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.

Apple’s Going into 2018 with More Than One PR Black Eye

Apple’s brand image has been taking hits left and right over the past six months. I’m not an Apple hater, in fact, I’ve been somewhat of a super fan for many years now. I have the iPhone X, iPad Pro 10.5”, and a MacBook Pro. I use the Apple Pencil and the AirPods. I’ve spent an enormous amount of money on Apple gear, and I love it all so much. Apple’s stuff doesn’t come cheap, but to me, the experience I get is worth it. And I preach that to my friends and family (as best as I can without being obnoxious). But that’s gotten difficult as of late. Here are three things that have made Apple look really bad recently…

iPhone X Price Point

I love my iPhone X. The screen is beautiful, the cameras are amazing, and FaceID is straight magic. It’s the best phone I’ve ever owned.

But it seems like every time I pull it out, someone goes, “Didn’t that thing cost you a thousand dollars??!” Yeah, actually, it did. And I happily paid that. I couldn’t wait for preorders to open. I was so excited.

The iPhone X is an iPhone for fanboys and fangirls like me. If you don’t want to spend $1000, get the iPhone 8. It’s a great phone. Compared to any older iPhone, it’s faster, got a better camera, supports wireless charging, and is priced normally for an iPhone.

But to a lot of people, just the fact that Apple sells a phone that costs more than the entire Cracker Barrel menu makes them seem… out of touch. Bourgeoisie even. Apple has always been about premium. But they’re walking a fine line right now.

Or maybe they’re not. Everyone I know with an iPhone X loves it. If we’re all such suckers, heck, they should charge whatever we’ll pay.

Software Bugs

iOS 11 has been kinda rough. It seems to have gotten better recently, but late last year I was just having all kinds of random little bugs. I think I rebooted my iPhone more last November/December than any other month I’ve had an iPhone. These were all little things, all fixed by reboots. But that’s not like Apple.

And then there was been the ‘A [?]’ bug, where all capital letter ‘I’s were replaced with the letter A and a question mark in a box. There was also the root user security hole on the Mac.

What kills me here is that Apple’s hardware game over the last 18 months has been spot on. The new iPad Pro, iPhone X, and AirPods are all amazing, beautiful devices. But the software game just isn’t there right now. Here’s hoping Apple gets that together in 2018.

Slow Down Gate/Battery Gate

Whatever you wanna call this one, this is easily the worst thing that’s happened to Apple PR in the last few years. Before my opinions, let me first state the facts:

  • Apple admitted that they slow down older iPhones.

Wait WHAT? See that’s what you’re all thinking. “I knew it!” you say. “They ARE evil!” But wait, here’s the rest of the story:

  • As batteries get older (all batteries, not just iPhone batteries), their power output starts to get a little unstable.
  • During times of peak performance need (say, playing a 3D game), the iPhone is drawing a lot of power from the battery.
  • If the battery power output all of a sudden dips during one of these times, the iPhone could simply shut off, because it wasn’t expecting the power to cut out.
  • To fix this problem, Apple has programmed the iPhone to, well, expect this power dip. During periods of peak performance, older iPhones may intentionally slow down the processor if it believes the battery is likely to be unreliable.

The point is, Apple is trying to prevent your iPhone from just randomly shutting off right when you’re using it the heaviest. But that’s not really the point. The real point is, The conspiracy theorists were right. I’ve spent years assuring people that no, Apple doesn’t slow down your iPhone just to make you buy a new one. Even though Apple wasn’t technically doing this “to make you buy a new one,” the public perception damage has been done. Apple has done several things to address this problem, including offering battery replacements at over 60% off through all of 2018. They are also updating iOS soon to allow users to turn off this behavior in their iPhone settings. But still. Apple has a lot of ground to make up in 2018.

Stand Hours – My First App!

I’ve been reviewing apps here for a long time, but today I’m incredibly excited to announce that I’ve made an app of my own! Being an iOS developer has been a dream of mine for years, and I’m very proud of the app I’ve made. Please go check the app out and send me feedback on features you want added!

Stand Hours app icon Stand Hours – Download Now!

Stand Hours is an app I created that helps you live healthier by sitting less and moving more throughout your day. If you work at a desk (like me), or are in school and spend lots of time doing homework (also like me), this is an easy way to become just a little bit healthier each day. Getting up and walking around for even just one minute (at least 100 steps) during an hour counts as a stand hour.


Stand Hours reads your step data from the Health app, which means it works with any fitness tracker that supports Apple Health (including the iPhone’s built-in pedometer).

Stand Hours also gives you hourly reminders throughout the day to get up and move around.

In addition to reading steps from Apple Health, Stand Hours can (optionally) export your stand hours to Apple Health. Yes, Apple Health has a metric called “Stand Hours,” but that can only be used by the Apple Watch. Instead, this app can store your stand hours as ANY activity metric in Apple Health – such as an empty one that you don’t use. It’s a great way to see this data in the Health app, even if you don’t have an Apple Watch!

You can use the form below to submit feedback, request features, or report bugs. This app is still in early stages, so if you’ve got a feature you want added to the app I’m all ears! Thanks for checking it out.

You can view the Stand Hours’ privacy policy here. TL;DR, all data in the app stays on your device, we don’t collect or sell it in any way.
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SoundForest: Patterns and Beats

SoundForest – Free on the App Store

Years ago, when I first got an iPad, I remember playing around with GarageBand. Sure, it was fun to strum on the on-screen guitar, but I actually play the guitar, so that got old pretty quickly. What was fun, however, was the drum machine. There was a grid on the screen, with two axis labeled “Loud/Quiet” and “Complex/Simple.” You would drag each element of the drum kit somewhere onto the grid, and it would play a beat for you. It was honestly really fun.

SoundForest immediately brought me back the enjoyment I used to get from GarageBand. It’s a similar idea, drag icons onto the screen to create music, but even better. In SoundForest, your song moves left to right, playing each “note” that you’ve placed in order. You can stack different icons to play two sounds at once, or play two of the same sound, which changes it slightly. I’d talk more about it, but it’s honestly better to just watch it yourself. Here’s a tune I made:

Best of all, SoundForest does this with really neat, minimalistic artwork of trees and flowers and animals that you might find in, well in the forest. It’s a gorgeous app. Simple, fun, and beautiful. What more could you want?


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 iPod-Phone Prototype

iphone_prototypes-0

Image Credit: The Verge

http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/6/14188624/apple-prototype-iphone-ipod-click-wheel

This is a fascinating article.  Obviously, it took Apple some time to land on the design of the first iPhone, but I’d never seen any of their other attempts.  This design basically took the old iPod interface (remember the click wheel?) and added the ability to make phone calls.  The result is… unpolished, maybe even unusable.  The most mind-boggling part is that the click wheel isn’t hardware, it’s on screen (although the article does say that might just be because it’s a prototype).  It’s clear why Apple didn’t go with this design, but it’s really neat to see an idea they attempted.  It was natural to think of the iPhone as an extension of the iPod, so it probably seemed natural to attempt this with the UI.  Fortunately, however, this idea didn’t win out, and we got iOS instead.  ••

My Tech Changes in 2015

If I’m being honest, 2015 was a really good year.  Graduating high school is always a plus, and I’m loving college.  2015 was also a good year in the technology department for me.  Looking back, there’s been a lot of changes to the devices and apps that I use on a daily basis.  Here are the biggest three.

First up, I finally got an iPhone!  I’ve had an iPod Touch since 7th grade, but I didn’t get an iPhone until just last January.  My iPhone is the device I use most often, for the most things, and it’s absolutely an integral part of my life (maybe a little too integral, if I’m still being honest).  It’s so nice to not have to carry around two devices anymore (a dumb phone and an iPod), and obviously it’s also nice to have a data plan.  Getting an iPhone was definitely the biggest tech event of the year for me, and I’m still loving it.

Next up was photos.  iCloud Photo Library launched way back in October 2014, but, to me at least, it wasn’t useful until Photos for Mac happened last April.  iCloud Photo Library is really great; it’s so nice to just have the Photos app sync on all my devices, instead of having a Photos app full of photos from that device and another app full of Dropbox photos.  Not only that, but Photos for Mac has great support for facial detection, geotagging, and smart albums, so all in all it’s just a great way to organize all my photos.  Thanks to Apple upping their iCloud pricing tiers, I’m still only paying 99¢/month, and I now get 50 gb.  Totally worth it.

Finally, Apple Music launched last June!  I discovered Spotify in December 2014, and I used it religiously for the first half of 2015.  However, when Apple Music came out, I just had to try it.  After the three month free trial, my family decided to keep paying for it.  We ended up on Apple Music mostly because the family plan is actually usable (unlike Spotify’s), but in generally I’m happy with Apple Music.  Since honesty is, apparently, a theme in this post, Apple Music still has a long way to go to be as good as Spotify.  Frankly, Apple Music is still pretty buggy.  However, there are things about Apple Music that are better than Spotify will ever be, like built in Siri support.  Being able to use Siri to control music in the car is definitely my favorite feature of Apple Music.  And as far as the bugs go, I have confidence that Apple will continue to fix those too.  I’ll be patient.

So that’s my 2015 technology year in review.  As I said, it’s been a good year.  What’s your year been like?  Get any cool new gadgets?  Find that perfect cloud service that you’d always hoped existed?  Let me know what kinds of tech you love in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @NickFoster56.  Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!  ••

October App Review: Runkeeper

App: Runkeeper
Developer: FitnessKeeper, Inc.
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m doing a charity 5K run at the end of this month.  This means that I need to get into shape!  For this, I’ve downloaded an app I’ve used a lot before, but had fallen out of the habit of using lately: Runkeeper.


Here’s how Runkeeper works: You click start, and then run.  That’s what’s so awesome about it; it automatically tracks your time and distance over GPS, and also calculates pace, elevation climb, and other stats.  Runkeeper also will periodically give you audio cues telling you your time and distance, as well as any workout intervals (run for one minute, walk for one minute, and so on).

There are four main tabs in Runkeeper.  The first is the one right in the middle: Start.  This is where you go to track a workout.  If you don’t want to track your workout over GPS, or you can’t (swimming would be difficult), you’ve got two other options.  The first is called Stopwatch mode, and it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: it’s just like GPS mode except you put the distance in at the end.  The other option is manual logging.  Put in what activity you did, how long and how far, and click save.  This doesn’t give you as many details about the workout, but if you forget to track something, it’s nice to be able to add it manually.

Next is the Me tab.  This shows some basic stats: miles per month, workouts per week, etc.  This is also where you can view your goals.  This is one of the best features of Runkeeper in my opinion.  Simply put, progress bars motivate me.  A lot.  Setting a goal is a great way to keep myself on track.  Put in a total distance and when you want to complete it, and Runkeeper will show you your progress over the weeks.  I don’t have any goals set right now because I’m using a training plan (more on that in a second), but I’ve used them a lot in the past.  Since we’re talking about stats, it’s a good time to talk about Runkeeper’s pricing tiers.  You can use Runkeeper totally free, and it works just fine.  Subscribing to Runkeeper Go gives you more stats, as well as some other benefits like more training plans.  If you’re a serious runner, it’s useful, but most people won’t miss it.

The next tab is Training.  I’d never used this until getting ready for this race, but I really like it.  It shows a simple calendar, showing you what workout to do each day.  Straightforward and easy to use.

The final tab is Friends.  This is a neat feature, almost like a social network.  It’s a simple feed that shows you all activities from you and your friends.  I’ve never used this with other people, but it seems like a cool idea.  You can even like and comment on each other’s workouts.

Runkeeper does a good job of showing you plenty of data from your workouts, but what if you want that data elsewhere?  Runkeeper will integrate with MyFitnessPal and Apple Health, which is cool.  I’ve got it set up with the Health app, which is nice because I use other fitness apps too, and Health shows me all that info in the same place.  Runkeeper also has a step counting app called Breeze, which I’ve used on and off before.  Even though it’s a separate app, if Breeze detects that you went on a walk, there’s a button to push that data to Runkeeper as a workout.  Clever!

Runkeeper has been my go to workout app for years now (at least during the periods I’ve been exercising), and there’s lots of good reasons for that.  Runkeeper does its main job well, while still offering a host of other features.  I’ve really been enjoying using it over the past few weeks, and I think I’m going to do really well on that 5K this month.  ••