Free mobile apps drain your battery?

iPhoneThere’s been plenty of speculation about why some iPhone users experience high data usage, but how is your battery use? Some days my iPhone 4S seems to cope pretty well, while others the battery counter drops like a stone. The BBC is reporting on some research by a team from Purdue University that claims free mobile apps can drain your battery.

How does that work? Well, free mobile apps are more likely to be supported by advertising than paid ones and it’s that advertising that seems to be the culprit.

When you’re playing a game you downloaded for free, the developer most likely wants to be compensated for the time they spent building the app. So they build in an advertising delivery system that pulls adverts over the Internet. When an advert is seen or, perhaps, interacted with, the developer gets a little bit of cash to encourage them to keep on developing.

The thing is, those adverts do use an Internet connect (perhaps that’s something to think about when it comes to data usage too) and may be targeted depending on your location. Opening a data connection to send the phone’s location and download adverts takes power… hence the idea that free, advertising supported apps use more power than others.

During their research, the team looked at Angry Birds can came up with the surprising result that around 20% of the energy used to run the game is used to power gameplay. That’s 80% on advertising, and 45% of that is used just to work out your location. Quite apart from the numbers themselves being surprising, Angry Birds isn’t a free app… but it does still serve apps up when you pause the game.

So, what are we meant to do? The research report’s author says developers must take energy consumption more seriously, and I agree with him. Apps should be optimised to avoid unnecessary drain on batteries. After all, you don’t want to have to recharge your phone every hour or so just because you’re enjoying a game. But can we ever get rid of this over-the-Internet advertising phenomenon? I don’t think we can. While there are still people who balk at paying 69p for an app, there will be a huge demand for free mobile software. And while people still have to pay their bills and buy their food, developers will look for ways to generate some income from this free app “market”.

At the moment, the only way to make money without asking users to pay would seem to be advertising and, while some optimisation wouldn’t go amiss, that’s always going to use more battery than if there’s no advertising present.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Does advertising in apps annoy you or do you see it as a necessary evil in order to enjoy free downloads? Do you notice high battery usage when playing free apps as opposed to paid ones? Tell us your thoughts on these questions, or anything else to do with this story in the comments. Go on, I’d love to know what you think. 

The Lost City [iOS Review]

The Lost City screenshotBack in 1993, a game called Myst came out that totally changed my idea of what could be achieved in video games. This was a time of poor graphics (although we thought they were excellent) and bleepy sound effects. It was the heyday of Sonic the Hedgehog and consoles like the Super Nintendo. Myst, with its beautifully rendered scenes and fiendishly difficult puzzles, was like a breath of fresh air. It looked amazing, and played like nothing else I had experienced.

Jump forward to the present day, and I recently downloaded The Lost City on my iPhone. It’s a puzzle game that places you in an ancient and abandoned city and has you solving puzzles to try and bring the area back to life. Just like Myst, the screens are pre-rendered and take on a beautiful, almost artistic look. The objects and elements within each screen comprise the puzzles and, believe me, you’ll resort to the hints and tips guide more than once!

The gameplay is a weird mix of linear and non-linear. The early puzzles felt like I was moving along a simple path to some (undefined) ultimate goal, but as I moved on I found I would have to go back and make changes to what I had already done. It felt sort of like I was moving in circles, or undoing perfectly good work, but the more I think about it the more I think it’s an interesting dynamic to introduce. It makes you think about the effects of your earlier actions, and not just put them out of your mind as soon as you complete each puzzle.

The Lost City is a beautiful little game, taxing on the mind but very satisfying when you work out how to get past a particularly tricky section. If you resort to using the hints and tips you should get through it in a few hours – more if you’re determined to work it out all by yourself.

The Lost City costs 69 pence and is available from the App Store for iOS devices.

Waterproof Phones Try To Become Mainstream

HZO Water protection technologyAccording to water-protection specialists HzO, their water-proofing technology (or something similar) will be a feature of the next season’s top phones. The company demonstrated its tech by immersing phones and tablets in water at CES this year, and it’s impressing some key companies.

According to Pocket-Lint, Samsung and Apple are both keen to include the technology on their next flagship phones, the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII, respectively. If these industry leaders add the technology to their phones, it may become an essential box to tick for other handset producers in the market, as much as HD displays, dual core processors and NFC are quickly becoming.

While we’ve seen waterproof phones before, they’ve always been either specialist devices (like the Motorola Defy+) or modifications to existing phones, rather than a feature of a normal handset.

While the news is certainly a PR exercise for HzO, I hope that we do see this technology become more mainstream. As someone who lives in annoyingly-consistent Brizzle (that’s Bristol drizzle, for you outsiders), something like this would make my life rather less worrisome.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of iPhone cases and Jawbone accessories.

Grand Prix Story for Android and iOS [review]

gpstoryI have to admit it, I’ve occasionally wondered what it would be like to run my own Formula 1 team. The engineering challenges of developing the best car possible, the thrill of seeing my cars come home at the end of a race (hopefully in a good position) and the glamour of travelling all round the world.

Sadly, I’m almost certainly never going to find out what it would be like, but a great little game for Android and iOS devices does give me a chance to play around with some of the concepts.

You may remember, just before Christmas, Will Judd reviewed a game called Game Dev Story for us. In that game you ran a virtual software company trying to release hit games. Well, Grand Prix Story is another release by the same guys, and has you running a racing team instead.

So what sort of stuff do you get up to? There’s car development – which starts off very simple as you only have one chassis and a couple of drivetrain options available, but you can also research different body types, drive options, and upgrades like aerodynamic wings and improved engines.

You can hire new drivers, choosing to take on a rookie and train him up, or go for someone with plenty of skill and a high salary. Hire mechanics to repair the cars after a race, and to research and build new ones. All of these people can be upgraded in some way to improve their skills and get the most out of them.

In short, it’s the fun parts of team management without the grind of having to break up fights between your drivers or explain to the FIA why your car’s front wing seems to be flexing a little more than it should! It’s obviously very simplified, but it’s still great fun. It’s worth pointing out that this really is about team management, however – you won’t do any actual driving in the races. After all, that’s what you pay your drivers for.

The key to winning is research and knowing which setups work well at which tracks. Taking a road car to an off-road track will result in a poor finish. Some of the tracks reward cornering ability, while others require a good top speed. Some even need a setup that can cope with ice. Don’t expect anything like an accurate replica of Monaco, but by knowing the conditions at the various tracks on your race calendar you’ll do better than if you just approach it randomly.

That semi-thoughtful approach really works for me. You can pay careful attention to the details if you want, or can just have a bit of fun playing with cars, and it’s good either way.

At the end of the game (which is 14 “years” long) you can choose to start again with some of your technological advances in place. Just don’t think that by taking your most advanced car with you you’ll breeze through the early races… I tried it and still struggled!

Grand Prix Story is a fun little simulation of a racing team. It captures the essence of motorsport management without becoming overwhelming or delving too deeply into detail. It’s a great distraction and, if you do have an interest in motorsport, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

Grand Prix Story is available from the Android Marketplace and Apple iOS App Store.

Game Dev Story for Android and iOS [Review]

Game Dev Story screenshotMobile phone games are trivial and pointless. The genre hasn’t sufficiently advanced since Snake 10 years ago – when I excitedly found Snake 3 on a handset a few weeks back, it was a total letdown, silly 3D movement and all.

That’s what I thought about the state of mobile gaming for some time… until I found Game Dev Story for Android a few days ago. Where other popular games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds introduce a single physics mechanic then bang on about it for 30 levels, Game Dev Story actually contains something worthwhile.

The game is a loose simulation of a game development studio – starting with a few programmers and artists in a back room, you make your way through video game history, developing games to beat the budget and please the public. You can choose to make games in a multitude of genres and themes, with more combinations being unlocked steadily as you progress.

Beyond the fairly simplistic gameplay, which is mostly just making executive decisions on staffing and development via a menu, there are clever ways to get ahead — some combinations of genre and theme work better than others. There are ‘hacker’ characters that’ll lend their elite skills to your team. New video game systems will be released, offering new possibilities for development if you can afford the steep license fee. You can even make your own console, assuring a steady stream of income and a lasting impact on the virtual world.

The feedback provided is beautifully done, with each step being reflected in the company’s fan numbers, trade show attendance figures and ultimately that most precious prize – reviews scores and sales. The rewards are given out slowly; you watch first as your game’s fun, innovation, sound and graphics scores tick slowly upward, receive release scores from the world’s most finicky gaming magazines, and gradually sales ramp up. It’s an addictive process that you’ll find yourself repeating for years in the game world.

It’s this slow release that makes the game so impossible to put down, like eating a packet of Skittles or Malteesers one by one. Sure, it’s mostly empty calories, but the periodic sugar injection will really keep you going on a long train-ride. And for a man stuck writing a review on a long train-ride, that means a lot.

Game Dev Story is available on Android and iOS devices.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of the leather kindle coveriPod touch cases and a new Kindle cover line.

Hack brings Siri to iPhone 4 and iPod Touch

Siri running on an iPhone

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of the Kindle cover, including the new Kindle cover and the Kindle cover with light.

We’ve received word that over the weekend, dedicated hackers working on the iPhone 4 were able to successfully port Siri to the device. The exploit that the hackers used has not yet been released, but a video has.

The video shows Siri running completely naturally and at 100% speed on the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Apple held back Siri from the older devices to make more money rather than Siri having problems running on the slower CPU found on the iPhone 4.

While Siri looks to work perefectly on the iPhone 4, it’s not quite as successful on the iPod Touch, due to the less sensitive microphone. The hack still loads and runs correctly, but you need to speak quite loudly and clearly in order for Siri to hear you properly; speaking at a normal tone barely raises the microphone indicator.

The hack hasn’t yet been released for public consumption, but one of the developers responsible has issued a statement, saying that he is happy to do so once the hack has been checked to ensure that it does not interfere with the operation of any other parts of the iOS system. There’s no ETA listed for this release, as the developer said he doesn’t want to “anger the hive” with broken promises.

We’ll let you know when Siri for the iPhone 4 is officially (or unofficially) available. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with watching the many hilarious Siri videos on YouTube.

Samsung to try and block iPhone 4S sales in Europe

Samsung vs AppleThis article was written by William Judd. William writes for MobileFun.co.uk, the UK’s largest online retailer of Samsung Galaxy S2 accessories.

Samsung announced today that they will be filing patent infringment claims against Apple in European courts. These claims will seek to ban the newly announced iPhone 4S from being sold in France and Italy, ahead of their planned release dates of October 14th and October 28th, respectively.

The claims are on the basis of Apple’s alleged infringement upon the Wideband Code Division Multiple Access standard, better known as W-CDMA. Samsung has announced that it will attempt to prevent the sale of the iPhone 4S in other European markets later, but has chosen France and Italy first as these countries allow bans of products before they have begun to be sold, and are also key markets for the iPhone 4s.

While Samsung has claimed that the move is because ‘Apple has continued to flagrantly violate our intellectual property rights’, in reality it’s a response to Apple’s continuing legal attacks elsewhere – to date, Samsung and Apple have sued one another in twenty cases in ten countries this year.

Most recently, Apple was successful (at least temporarily) in blocking the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 from sale in the EU, following an injunction from a German court. In that case, Apple was found to have doctored images in order to make the Tab and the iPad 2 looks more similar than they were, and the ban was restricted only to Germany.

Having the iPhone 4S being blocked from sale in Europe would be a great blow to the company, which is expected to see its shares fall further following news of the death of Steve Jobs yesterday. Shares in Samsung, on the other hand, rose 1.7% the day after the iPhone 4S announcement.

With the lacklustre announcement of the iPhone 4S, Apple will be looking to prevent their Android rivals from gaining ground, and the legal battlefield is one in which they must not lose. As Samsung and Apple continue to compete in the smartphone market and seem unwilling to settle their differences, expect more legal action between the two companies across the world.

Apple announces the iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

People’s devotion to Apple is a strange phenomenon. It’s almost religious in its fervour sometimes, as people sift through all the available information to try and find the kernel of truth at the core. I’m not saying this as an outsider looking in, either, I’m one of those people who happily read the rumours of what shiny new piece of technology is about to be released and try to work out what is true and what isn’t.

I tried to look nonchalant as Twitter exploded with information about Apple’s media event yesterday, but I still ended up reading one of the many live blogs to try and find out what was happening.

And what was happening? Well, if the media predictions were to be believed it was the unveiling of the iPhone 5, but in a half-expected twist, it turns out that Apple were actually unveiling the iPhone 4S.

If you’ve paid attention to the iPhone’s evolution over the last few years, you’ll know that the iPhone 3G was superseded by the 3GS, then the 4… see the pattern here? I will admit I was a little disappointed at first, but having taken a little time to look over the iPhone 4S’s specs and capabilities, that feeling is fading fast. Let’s look at the 4S in more detail then.

Physically, it looks the same as the iPhone 4, which is going to be something of a shock to the many phone case makers who were given the specs for a unit with a thinner profile and larger screen. The internals, however, are completely different:

  • The processor is Apple’s A5 chip, a dual-core processor which delivers two times the processing power of the iPhone 4, and up to seven times faster graphics.
  • Battery life is now 8 hours talk time on 3G (14 hours on 2G), and 6 hours 3G browsing or 9 hours WiFi.
  • The iPhone 4S is GSM and CDMA compatible. If this doesn’t mean much to you, it means that it is able to speak to mobile phone networks worldwide and should work in any country.
  • An 8 megapixel camera will be installed in the new iPhone which, as well as taking high quality photos, can shoot video in 1080p HD. I’m a big fan of my DSLR camera, but it will be great to have a quality camera on my phone for those times when it’s not appropriate or possible to take a larger one with me.
  • An improved dual-antenna system should also prevent those annoying drops when making phone calls because, you know, it should actually work well as a phone.
Perhaps the most interesting feature, though, is Siri voice control. This allows you to do more than just dial numbers from your phonebook – you can ask your phone “What’s the weather like in London?”, or “Tell my wife I’m going to be 30 minutes late” and it will fire up the weather app or send off a text message. I particularly like the example of, “do I need an umbrella today?”, which elicits an appropriate response based on the local weather. Now, I don’t get on particularly well with voice control, possibly because of my Scottish accent, but I will be very impressed if this works.

iOS 5

The latest version of the iPhone’s operating system will be released on Wednesday 12th October, before the iPhone 4S’s launch date of the 14th. iOS 5 includes over 200 new features. Again, let’s take a look at a few:

  • iMessage – a text-based messaging service that’s “unlimited”. By unlimited, Apple mean messages will go over your data connection most of the time. They may be sent via SMS if iMessage is unavailable, however. It will allow instant messaging between iOS devices, and I’m thinking it might be something of a response to Blackberry Messenger. If you have used What’s App on your iPhone, it looks like it will be pretty similar.
  • Twitter integration – tweet straight from Safari, YouTube, Photos, Camera and Maps. Nice, but I wonder if this will herald the beginning of the end for iPhone Twitter app developers?
  • The camera will be useable straight from the lock screen – no more faffing around with trying to unlock the phone before taking a photo, only to realise the moment has passed. It will also be possible to edit and touch up your photos with the built-in photo app.
The iOS 5 update will be free for iPhone 3GS or later.

iCloud

iCloud is a wireless syncing service. When you buy something on one of your iCloud enabled devices, which will include the iPhone 4S, it will automagically be downloaded to your other devices, such as home Mac or iPad. Take a photo with the iPhone, and you will be able to access it on your Mac. No more mailing photos as attachments or plugging in the cable to download them to Aperture.

If you want your friends to be able to find you, you can broadcast your location so that you show up on their Find My Friends maps, and if you’re somewhere you don’t want others to know about, we are assured that it is a simple matter to take yourself off the grid for a while.

All of this sounds great, especially the idea of being able to access all your past iTunes purchases over the cloud (I keep forgetting to sync them to my iPhone) but there is one slight concern. This could really eat through your data usage, so I’m hoping there’s a way to limit iCloud to syncing when on WiFi or when items are under a certain file size.

Roundup

I’ll say again, I was a little disappointed not to be writing about a redesigned iPhone 5 today but, actually, the iPhone 4S looks like it’s going to be very, very good. Will I be in the queue at an Apple store for launch? No. Will I be enquiring about upgrading to a 4S when my mobile phone contract expires (very shortly)? You bet – watch this space for more information when I get my hands on one.

What do you think about the Apple announcement? Is there anything missing you think should have been included? Any features you think look particularly attractive? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. 

Gumdrop Drop Series Case for iPhone 4 [review]

It’s a standard question when buying a new mobile phone: “Do you want to take insurance on that?” On the one hand, it’s an extra expense and, of course, you’re planning to be very careful with your new gadget. On the other hand, accidents happen… unfortunate meetings between toilet and telephone, children getting hold of your handset, or whipping your phone out of your pocket to answer a call and having it tumble from your hands only to land on the unyielding pavement below.

I have always preferred my mobile phones “naked”; that is, without a case. But having dropped several phones and seen how quickly they get scuffed and scratched I now always use a case. So when MobileFun asked me to look at one of their Gumdrop offerings, I jumped at the chance.

The Gumdrop Drop Series Case for iPhone 4 gives a very distinct impression. If you were looking for a single word to describe it, I’d go for “rugged”. It looks chunky and as if it could be made from a piece of tyre!

The Drop Series case is made up of several layers of protection. A hard inner layer clips around your iPhone very snugly. In fact, it is so snug it can be hard to open again but I would rather that than something that doesn’t fit properly. The nice thing is that the inner layer includes an integral screen protector too, so there is pretty much all-over protection.

Hard cases do still have a tendency to crack if dropped, though, so the Drop Series Case has a rubber outer section. This is what makes it look like a tyre, and what adds to the size of the case. It will absorb the shock of a drop and makes the whole affair very, very grippy.

That’s something you want in your phone case, but here it’s almost too much. Having the Drop Series Case in your pocket and trying to get it out quickly to answer a phone call invariably results in an inside-out pocket. It’s not a huge problem but it could become annoying in time.

A few friends also offered their views of the case, and pointed out that it adds nearly a centimetre in every direction over the “naked” phone. That, and the overall styling, makes it seem that this case has been styled more for male tastes than female. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course, but this is the feedback I received from the women I showed it to.

Overall my friends and I agreed that the Gumdrop Drop Series case is a tough piece of kit. It’ll protect your iPhone 4 from drops and knocks very, very well but at the expense of making it slightly chunky and those inside-out pockets I mentioned.

If your primary concern is protection over looks, or if you happen to like the rugged appearance of the Drop Series case, this is well worth a look.

World of Goo HD [iOS - Review]

Blimey – it’s June already !? Better start thinking about Christmas soon ;)

Anyway, that’s not what I want to write about today. I’d rather tell you about one of my favourite games. It’s not exactly brand new, but it’s worth mentioning. The game in question is World of Goo.

I first played World of Goo on my Mac, and it is also available for PC and Linux, but it’s the iOS version that’s recaptured my interest. Let’s talk about the game in general first, and then we’ll look at why the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch are so good to play it on.

World of Goo is a physics-based puzzle game. The game world is inhabited by millions of goo balls, who don’t know they are in a game or that they are extremely delicious. The object on each level is to help the balls reach the exit pipe by building them into various structures. There are several types of goo balls, which react in different ways to each other and the environment.

Sometimes you’ll be using your brain to work out the right sequence of events, using the right goo balls for the right task, and other times you’ll be manically building a structure hoping to reach the pipe before it collapses under its own weight.

If that were all there was to World of Goo it would be a pretty good physics game, but nothing particularly special given the number of Flash physics puzzles you can play online for free. What makes World of Goo even better is the interesting storyline, revealed through the writings of a mysterious sign painter, brilliant cartoon-style graphics, and an amazing soundtrack (which is also available to download for free, by the way).

It’s the combination of that storyline, how it all looks and sounds, and the enjoyment of solving each puzzle that makes World of Goo a very addictive and fun game.

Now, World of Goo is good when played with a mouse, but the touchscreen interface of iOS devices takes it to another level. See, you’re dragging and dropping those goo balls to build your structures, and it just seems natural to do it with your finger. I’ve certainly found that I can build structures more quickly with touchscreen than mouse controls and it really does just feel “right” to do it that way.

In short, World of Goo is fun, addictive, and on occasions nothing short of beautiful. I would recommend playing it on an iOS device, but if you want to take a look without dropping any cash on it there are demos available for Mac, PC and Linux machines.

World of Goo HD is available for iOS devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) from the App Store. For other formats (PC, Mac, Linux) check out the publisher’s homepage.