30 September 2012

Maps in iOS 6

There hasn’t been a single complaint about Apple’s maps in iOS 6 that isn’t something I’ve seen from the previous, Google-powered maps app. In my experience, the iOS 6 maps app works as well as the iOS 5 maps app ever did. Maybe better. Plus, I get the turn-by-turn, voice-prompted navigation which, again, has been flawless for me so far.

In some countries, things are bad. If you’re in China, though, iOS 6 maps is a huge improvement.

People like me get shouted down, though. We are told we’re the outliers. They say you only have to google to see how widespread the problem is.

Apple’s data is different than Google’s. So, people who were happy with Google’s are likely to be less happy with Apple’s. It’s no surprise those people are going to be vocal about their disappointment. I’m not convinced, however, that the number of complaints found online is an especially good metric for measuring the quality of the app. Your anecdotal evidence isn’t better than mine.

One test suggests that the iOS 5 and iOS 6 data may be comparable. Maybe it isn’t the best test, but it is orders of magnitude better than the “Don’t you see all the complaints?” test.

Yes, Tim Cook apologized. Which is standard customer service operating procedure. You apologize before you even know whether the customer’s complaint is valid. (Jobs might not have done it, but the regular customer service in Apple does.) It is reasonable to assume Apple’s data isn’t up to par with Google’s. Apple is new to this game. It will take actual research rather than anecdotes, however, to know how it really compares.

23 September 2012

Wisdom vs. morality

From This American Life episode 467 “Americans in China”:

In urban China, the sight of a foreigner no longer causes a crowd to gather and stare. But in the rural half, people still approach me with friendly, cautious curiosity, the way you might if a giraffe wandered down your street. I read that the comedian Steve Martin used to hand autograph seekers a signed name card that confirmed the person had met Steve Martin and found him to be warm, polite, intelligent, and funny. I've often thought of making a similar card to present with a silent smile, answering the usual six questions asked of me in this order.

One, I'm an American. Two, I've been in China a long time. Three, I was born in the Year of the Rat. I'm 1.86 meters tall. Four, I do not have a salary. I'm a writer. Five, Chinese is not hard. It is easier to learn than English. Six, yes, I can use chopsticks. We eat Chinese food in America too, but often it's expensive and orange.

On rare occasions, someone starts me off with a curve ball. A gruff construction worker sidled up to me last week, hard helmet in hand, to ask if anyone has ever told me my beard is beautiful. Once, a gentleman in a business suit, standing on a country lane, wondered if morality was more important than wisdom.

Is wisdom more important than morality?

22 September 2012

Backward standards

iPhone 5 is made with a level of precision you’d expect to find in a finely crafted watch, not a smartphone.

How strange is it that we expect a watch to be made more precisely than a smartphone?

09 September 2012

3DS and living in the past

The first thing that really struck me as odd about the Nintendo 3DS was the cartridges. In a world of mp3s, e-books, and even buying OS upgrades for my Macs online, games on cartridges seem very out-of-place.

They did eventually launch their eShop. Though—until recently—the eShop didn’t carry any of the cartridge games. Either a game deserved a cartridge or it was undeserving enough to appear in the eShop. There is now one cartridge game that you can get through the eShop as well: New Super Mario Bros. 2

The next surprise was that eShop purchases are tied to a device rather than an account. They did let me transfer (i.e. copy to new device then delete from old device) purchases from my 3DS to my new 3DS XL, but I can only install a purchase on one of my devices.

The 3DS does have a nifty feature called “Download Play”. How this works is that you buy a cartridge game and then friends can use the Download Play feature to temporarily download a client for the game from your 3DS. This way you can play the multiplayer version of the game without having to buy multiple copies of the game. That makes a lot of sense and mirrors the way that we can buy one copy of a game for the Wii and the whole family can play. Or the way that we can buy a game once in the iOS App Store, install it on all our iOS devices, and the whole family can play.

Well, this would be nifty if not for two things. (1) Very few games support this feature. (2) The games that do support it only support it in a very limited way. So, it ends up just making a worse impression than if they just didn’t have it at all.

I do really like the 3DS. It’s fun to have a 3D camera and glasses-free 3D for such a good price. For me, the 3DS XL is an improvement. The bigger screens and greater battery life are worth the increase in size to me.

But it is weird how so much of the experience seems to be relunctantly dragged towards the present. When I’m faced with deciding whether to spend some disposible dollars on software for the 3DS or iOS, I find it harder to choose in the 3DS’ favor. Which is a shame.

Protection from what?

...or “Would that technically be rules lawyering?”

From the D&D Basic Set c. 1981...

Protection from Evil

Range: 0 (caster only)
Duration: 12 turns

This spell circles the cleric with a magic barrier. This barrier will move with the caster. The spell serves as some protection from “evil” attacks (attacks by monsters of some alignment other than the cleric’s alignment) by adding 1 to the cleric’s saving throws, and subtracting 1 from the “to hit” die roll of these opponents. The spell will also keep out hand-to-hand attacks from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters (such as living statues), but not missile fire attacks from these creatures (see COMBAT). The cleric may break this protection by attacking the monster in hand-to-hand combat, but still gains the bonus “to hit” and saves.

I’ve read this spell many times, but I didn’t notice something that was noticed Saturday. The last sentence says that by attacking the monster, the caster breaks the spell.

Well, that’s how I’d read it before. First, we’ll note that the cleric can freely make missile attacks against the monster. Secondly, we’ll note that a qualifying attack doesn’t break the spell, because the “bonus ‘to hit’ and saves”† remains.

But then what is lost? OK, let’s look closer. The spell grants...

  1. A +1 to the cleric’s saving throws against attacks by monsters of an alignment different than the cleric’s.
  2. A -1 “to hit” when a monster of an alignment different than the cleric’s attacks the cleric.
  3. Prevention of hand-to-hand attacks on the cleric from enchanted (summoned or created) monsters.

So, the cleric making a hand-to-hand attack against a monster only negates 3. Note also that the specification of monsters for 1 and 2 is different from the specification in 3.

This spell turns out to be surprisingly complicated. Was it intended to be that complex or was it worded poorly?

As a recovering rules lawyer, this whole discussion made me a bit uneasy. Though this is certainly a far cry from the rules lawyering I participated in with AD&D or Wizards’ D&D.

†But no “to hit” bonus is given. Only a penalty to the monsters. Presumably it is called a bonus here since it is in the caster’s favor.

Fire HD v. iPad first thoughts

Let’s assume for the moment that the Kindle Fire HD lives up to the expectations Amazon has given us. Perhaps the most interesting part is how Amazon differentiated themselves from Apple and other Android tablet makers. Amazon said they want to make money off the content they sell you for your devices rather than on selling the devices themselves.

Now, I’m not going to say that you can’t create on a Kindle Fire HD. Creative people will find creative ways to use any tool. But while Apple sells Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and GarageBand for the iPad; Amazon tells us that their tablets are about selling books, music, movies, and games.

(However much you think creating text content on an iPad doesn’t make sense, consider presentations, music, and graphics. Oh, and thanks to Posts, I’m creating this blog post entirely on my iPad.)

So, for instance, it seems (note “seems”) doubtful that the Fire will ever have the range of music production apps and accessories that the iPad has.

So, if you’re wondering why you should buy an iPad instead of a Fire HD, the big question is how much you want to use it to create and consume. If, for you, a tablet is mostly about consumption, a Kindle Fire might be the best choice for you.

And if you buy an iPad instead, Amazon still wins, because you can still buy your content from them and use it on your iPad. In fact, if you’re thinking about buying content to consume on your iPad from Amazon or Apple, you’re probably better off buying it from Amazon because, e.g., you can read Kindle books on nigh everything, but you can only read iBooks on an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod touch.