If you were among the select few that signed up for NVIDIA’s Shield newsletter then you’ve been able to pre-order the company’s curious handset for a few days now. The remainder of the gaming masses originally had to wait until Monday for their own turn, but that’s no longer the case — NVIDIA’s retail partners have jumped on the pre-order bandwagon too so you can now stake your claim on a Shield from Newegg, Gamestop, and Canada Computer starting today.
MicroCenter will also sell the Shield in June but it hasn’t yet gotten its pre-order page set up. Get yourself together, MicroCenter.
I’m still not convinced that the Shield will find a foothold outside of the geekiest mobile gamers, but our own Darrell Etherington recently took the thing for a spin and came away rather impressed. He even went as far as calling it “the way Android games should be played,” a sentiment I don’t completely disagree with — we’ve seen the quality of mobile games surge by leaps and bounds these past few years, to the point where they easily eclipse consoles of years past. While those mobile games have slowly come into their own, the control schemes that are forced upon us thanks to the advent of the touchscreen leave much to be desired. There’s still something limiting and unsatisfying about effetely pawing at a piece of glass (or worse, a resistive display — yuck), a sentiment that others have championed, too. Early reactions to the Shield are generally positive, at least where the hardware and control layout is concerned, so at least there’s that to look forward to.
But in the end, will the Shield sell? And what does NVIDIA hope to get out of it? As it happens, NVIDIA may not care all that much about pure sales volume anyway. Time’s Jared Newman spoke to NVIDIA GM of mobile games Bill Rehbock at I/O, who pointed out that the Shield was designed to highlight the sorts of high-end gaming experiences developers have crafted for Android, not to mention the power of the company’s Tegra 4 chipset. There’s little question that NVIDIA’s newest system-on-a-chip has got plenty of horsepower to play with, but it’s still hard to see the Shield as much more than an incredibly niche device that raises more questions than answers.
During its Google I/O 2013 conference on Thursday, Google announced that Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr sharing apps would be coming to Google Glass today. The apps are enabled for sharing just like any other contact using the Glass Mirror API.
One of the first games for Glass, called Icebreaker, is also available today. It was created by several programmers who met at a Glass Foundry developer event.
You can install any of the apps from Google.com/MyGlass if you’ve got the hardware.
We knew it was coming this month, but Amazon has finally made its new virtual currency available to customers in the US.
Back in February, we reported that Amazon was gearing up to launch its new ‘Coins’ virtual currency for Kindle Fire app purchases.
This is all part of Amazon’s plans to help app developers monetize their Appstore submissions, enabling Kindle Fire owners to purchase apps, games and make in-app purchases on their tablet.
For launch, every Kindle Fire owner will be given $5 worth of Coins, which in effect is 500 coins. This is consistent with what Amazon announced a few months back, saying it would be dishing out “millions of dollars” worth of Amazon Coins for free.
“Today we are giving Kindle Fire owners $5 worth of Coins to spend on new apps and games, or to purchase in-app items, such as recipes in iCookbook, song collections in SongPop or mighty falcon bundles in Angry Birds Star Wars,” says Mike George, Vice President of Apps and Games at Amazon.
“And with discounts of up to 10% when you buy Coins, this is a great way for customers to save money when they buy apps, games and in-app items,” he continues. “We will continue to add more ways to earn and spend Coins on a wider range of content and activities—today is Day One for Coins.”
Amazon Appstore developers will earn the usual 70% revenue share when consumers make purchases using Amazon Coins. But from a consumer perspective, introducing credits is designed not only to make it easier for people to purchase content, but it also alters the consumer mindset so that they’re not thinking directly in terms of ‘money’.
Previously, Amazon only allowed credit cards to be associated with a Kindle Fire device, so with credits now in tow, this also plays into the hands of parents looking to keep a tab on how much their kids are spending. If they only want them to spend, say, $10 a month, then that’s the amount of credit they load.
Feature Image Credit – Thinkstock
As a parent of three technically savvy kids I find it disturbing that we haven’t even “scratched” the surface of Scratch, an amazing, object-oriented programming language from the MIT Media Lab’sLifelong Kindergarten Group. That may change, however, as it’s much easier to get started in Scratch thanks to a new release of the platform that lives entirely in the browser.
You can try the programming language here and the new version allows for webcam interaction with the on-screen sprites and you can now add vector-based graphics that will scale without losing resolution. You can also create your own programming “blocks” and add new logic to your programs or games.
The new interface is similar to the old, desktop-based system except it’s a bit simpler and you can store your programs on your computer and then upload them anywhere. A “backpack” will hold objects from one project to the next so you can bring sprites and backgrounds with you to new games. Everything runs smoothly right in the browser. You can see a Scratch-generated tour of 2.0 here or you can just start playing.
The platform is great for kids of all ages and it’s a far sight better than most early computer education which consists mostly of typing tutorials and Microsoft Office lessons. If you’re looking for a STEM star and not a cubicle drone, this is the platform for you.
Nokia has given its Series 40-based range of touchscreen Asha smartphones another push to try to keep up with the low end reach of Google’s Android platform today. The mobile maker has announced a new addition to the range — the Asha 501 (pictured left & below) — which also ushers in a new version of the Asha touch UI that’s designed to be quicker and slicker, and has a focus on swiping gestures to make it feel more fluid.
The three-inch capacitive screen Asha 501, which has Wi-Fi but no 3G and costs $99 before taxes & subsidies, is expected to start shipping in June, via some 60 carriers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Nokia’s Asha range typically targets emerging markets in Africa, Asia and South America but Asha devices have also been ranged in Europe.
Although Nokia has retired its other in-house platform Symbian, to concentrate its smartphone efforts on Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, it has continued to expand its portfolio of low end Android alternative S40-based devices — adding in a variety of new hardware and software features to devices in the range, including full Qwerty keyboards; dedicated keys for Facebook/WhatsApp; refreshed industrial design; its Bluetooth sharing technology Slam; its Xpress browser to lighten the data consumption load; preloaded social networking apps; free games downloads; and a focus on long battery life.
But keeping up with low end Androids also means improving Asha’s usability — and that’s what its latest platform refresh is all about. The Asha 501 is in fact the first fruit of Nokia’s 2012 acquisition of Smarterphone, a Norwegian company that made mobile OSes for feature phones designed to give them smartphone looks and capabilities.
Nokia said the new Asha platform is faster and more responsive. It also introduces a touchscreen UI refresh — with a dual homescreen view: the Home screen is a “traditional icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature”, while the new Fastlane view changes based on device usage, showing things like “recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps”.
Fastlane “provides a record of how the phone is used, giving people a glimpse of their past, present and future activity, and helping them multi-task by providing easy access to their favorite features”, according to Nokia’s press release. The feature sounds a lot like certain portions of Motorola’s Android skinning software — such as the widgets deployed on 2012 devices like the Motorola Motosmart.
The overall idea of the design refresh is to make it easier for Asha users to get to the apps and features they’re after, according to Nokia – with the two main screens accessible by a “simple swipe”. ”Fastlane is integral to the whole Nokia Asha 501 experience, but so is the ‘swipe’ motion,” a spokeswoman told TechCrunch. “With swipe as you experience it on the device, we were able to make optimal use of screen space, so you see just what you need. You swipe to everything else, including pull-down menus and of course, Fastlane. The whole user experience is faster and more responsive.”
So what about apps? The new Asha platform does require developers to rework apps for it — either by writing them afresh or porting them over. Which does mean Nokia is pushing the reset button yet again, but the company would probably argue that at this price point with these price-conscious consumers, users aren’t expecting hoards of apps — just select key apps. It’s also added in-app purchases to the new Asha platform, offering developers a new way to monetise Asha apps, along with its Nokia Advertising Exchange and carrier billing network.
“A good percentage of existing apps can be ported to the new platform,” said Nokia’s spokeswoman. “We already have many developers working on this. Going forward and with the new Nokia Asha Software Development Kit, developers can write an app once, and it will be compatible with future devices also built on the new Asha platform, with no need to re-write code.”
Apps that are already available for the new Nokia Asha platform include CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco Bandai and Reliance Games. Nokia said its HERE location software will also be available as a download, starting in Q3 this year — and will “initially include basic mapping services”.
Messaging giant WhatsApp is noticeably absent from the list but Nokia’s spokeswoman suggested that may change in future, noting: “WhatsApp and other key partners continue to explore new Asha.”
In select markets, certain carriers are also offering data-free access to apps including the Facebook app and mobile website on the 501 for a limited time, offering another hook for the target cost-conscious consumers.
The 501 comes preloaded with Nokia’s cloud-based data compressing Xpress browser. Nokia has also created a new web app, called Nokia Xpress Now, which ”recommends content based on location, preferences and trending topics”. It said this will be available via the Browser homepage or as a download from the Nokia Store.
“Nokia has surpassed expectations of what’s achievable in the sub-100 USD phone category with a new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with design cues from Lumia and a mix of features, services and affordability that is valued by price-conscious buyers,” said Neil Mawston, executive director, Global Wireless Practice, Strategy Analytics, in a supporting statement.
Commenting on the launch via Twitter, Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi added: “Asha 501 shows what you can achieve when you design bottom up rather than strip down features to hit the right price point.
“Asha 501 Dual SIM with hot swap very important to users but what is most striking on this device is the user interface.”
The full device specifications for the Asha 501 are as follows:
Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm; 98 grams
Camera: 3.2 MP
Single SIM standby time: up to 48 days
Dual SIM standby time: up to 26 days
Talk time: up to 17 hours
Additional memory of 4GB (card included in box), expandable up to 32GB
Forty free EA Games worth €75 downloadable from Nokia Store
Available colours: Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black
Suggested pricing is 99 USD before taxes and subsidies.