Google could win at least the Mobile Consumer Space

If you look at Microsoft’s Project Natal, you know that Microsoft is trying to go after the rest of the family in the gaming space.  Once those people become comfortable playing games like raggedy dolls 😉 they’ll be comfortable using whatever entertainment or service Microsoft provides on the box.

It goes without saying that Microsoft is big in business and will likely continue to be but that focus may continue to be their undoing in other market segments – just look at Windows Mobile.  Take the consumer who is buying their first or next mobile device and just moving into social networking or electronic communications or those that currently have no brand loyalty.  Here, Google could gradually and quietly take over from Symbian, Apple and Microsoft.

Google Wave + Google Search + other Google applications on an Android-based phone, a mini running Android or even on any other low-cost device with a browser, could be a winning formula and all that any social networking consumer needs.

While Microsoft will dominate business, gaming and home entertainment, Google may well end up dominating most of the mobile consumer space (with a little work on the UI – and imagine if Google and Adobe got together…).

Microsoft needs to come out with a Windows Mobile device and fast – like this year.  It needs to be a .NET-based OS and have a flourishing and up-front application/music market place.  That means dismissing their hardware partners and bring out a cheap Zune phone (while extending Game Studio Express to be App Studio Express) – it’s painful to other but it’s the only real way for Microsoft not to lose this space altogether, and not to Apple, but to Google.

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Halo 3 launch Date announced – Sep 25 2007

That’s it:, the super-highly anticipated 3rd installment (but this time for Xbox 360) has an official launch date and 3 different product versions (including two special editions).

I’ve seen some video documentaries about the major baddies and the multiplayer stuff, but I haven’t personally noticed too much in terms of in-game trailers and I’ve seen comments about the graphics not really utilising the 360 that much.  Perhaps the E3 conference will provide a useful update on that.

Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii

I’ve had the 360 and PS3 since their launches and the Wii for just over a month (though it seems longer after my Zelda binge, despite it being two weeks ago).

Overall, 360 is the winner and here’s why:

  • Xbox Live – it’s the 2nd version; Sony and Wii don’t have a story for multi-player games and have weak online marketplace experiences;  PS2 did have some online multi-player support but it was game publisher specific.  Once your firewall was set up for Xbox or Xbox 360, everything just seems to work and the game lobby experience is sufficient and consistent.  Microsoft is a software company and they have played that to their advantage.  Sony is touting an upcoming ‘Sims’ or ‘Second-life’ type experience but it’s too late
  • Price – the blu-ray disc in the PS3 is a compulsory purchase even on the lower model (that they have apparently discontinued) and it may have cost Sony the industry lead they had; having a PS2 compatibility board in there cost extra money, and while it beats Xbox 360 (with it’s slow-release compatibility list), anyone hard-core enough to buy a system at launch will probably keep their old systems hooked up anyway.
  • Interchangeable rechargeable controllers (with the right battery pack) –   the 360 controllers should have come with the rechargeable batteries from the start and I went for the standalone 2-battery charging station which prevents any battery issues; the PS3 batteries are not removeable, and the Wii only seems to have limited 3rd-party solutions available
  • Games – there has been very little PS3-only goodness here and even though Xbox 360 didn’t have a large number of launch titles, they have had a year to bring them on now, giving them the hard start; Wii will still attract people for cutesy games.
  • Dashboard and in-game interface – Nintendo and Sony have finally caught on to the idea Microsoft has with the original Xbox – having a consistent in-game interface to the dashboard is very compelling.
  • Media experiences – the 360 can be a media extender to Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate or XP Media Center Edition, but if you’re like me, you’d put the computer in the same room as the 360 where the big screen is, so this isn’t the big deal that Microsoft says, and if you want TV in other rooms then it’s something to consider but they you’re probably wondering why there’s no media center extender experience for the Windows desktop; if Microsoft plays it’s cards well in the IPTV industry then the next Xbox (once broadband is 10Mbps+) could be the set-top box of choice

For the truly serious technologist or addicted gamer, there are 3 consoles in play.  For the serious gamer, there are 2 (360 and PS3).

It’s really about the experience and the gameplay – Microsoft has it hands-down on experience, and is getting their on gameplay because it’s Microsoft with a huge developer following and they’ve had a year head-start.  A few more good titles and a killer Halo 3, and things could forever become Pepsi.

For the casual gamer with kids there’s the Wii – it only has 480i (in North America or 480p with component cables) and there’s no digital audio out – but the novelty is there and some games (like Zelda) have pleasant graphics once you get passed the very obvious resolution drop.  Wii sports is family fun but it didn’t take long for us to realise that you can sit on the couch and just flick your wrist with far more precision (so RSI is still on the cards for some).  Wii may have one of the strongest back-wards compatibility stories in terms of taking Game Cube games, controllers and memory cards.  The Mii characters you can build for yourself are limited (despite the many choices) but fun for a while.  The launch games are disappointing (esp Mario), however you can buy a fair amount lot of Wii equipment and games before you hit the price of a PS3 with no games.

If you are into gadgets and technology and you are choosing one then get a 360 and make sure you get the Elite (with HDMI output).  If you have $2000 to spare, get all 3, accessories and a switcher, then spend another $2000 on a 47″+ LCD/Plasma screen (making sure it’s native 1080p, not 720p with 1080i support) and of course another $1000 or so on digital sound receiver with 5.1/7.1 speakers.

Game Review for Wii: Zelda – Twilight Princess

Not a very, um, manly soundly game title but it is nonetheless the latest in the Zelda series where you play the young male hero named Link in this 3rd person 3D action/rpg/platform/puzzle/fighting/fantasy/rpg game set in a fairly large world.

I completed it in about 60 hours (over two weeks of evenings and weekends) – I have binges of game play, then nothing for months – and it was quite addictive and enjoyable in places.  60 hours isn’t quick, but at least I feel like I got an hour’s worth for every dollar.

The game starts off very slowly and it seems like it’s going to be quite dull, but over time, the items at your disposal become far more interesting and practically an extreme sport for some.

The Nintendo platform has a reputation for child-friendly cutesy games and visually this Zelda edition is no exception for the mos tpart, but it is rated T for Teen.  The story, environments and characters get a little PG in terms of potential scariness to <10 year olds perhaps (not to mention the dodgy balloon-ride man), and the skill and patience required to beat the bosses at higher levels is something only the die-hard 5 year old video game addict would put themselves through.  I’m not sure what rating previous Zelda games had, but I could easily see parents buying this game, thinking they were getting something that starts off with cute music, but actually turns into something else.

Once you get passed the slow start, the game is very engaging, and the world map starts to grow (with city, castle, villages, open plains, underwater, snow, sand, twilight worlds…).  Also, just when you think you’ve got all the pieces to put the world to rights, the adventure takes a new turn and you’re collecting for something else.  The number of successive bosses at the end is perhaps too many.  One could easily lose the background plot if the game is played over a long period of time.

Most of the challenges support the main plot and you have a guide available – she (once you figure out the gender) provides useful tips for the most part.

The use of the Wii sensor technology is mostly limited to the controller being a sword (and something else with the nunchuck), and you soon turn off the cursor as it’s not necessary and as annoying as having tinkerbell buzzing at you all day (you’ll see what I mean if you play it).

It was annoying that there can only be 3 save slots (a Nintendo trait it seems), so if you have more than 3 people in your family…  I also didn’t like that you can’t save the game after you finish it to do further exploring (put I did save before engaging the last boss).

If you like open world adventures with fantasy characters and a good balance of exploration, dungeons, puzzles, fighting and a very light sprinkling of rpg elements then this is a very engaging game – it’s not for young children, but then you wouldn’t want the embarrassment of them beating you anyway right?

To catch a Wii

I recently turned my attention to getting a Nintendo Wii. For anyone that knows me when it comes to gadgets, this means that I do not stop until I’ve managed to get what I’m looking for. It will not mean that I do nothing else but hunt them on the streets, but I will schedule things around critical ‘can you Wii me now?’ calls. I did see some fun geek pack mentality on PS3 and Wii launch days – let’s call it ‘drive-by geek pack networking’, along with ‘flocking behaviour’ and it goes like this:

Scenario 1:

  • Geeks are standing outside a store waiting for it to open
  • They will know the number of likely prey inside
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • The waiting geeks get mixed feelings when saying “there are only have x units here, but I believe they will have some at xyz store” because on one hand they are happy to help out a fellow geek but on the other they are proudly guarding their kill, while of course hoping this store does in fact have the advertised quantity and that they haven’t just sent somebody extra to potentially more fruitful hunting ground

Scenario 2:

  • Geeks have just got their prize (having slept outside all week, etc)
  • They are walking out of the store with their trophy
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • Similar conversation except geek with console is thinking “yes sucker I got mine” while being genuinely helpful, and the geek in the car says “thanks” in a quite sincere way while also thinking “those bastards got one”

When one outlet runs out, the unsuccessful hopefuls all flock to the next possible venue, like voters for American/Pop Idol flock to another finalist when their chosen hopeful gets voted off.

The animalistic instinctive part in all this is that the geeks know what the other geeks are hunting without explicitly asking…

Back to my hunt…

One of the first rules of hunting gadgets at retail outlets is don’t believe what the first store assistant tells you. Yesterday from Walmart I heard “it’s hard to say”, “we wont get any today”, “the truck could show at anytime” and “it was delayed and it’s best to call between 11am and 1pm”, and not in that order.

So I called at 11:55am this morning and was told that yes today could be the day but I should call back at 12:15pm or 12:20 when they’d know for sure.

I called back at 12:25 to be told they had sold out and that the merchandise had been received at 11:30 and was on the floor at 12:00… bugger – I broke my own rule and should have invested 20 minutes going over there.

Not to be deterred I remembered that there are 4 Walmarts within a 15 minute radius, and I concluded that they would deliver quantities to more than one location, and that the deliveries may well be on the same truck.

I’d been dealing with the South location, so I tried the West location – no go – and then the East location and got “yes we have 6 left, we’ve only sold 2 and there’s no-one here”. Could this be???!?!

I got straight into the car, drove 10 minutes and I was there. This location, to which I’ve never been, is away from down-town and is in an industrial park rather than a retail park. I almost thought I was in the wrong place until I rounded the last corner.

They still had 6 left and they had no nunchuck controllers. The assistance asked me how many I wanted. Um… err… um… I almost wish there had been a way to inform those people I saw on Monday morning that they could get their system afterall.

Wii scored… now to avoid breaking my 1080p screen with a controller…

https://colinizer.com/2007/04/06/my-kingdomps3-for-a-wii/

https://colinizer.com/2007/04/09/walmart-only-has-a-rfider-on-wii-availability/

Walmart only has a RFIDer on Wii availability

I had spoken to someone in the electronics department at Walmart last week. They said they were expecting Nintendo Wiis this morning.

I woke up early this morning knowing that Walmart would open at 7am. So…

I pulled up at 6:55 and the store was already open.

On the way in, I saw other people of the ‘appropriate type’ strolling in. I wondered if it would be a foot race to the check out, though given the fact that the store was already open, I was kind of expecting them to have sold out.

As it turns out, the department was desserted and I was the only one there, well at least for 2 minutes, at which point a young asian couple and a teenage boy both showed up just as a staff member appears at the counter.

Undeterred by the make-shift ‘There is a shortage of Wii and DS – please call Nintendo for details on ….’ sign on the display case we all asked the guy what the deal was.

He kept on repeating that it was “Hard to say”. I resisted the urge to be pedantic and go with “But still possible then?”.

So then it was time to leave the store empty handed with that… ‘perhaps I should not leave because I need to stalk the display case for any possible sign of Wiis surfacing and I can not have those other people getting one an not me’ mentality. OK, not really. In fact there’s actually a kind of instant fellowship between console hunters, though this can be quite interesting given that heavy duty gamer types can be awkward social geeks – this was evident at 7am on the PS3 launch day last year when we were all waiting outside EB Games in the cold engaging our social skills; probably to avoid de-evolving to cavemen and ripping each other’s head off for the primal prey kill.

On my way out I remembered that Walmart has begun mandating a large amount of RFID chipping on supplier palettes (not yet individual items). I don’t know how widespread the mandate is yet and I wondered if Nintendo was subject to this. With my IT head on I thought of all the smart but useless things I could have said like “This is the company that mandates RFID chips – surely you know exactly where the shipments are and when they sneeze”.

So really my point is that I am (of course…) somewhat appalled by the fact that ‘in this day and age’) Walmart did not know whether a shipment of Wiis was coming, and couldn’t show me GPS tracking of the truck in question (highway robbery anyone? OK that’s the PS3). Actually I was pretty sure that someone somewhere did now, but of course they wouldn’t dare tell the floor guy for fear that alien beings would extract his brain matter just for the chance to be able to play some human entertainment.

So Walmart may have RFID but they only still pass on a RFIDer to the customer. Yes, OK, it’s cheesy.

My kingdom/PS3 for a Wii?

I got a PS3 on launch day, but it came with an opportunity cost other than the cash. I (for the first time) slept overnight in my car – well from 2am to 7am – a month before to get my pre-order in. That wasn’t the cost, and it beat sitting outside in a chair or tent like most people had to in near-zero temperatures. The EB Games store I went to knew how many of PS3s and Wiis they’d be getting and I had to choose between the two systems, so I went for the PS3. That was the choice.

Since last November I haven’t seen a Wii in stock anywhere and yet I’ve been bombarded with the Nintendo commercials. Don’t they realise they’re wasting money given that it’s hard to convert ad time in to sales when there’s nothing to buy?

Nintendo is notorious for under supplying. I don’t care what they say; I believe it’s a strategy to keep demand up. It also hurts the accessory partners.

Most stores I’ve contacted (and trust me I have a list of all the relevant store’s phone numbers from my PS3 pre-order adventure) either have no idea when they’ll get their next shipment, or have a date that keeps slipping.

Would I trade a PS3 (or more) for a Wii? Well, no. My 1080p screen (to get the best PS3 and XBox 360 experience) will no doubt stick it’s nose up at the Wii’s graphics, but I’d like to have one because 1) I’m a gadget junkie so I have all the others, 2) the controller concept and games seem like fun & 3) one gets to get off the couch.