Category Archives: parenting

Analyzing Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is without debate the most successful mobile app in history, in terms of downloads, users, and revenues being generated. Why? How did this happen right in the middle of all the news that the “age of apps” was over, nobody uses apps anymore, and there were no new ideas left? I will admit, even though I never play video games, and I mean never, I gave this app a shot (hey, I had to know what my kids were so excited about or else I would be a bad Dad, right?). And you know what, I liked it! Not only does it give me an activity to share with my kids, which is always good, it caught my interest like no video game has ever caught my interest.

As a mobile developer from the early days of the Palm Pilot, I have been thinking about what makes this game unique and special eight years after the introduction of third party apps for the iPhone. Spoiler alert: it’s not doing anything revolutionary, it’s just nailing the details and execution, something a good designer could imitate (but on a smaller scale).

Easy Gameplay

First of all, it’s really easy to play the game. You don’t need three arms and reflexes like a cobra. You don’t need to memorize 15 different control combinations (quickly, do a backflip and turbo boost your death ray NOW!!!! No, wrong button!!!). The basic move you learn in the first 30 seconds is flicking a ball at a creature (called “pokemons”). It’s super easy, anyone can do it.

The second move you need once you begin to level up and get more powerful is to tap repeatedly on the screen during a gym battle. It’s the same move you use when your network goes down and you are trying to make the “send” button work : ) That’s all there is to the gameplay, no special dexterity or mad speed required.

Virtual Reality

Pokemon Go is not the first virtual reality game. There are tons of them. The difference is, most other games aren’t very “real” they are just “virtual”, meaning they take you to far away fantastic places. Pokemon Go inserts virtual creatures in to the real world around you. When you first see a little virtual bird or rat hopping around on the sidewalk, it’s pretty cool and entertaining. Stop, you almost stepped on a crab!

Pokestops, where you must physically travel to to get supplies, are tied to real world landmarks and locations. I discovered a pretty neat little fish painting in my neighborhood that I drove by 1000 times and didn’t know it existed.

Other players that you may encounter seem more real when they are nearby, not behind a computer screen on the other side of the world. You begin to identify with the virtual gyms that are in your neighborhood, and you build a sense of team spirit when you join forces with other players on your team (there are 4 teams you can choose from, associated with a color).

Mobility

The game is almost useless unless you are out and about. Name another video game that forces you off the couch… It’s really closer to a fitness app than a video game, a fitness app that encourages walking. (Another crossover app like this that comes to mind is a running app that chases you with zombies). By the way, in case you don’t know, driving or going at speeds above 20 mph limits the game so you can’t really “cheat” and try to be lazy.

To me, this may be the most fascinating part of the game. As I walk around, I discover the locations of new pokestops and gyms, and I will go out of my way (i.e. walk more) to walk past them. When one of my kids yells out “there’s a rare pokemon nearby!” it gets me out the door and walking when I might otherwise not be.

Goals, goals, goals

This is the addictive part of the game. Every video game has levels and incentives to motivate you to play more. Pokemon Go did not invent that concept, they just took it to an entirely new level (pun intended). There are so many things about the game that encourage you to play it just a little bit longer…

Acquire new pokemon – You get rewarded each time you add a unique new creature to your “deck”. There are about 150, so it seems endless, and each new creature is really cool to look at.

Medals – There are lots of medals that reward you for all sorts of accomplishments

Player level – As with most games, you increase your level as you play the game. This is a source of pride, but also let’s you encounter more powerful creatures and eventually battle in gyms.

Power up your pokemon – Every pokemon you acquire can be made more powerful, so you gradually build up the strength of your posse.

Evolve your Pokemon – You can also totally evolve a pokemon, turning it into a new and more powerful creature.

Hatch eggs – By walking, you hatch eggs, which give you more creatures and things you need (candies and stardust)

Buddies  – You can designate a “buddy” pokemon and the more you walk with that buddy, the more candies you get

Limited Supplies – You have a bag filled with balls to throw and other useful items to aid your never ending quest to capture more pokemon. You have limited supplies of eggs, candy, stardust, etc. that you can monitor. When supplies get low, it’s time to go out and replenish. You always need more balls and stardust so you can get more pokemon and get more powerful so the cycle can repeat!

Details

I must say, the graphics are elegantly simple yet beautiful. There are no 3D ray tracing shadows and textures that require a supercomputer to build and run, just detailed cartoon-like graphics. Each pokemon comes with creative animations that are just fun to look at. I admire how the creators of this game invented so many wonderful and unique creatures. As with any mobile app, the judicious use of animation can really make an app fun to use, and Pokemon Go is very fun to use. If done poorly, it could have felt like the card game like it was based on, but everything feels alive and is full of motion like a great Disney animated film.

I can’t imagine how many hours were spent perfecting all the art and graphics in this game.

Conclusion

Pokemon Go did not invent anything new or produce some technology that had never existed before. The makers of this game simply took all the fundamental concepts that make a game enjoyable, things that most designers would nod their heads to and say “yeah, of course I know that”, and executed extremely well. They emphasized features that appeal to non-gamers, who grossly outnumber hardcore gamers, and took the time to do things right.

Is this a fad that will fade away? Like anything, many of the initial people who jumped on the bandwagon early will jump off and seek out something more challenging and more complex. That is simply inevitable and that does not mean the game failed or is a short term fad. There is almost unlimited potential to add new features to this game to keep the faithful playing it for many months and years.

Can it be copied? Since Pokemon Go builds upon many, many years of the rich Pokemon intellectual property which includes books and TV series, it would take a company like Disney to even attempt that. Just the game design, engineering, and graphical design cost that would be needed is mind boggling. It is amazing that something so difficult to produce feels so simple to play. Steve Jobs would be proud of that!

Although most developers and designers don’t have the mega resources to produce Pokemon Go, the key points that appeal to users (see above) can be copied and integrated in to your own apps. I have three app ideas that came from “studying” Pokemon Go and several features to add to my existing apps.

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HomeKit for Home Control

I have been very interested in the “internet of things” for a while now, and I finally got around to trying out Apple’s HomeKit with a couple accessories. If you don’t already know, HomeKit is a technology that is meant to help you remotely control accessories, or devices, and create a “smart home”. Notice I called it a “technology” and not an “app”. That definition is pretty vague, and from what I have seen, 99% of the people I ask have no idea what it is all about.

Let’s say you have a light and you want to control it remotely. Maybe you want to turn the living room light on when you are away from home so it looks like someone is home. You somehow need to put that light on your home network, and somehow need to have a means to control it. That’s what HomeKit does for HomeKit-compatible devices, and Apple has wrapped their typical sugar and niceness around the process so that ordinary people can figure it out.

So I ordered a couple HomeKit compatible devices (both are power switches) from two different companies, iHome and iDevices because I wanted to see for myself what the process was like for a couple different brands. Because the ability to connect to a WiFi network incurs a certain amount of cost, a switch is more versatile than say a light bulb. You can plug a lamp in to a switch, or a heater, or a string of christmas lights, or anything you want. I don’t mind spending $35 on a switch (well, I mind a little : ) but that’s just too much for a simple light bulb.

The first thing to remember when unboxing a new device is this: don’t read the instructions! I have a prerelease version of iOS 10 and it comes with a new app from Apple called “Home”. This is all you need to set up and control most HomeKit compatible devices. The first thing written in the instructions is to download a custom app from the manufacturer, but that is no longer necessary when you have the Home app. The proprietary custom app may provide extra features, but I think it’s better to wait until you need something before installing extra software.

There is a typical “Add” button in Home, and after plugging in your new HomeKit device, you tell Home to “Add Accessory”. Home lets you set up “rooms” so you can refer to things like the “switch in my living room”. It’s pretty easy and self explanatory to do that and you can choose a room to place your new accessory. Each HomeKt device comes with a numeric code, and you will be prompted to enter that code or scan it with your camera. That’s all there is to it, the new device should now be ready to go in a minute or two!

Home displays a box for each accessory you add, and you can just tap on the box to turn the switch on or off. Tap and hold to get more options. For example, my iDevices switch comes with a built-in night light so it is like two devices in one, and I can change its color and intensity with a slider. All of this “just works” within the Home app. I had no trouble at all getting both devices set up within minutes.

In iOS 10, the updated Control Panel will also display your favorite accessories by just swiping left. That is very convenient for controlling them so you don’t even need to launch an app. FYI both devices have a push button so you can turn them on and off the old fashioned way, too.

The beauty of HomeKt is that it works with Siri, too. I can say “turn on the light in the living room” and it happens (I named my switch in the living room “light” because it is hooked up to a lamp and that sounds more natural). I can ask Siri “is the living room light on?” and I’m told. That feels pretty neat, I must say!

Now, my original goal was to do this remotely, while away from home. Obviously, a server on the cloud is necessary for this to happen, as well as an internet connection. If you want to download the app that comes with your device, and sign up for an account on their server, you can. However, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible without installing new apps or creating new accounts. That’s where my Apple TV comes in!

Since I had already linked my Apple TV to my iCloud account, I was already done. Those same Siri commands on my iPhone work just as well when I am away from home. My phone sends the commands to the cloud (iCloud, to be exact) and the Apple TV automagically receives the commands over your internet connection, and controls your devices. Super cool!

One other feature of HomeKit which is very useful is sharing. If you want to let other family members also control certain devices, you can send them an invitation and now they can use Siri to turn off the light you just turned on!

Overall, I am very impressed with the simplicity and convenience of HomeKit, especially when combined with the new features coming soon in iOS 10.

So They Updated the Apple TV

Should you care? In a nutshell, yes, you should.

Does it contain every home entertainment feature you could ever want? No. Nothing will do that. Like most Apple products, it goes after the mainstream consumer without providing bells and whistles that the majority of customers will never need. However, the fact that you can add third party apps makes it infinitely extensible. More on apps later…

The thing about Apple TV that makes it unique in the Apple ecosystem is the low cost of entry. With a very low price tag ($150) and no monthly fee, there is nothing like it. Even a tiny Apple watch costs double that. And the thing about Apple TV, it’s a shred household expense. Whereas you might balk at spending $300 on yourself for an Apple watch or an upgrade to the latest smart phone model, spending $150 “for the family” is much easier to swallow.

Today, the Apple TV is quite entertaining and easy to use. The remote control with its touch pad makes scrolling around very easy and fast. While Siri is often the subject of ridicule, if you simply learn what Siri is good at and stick to that, it’s quite accurate and saves loads of time. How many times have you wondered if a show was on Netflix or Hulu or iTunes? Now you can find out in a few seconds and see all your viewing options in one screen. How many times have you wanted to skip ahead or behind a minute or some arbitrary amount? It’s easy. I could go on and on about the main features but you can ready about that yourself — I want to focus on what makes it special.

By the way, if all the networks can agree to do what’s best for the consumer (ala carte channels and freedom from cable companies) and stop being so greedy, we can have live TV on the new Apple TV, and that would absolutely make it a must-have product. Hopefully that is coming very soon…

So the first time I was testing my trivia app on my Apple TV, I realized how it was different. At that early stage of development, it was loaded with EMT questions because that was readily available. Like most kids, my daughter was walking by and her eyes went right to the big screen in the living room. She was instantly engaged and wanted to “play”. Even though she didn’t know a thing about emergency medicine, the fact that this “game” was on the TV made it interesting and a group activity. The unique essence of the Apple TV, as compared to a watch, tablet, computer, or your phone, is that it’s a shared device that resides in a comfortable, entertaining location in the house. Since it’s on TV, users expect beautiful graphics and don’t mind some noise (sound effects).

And there are apps for it! A skeptical friend of mine said “I can’t even think of any apps I would want on my TV”. That made me think back to the pre-smartphone days when people were happily texting each other on little number keypads. It was common to hear “I just want my phone to make phone calls”, and that was usually precipitated by crappy attempts by cell phone companies to add “smart features” in a way that made the phone difficult to use and harder to make phone calls. Then the iPhone was introduced in 2008 and the world changed. Yes, there are still some people out there who just want their phone to make phone calls and that’s it, but in my opinion they are missing out on some great things. (And if you feel that way, I’m sorry you read this far — you can stop now.)

So what kind of app would be a good fit for Apple TV? How about some workout apps? Yoga, boot camp, fitness routines. How about some nice ambience apps that show a nice relaxing mountain stream or a fireplace, complete with video and sound? How about some games that work well at parties or with couple and families? Trivia games, name that tune, etc. Karaoke is a good one. The list goes on and on, but for sure, there are games that work well on a large screen and there are some that do not. You can also connect a real game controller to the Apple TV and it begins to compete with consoles. You know, those things that cost more than an Apple TV and every good game costs over $50? You won’t get console-quality game play on your Apple TV, but it begins to approach that market and take a bite out of it.

Peakview Software is working on some apps for the Apple TV right now. We have already released “Awesome Trivia” as a starter. It’s a multiplayer app that is great for couples, parties, families, or something you can just play by yourself. If you are in the emergency services, especially if you teach, imagine if you will having an Apple TV connected to your TV at work (or video projector), and a database of training material that you can pull up in an instant and present to your department. Yes, I bet you can see how useful that would be! Stay tuned…

What is your family motto?

After I grew up, I found that certain phrases that I heard from my Mom stuck with me. After I became a Dad, I found myself repeating some of these phrases to my own children. So, the question is, what will your children be repeating after they grow up and have their own children?

Now is your chance to come up with a phrase that reinforces some desirable moral or ethical behavior, and repeat that to your children. I’m not saying your children are like parrots, but in a way they are : )  What do you want your family motto to be?

Here is one of mine: I tell me children that “Coveles don’t lie, cheat, or steal”.