the iBookstore, for buying eBooks. These stores all provide content for users to extend the utility of their device. But each has a pretty different user interaction model for accessing, purchasing, and consuming that content.

  • The iTunes Store is a separate app that is completely distinct from the iPod app. When you find something to buy, prompting you for your iTunes account password. It then adds the purchase to the app's Downloads tab. Once you have purchased the content, you must then switch back to the iPod app to listen to or watch it.
  • The App Store is a separate app. When you purchase something, it prompts you for your iTunes password, and then exits to the home screen, switching to the screen where the app will live. The state of the download is reflected in the app icon. When the download is complete, you tap the icon on the home screen to use it.
  • The iBookstore (the one word is the official name as used by Apple) is not a separate app, but lives within the iBooks app on the iPad. Purchasing content prompts for the iTunes password and downloads in-app, which can be directly accessed after it has finished downloading.

Each type of content follows a different workflow when going from access to purchase to use. If a goal of the iPad's low price is to drive content sales through the three stores, as some speculate is the case, then the purchase model should be as streamlined for the different types of content. Forcing different workflows will only confuse users who can't remember which type of content comes from where.

 

We've all got our thoughts on what the Jesus Tablet will be, so here are my guesses. I fully expect to be completely wrong on all of this, as many of these answers are completely blind shots and that Apple will blow my expectations out of the water.

Hardware

  • 8"-10" touch screen, running at 1280x720
  • Very thin; less than 1/2" thick (the iPhone 3GS is 0.48" thick)
  • About 1lb heavy, light enough to hold in one hand
  • 8 hours of battery life
  • 32 or 64 GB SSD
  • WiFi
  • 3G over GSM, and Apple's US 3G partner will continue to be AT&T
  • There will be some way to pair your Tablet cell connection with your iPhone's cell connection; either with an official announcement of AT&T tethering, or by adding your Tablet to the 3G account
  • Front-mounted camera
  • Some kind of collapsible stand in the frame, so the device can sit on a table

Input/Output

  • Multi-touch on the display, exactly like the iPhone
  • Multi-touch on the back of the device, similar to the surface of the Magic Mouse
  • Photos and video via front-mounted camera
  • Audio via front-mounted microphone and speakers, wired headphones, or Bluetooth
  • Dock connector
  • Expanded voice recognition
  • Software keyboard, no Bluetooth keyboards available

Software

  • It will run the iPhone OS 4.0; or rather, the iPhone OS will become a "Mobile OS X", consisting of the heavyweight Tablet and the smaller iPhone.
  • It will allow multiple apps to run at the same time, with some UI for viewing multiple apps alongside each other. This may not be possible on the iPhone.
  • It meant to replace a full PC for most common day-to-day needs
  • iPhone applications will not run "automatically", but will need to be resubmitted through the App Store approval process. Most applications will run without much modifications. Icons will need to be higher resolution.
  • A system-wide Dock for documents, applications, and small widgets will be onscreen at all times
  • The home screen will be significantly revamped, and renamed to the Dashboard. App icons, web clippings, and widgets will be freely arrangeable.
  • Handwriting recognition will be available for text input, with an optional stylus, or with a gesture such as two closed fingers drawing as if you had a pen.
  • Some gestures will be used on the back of the device, such as scrolling and zooming.

Apps

  • Standard kind of iPod and Internet communications apps the iPhone OS comes with. iTunes video, iTunes LP content, Maps, and Safari web content will look phenomenal.
  • Sketchbook, an unlimited workspace to sketch and write notes, with collaboration features.
  • iWork, a full port of the iWork application suite, tied to the Internet (and expansion of the iWork.com web application), with collaboration features.
  • iChat, a port of the Mac app, with a heavy emphasis on video conferencing

SDK

  • The SDK will be available immediately, with a simulator.
  • There will be an emphasis on application interoperability.
  • Applications will be able to register plugins with view controllers and UTIs. When an application wants to expose an object (say, an image) to other apps, it will look for app plugins which respond to the "public.image" UTI, load one which matches the UTI, and present the view without leaving the application.
  • Applications will be able to expose services, similar to how they work on Mac OS X. Services will be integrated into the voice control system.

Product

  • 32 GB model will be available for $899
  • 64 GB model will be available for $999
  • Available in US in March, major countries by summer
  • There will not be a WiFi-only model at launch.

Other Predictions

  • Updated MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, with the mobile Core i5 "Arrandale" processors from Intel.
  • There will be no mention of Verizon
  • There will be no updates to the iPod or the Apple TV
  • There will be no announcements of the iPhone 4G
 

Ars Technica:

ChangeWave queried 4,068 current and potential smartphone consumers last month and noted that a full 21 percent said that they would prefer Android on their next smartphones—a jump of 15 percentage points from the year before. Comparatively, 28 percent of respondents said they would prefer iPhone OS; this makes the iPhone the leader in this category, though this number dropped four percentage points year over year.

Many iPhone developers and Apple enthusiasts are quick to shrug off the Android platform, for a variety of reasons ranging from aesthetic and design, to functionality and developer tools. Many of these criticisms are certainly valid. But iPhone has its own share of problems, and certainly is deficient in many ways to the Android.

With Google's press conference tomorrow, and CES for the remainder of the week, there will be a lot of focus on the Android platform. It will become a much stronger platform in 2010. It will be interesting to see how Apple responds with iPhone OS 4.0 (which history suggests they'll probably talk about in March).

 

VillainousStyle is a drawing library for defining a visual style from a chain of individual drawing instructions. Each instruction modifies the drawing context to perform common operations; such operations include shadows, fills, borders, and shapes. It allows for multiple style sheets which can be used to theme an application in multiple visual contexts. VillainousStyle sits on top of CoreGraphics, and does not use WebKit for rendering at all. It is a fork of the VSStyle and VSShape classes, originally from the Three20 project.

Stylesheets

VSStyleSheet is an abstract superclass for a set of styles. Subclass it and add methods for each style you wish to add. You will likely want to create a protocol for your styles to implement, to ensure that your stylesheet implements all the necessary styles.

There is a global stylesheet, which can be thought of as the "active" stylesheet. Call +[VSStyleSheet setGlobalStyleSheet:] to change the active theme, which will fire a VSStyleSheetChangedNotification. When that gets fired, you'll want to tell your views to update their styles and redraw.

Styles

Styles affect drawing and positioning. Most will affect the next VSStyle objects in the chain.

  • Fills
    • VSSolidFillStyle - Fills the current shape with a solid color
    • VSLinearGradientFillStyle - Fills the current shape with a gradient between two colors
    • VSReflectiveFillStyle - Fills the current shape with a glossy-style gradient between two colors
  • Borders
    • VSSolidBorderStyle - Draws a border around the current shape with a solid color
    • VSBevelBorderStyle - Draws a beveled edge border for a 3D effect around the current shape
    • VSFourBorderStyle - Draws a border around the current shape with four colors, one for each edge
  • Shadows
    • VSShadowStyle - Draws a shadow behind content with a given color, blur, and offset
    • VSInnerShadowStyle - Draws a shadow inside the content with a given color, blur, and offset
  • Positioning
    • VSBoxStyle - Adds a margin or padding to the content area
    • VSInsetStyle - Adds edge insets to the content area
  • Content
    • VSTextStyle - Draws text inside the current shape
    • VSImageStyle - Draws an image inside the current shape
    • VSMaskStyle - Clips the drawing area to an image mask
    • VSShapeStyle - Clips the drawing area with a VSShape object

Shapes

Shapes affect the fills and borders, but do not clip the content styles.

  • VSRectangleShape
  • VSRoundedRectangleShape
  • VSRoundedLeftArrowShape - a rounded rectangle with a left-facing arrow
  • VSRoundedRightArrowShape - a rounded rectangle with a right-facing arrow

Future Ideas

  • iPhone static library
  • Cappuccino library
  • File-based stylesheets that can be read/written from VSStyleSheet objects
  • GUI builder for styles
  • More styles!

Status:

Active

 

While the WebOS SDK is not yet publicly available, Palm is seeding it to select developers. One of them came forth yesterday to talk to Ars about the new Palm device, OS, and Mojo framework.

 

There's been quite a bit of misunderstanding about what Palm's new WebOS is, versus what it isn't. So I'd like to dispel some of the questions surrounding it from the information I've been able to find on it. There isn't much I was able to find (not surprising, as the thing was just announced today), but we can draw some conclusions from the information.

From Web Apps to Widgets

Many people will respond with derision at the fact that applications in WebOS are built with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; given the state of most web applications today, this isn't hard to understand. However, the biggest reason web apps are crap compared to their desktop equivalent is that web apps have no integration with the host OS. Which means that web apps have a tough time dealing with multiple OS windows, the clipboard, and offline access.

When Apple released Tiger, they shipped with it the popular Dashboard interface. Inside were miniature applications which were also written with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. There was a slight difference, however; Apple included the means to integrate the Dashboard with JavaScript. One example is how a Dashboard widget will display its settings via a smooth, GPU-accelerated 3D animation where the 2D widget flips over. This is possible because Apple included JavaScript hooks to perform this animation. But the core tools were just the same - HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

The Mojo Framework

WebOS applications are much more sophisticated than Dashboard widgets, and certainly more so than regular web applications. This is because WebOS includes a set of tools for creating apps, called the Palm Mojo Application Framework. This, at its highest level, is conceptually similar to Cocoa Touch on the iPhone; it provides common functionality to all applications. It's what will provide all the common code on the device, from data manipulation of stuff like your calendars to the whizzy animation effects you'll see throughout the interface. It's the reason that, in most iPhone apps, the scrolling behavior feels exactly the same.

So, from what I can tell, the Mojo framework is an implementation of all of these ideas, using JavaScript as the programming language, and using HTML5 and CSS for drawing to the screen. Despite there being very little information, they do mention the following features on the developer website:

  • apps are installed and run on the device,
  • apps are designed to be multitasked and run in the background,
  • apps have full access to gestures and the touch screen,
  • apps can use a Growl-esque system to display user notifications,
  • apps will have access to sqlite databases for data storage (part of HTML5), and
  • apps can exchange data via a common messaging mechanism.

The Performance Argument

"But won't it come down to speed?" Yes, it will. However, WebOS is based on WebKit, and likely is using the latest enhancements from the SquirrelFish project. There is a battle royale going on right now between the developers of WebKit, Firefox, Chrome, and Opera for fastest JavaScript interpreter, which means that JavaScript is only going to get faster and faster.

Why go with JavaScript? It provides a low barrier to entry; nobody really needs an SDK to write apps. It makes it very easy to sandbox apps, as the underlying operating system is still invariably written in some form of C, and JavaScript provides no way to break that barrier. And many other reasons, which I talked about last year before the iPhone SDK came out.

tl;dr: JavaScript is just a language. Palm used that to build a system for making applications. They're nothing like web apps.

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