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Today, Gearbox is asking its fans to put pressure on Sony to help them make a port of Borderlands 2 for the Vita. The biggest problem seems to be that they don’t have the man power to create a high quality port that will also allow players to connect characters between the PS3 and Vita.

This move shows an important point that Sony would do well to notice. If Gearbox is asking fans, then they’ve already gone to Sony several times. Essentially Gearbox wants to make a potentially awesome AAA title for the Vita and Sony is giving them middle finger. Why? Sony needs the games. They need great franchises, but they don’t seem to care anymore.

Sony’s problem is that they create innovative hardware to try to sell gamers on concepts (PS3 = powerful but complicated cpu, Vita = dual touch screens, lots of power, interplay) and then refuses to actually go out and try to attract developers. When developers look at Sony’s platforms they see lots of possibility and lots of complexity. The PS3 processor is really hard to develop for, thus all the problems with ports and why no games are developed for it first. But if they did develop for it, PS3 games could look and play much better then any other platform. The vita is complexity defined with dual touchscreens, a powerful ARM chip on a custom OS that will demand high graphics, and an expectation to utilize the interplay between PS3 and Vita. But if developers focused on its abilities, they could create some very interesting game concepts. At least DS developers can get lazy with cartoony graphics, and 3D images aren’t that hard to make. But Nintendo works very hard to make their own games while also keeping their developers happy. Microsoft did a bang up job of grabbing developers from its own PC gaming market and lured them with “good enough” and familiar hardware(read: off the shelf pc parts).

What the Vita needs to succeed is developers, and Sony can’t afford to take the “build it and they will come” approach anymore. There are too many platforms to develop for now, including tablets, and to provide a complex developer nightmare with no incentive is to invite failure. The Vita doesn’t sell because of it’s lack of games. Developers don’t develop for it because it doesn’t sell. Only Sony can break this cycle. But unfortunately, today’s example shows they aren’t willing to.

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My Really Long Theoretical Introduction

Unless you hid under a rock somewhere, you’re probably aware that Mass Effect 3 has a new extended cut ending. Many are outraged at the ending, as they were before, and many are pleased. However, I haven’t seen any attention given to why the ending may be pleasing, and perhaps that’s because it’s so easy to rip it apart. I have to admit, I also felt the same way. I felt betrayed that Bioware didn’t change the ending at all, but just clarified to  to be the same. I was one in the camp of hoping that the Indoctrination theory was correct. While this theory would make for an amazing story telling experience and an incredibly innovative and immersive gaming moment, it is actually only that. A true story, a story in a book or a good graphic novel or a good movie does not have these characteristics. A true story does not make you believe that you are the hero or that you are in the world, but makes you wish you were. A great story makes you idolize your favorite characters, not make you believe that you’ve always been that character. In addition, I have never found a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story that actually was a good read.

This would be the challenge for a game writer, and it was the challenge for the Mass Effect writers. The problem is that if a game script writer wants to tell a good story, it must always have a purpose. Not necessarily a moral, or something as elementary as that. But, as Aristotle once pointed out in the Poetics, a story must delight and inform. Therefore, it must be fun to read and allow the player to leave while understanding something in a different perspective. With this in mind, a game story writer has two options when telling a story:

1. An immersive story where the character identifies with the main character and is forced through a series of trials in which the character, and therefore the viewer, comes out with a different perspective.

2. A third-person story where the player is shown a character that is pushed through many trials, but ultimately the true purpose of the story is shown through metaphor. Battles, characters, trials, and choices all have meaning beyond what the surface layer may tell. This type requires a third-person or overhead perspective because it requires the player to be able to see the story from an overall perspective.

As I understand it, the writers either originally planned option #2 or opted for option #2 because they did not like what was presented to them for option #1. Unfortunately, a game like Mass Effect lends itself to option #1 very easily, since there is a significant amount of interaction and immersivity. We are told to create a character, name it, identify with it even, watch the character and make choices for the character. Ultimately, this article is not meant to justify the decisions of the writers in this case, as I feel that their decision to choose option #2 was faulty and did indeed conflict with how immersive the game really was. However, I would argue that the game would not be nearly as innovative, interesting, or successful without it being designed on the principles of option #1. In fact, I would argue that games designed around principle #2 are now passé. Many of you know these games well. Games like Sam and Max, Grim Fandango, Gabriel Knight, and Space Quest.

Notice that I listed all adventure games. I believe that these games follow the path that the ME writers were taking. All of these games feature characters that you move, make choices for, and experience life vicariously. However, these characters have their individual looks, desires and personality. You cannot create or customize, you can only lead. Therefore, in Space Quest, you never identify with Roger Wilco (thank the gods!), but instead you laugh at his misfortune as you try to figure out how to get him out of the latest sticky situation.

Unfortunately, these games would not succeed today. Good stories are no substitute for a truly immersive game. People want to live as their characters. It’s totally natural, as games are typically an escape for many, and it’s certainly inviting to believe that you are experiencing life within another world that follows rules that you understand (and can even bend). Immersive games are addictive and satisfying. A game with a good storyline is only fun once (unless you’re one of those weird people that read the same book over and over again – tee hee, I kid).

In fact, I would argue that the Indoctrination does make for a great story #1, but one that is cliché and hollow in reality. It’s only strong point is a convincing trick that pushes you deeper into a rabbit hole that leads to nothing that you can take into the real world. The only lesson is that you never trust anything you see. While that can be useful in moderation, it’s also cliché by now, and also fairly unhealthy.

In any case, this is why you and I felt betrayed by this ending. We were led into a game that was option #1, and given an ending that was option #2. In no way am I suggesting that the writers were correct in doing this. In fact, sticking to their guns would be their downfall. However, it’s worth it to see what they were actually trying to tell you.

A Hive Mind and a Time Capsule – Can You Say Metaphor?

Let’s start off with the most controversial part of the ending. The little synthetic boy. Within the new ending, we are told that this boy is actually an AI created by those that created the first Reapers that works as a Hive mind-like representation of the entirety of Reaper knowledge.

But the first thing to understand about this boy is that Reaper knowledge is much more special than just the knowledge of some ancient race. You see, the Reapers (as we are also told in this new ending) are a culmination of all the races that have risen and fallen over the millions of years. They consume and collect knowledge, technology and culture. That makes them a time capsule, of sorts, for the history of the galaxy and the accomplishments and failures of all life forms that ever existed within the galaxy. This is an interesting position to place the Reapers in, and the biggest question is why the writers did that. However, before we get to that, look at the middle of the paragraph. They collect this knowledge. How do did they collect us? They used the Collectors.

Angry Collector is Collecting

As we find out in ME 2, the Collectors are actually the galaxy’s version of us in this last cycle, the Protheans. Throughout the events of ME2, ME3, and the Prothean expansion for ME3, we learn a great deal about these Protheans. However, they aren’t exactly the amazing race that Liara hoped they would be. They are actually more terrifying than we thought, and appear to be very similar to the Roman Empire. I like to think that the Protheans would have led a Renegade play through and chose the Control ending. The Protheans were threatened by a hostile machine intelligence (like the Geth), and decided to “unite” the galaxy by dominating all lower races, enslaving them, and forcing them to fight this Geth-ish intelligence until they were ultimately destroyed by the Reapers. Our own fight against the Geth within ME1  along with the knowledge of the Protheans in ME2 and foreshadows the eventual coming of the Reapers.

As a result, it’s an ironic punishment for the Protheans to be enslaved by the Reapers and forced to fight and collect organics. They did it so well when they were sentient, why not use their skills again. The funny thing is that the Reapers are essentially preserving the culture and technology of the Protheans by using them in this way. Therefore, the Reapers continued to fulfill their purpose as Time Capsules, even after a race is consumed.

However, another bit of foreshadowing appears when we learn (through ME3 or the expansion, I don’t remember now) that the Protheans gained their mastery of technology after finding the ancient ruins of the Insuannon, just as we gained our technology from the ruins of the Protheans. Just as the Insuannon gained their technology from somewhere else. And somewhere down the line, some race created the Reapers and created their purpose, although we are not told how or why, as it is not important anymore.

Hand-Me-Downs

So, now we return to the little robot boy. At this point, our Shepard has come a long way. But more importantly, our galaxy has come a long way. The Insuannon may or may not have created the mass effect fields, but they were passed to the Protheans. The Protheans then enslaved the galaxy and created the Crucible, but they were too late and passed their knowledge to us. Now, we have built the Crucible, docked it with the Citadel, and are about ready to use the weapon that another civilization has created to end the cycle. The boy says that the cycle cannot continue, but he lies.

In truth, the cycle can continue, and Bioware now gives us the option to make it continue through their new 4th ending sequence. Instead of making one of the three choices available to us, we can take option D and tell the boy to take his 3 options and shove it. We tell him that we will kill the Reapers our own way!

…and in our defiance, the galaxy is wiped out again. Liara then records our own time capsule and leaves it for the next cycle. Just as the Protheans left us a time capsule. Just as the Insuannon left a time capsule. But each proceeding capsule is more and more detailed. We are told in the epilogue that the cycle is eventually ended as the next inhabitants of the galaxy (apparently something that looks suspiciously like an Asari) inevitably defeat the Reapers. Obviously this is not the most ideal ending for Shepard, our companions, or the rest of the galaxy. Everything dies. It does begin again, but it begins despite our arrogance.

But this ending does tell us something very important. Information is power. These time capsules of information allow us to eventually end the cycle of death. These time capsules are also, interestingly enough, exactly like the Reapers. In the same way that the Reapers rise, dominate, assimilate, and collect, each civilization rises, dominates, assimilates, and at the end of their lives, collects and disperses. Where the Reapers do not gift, the surviving race does, because it realizes that only by sharing it’s knowledge, can the next cycle avoid it’s mistakes. The Reapers represent the destruction and failure of other races as they consume themselves. Just as the Roman Empire died because of their arrogance and neglect of those they dominated, so did the Protheans die because of their arrogance.

So it’s almost like the Reapers are exactly what their name suggests: specters of death coming to herald the death of a civilization. However, since they are a culmination of the technology, culture, and history of all previous civilizations, they also represent the power that heeding the mistakes of the past can have. By giving us the gift of the Crucible, the Protheans left us our own Reaper. Heck, we even got our own frozen Prothean to talk to! We have the biggest and baddest metaphorical Reaper that any civilization has ever gained. No wonder things are different now.

I also want to point out that this theory has been recently validated by a rumor of some more DLC coming that was hidden in some code for the Extended Cut DLC. There is a rumor that new DLC may include a rogue Reaper named Leviathan. This name may refer to the famous book of theory by Thomas Hobbes and the hell demon it’s named for. The book’s main contribution is to suggest that ordinary citizens must give up some of their autonomy in order to gain the benefits of a stable society. In other words, this book introduces the social contract theory. I am unsure whether this theoretically rogue Reaper would represent the Leviathan that we must sacrifice ourselves to in order to gain power and security, and thus lending to my theory that Reapers = Information = Power and by discarding our ego, we can gain that power, or whether he represents the book itself, and thus is here to impart the secrets of his own time capsule and therefore gives himself to us as an ally.

The Three Choices

So now, let’s return again to the little boy. We have a galaxy united (as before), yet this time we come with our own Reaper, of sorts, that we will call the Crucible. We have shown that we can learn from the technology and mistakes of the past. This time, we united the galaxy in peace, not war, and built the Crucible in time. But now, we must make the ultimate decision. There’s really only one right decision, and this is a little irritating for many, considering how free-form the game was for most of the series. However, we are still with 3 choices. The boy informs us that these choices are only here because things are different this time around, as I said before. The cycle won’t work, he says. But why? Well, we have proven to be too efficient at examining the technology of the past. If we are killed, then as  we learn, the next generation will defeat the Reapers. The cycle can’t continue if it’s doomed to end.

But the purpose of the Reapers was always balance. The purpose of knowledge, is balance. The Reapers kill, but they do not destroy. The Reapers kill, but they preserve, because knowledge is a balance to power. They never destroy all civilizations, but they leave some to continue to pass knowledge. You could say that the Reapers destroy power and leave knowledge.

But now the Reapers are in the opposite situation. We now have knowledge that is greater than their power. The cycle cannot continue. Thus, they deem us worthy of opening the time capsules, should we ask them.

Now we come upon the three options. We can digest these three endings in two ways. First, understand that these three options mirror the options that all dominant civilizations have when confronting a defeated foe. As organics have now officially defeated synthetics, the organics must decide what to do.

1. Destroy: You declare that all associated with the foe (synthetics) are dangerous and should not be trusted. Therefore, you kill them all. But the boy warns that the peace will not last, because as with the cycle, there must always be balance. If you repress a civilizations knowledge, culture and technology  (The Reapers, in this case) and refuse to acknowledge them as being equals (synthetics), then you are doomed to continue the cycle as the foe’s culture becomes a counter-culture that will eventually surface again as our descendants inevitably study that culture, gain knowledge, and begin to realize the imbalance between power and knowledge.

2. Control: The Prothean and late Roman way. Conquer, dominate, enslave. This does not necessarily mean enslaving individuals, but definitely you can exercise control by keeping the dominated’s culture and information in a protected bubble. Propaganda, Cultural Reprogramming, turning the foe into the “other” that should be feared and hated. These are all ways of Control. Yes, they will do as you ask, but because they have no choice. They will not like it, but it does maintain a semblance of balance, only because one party controls both the power and the knowledge, but never destroys either. But he does warn that “you will lose everything of yourself.” For Shepard, this is literal, as Shepard merges with the machines. She is no longer Shepard, she is Reaper. In the same way, if one civilization dominates and attempts to suppress or control them, then that civilization will inevitably become known for such suppression. The Nazi’s tried a “Destroy”-like tactic, but inevitably was more successful at “Control.” Their culture, then, was shattered and replaced with the culture of death and domination, until the Nazis fell. The Soviets began as a culture fighting for the values of Karl Marx and the working man, but their brutal attempts at counter-culture turned them into a nation that had no culture but that of death, until the USSR fell. Arguably, China is facing the same problem. By suppressing culture, the suppression itself becomes your culture.

3. Synthesis: The boy recommends this option, and we are naïve for not believing that he may be right. Many of us want to believe that this boy is tricking us, but once again, if we distance ourselves from the game and look at it from an objective perspective, why would the writers trick us at this point in the story? They wouldn’t, because that’s just a stupid idea. By now, the results of this ending should be obvious. We approach the civilization in a way that early Romans approached defeated foes. Bring them in, adapt their culture into ours, use their technology to improve ours, use their knowledge to fill the gaps in ours. The Romans became as powerful as they did because they did this through the most influential years of their growth. Throughout the Roman empire you will see a hodge podge of different art styles. By looking at the Roman Pantheon, you will see gods from hundreds of other civilizations that were worshipped by the dominated civilization. By looking at Roman structures, artwork, cities, etc., you will find the influence of the Etruscans, the Egyptians, even the Persians, and many others. In today’s international politics, cultures are becoming increasingly segregated and isolated from each other. People interact, but they must not meld cultures. We don’t want to learn the ways of those people. They’re terrorists. They’re capitalists. They’re communists. They’re weird. They’re evil. They’re barbaric. However, we humans don’t evolve on a physical level like animals do. The only thing we have that has kept us alive is culture. But we cannot improve and evolve culture without learning from others around us. At the same time, organics and synthetics will never have peace unless they come together and pool their strengths. Synthesis seems a bit extreme, but it is a metaphor for two cultures coming together, learning from each other, and taking lessons from the other to improve themselves.

There is a second way to take these choices, and it is a representation of history and knowledge. Just as the as an understanding that the Reapers are representative of the best and brightest of synthetic technology and culture, in this game, they also represent time capsules of history and knowledge of all that organics have achieved, and all mistakes that organics have made in the past.  It is a unique ability of synthetics to collect and analyze information, so understanding these interpretations also represents an understanding of the power of the synthetic culture. However, more importantly for this section, these three choices reflect the choices we have when dealing with history and inconvenient information

1. Destroy: Burn the books. Kill the scholars. Normally destroying a people must involve destroying it’s culture. However, as the boy says, this is only a temporary victory. You can never completely destroy knowledge. Even if the knowledge is incomplete, it’s whispers will carry on throughout time to exist longer than you will. Destroying synthetics is a way to temporarily remove the problem, but when synthetics are created again, and gain knowledge, and then gain knowledge of our destruction of their predecessors, knowledge will once again seek to balance power.

2. Control: Outlaw free press. Publish government-approved material. Hire “experts” to “disprove” the information. Spin the news. All of these things are clever ways to control information rather than destroy it. Destroying information is too messy and inefficient. However, as long as the information exits, it is dangerous. Control only exists as long as the controller does. And information and culture exits much longer than we do. We can seek to control the Reapers, and they will obey as long as we command them, but we will lose our autonomy and become one with the Reapers. Thus, eventually, that which is “we” or “I”, will disappear, and the Reapers will gain autonomy through your assimilation.

3. Synthesis: Once again, the only acceptable ending. As the boy is the culmination of knowledge of all prior civilizations, it’s a bit naïve not to listen to his advice. Synthesis almost seems like my understanding of art and “beauty” as I wrote within my Seminar paper. When we read a good book, view a beautiful painting, experience a beautiful moment, we lose ourselves in the beauty and let it merge with us. We give ourselves to the experience and we receive enlightenment in turn. It’s a fair trade, but both sides must sacrifice for the betterment of all. In the same way, synthetics lose autonomy, but gain a permanent place as equals among organics. Organics take synthetics into their genetic code, therefore changing them forever, but maintain a sense of autonomy that the synthetics lack. Synthetics that already exist would presumably gain some of the weaknesses of organics, but would gain the benefits as well.

Unanswered Questions

Well, that’s my incredibly detailed analysis of part of the ending. I will be the first to admit that I don’t explain everything here, and neither does Bioware. The most controversial parts, however, now have meaning for me, and I, perhaps, finally understand the writer’s intent with this ending. However, there are still a few things that I just don’t get.

The biggest problem I have is with the ending sequence for Destroy. Why does Shepard appear to live only in this ending. Well, I suppose it’s really the only ending that doesn’t definitively kill Shepard, but it still doesn’t make sense. Synthesis turns Shepard into a martyr so that her “essence” somehow acts as glue to put synthetics and organics together. Control disintegrates Shepard and turns her into some kind of wireless hive mind beyond even that of the little boy. And yet, it appears that Control blows up the Crucible, or at least part of it, and somehow lands Shepard in a bunch of ruins on Earth. Why, if they systematically destroyed all aspects of the Indoctrination theory, did they keep this little mini-sequence in? Are you telling me that Shepard was blown up, fell from the Crucible, didn’t burn up in the atmosphere, hit the ground, probably at the speed of sound, and managed to take a breath? I don’t get it. It makes no sense.

Another problem that many will have is with the boy and the dream sequences. The dream sequences appear to have no real purpose anymore, other than just being a simple reminder of Shepard’s guilt. The fact that the AI takes the form of the same boy isn’t, in this ending, a premeditated action, but a result of looking at Shepard’s state of mind and understanding what will give her a sense of piece but also obligation to listen. While it’s still cool to think that the boy is something ever-present in her mind, and having to do with indoctrination, I highly doubt it, now. If anything, it’s just representative of Shepard’s “special-ness” that the AI accumulation of the Reapers manifests himself in a physical form or in Shepard’s head. However, I simply think that the AI takes the boy’s form at the end just for psychological reasons.

And certainly, this theory does not justify the fact that the retarded 2D slideshow at the end is a cheap attempt at giving players closure. So obviously, there are problems with the ending, but at least the extended cut finally clarified the intent of the writers and, for me, improved the experience of the game.

On Wednesday, Redmond showed off their new Mobile OS to a crowd of eager watchers and rumor mongers’. I can’t say that I’m not a little intrigued by the little OS that could. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been adopted as widespread as Redmond would have hoped, but it’s hoping that Windows Phone 8 will be different.

Within the new announcements, Microsoft announced several features that are an attempt to play catch up with iOS and Android. Unfortunately, some of this catch up is too little too late, but some of it can add more emphasis to great ideas that never worked. The most exciting element for Windows Phone 8 is under the hood (of the OS, not the phone), but let’s work from the outside in. 

New(ish) Home Screen

Apollo comes with a slightly new look. Well okay, it’s actually a new home screen. Well okay, it’s actually a bigger home screen. Since Windows Phone 8 will support higher resolutions (spoiler!), it’s logical for Microsoft to make use of those extra pixels within the home screen. It’s nice to see that Microsoft is seeing higher pixel counts and translating them into greater amounts of content and information access. The fact that Live Tiles act as app short cuts and widgets means that something as simple as adding more space to the home screen actually does ramp up it’s functionality. However, in reality, it’s just more of the same. The home screen was cool, and now it’s bigger. Windows Phone 8 still remains a decent middle ground between the clunky but powerful home screens of Android and the highly simplistic but also highly limited iOS home screens.

More Pixels

As mentioned above, Windows Phone 8 devices will have higher resolutions. Since Microsoft published hardware requirements for the devices, manufacturers have been limited by Microsoft’s demands. Since phone hardware has changed so dramatically during the last year, I think Microsoft will have continue to have trouble catching up if they keep releasing OS’s the way they are.

But anyway, Windows Phone 8 will now support two additional resolutions: 1280 X 768 and 1280 X 720. My first reaction to this was “that’s it?” When we have the iPhone sporting a retina display and Android phones pushing 1080 pixels, announcing that your phones will now support 720p is a bit disappointing.

Multi-Core Processors

Windows Phone 8 will be able to (finally) support multi-core processors. That doesn’t mean just dual-core, but any amount of core. While Windows Phone 8 devices will probably initially come with dual-core processors, expect quad-core products to show up as well. Once again, catch up, but definitely a much needed upgrade.

MicroSD Support

Yes, Windows Phone 8 will actually support microSD cards. Finally! Extra storage! File movement! Theroetically, one could also move items from one phone to another easily too, except that Microsoft has a better way of dealing with that.

Wireless Transmission

I have to admit that this is a little exciting. I loved it when HP unveiled webOS’s ability to wirelessly transmit data, but once again, the OS died. Google was the first surviving OS maker to unveil NFC support, but aside from Samsung and Nexus(aka Samsung) devices, NFC hasn’t picked up steam.

Basically, with NFC, Windows Phone 8 devices will be able to “beam” various files (photos, videos, MS Office files, email contacts) to other Windows Phone 8 devices. Unfortunately, your friends are more likely to have iOS or Android phones, so it’s not really as exciting as you might think, considering the lackluster adoption rate of Windows Phone 7. In fact, even with the lack of Android NFC devices, if you get a Samsung Galaxy S III, you’ll probably be able to use Samsung Beam a lot more often then you’ll be able to use Windows Phone 8 beaming.

However, if Windows Phone 8 does sell well, users will be able to use their webOS-like “Tap + Send” feature to bump two phones together and share content. This will also allow you to bump your Windows Phone 8 phones and tablets together, and if NFC ever makes it to computers, theroetically we may be bumping our phones to our computers as well. While Microsoft didn’t talk about the latter, I can always hope.

Windows Wallet App

With NFC, of course, comes wireless phone payments as well. Google Wallet has already been around for a while, enabling users to put their credit card numbers on their phone and swipe their NFC-capable phone at NFC-capable registers instead of actually using a credit/debit card.

While Google has the unfortunately little used Wallet, Apple has recently unveiled their Passbook system, allowing users to buy event, bus, plane, etc., tickets and passes and use their phone to check in.

Microsoft’s new hilariously named Wallet app (expect Andy Rubin to flip a lid if Android loses marketshare to Windows Phone) combines both together. Wallet will have NFC payments as well as Passbook functionality.

Nokia Maps

Nokia Maps has actually been around already on existing Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices, but supposibly, Nokia Maps will also be available for 3rd parties who build a Windows Phone 8 device. Nokia maps adds functionality that has existed in Android forever and was recently added to iOS. Turn-by-turn navigation. About damn time, I say.

Siri

Well okay, it’s not actually called Siri, although that would be hilarious. Actually, Microsoft decided not to name it, interestingly enough. Windows Phone 8 will have a voice controlled assistant, but it appears that it’s mainly run by Audible, which happens to be the name of the app as well. So Windows Phone customers will be shouting at Audible when they want their phone to do something.

Another interesting note is that this is the only functionality that will  be making it to previous generations, and only those upgraded to Mango. Presumably, this is because Microsoft has created it as an app, rather than an integral part of the operating system, like Apple has. So, I would imagine that it’d work like many Android voice assistant apps (read: disappointing).

Skype

With Microsoft’s recent purchase of Skype, it was just a matter of time before deeply integrated VoIP would make it’s way into Windows Phone 8.

However, with Windows Phone 8, it’s not all about Skype. Microsoft has included deep VoIP integration within the OS itself, allowing even 3rd party VoIP apps to become first-class apps. This means they can access systems that are integral to the OS, like the phone dialer, People Hub, and more. This lends itself to comparisons with FaceTime, except that it’s much more powerful, since you don’t have to juggle multiple contact lists or juggle an app list to start a video call. In fact, Microsoft even joked that Apple should create their own FaceTime app for the Windows Phone Marketplace so that Windows Phone 8 users and iPhones can FaceTime together. I think this close integration for 3rd party apps is brilliant, and I hope Microsoft continues with this trend.

Combining App Markets

Microsoft’s Windows Phone app store will integrate apps from WP7, WP8, and even Windows 8. This means that Microsoft can take it’s existing 100,000 app store and bring it over to new handsets too. That’s great news for Microsoft, since it took forever to get that app store up that high,  but now with PCs and phones sharing many of the same apps, it’ll make it easier than ever for developers to program for phones, tablets, and PCs.

The Intriguing New OS Core

Windows Phone 8 may symbolize some fairly small catch-up-like changes on the surface, but those features hide the most important change for this OS. Windows Phone 8 shares the same kernel, file system, media foundation, device drivers, and security model as Windows 8.

Wait. A Phone with a Desktop Kernel and API?

In case that didn’t hit you, let’s say that again. Windows Phone 8 has the same OS backbone as Windows 8. That makes Windows Phone 8 essentially the same as Windows 8, just with a different and more mobile-centric OS.

Developers should be jumping for joy right now. The reason that the Windows Phone 7 app store barely got to 100,000 was because they had to use the terrible and ancient .NET Compact Framework that actually comes from Windows Compact Embedded (and to a certain extent, Windows Mobile). This meant that developers would be developing for a platform that wasn’t selling and have to use an API that doesn’t translate to any other platform. Now, developers for Windows 8 barely have to do anything to get their apps on Windows Phone 8.

Is it really a mobile OS still?

Here’s another one you might have missed. Windows Phone 8 will share the same file system and media foundation as Windows 8. That means that one of my chief complaints about mobile OSes, terrible or non-existant file systems, has been solved in Windows Phone 8. While it’s no BeOS, the Windows file system is actually pretty good since Windows 7, and it’s getting a pretty major upgrade in Windows 8. To see those changes coming to phones is exciting. Adding the same media foundation means easy content sharing between phones, tablets, PCs, and game consoles. This is the integration that I’ve been waiting for from Microsoft.

While Apple already has this level of integration, and it does it very well, the fact is that the APIs are essentially very different, meaning that level of integration requires apps that convert cross platform. It also means working with the (still) terrible iTunes software in order to share content to a computer. Apple has done a great job of making what should be impossible very possible but it’s nothing like having all devices share the same kernel, APIs and media foundation.

Direct X?

Since Windows Phone 8 shares the same backbone, that means it shares the same code libraries. Developers can not only use C, C++ and SQLite, but they can also use Direct X.

Yes, Direct X support…on a phone.

If the implications of this don’t stagger you, then you might not care about this.

Direct X is the biggest reason why I can never truly get away from Windows. It is the reason why Steam for Mac has a hard time getting games to run as they should. It is the API standard in making computer games. Almost every major non-console game (except that the Xbox  uses Direct X, meaning that almost every major console game in the last several years can work in this analogy) in the last 20-30 years has been made using some version of Direct X. OpenGL tried valiantly to capture the hardcore gaming market, but Microsoft proved too difficult to beat. Direct X is a giant, and while Direct X 10 hit some stumbling blocks, Direct X 11 is simply an amazing graphics API. Seeing that it will come to Windows Phone 8 makes me giddy.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play every PC game on your phone, but it does mean that game developers can easily convert their major PC games to mobile versions to work on tablets and phones without rewriting the code. If Windows Phone 8 gains steam, you can expect that the mobile gaming market will see a much needed boost.

Windows Phone 7 Users Are Screwed

Now all this may sound very exciting, but if you currently have a WP7 device, you should be pissed. None of this is coming to your device. If you want WP8, you need to buy a new phone, simple as that.

To a certain extent, the requirement is understandable. The new home screen requires higher resolution screens. The more powerful kernel, APIs, and support for Windows 8 apps requires the power of a multi-core processor. Wallet and Tap + Share requires an NFC card. None of these things are insurmountable, but certainly would lead to a diminished experience for a current WP7 device.

Hopefully this doesn’t signal a trend for Microsoft, though. Windows Phone 7 was clearly a failure, and I can imagine that Microsoft is wanting to put it behind them, but at the same time, not supporting those that supported them is a huge mistake. The only people that put trust in Microsoft to deliver on a mobile OS are probably going to be reluctant to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt anymore, and Microsoft already has problems getting customers.

So I’ll be interested to see if these devices sell better than WP7. I hope they do, because honestly, the OS has a lot more promise, now.

A Google Cache search of the site  finalfantasyviipc.com found a version of the site detailing Square Enix’s most recent efforts to resurrect Final Fantasy 7 on PC. So far we know that better graphics and achievements are promised. The best part is that the site was tracked down to the CEO of Square Enix, himself.

While it may be just a rumor at this point, its certainly enough to excite PC gamers

Source: Joystiq

The first thing to be unveiled at WWDC 2012 yesterday, yet the final thing for me to talk about, was some new MacBook Airs. It’s not often that Apple pushes away it’s normal updating conventions, but thankfully, the original Ultrabook won’t even have to wait a year to get some attention from Apple.

Unfortunately, the updates are minor, but I didn’t really expect otherwise for this lineup. There’s not much that Apple can, or really needs to do to improve these guys. Intel has been trying to rally PC OEMs to fight back against them, but nobody has been able to fight against the unstoppable juggernaut that is the MacBook Air. Like all Apple laptops, it’s a thing of perfected aesthetics combined with practical prowess. It’s as light and portable as comfortably possible, it has great battery life, it has a fantastic screen, a perfect keyboard, backlighting, the best trackpad in the business, and quick, reliable, solid state drives. Apple couldn’t have picked a better way to replace the aging and ugly white MacBook.

But now, it just got a little bit better, and here’s how:

CPU

As expected, the 2012 MacBook Airs are now coming with Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge processors. That means a tiny bit more processing power (as if you needed it), and a whole lot more graphics punch. Yes, I would imagine you can even enjoy some Diablo III with the help of the speed of the Solid State Drive on board. Just beware of those multi-element baddies in Hell and Inferno.

Should you feel the need for speed, you can now upgrade those 1.7 and 1.8 GHz i5’s up to 2.0 GHz i7’s, should you choose the upgraded model of either 11-inch or 13-inch and pay up to $150 more. Honestly, though, that’s not a bad upgrade price.

Memory

Unlike the MacBook Pro’s, unfortunately there is no model coming with any more than 4GB of RAM, but at least Apple upgraded the RAM to 1600 MHz.. Arguably, though, MacOS doesn’t need more than 4GB unless you’re doing something more akin to the use of a MacBook Pro. However, it is kind of nice to have should you need to run a Parallels setup or otherwise put Windows on it for some good ol’ legacy action.

Should you feel the need, Apple has dropped the ridiculous 8GB upgrade price, that exited in 2011, down to a much more manageable Franklin (that’s $100 for those of you not keeping track). So it might not be a bad way to go anyway.

Storage

Apple is quoting that the SSDs in their new machines are quicker than the last generation. It’s not exactly like the old MacBook Airs were slouches, but it’s nice to know they care. The new drives are apparently based on a “SandForce SATA-III controller chip, but stamped with Toshiba markings.” That probably means that the new machines are running SandForce’s new and relatively stable 2281 module. That means the drives will certainly run a lot faster, but hopefully Apple will keep an eye on the new machines in case any problems arise.

Apple also modified the SATA controller that the SSDs use. It’s now a modified version of Intel’s mSATA design. Unfortunately this means that 3rd party SSD upgrades will probably be impossible for the near future. However, Apple is now offering a 512GB upgrade option on the upgraded 11 and 13-inch models, for $500. Ouch. And that’s on the 13-inch model, which bring it to about two Cleveland’s (I mean the president, not a Family Guy character, sheesh). Should you want 1/2 a Gig in your 11-inch wispy, expect to shell out $800 for the privilege.

Ironically enough, there are some reports of people finding Samsung controller based SSDs in their brand new 2012 MacBook Airs. If this is true, we might see a repeat of last years debacle, when people found that the Toshiba SSDs that came in some Airs were vastly outperformed by the Samsung SSDs that came in other Airs. In my opinion, an SSD is still an SSD, and it’s faster than you, anyway.

Ports

With the Ivy Bridge unveiling comes native USB 3.0 support, and the 2012 MacBook Air is no different. Gone is the ancient 2.0 rectangle, and here to stay is the quicker and much more useful USB 3.0. You’re still getting only 2 USB ports, but at least you still have Thunderbolt.

Interestingly enough, iFixit’s teardown has shown that with the new MacBook Air’s upgrade to Ivy Bridge also brings the four-channel Cactus Ridge Thunderbolt controller. This, theoretically, should mean that the MacBook Air’s Thunderbolt port should support two simultaneous Display Port connectors (therefore, two additional monitors), or generally two different Thunderbolt devices via a splitter cable. However, Apple has curiously stated that it will only support one channel, and therefore only one monitor or one device. It’ll be interesting to see if Apple forcibly limited the port for some reason or is under promising and over delivering.

And That’s About It

Everything else is literally the same. The design, the shell, the materials, the screens (yes, no option for a retina display unfortunately), etc. However, as I said, there wasn’t much to improve. Certainly they don’t need to make it thinner, the thing is bear minimum as it is. It’s physically impossible to add more ports (and fairly unnecessary as well). And please, Apple, never change the keyboard or trackpad. Ever. It would have been cool to see a retina display on a MacBook Air, but I think it’s a good idea to limit such high resolutions to 15 inch screens and screens that are in your face. 2880 x 1800 resolution on a 13 inch screen would probably be damn near impossible to work with.

So overall, the updates to the MacBook Airs are actually a bit more minor than the updates to the standard (read: non-retina) MacBook Pros. New processors, USB 3.0, and that’s about it. Sure your upgrade options have changed and there’s some very minor under the hood adjustments. It’s just another day in the breezy Ultrabook homeland.

So, I already provided my Apple love article, so I think I’ll take this chance to rant a bit, appropriately enough. Before I say anything else, I’d just like to let you know how douchey Apple has decided to be with this years WWDC. They have the live stream for their keynote open. Which is great. It’s great for Apple too, because keynotes tend to be advertisement more than anything else. Except that you can’t see it. Well you can, but not you. In order to see anything other than “coming soon”… or well it says “Get QuickTime” now…on Apple’s live streaming page, you have to be running Safari. Safari on Windows won’t work either. You have to be running iOS or MacOS X in order to view it. Really? They couldn’t have used the web standard that they’ve been touting so much? They had to use QuickTime playback, which nobody cares about? Hmm…

Just to warn you Apple fanboys out there, this article will combine some bits of information with a lot of snark, but I feel that it’s representative of what Apple gave us with iOS 6. Look, it’s not like I’m the biggest Android fan either. There’s a whole bunch of things wrong with that OS. Windows Phone might as well be Baidu, for all I care. Yes I have an Android smart phone, but frankly, I don’t really think it improves my life. I think it just distracts me from life and does important things some times, but nothing that I couldn’t do just by spending a couple more minutes by actually planning my events. I just generally find mobile OS’s laughable, and when the biggest change you make to your OS happens to be a gimmick, it makes my eyes balls do pull-ups.

But for the hundreds of thousands or millions of you, I don’t care to keep track anymore, let’s talk about iOS 6 without further ado.

Apple mentioned that there are “over 200 updates” with iOS 6. Well Apple has a funny way of thinking about updates. While there’s no way to talk about all 200 updates (literally), let’s instead talk about some of the main ones.

Siri

Yes, I went there first. I guess this is the most important set of updates. However, the updates that Apple listed only showed me how much Siri couldn’t do before and how much more worthless I didn’t know it was.

Apple was really excited to show off that Siri can now look at sports scores. Siri can even let you know whether a basketball player is taller or shorter than the other.

…k

You know, the only practical application for Siri is to do things while you’re in the car. Or if you’re blind, but that’s a different story altogether. Are you really that desperate to know the sports scores while you’re in the car? Does anybody not think that Siri is a gimmick by now? You know Siri, I can do that with a Google search. Oh snap, I just pulled out the “G” word. Sorry Ms. Jackson, I didn’t mean to make your daughter cry.

Here’s another one: Siri can now open up apps.

…Wat? It couldn’t open apps? The stupid British guy I downloaded for my Android phone for free can do that. What the heck is there to do on an iPhone other than open apps? What the heck?

Another one: Apple has gotten together with car makers to create hands-free Siri. Well that’s cool, I agree, and really the only useful form of Siri I can imagine. But what car makers? Probably BMW, Mercedes, and Ford. Because everybody loves those options.

You can also make restaurant reservations through OpenTable and bring up movie times and reviews using Rotten Tomatos.

Once again….k. Apple, I get it that you need something to help people to find information after the app they want gets lost in the jungle of apps they don’t want in the dozens of home screens filled with hundreds of apps. But there are easier ways to do it then to resort to talking to inanimate objects. Seriously, though, this feature can be useful, only because my personal experience with the Fandango app is pretty awful. But I normally call places to make reservations, if I have to, because there aren’t many places in my tax bracket that use services like OpenTable to track reservations.

However, all of the things I do that Siri would do for me typically use some part of Google search. I will use Google search to find movie reviews. I will use Google search to check out what basketball player is taller. I will use Google search to find the restaurant phone number. That’s a lot of Google, and that’s a lot of ad money for Google. Apple doesn’t like Google, and it’s been systematically trying to push away Google for a while now. Siri is a big step towards trying to eat at Google’s bread and butter, internet search, and it’s a possible threat, the more powerful and capable it gets.

On that note, iOS 6 has deep Facebook integration, including getting Facebook messages in the notification center, being able to respond at the notification, and using voice commands to respond or make posts. This is Facebook by the way. It’s the same Facebook that refuses to make it’s iOS and Android apps not suck because they can’t figure out how to make money off of them (Facebook is an ad company, like Google, but unlike Google, they don’t know how to present ads in an app). So the face that Facebook is willing to bypass it’s bread and butter, the website, by allowing people to pretty much exclusively use their phone means there’s got to be something in it for them.

Maybe I’m being cynical here, but I can imagine the following scenario:

You: Siri, call my wife.

Siri: That’s great sir, but first I noticed that you and you wife haven’t been having the greatest love life lately. I’d like to recommend that you check out this great male enhancement drug.

You: What the F%&$?

Siri: Yes sir. This product will help the F%&$.

You: Siri, just call my wife!

Siri: There’s no need to yell, sir. But please say either “Accept” or “Deny.”

You: Fine, I’ll do it myself you stupid &%#$. *pick up phone* AHHH!

*Crash. Death*

Maps

Well now, iOS finally has a competitor to Google Maps. Er…I mean it stopped using Google Maps and created it’s own Maps so it can have Google Maps without the Google. Or something.

It’s no secret that El Goog has been taking advantage of it’s dominance in the online mapping dominance by cutting Apple out of some of it’s coolest features. I have no problem with Apple cutting out Google and going with it’s own mapping system which honestly looks pretty nice. It even beat Google to punch with 3D maps! Fancy right?

And then I learned this. Maps is done by TomTom? Wat? Isn’t TomTom the crappiest high profile  GPS maker in the world? Isn’t TomTom one of the most unreliable and inefficient mappers in the world? Thanks for that Google. Maybe this is also Google’s fault. Does Google have some sort of deal with Garmin. Was Garmin not bowing down to Apple enough? I don’t get it.

Facetime over 3G

The title says it all. You can do Facetime over 3G. Now that the two relevant cellular carriers both have tiny data caps that they are forcing you on or throttling you if you don’t have caps, you can now have a constant stream of video and audio from your face. Thank you Apple, I needed that.

Do Not Disturb

Another thing that Apple showed off was a “Do not disturb” option, which basically allows people to quickly and easily silence their phone.

Huh. Does iOS not have a vibrate option? Or a silence option? I don’t know these things. I have this:

That’s my lock screen too. Well not mine, it’s the interweb’s lock screen, but it’s similar. I hit the power button, slide my finger, done. I heard a rumor, though, that iPhone users can also hit the volume button a few times and shut off the ringer. Maybe it’s a hidden feature that people never heard of. Guess I’m a genius.

Oh wait, I also have this too. It’s kinda cool. It’s that thing in the middle. It’s a widget. Oh snap, I’m sorry I forgot you guys don’t have those. Sorry.

Yeah I have two options for “Do Not Distub.” Just saying, Apple. Actually three, because I have that nifty little analog volume device goes up or down on the side of my phone too.

Come on, people, this is considered a major update?!

Other Crap

Let’s see, Apple also added “Game Center Challenges.” So you now have achievements. Okay. They’re not pointless.

They also added full screen landscape support in Safari apparently, which is another thing I didn’t know the iPhone couldn’t do.

The iPhone is now able to work with Apple certified Hearing Aids, which sounds like a terrible idea, but might be kinda cool, I guess.

You can now set an alarm to open a song.

Safari will sync tabs between iPhone and iPad, because the iPhone is just too damn small to see that webpage.

JavaScript is faster, which is good. Was JavaScript on iOS slow before, Apple?

Sigh

Okay, I’m done. There’s a whole load of other updates but they’re all as incremental and pointless as the one’s I’ve already mentioned. I’ve officially been reading too many articles about iOS 6, trying to find a reason to get excited about it. It’s still iOS, there’s nothing that’s different. It’s like they took iOS 5 and put a coat of wax on it. Sure it’ll keep off the rain, but it’s still the same stuff underneath.

Once again, I could care less about Android too. It may sound like I’m an Android fanboy, but they both suck in their owns ways. I’m just done with mobile OSes, and Apps. And talking to inanimate objects.

macbook-pro-retina-xlIt’s that time of year again.WWDC came in a 2012 fury and after two hours of spilling the beans on their new products and software, the internet is in collective shock. There are literally too many updates to talk about. But I’m going to try.

The stars of the show, of course, were the new MacBooks. Apple updated every part of their Macbook line up and even added a couple new ones. And since this is a developer conference, Mountain Lion is in tow to wrap it all up.

While no new hardware was announced on the iOS front, Cupertino did update iOS itself to version 6, including over 200 changes. However, most of the time “changes” to Apple also include the tiny tweaks that you may not notice. Mostly, to me anyway, iOS 6 is more of the same, but we’ll go over that in another post.

F&%$ You PC Market

In a move that’s bound to cause some food choking, roof jumping, or momentary lack of breathing for Windows PC makers, Apple has revolutionized the high end market of laptops. Heck, even revolutionized is too weak of a word. Apple has completely rebuilt their MacBook line-up. First of all, there is no more 17-inch MacBook. I think Apple made the right move here. They didn’t sell them much at all, they weren’t that much different from the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and they cost way more to boot. If you needed power, you got a 15-inch. You needed a basic laptop, you got a 13-inch. Only those with massive amounts of discretionary income and a desire for a desktop replacement (yet stupid enough not to go for an iMac instead for a fraction of the price) would purchase it. However, the most amazing part of this hardware update is what they did to replace it.

However, there are still three main configurations (and three upgrade options) of the MacBook Pro, and they did update the first two. So let’s spend some time on those.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The first two categories are the less amazing updates, and also the most predictable ones. The 13 and 15-inch MacBooks didn’t really change that much. The design is the same, and the hardware is about the same, but Apple did make some minor changes that needed to happen and negelected some things that still annoy me.

Display

Neither of these models got any boost in the display. There is still no option to get a 1920 x 1080 display in the 15-inch MacBook. The 1680 x 1050 matte display is still an egregiously overpriced upgrade. The 13-inch model still has the same 1280 x 800 display that looks disappointing compared to the 1440 x 900 display in the 13-inch MacBook Air.

CPU

Some minor performance boosts were predictable but nice to have. Both 13 and 15-inchers are getting the shiny new Ivy Bridge processors from Intel, although, we’ve already seen that this upgrade isn’t that big of a deal.

Memory

In a move that should have happened a year ago, Apple is finally upgrading the RAM that’s included in it’s MacBooks. Unfortunately the base models of the 13 and 15-inchers still come with 4GB, but now spending the extra $300 includes an upgrade to 8GB RAM in addition to the minor CPU and HDD improvements, so that your $2200 MacBook can finally feel modern.

Hard Drive

The most frustrating upgrade that didn’t happen was the hard drive. While it was nice when Apple upgraded their models to include 500GB and 750GB hard drives from 320GB and 500GB, last year, the fact that the most premium laptops on the planet include 5400 RPM hard drives is simply rediculous. 7200 RPM hard drives are a lotfaster than 5400 RPM hard drives, and they don’t cost much more. I know that they probably have some crazy contract with Hitachi, but you would think that they could flex their word dominating muscles and squeeze in some 7200 RPM drives or (gods forbid) maybe Hybrid Hard drives now that Seagate owns Hitachi.

GPU

The 13-incher obvious get’s an upgrade, but just from Intel 3000 to 4000 graphics, and the benefits are debatable, but there’s not much to report here.

The 15-incher, on the other hand, surprisingly goes back to nVidia for it’s graphics, this time around. While Apple’s switch to AMD, last round, shocked some folks, it was apparently a temporary switch. The brand spankin’ new GeForce 650M will be powering the new 15-inch MacBook Pros in either 512MB or 1GB configurations. The change will be welcome, I’m sure, because while the AMD graphics of the last generation (and it’s minor update) were much improved from the anemic GeForce 330M that proceeded it, nVidia has been severely tromping AMD in the mobile graphics segment for the last few years.

Ports

Normally I wouldn’t care so much about this category, but the fact that the new MacBooks now finally support USB 3.0 surprised me at first, but I’m not sure why. Ivy Bridge natively supports USB 3.0, where Sandy Bridge did not, and thus why Macs only now have it onboard. Sandy Bridge notebooks have been coming with USB 3.0 for quite a while, now, but typically it required third-party controllers, which Apple probably didn’t want to deal with (not to mention, these controllers would take more motherboard space, which Apple has precious little of).

So to conclude: your new 13 and 15-inch MacBooks are more of the same. They upgraded some things, didn’t upgrade other things, and generally these updates feel like a refresh. However, the elephant in the room is the new MacBook Pros with Retina Displays. While the name seems to say it all, there’s a lot more to these laptops than meet the eye.

Officially the Best Laptops on the Face of the Planet

No, this isn’t hyperbole. These laptops are literally perfect. Hey, if you don’t like MacOS X (and I’m sympathetic, believe me) put Windows on it. You won’t find a laptop that’s anywhere near as awesome as these babies. I guarantee you that PC makers will be trying to emulate this machine for years, and it will be the one to beat. So let’s dive in.

Oh, There’s the New MacBooks!

It’s clear that Apple put their main design effort on these machines, as they are clearly the future of Apple’s laptop efforts. They have a redesigned version of the normal 15-inch MacBook Pro shell that is thinner, adds more ports, and removes the CD/DVD drive.

I know what you’re thinking, “Oh noes, no CD/DVD drive?” and I say get over it. I haven’t used an ODD in a laptop in years, and I honestly haven’t really needed to. On my Alienware M11x, I have Daemon Tools and a folder full of ripped ISOs, but honestly, I never really touch them. Most of my games either don’t require the disc to play or are on Steam. If I need to install something, I only need to install it once, which is why I have an external drive at home. Nobody seems to use discs anymore. You can easily e-mail/cloud share/store on a flash drive whatever you want, and it’s actually easier than a disc.

It also makes sense considering that Apple wants to push iCloud, iTunes, and the Mac App store. You may or may not use these things, but Apple will assume that you will.

Retina Display

Obviously the biggest feature of these models are their 15-inch displays. I would love to get my eyes on one of these, because a retina display in a laptop is way more useful than a retina display in an iPhone or iPad. Pixels don’t matter that much when all you have is one thing on the screen.

The new display is a 15.4 inch LED IPS display with a staggering 2880 x 1800 resolution. If you’re keeping count at home, that is exactly two times the pixels of the standard 15-inch model. Unlike the iPad, almost every program on a computer will take advantage of this resolution immediately, if anything, because it means more screen real estate, however, Apple is also promising that all the native apps and it’s own higher end apps (Aperature, Final Cut Pro, etc.) will take advantage of the resolution in full screen mode (presumably by being able to render that many pixels accurately). Programs that require you to select a full screen resolution (the only example I can think of is games) will either not support the full resolution or will have to be updated, however, they still should support 1920 x 1080, which would  be the next logical step down. On that note, Diablo III apparently has been updated to support the full resolution.

It’s kind of funny that the first MacBook to support 1920 x 1080 has a screen who’s native resolution is 2880 x 1800. Overkill?

The Real 15-inch Pro You Actually Want

Under the hood is pretty much the perfect laptop build. Literally, it’s amazing and it blew me away.

CPU

Of course you get the latest and greatest from Intel, the Ivy Bridge i7 processors (2.3/3.3 GHz and 2.6/3.6 GHz if you want specs).

Memory

Also coming standard is the above mentioned 8GB of RAM

Storage

The most well praised (and a bit ironic) move was to make SSDs standard. Yes, your base level 15-inch MB RD will come with 256GB of Flash Storage, with 512GB offered on the upgraded model. It’s about time somebody other than ultrabook makers did that. Flash storage is the best thing since sliced silicon in the computer world, and finally prices have come down enough for Apple to fully embrace it. Though their standard Pros still come with 5400 RPM drives *facepalm*

GPU

Well this should be obvious. Apple put in the same exact GPU as the 15-inch Pros, except that 1GB GDDR5 is standard instead of the upgrade.

Ports

In another surprising move, Apple included 2 Thunderbolt connectors in addition to the 2 USB 3.0 ports. They even threw in an HDMI port as consolation for the loss of the CD/DVD drive. Yes, you can now sell off your Moshi mini DP to HDMI adapters.

However, in a bit of a frustrating move, Apple decided to kill off the Firewire 800 port in this model. Unforunately, this is still a widely used port for various high end production tasks, and I don’t quite believe that Apple couldn’t fit it on there since they removed the CD/DVD drive. Consequently, Apple would, of course, love to sell you a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter, should you need the apparently outdated port.

So, despite the loss of the FireWire port, which, I suppose is remedied by an adapter, this is the perfect laptop. It’s got power, it’s got design, it’s got the most amazing laptop screen on the planet, it’s got great graphics, and it’s even got a fairly large SSD.

And while it’s premium $2100 starting price is out of many people’s price range, I feel like it’s a bit of a bargain. This laptop feels like a concept laptop that should cost a lot more, and the question I ask myself is why would anyone pass this guy over for the upgraded 15-inch? Slower but bigger storage? CD/DVD drive? I don’t know.

Apple Has Done it Again

It’s been clear that for the last few years of his life, iOS was Steve Job’s baby. But it’s also sad that he really ignored the laptops and desktops that started the company. iOS has become their bread and butter, and it is the onlyreason why Apple is now the most important tech company in the world. iOS sold MacBooks. Steve was smart to focus on it. But for many of us, iOS represents Apple’s turn to gimmicktry and toys. iPads are great, but they are really just addictive digital distractions that remove us from the world, and thus why they sell so well. A laptop, though is powerful enough to be more than a distraction, but it’s also not mobile enough to be everywhere with you. To me it’s the perfect balance of utility, entertain, but also restraint.

So it makes me happy to see Apple finally focusing on innovating laptops. To be fair, Apple didn’t need to. Windows OEMs are still way behind Apple in building the kind of machine that Apple cracks out every day. Apple’s older MacBooks weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they were the best that you could get.

Now the best that you could get just got better. But instead of being fine with that, they also redefined the high end laptop.

So I expect PC OEMs to try to compete with Apple in this regard. I expect the next HP Envy to come with a “retina display” that can’t render red, standard SSDs, and a sub-standard Clickpad. I expect the next Dell XPS to combine a great 1080p display with SSDs, marginal graphics and a metal finish that still feels like plastic. I expect the next ASUS machines to try to impress you Hybrid Drives, Ivy Bridge, great battery life, and yet have no graphics and to be covered in plastic and rubber. I expect Acer to build machines that have faux metal cases Ivy Bridge, great graphics, standard SSDs and yet have no battery life, fall apart within 2 years, and continue to use the most gawd awful keyboard known to man. I expect this because this is what they do. And Apple doesn’t even care about Macs anymore.

Please prove me wrong.