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Google, Facebook & Apple; Tech Giant News Roundup

Good news, everyone.

The last 48 or so hours in the tech world have been pretty interesting- 3 of the biggest companies have had pretty significant public showings of new products and services. While I pre-emptively wrote about Facebook’s mail announcements yesterday, here’s what Google and Apple had to reveal as well;

 

Facebook – A Modern Mail Service

Zuckerberg talking about Facebook, little else.

So Facebook didn’t quite announce a rival to Gmail and Hotmail as everyone predicted… or did they? You can now still register for a ‘@facebook.com’ address once your account receives an opt-in invitation, but this new service will focus on convergence of SMS, Email, IM and other current messaging platforms rather than going head to head with existing providers. The existing concerns remain about Facebook, privacy and email, but guess we know what FB poached that Google Wave dev for now, huh?

 

Google – The Nexus S, Gingerbread, NFC and Chrome OS

The Nexus S?

Although Facebook’s revelations largely overshadowed what was going on at the Web 2.0 summit, Google’s CEO had a few almost-groundbreaking things to share with the community. Firstly, he demonstrated Android 2.3 AKA Gingerbread on an unannounced phone many summise to be the elusive ‘Nexus S’ from Samsung. We can’t confirm either way since branding was concealed although a special hardware component was explicitly mentioned – a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip. This lead in to what will no doubt be a key feature of the new OS, set to release in the next few weeks, as it enables ‘bump-to-pay’ transactions. Seems like this will be another area where Google and Apple are racing to get a cutting edge technology into consumers’ hands first.

Chrome OS, that bastard topic largely relegated to the background by Google’s more prominent Android, was also given a clear purpose by an offhand comment by Eric Schmidt- it is for low cost keyboard devices. Which rules phones and tablets out.

 

Apple – iTunes News…?

Trendy old shit that no one cares about anymore... just what iTunes needs more of.

Apple threw its hat in the ring this week as well teasing an unforgettable iTunes-related reveal on Tuesday. However this hype sizzled out as soon as it was revealed that the Beatles catalogue would be coming to the popular e-store. The Beatles? Who cares. Everyone who gives a damn will have ripped their CDs, bought their audacious USB collection or pirated the stuff by now.

Luckily this was dispelled with the also predicted and highly anticipated iTunes Cloud, Streaming, iTunes Pass, 90sec previews and a redesigned client.

 

The war for the internet, ad revenue, market share, hearts and minds is very much underway and at this very exciting time in history I dare not call a winner. Especially since likelihood suggests that even if there is one, there won’t be for long. Microsoft is notably absent from this week’s festivities- no doubt working on getting all those missing features into Windows Phone 7.


The Tragedy of Zahra Baker

Murdered: Zahra Baker

I’m not often moved by other peoples’ misfortunes, nor do I intend to make a habit of non-tech-related posts, but it’s hard not to feel something for Zahra Baker. The Sydney Morning Herald chronicled her life by saying;

Rejected at birth by her mother, she battled bone cancer as a toddler, had a leg amputated aged five, lost her hearing during chemotherapy and at eight was uprooted from her home in Queensland to North Carolina so her father could be with a woman he met on the internet.

As if that wasn’t tragic enough, she was then murdered, dismembered and buried in early October (although in what order we don’t yet know) most likely by her mentally-unstable stepmother. Elisa Baker’s currently the police’s prime suspect due to a bogus ransom she penned allegedly to throw off the investigation.

The general concensus over at Websleuths is that she was murdered probably to cover up neglect, which in her case could easily have developed into something life-threating, and to avoid conviction for it. If so I’d like to personally spit on her despicable parents before they get the chair. Have a read of their observational investigation here- we won’t know for sure what happened until detectives release a formal statement.

To top it off, today would have been her eleventh birthday. Celebrations were still held, planned before the grisly discovery of her remains a few days ago.


Facebook Mail: Get Your Social Out of My Inbox

Facebook Mail

Internet giant Facebook seems set to unveil it’s own email service to essentially compete with Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail in the next 24 hours. However, given the ubiquity of those established services, and Facebook’s poor track record with privacy, would you sign up for a @facebook.com?

This discussion reminds me of my switch to Gmail from Hotmail a few years ago. Gmail at that time fofered a better service- more storage space, a better web client, free POP access – and the fact that it never deaciivated your account, deleting your mail in the process, as Hotmail was known to do. Service-wise, Google’s offering was compelling enough for me to up and transfer over, migrate what mail I could and tell everyone my new address.

I faced a similar conundrum at that time- do I trust Google with my mail? Their privacy policy was notoriously sketchy but eventually I caved with the mentality of ‘what’s the worst they can do’ with all my private data. That said, I shouldn’t be criticising Facebook’s potential mail service on the grounds of privacy, should I? Both Google and FB have a vested interest in personal data that drives their respective targeted advertising businesses. Neither in that way is more ‘evil’ that the other.

However as Google learned earlier this year with the failed ‘Buzz’ experiment, people don’t want social in their inbox, especially if they have little control over it. And what is Facebook all about if not the removal of individuals’ control over their information? The only obvious trump card FB has over other webmail services is potentially tight integration with it’s main social network; one that 500 million people are already tied up in. As to whether that’s something people actually want, I’m not so sure.

Given its massive user base, any Facebook Mail project has its foot in peoples’ doors already. If it wants a whole bunch of people to switch from their existing mail providers, it will have to offer something those competitors do not while also dodging the backlash that’s sure to arise from any privacy-related missteps. Whatever Mark Z and friends reveal today, it looks set to upset the existing webmail equilibrium but to what extent remains to be seen.


Urien in SSF4AE?

Urien circa Street Fighter III.

Urien defined the whole Street Fighter III era for me.  Realise that’s pretty sad given he’s a practically naked buff man in a thong whose name both is an anagram of ‘urine’ and probably intended to Romanise into ‘Julian’. Regardless, I’ve always wanted him to transition into Street Fighter IV, even though his broken Aegis tricks will probably be gone and even though he’s already present in spirit in the form of Seth.

Anyway, Mr. Yoshinori Ono tweeted the cryptic image below. He likes to do this kind of thing quite a lot. In fact he indirectly announced M. Bison, Seth, T.Hawk, most recently Yun & Yang as well as a bunch of others with this mostly-obscured teasing iPhone shots. The Blanka toy’s always there, in case you were wondering.

Ono's Tweet image.

Question is, is this Urien? Could also be Alex- the two of them have both been rumoured for ages and are long overdue. I’d much prefer the former and however this turns out it only makes me clamour more for that Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition DLC that Capcom is so reluctant to greenlit. I don’t have an arcade near my work anymore so I’m in a kind of bind if they decide to keep it coin op.


Nulreview: Fallout New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas

Obsidian Entertainment is well known for making the sequels to high profile RPGs. However unlike Neverwinter Nights 2 or Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas is not the sequel to somebody else’s game. Obsidian started the Fallout series, back when they worked at Black Isle Studios, so this is essentially a dev retaking the reigns of the franchise they created. Question is; how did they do?

Fallout: New Vegas is simultaneously one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played while also being one of the buggiest and worst presented products I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing. This is the dichotomy presented in most reviews; the game does not disappoint the lofty expectations of Fallout 3 fans and is in many ways better than that game, but also brings along for the ride Gamebryo Engine bugginess many times worse than what we saw in FO3 or even Oblivion.

So it’s ultimately a mixed bag. On the one hand I love this game to bits, but find it hard to recommend due to the sheer disregard for the player with which it has been released. Did anyone test this mess? Is there a QA department at Bethesda Softworks at all? No doubt this will be polished to a fine sheen many patches and DLC packs down the track, but even then why should anyone buy it now if they can get a more complete and more stable version in the inevitable GOTY edition a year or so from now?

Me? I caved and bought it. Obviously.

 

But if you suspend your disbelief and ignore the game’s technical shortcomings, New Vegas is still full of stand-out moments. Discovering the Brotherhood Of Steel’s underground hideout and getting embroiled in the sinister political inner-workings of their organisation is a quest on a par with Fallout 3’s best, with dozens of potential outcomes. – T3

Like Obsidian’s other big-name sequel – KOTOR 2 – Fallout: New Vegas is a divisive game. So much remains of what made Fallout 3 special, from the ridiculous cast to the joy of exploration, that there will be many willing to overlook all the bugs and glitches in favour of the weight of content that lies beneath. Those who were hoping for more than a mission pack to a 2008 game built on a busted 2006 engine, however, may find new Vegas to be quite literally a wasteland. – Kotaku

It doesn’t look as good as Fallout 3 did, and perhaps that’s down to internal support at Bethesda knowing the engine better than their outsourced pals, but it shows, and doesn’t help when Obsidian are known for lacking in the polish department. I was lucky enough to avoid any full crashes (though my house-mates have suffered these), but dodgy texture load-ins, massive frame-rate drops, out of sync voice work and alarmingly close pop-up have actually marred the experience for me. It is a detriment when you invest so much into the world, lore and characters and I’m hoping some serious patch work is released as soon as possible. – Ausgamers

If New Vegas were being reviewed as a piece of software, as a technical product, the judgement would be absolutely appalling. These are games, however, and deserve to be reviewed for the experiences they provide. The experience of New Vegas is sublime and so incredibly big that the ratio between getting annoyed by freezes and getting excited by the game’s wonderfully engaging world firmly favors a positive outlook. Very few games could be good enough to make up for serious technical errors. In fact, I could count them on one hand. – Destructoid

Fallout: New Vegas is still a fantastic game, only slightly held back by its increasingly outdated tech. Obsidian has created a totally compelling world and its frustrations pale into insignificance compared to the immersive, obsessive experience on offer. Just like the scorched scenery that provides its epic backdrop, New Vegas is huge and sprawling, sometimes gaudy, even downright ugly at times – but always effortlessly, shamelessly entertaining. – Eurogamer


Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – Crafting Sanctuary Panel

Diablo III Logo

Today’s panel, ‘Crafting Sanctuary’ continued Diablo III’s coverage at Blizzcon 2010. Design issues such as visual design, level layout, loot, AI, UI and the Artisans were all covered in some depth. Here are the videos;

 

 

 

 

For those who don’t recall, Artisans were revealed as travelling craftsmen earlier this year at GamesCon. Here’s Jay Wilson’s walkthrough from that event;


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