Alto’s Odyssey – Better than Ever

I loved Alto’s Adventure. It was stunning. It was challenging. It was fun. ★★★★★

When I first downloaded Alto’s Odyssey – the newly available sequel – I thought it was going to basically be the same game, but with new challenges. Which was… okay… but I was a little disappointed.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Alto’s Odyssey takes everything I loved about Alto’s Adventure and adds so much more to it.

I first realized this when I reached the second “biome” of the game. This is where we’re introduced to the concept of wall riding. It’s a new trick, a new obstacle, and a new paradigm to master. I was elated. To me, this one new feature was enough to make this whole game worthwhile. They had innovated, and they had given me a new behavior to learn about and master. But it only got better from there.

As I entered the third and final biome, there something else new: water! It was at this point that I realized every biome of the game had a new element. These not only make the biomes unique from each other, but it makes each one unique from Adventure.

Currently, wall riding is my favorite new element. However, I haven’t yet fully explored that of the first biome: balloons. The problem with balloons right now is most of the time they’re too high to bounce on. But that will all change when I unlock the wingsuit. I love that Odyssey did this – instead of giving me everything at once, they tease a new element, but it’s not quite in reach just yet. I can’t wait to string together ridiculous combos with balloons.

So all told, Alto’s Odyssey is the same Alto we know and love, but better than ever. It takes an already stunning game and introduces new elements at every turn. It’s varied and surprising. And it’s also a lot harder, which is what I want in a sequel (I’ve earned every achievement in Adventure). On Upgrade last week, Jason Snell said that this is what a AAA iOS game looks like, and Myke Hurley called it the best iOS game ever made. I think I agree with them.

Lightning Round:

  • Unlocking Maya is where the game really became fun for me. My play style is to flip as often as possible, and Alto just wasn’t cutting it for me.
  • Chasms are so much more varied than they were in Adventure, which is a lot of fun.
  • The little birds of paradise are delightful. And they pick up coins for you!
  • I love that the biomes bleed together a little bit. For example, towards the end of the temple biome, you might see a single balloon way off on the horizon.
  • The entire game is gorgeous. The sunsets are unbelievable. Like dang.
  • It’s interesting to me that there is no llama-catching or any such equivalent in this game. It doesn’t need it. I think catching llamas was probably the first idea for Alto’s Adventure, but in the end the developers realized it wasn’t necessary. The game stands tall on it’s own.

Mini Metro: Sim City for the Stressed Out

 

Mini Metro – $4.99 on the App Store

There are a lot of apps on my iPad that stress me out sometimes. Managing email, keeping up with todo lists, organizing homework – life is busy! That’s why I really appreciate a good, calming iOS game. Gentle music, soft colors, and a moderate pace all make for an enjoyable experience when I’m feeling tense. Mini Metro has all of this. I’m even going to put it in the same category as Monument Valley and Alto’s Adventure. Yeah, it’s good.

Mini Metro is a real time strategy game in which you create subway lines to move passengers around a city. The map starts small, but more stations pop up quickly as time goes on. You can connect the stations any way you want, but you’re limited by the number of lines, trains, and tunnels at your disposal. You earn more of these resources as the game progresses, allowing you to create a larger network.

What really makes the game challenging for me is the different types of stations. At first, there are three: the triangle, the square, and the circle. Each “passenger” is represented by the shape of the station they’re trying to reach. As the game progresses, more obscure shapes start popping up. There might be only one star-shaped station on the entire map, which means a passenger will have to transfer lines. Uh-oh.

I love this game because the objective is simple, but the execution is difficult! One minute my subway is operating like a well oiled machine, and the next minute I’ve got three stations nearing capacity. I’m still learning what strategies work best, and I’m enjoying experimenting with different techniques. Mini Metro is a great game because there are a myriad of ways to approach it. When my mind feels cramped, letting it out of the box like this is a great way to relax. ••


Thanks for reading! Have comments or feedback? I’d love to hear from you! I respond to all messages I receive. Drop me a line on Twitter @NickFoster56 or email me at staringatphones@icloud.com. And be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Medium!

Link: The Limitations of the iPad

M. G. Siegler writing on 500ish Words:

“But [the iPad] is actually my favorite device. Yes, you read that right. While I certainly use the iPhone far more than the iPad, I enjoy the iPad more. It’s just perfect for what I actually like doing — reading, writing, needlessly getting distracted on Twitter, and such. In fact, I like using it so much that I find myself very annoyed these days.

Siegler goes on to say that he’s annoyed at the iPad because it’s such a great device, but it still can’t fully replace his Mac. There are some things that the iPad simply can’t do, or can’t do well enough. I feel exactly the same way. My iPad is also my favorite device, and it’s frustrating that it’s still so limited sometimes. Recent years have brought some great improvements (like split-screen multitasking), but we still have a long way to go. Here’s hoping Apple prioritizes the iPad, makes it better, and allows it to fulfill everything we all want it to be. ••

Quick Tip: Print to PDF on iOS

I don’t print much these days. The kinds of things I once would’ve printed – ticket confirmations, important emails, and the like – I now just save as a PDF. On the Mac, I just use the Print to PDF function from the print dialog. This means that anything I can print I can save. Until iOS 10, you needed a third-party app to do something like this, but no longer.


The process is really straightforward:

  • Select “Print” from any share sheet.
  • Pinch outward on the document thumbnail (like you’re trying to zoom in).
  • This will open a PDF of the document, which you can then share to any app.

Didn’t we have a share sheet to begin with? Yes, but in this case that would’ve only shared the link to the webpage. This saves the webpage as a document. This is also great for the Mail app, which doesn’t have share sheets for messages. You can however, print from the Mail app, which means you can now share PDFs of emails anywhere.

This is another great way that the iPad is slowly becoming a more powerful computing device, and I say more power for the iPad is a good thing for everyone. ••

Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard: Thumbs Up

Years ago, I wrote about how I no longer bring my laptop to school with me, I just bring my iPad.  At the time, I also bought a cheap ($13) Bluetooth keyboard.  That keyboard turned out to be almost unusable, dropping the connection constantly.  I didn’t end up needing it much, however, so I never bought a new one.  This semester, however, I’ve got a lot more time between classes on campus, so I decided to pick up a new keyboard.

amazon basics keyboard.jpg

Image Credit: Amazon

I’ve selected the Amazon Basics Bluetooth Keyboard for Apple Devices.  I’ve always been really happy with the Amazon Basics brand, and this product is no exception.  It works great, it’s comfortable to type on, and the price is right: $20.  I definitely recommend this product.

I also made an accessory for my keyboard.  My old keyboard, after being left in my backpack for months, had lost its ‘M’ key.  I wanted to protect my new keyboard, so I sewed a padded carrying sleeve for it.  Now I can be productive on my iPad – in style.  ••

New Workflows from 2016: Notability

Two weeks ago, I started writing a post detailing some new apps and workflows I’ve started using over the past year.  It was originally going to be one post, but it quickly became clear that 2Do was going to need a post all to itself.  So I’ve decided to make each new workflow into it’s own post.  Today, I’m going to talk about Notability.


Easily the biggest new app I’ve started using this year is Notability.  Notability can technically be used as a text-based note app, but it’s really designed for use with a stylus.  I’ve officially given up paper in the classroom in lieu of taking notes on my iPad.  I’d messed around with this app before, but never actually gone all in with it for school.  However, my girlfriend and her sister both swear by it, and they convinced me to give it a try.  A week or two before fall semester started, I picked up a decent stylus on Amazon, and created a folder in the app for each one of my classes.  I’ll never go back to taking notes on paper ever again.  From the ability to use different colors, to the straight line tool, to copy and paste, Notability is simply a better way to take notes.

Notability offers many features that make it a fantastic experience.  First of all is the fact that I can write and highlight in multiple colors.  No more muddied diagrams with way too much information penciled in.  I can now draw or highlight different parts of a diagram with different colors, and then explain each part with the corresponding color ink elsewhere on the page.

Speaking of diagrams, I can import pictures and even entire powerpoints and documents into my notes.  If a diagram is too complicated for me to draw well (or if I’m just feeling lazy), I can simply insert the one my professor used on their slide.  In class, instead of wasting time trying to meticulously copy diagrams, I can actually focus on what the professor is saying (novel concept right?) and write that down, and then just leave a blank space in my notes to paste the graphic in later.  This makes my notes a lot more coherent and useful.

The final big feature of Notability is that I can record an entire lecture and my notes sync with the recording.  This means that I can play a recording back and watch my notes replay in real time.  I can also tap on a specific part of my note and the recording will jump to that spot.  So if I miss something my professor said, I can just put a big star in my note and easily come back to it later, I don’t even have to bother noting the time.

Notability is $9.99 for the iPad and iPhone version, and then another $9.99 for the Mac app.  However, I’ve been able to get by without the Mac app.  I’ve set notability to back everything up to Dropbox in PDF form, so while I can’t edit notes on my laptop, I can at least view them, and that works for me.  If you do a lot of writing on paper, you should really give Notability a try.  You may not think you’ll like it – I was adamant about the superiority of paper notes for a long time – but trust me: this is the 21st century.  There are much, much better ways to take notes.  ••

Slide Over: Limited, but still Useful

It’s been about a month and a half now since iOS 9 came out.  In general, I like it a lot (except for the new app switcher), and everything is running smoothly.  Not the least of the new features of iOS 9 were the iPad multitasking features.  Unfortunately, the coolest ones – where you can actually run two apps at a time – are limited to the latest model iPad of each size (the iPad Air 2, Mini 4, and Pro).  However, there are two features that are supported on my iPad Mini 2.

The first is picture-in-picture.  This allows you to watch a video in a smaller window while using another app.  This is useful, but I don’t watch a whole lot of video on my iPad.  However, I bet it’ll be great watching movies on our next road trip.

The second feature is the one that I actually get use out of: slide over.  This allows a second, iPhone-width app to “slide over” the one you’re currently using.  Like this:


At first, I thought this wasn’t going to be very helpful.  The newer iPads can have one app take of that width of the screen all the time, with the app to the left still fully functional.  This seems way more useful to me, especially since my iPad case makes sliding from the side of the screen over and over again kind of a pain.  So going into this feature, I was ready to be disappointed.

But honestly, it’s still really nice.  By far the most useful thing you can do here is reply to messages without leaving the app you’re in.  This seemed redundant to me at first, since you could already do that with actionable notifications.  However, pulling down to reply with iMessage has been slow and laggy in iOS 9, so it’s not as useful anymore.  Also, you can only send one message in reply.  If you want to send more than one, or a picture, you’re out of luck.  However, with slide over, you can just pull the Messages app onto screen.  It’s not just a reply box, it’s the full Messages app (well the full iPhone messages app at least).  It works really well and then when you’re done you just tap on the app you were using before and it slides off the screen.  Neat.

It’s not without flaws.  If I’m watching a YouTube video, slide over pauses it, because the first app doesn’t really continue running in the background; it just freezes.  And again, if I’m having a conversation with someone, I have to keep pulling Messages onto the screen, instead of it just leaving it there.  In other words, I wish my iPad could use all of the new multitasking features.  But as a first step, slide over is definitely useful, and it makes my iPad better and easier to use. ••

iOS 9 is Here!

Last Wednesday was the official release of iOS 9.  After updating a day late, I’m really liking the new version.  There’s lots to talk about, but I’m going to highlight my two favorite features: the improved Spotlight search and iPad Multitasking.

Spotlight
Spotlight has been moved to a new-old home, to the left of the first home screen.  This is where it was before iOS 7 (interestingly enough, however, you can still access Spotlight by pulling down from any home screen, but you won’t get as many suggestions).  Right at the top of the new Spotlight are “Siri Suggestions” – contacts and apps that iOS thinks you may want to use right now.  So far, they just seem to be recents, but Apple has said that these will slowly tailor based on your usage.  Check Twitter and Facebook every morning?  Those apps will show up at that time.  Under that is “Nearby” – a group of buttons for finding restaurants, gas stations, and the like.  These too will change based on whether it’s breakfast or dinner time.  Finally, underneath that are a few top stories from the News app, which makes its iOS 9 debut.  What’s cool is that you get all this information by just swiping into the Spotlight screen.  If you actually start to search, you’ll see similar results to what you’d have seen in previous versions of iOS.  Except for one major thing: you can now search the content in third-party apps right from Spotlight.  Dropbox, among others, has already added support for this feature, and I think it’s going to be super useful.

iPad Multitasking
Unfortunately, iPad multitasking is a little fragmented.  Let me break it down.  The iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 4, and the iPad Pro (so the newest model of each size), can truly run two apps at the same time.  This can be done either with both apps taking up half the screen or with more of a 3/4 split.  So that’s great, but I have an iPad Mini 2.  Well the iPad Mini 2, 3, and 4; the iPad Air 1 and 2; and the iPad Pro can also do what’s called “slide over.”  This is where one app keeps running in the background, and an iPhone-width app slides over it on the right hand side, taking up about 1/4 of the screen.  Like this:


This is useful, but so far not many apps have been updated for it (disappointingly, not even all of Apple’s apps support it.  Why doesn’t Music?).  Hopefully this will get better though.  The final feature of multitasking, which comes to the same models that get slide over, is picture in picture.  This is available both for video apps like Netflix and things like FaceTime, so that’s really cool.

The last thing I want to talk about is performance and battery.  I mentioned in my WWDC post that iOS 9 is available for all phones that got iOS 8.  I was hoping that this, coupled with the fact that Apple trumpeted iOS 9 as improving performance, would mean that iOS 9 wouldn’t slow my phone down.  So far, my phone has been about the same (hooray!), but my iPad is definitely slower (this makes no sense, they’re the same model year).  Still, this is better than the usual performance hit we’ve gotten used it.  So far, battery doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.  I’ve yet to try out the new Low Power Mode, but I think that’s a good idea too.  All in all, I like iOS 9, and I hope developers continue to add support for all the cool new features.  ••

The Back to School Dilemma

This past week was my first week of real college.  I dual enrolled last year, meaning I had a few college classes and a few high school classes, but this year I’m an honest-to-goodness full-time freshman.  I’m excited.  Having dual enrolled, I already know what to expect, where everything is on campus, and all that stuff that makes freshmen nervous.  This semester’s going great so far.

Last spring, I wrote several different pieces on using my iPad instead of my laptop at school.  Last fall semester, we did lots of in-class writing in English, so I always brought my laptop.  But spring semester wasn’t like that, and so I opted for an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard instead of my heavier, less convenient laptop.  I really liked this setup last year; it worked well for me.  This semester is different, however, and I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma: do I bring my laptop every day, or my iPad?

I had originally planned for sure to bring the iPad.  I don’t have an English class at all this semester, so the only writing I’d be doing is this blog, which I did on the iPad no problem before.  However, the first day of class made it apparent there’d have to be exceptions to this rule.  My communications class tests will take place online, but will be proctored in person.  This means I have to bring my computer and take the test on it in class.  The teacher said you could bring a computer or a tablet, but I’m definitely opting for the computer.  Using the web on a tablet is great, but sometimes it gets a little wonky, and that’s not what I want during a test.

So no big deal, just bring the laptop on the days that I have communications tests.  It seemed like the rest of the semester I could just use the iPad.  Then I got to my Intro to Electrical Engineering class.  This class was going to have pop quizzes.  I don’t know whether they’ll be online, but if they are, I’ll have to bring the laptop to that class for sure.  Also, looking at the syllabus, it looks like we’ll be doing quite a bit of computer aided design and other stuff like that, so I’ll have to have the laptop there too.  (At first I was worried that whatever software we need wouldn’t work on my Mac.  Fortunately, it turns out that the professor used to work at Apple and is an even bigger Machead than I am, so I’m sure we can work something out.)

So it looks like I’ll have to bring my laptop on Mondays and Wednesdays, if only for the EE class and the occasional communications test.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have history class, and Friday I only have calculus class, so I can definitely get away with the iPad those days.  In fact, I may not need to bring anything at all.  I probably will, though, just in case.  I’d hate to be stuck at school and need to do something that really needs a computer, but all I have is my iPhone.  I’ve had to do that before; it’s not a pretty sight.  ••

A Brief History of iMessage

Six months ago I didn’t have iMessage.  Sure, I had it on my iPod Touch, but I only ever used it a couple times to send photos.  Most of the time, I was using regular SMS texting on my old phone.  But then that changed when I got an iPhone last January.  Suddenly, I was exposed to the world of iMessage.  What is iMessage?  Basically, it’s Apple’s replacement for SMS.  It only works from one Apple device to another, but when it does work, it’s dramatically better.  Even more genius, Apple has managed to make sure that just about every iPhone owner uses iMessage.  So how did iMessage evolve in just four short years?  Let’s look at its history.

2011, iOS 5
iMessage was first announced at WWDC 2011, and right from the start it contained all the core features it needed to be a success.  The most important part of iMessage, in my opinion, is the way it handles picture messages.  SMS takes forever to send a picture, and then it’s a scaled down version.  iMessage sends pictures way faster, and at full resolution.  It even includes all the original metadata (date, location, etc.).  This is great.  Even regular texts send faster over iMessage.  It’s able to do this because it works over the internet (WiFi and 4G) instead of on regular phone service.  Because of this, it just works better than SMS.  Even at this early stage, iMessage also included the ability to send locations and contacts, as well as read receipts (the option to tell someone that you’ve seen their message).  So from the start, Apple created iMessage to be good.  But then they went in for the kill.  Using iMessage would be completely automatic and take place in the same app as SMS.  This meant that users would have to do essentially nothing to start using this service.  After that, their iPhone would automatically determine whether or not the recipient of a text had iMessage.  If they did, it would send an iMessage (colored blue).  If not, it would send a regular SMS (colored green).  There was nothing the user had to do.  This was genius.  Any other messaging app would have to force people to download it, then remember which app to use for each person they text.  But Apple got around that.

2012, iOS 6
The most important iMessage feature to come to iOS 6 focused on the iPad.  From the start, your iPhone could send iMessages from either your phone number or the email address for your Apple ID.  However, your iPad could only use the email address (“because it’s not a phone,” was the original argument I guess).  However, that all changed with iOS 6.  Now, you could receive iMessages sent to your phone number on any device.  This, like the bundling of iMessage into the existing Text app, reduced the friction and effort required of users to almost zero.  Good move, Apple.

2013, iOS 7
iOS 7 didn’t bring many feature updates to iMessage, it mostly focused on the look at feel of the Messages app.  There were, however, a few new features to make it easier to view sent images or the contact information of the person you’re talking to.  However, like much of iOS 7, the Messages app mostly just got a visual facelift.

2014, iOS 8
iOS 8, on the other hand, added lots of new features to iMessage.  Most of them focused on group messaging.  iMessage has always supported group messaging, but it hadn’t gotten much special attention until now.  iOS 8 allows you to rename, mute, or leave group messages, to make sure you don’t get stuck receiving dozens of notifications from a group you don’t care about.  This is really helpful.  As someone who spends a lot of time in group messages, these improvement are all more than welcome.  iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite also gave the Messages app new abilities regarding, ironically, SMS text messages.  With these updates, you can now send SMS messages from your iPad and Mac, as long as your iPhone is on.  This can be a little buggy, but it is nice whenever I have to text a green bubble friend from my computer.

2015, iOS 9
According to Apple’s iOS 9 Preview page, there aren’t any earth shattering new features coming to iMessage this fall.  However, there could be plenty that we don’t know about yet.  Perhaps the coolest thing we know about as of now involves improvements to Siri.  In iOS 9, if you’re looking at an email, webpage, or iMessage, you can say, “Hey Siri, remind me about this when I get home.”  Siri will then create a reminder for what you’re seeing on screen.  The entire reminder is essentially a link; clicking on it takes you back to what you were looking at before.  Definitely useful!

So as you can see, iMessage is actually pretty complicated (especially for something that’s so simple to use).  The smartest thing Apple did with iMessage, though, isn’t in the list above.  Apple made iMessage exclusionary.  Now that I’m used to iMessage, regular SMS feels archaic and obnoxious.  I have no idea if my Android friends got my messages, I can’t send them photos easily, and you can just forget about sending videos.  I’ve heard more than one person I know say that they don’t want to switch to Android because they’ll miss out on iMessage.  That’s the kind of feature that Apple does best: one that’s so good that you’d never leave their ecosystem because of it.  ••