Friday, 16 July 2010 - tech news fast! - tech news fast!

iPhone 4 signal fix update arrives, along with iPad OS upgrade

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 12:19 PM PDT

iPhone 4 owners, plug your Apple WonkyPhone into your Mac or PC right now, there’s an update available, taking its OS to version 4.0.1 and adding Apple’s much-debated improved “formula to determine how many bars of signal strength to display.” If you’ve got an iPad, slap a USB cable in that too as iOS 3.2.1 for iPad is also available for your updating pleasure, adding improved Wi-Fi performance and a bundle of minor bug fixes.

Feature-craving iPhone and iPad owners, you’ll have to wait for Apple’s next full iOS update, since these two downloads are destined purely to fix current bugs, niggles and annoyances. Let us know in the comments section how your downloading experience goes, and if you find your iPhone 4 signal more reliable, or at the very least more realistic, after loading it onboard.

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Peter Molyneux: Fable 3 will make players go “Wow”

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 08:20 AM PDT

Peter Molyneux – the legendary game designer behind games such as Populous, Theme Park and of course Fable took to the stage at the Develop Conference in Brighton today to talk up Fable 3 and how it’ll conjure up an experience like no other. Of course we were there to lend him our ears. So what makes Fable 3 so special? Read on to find out.

Fable 3 is set fifty years after the events of Fable 2. The gist of the plot sees players attempt to overthrow a tyrant king before taking the throne themselves. Unlike other games things don’t stop once you defeat the bad guy. That’s only half of it. The other half sees you in power pondering whether to use and abuse your power for the good of the city of Albion, or for your own selfish wants. Molyneux will have you believe it’s almost two games in itself for the price of one.

But that’s just one of the many elements that come together to make Fable 3 different, as Molyneux told us. In a presentation entitled ‘Story game and simulation’ he spoke of the elements that make Fable 3 better than his previous Fable-shaped efforts.

He kicked things off explaining the games big features: the cast, accessibility and sharing. Molyneux said he wants as many people to play it as possible, adding “we want a game that will make players go wow”

So how do you attract more people. One way is to roll out the red carpet. Famous folk lending their voice to Fable 3 include John Cleese and Stephen Fry and more unannounced Oscar-winning stars Molyneux revealed.

“What we did was create a great cast which was incredibly hard to do…getting the cast to be involved when they’re not into games was tough”.

Molyneux told us he once asked a pack of journalists what they remembered from Fable 2 only to found they had forgotten about the game’s events. “We want to make a story and game which people remember…how do you get players to care?”

By having a world which comments and reacts to the player. Rather than worded and spoken prompts telling players “do this and do that” you’ll have in-game characters such as your butler reminding you of your actions. The butler’s no drone, he’ll react to your progress, wealth and your actions. Everything around you is simulated around your actions.

“What we’re trying to do is keep you engaged but allow you freedom. The breadcrumb mechanic had its critics. What we found is setting up in players minds a mentor character – who are there they do stuff with you, don’t push you but make you sensitive to what you’re doing. They’re not going to keep telling you what to do.” For example if your butler sees you chatting up the local eye candy he’ll say “when you finished chatting up this girl just come and get me.”

Like laughing? Then you’ll love fable 3 “Making people laugh is absolutely essential” Molyneux said. “We had really funny actors. About 20 percent of the lines you hear from John Cleese and the other actors are all purely from them.”

Fable 3 will also be the most accessible of the series. Gone are menus, stats, prompts and visual guides and in comes new ways of accessing the game’s features. Playing the game you’ll find nothing but the action on screen. Another big change is the pause menu. Formerly pressing pause bright up a massive set of menus. Now it takes you into an explorable sanctuary.

Changing your garb is as easy as walking into a room, seeing it for yourself and pressing one button rather than having to scroll through endless sub menus that have their own sub menus. “You just can’t get people excited about sub menus we’ve got to think more revolutionary.”Even the map is a living breathing game feature letting you take a closer look at the living breathing world of Albion.

The way players level up has also changed. Rather than show bars and numbers indicating how much they’ve levelled up players are taken to a gated world, with each gate able to be opened as you progress.

“It’s a visual metaphor for the journey to power rather than have a levelling up bar. You can spend your experience opening the gates with your guild seals. Or you can buy a big bastard sword” Players will feel a real sense of achievement this time around.

Not forgetting Co-op play and sharing. Molyneux promised that every feature from the single player mode will make its way into co-op.

“You can do more than just fight.You can do a lot of stuff – all the features in Fable 3 you can do in co-op. You can marry, befriend, chat up your co-op buddy.You can have kids in the game.” Just as in the single player game players can do as they please.”

From what we’ve seen and heard it’s clear a lot of effort has gone into taking everything built upon from the first two Fable titles, slamming them against the drawing aboard and making them even better. With new features, a great cast and even more emphasis on letting players spend as much time in the world of Albion it’s shaping up well. Whether it’s all enough to make us go “wow” is open to question. But it’s looking good, Fable fans.

Out 26 October | £TBA | Fable 3

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Android app downloads hit the one billion mark

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 07:36 AM PDT

The number of Android apps being downloaded has surpassed one billion, according to estimates from Android app aggregator site AndroLib, and is growing at an explosive rate.

The stats at AndroLib also show the rate of growth in the number of apps in the Android market. In July last year there were 1669 new Android apps added to the Android Market, compared to June this year, which saw over 15,000 new apps added.

Android is also continuing to mark itself out as the cheaper end of the marketplace, with 61.3 per cent of Android apps available for free. Apple on the other hand, has owned the market so far, and looks to be operating in a premium zone, where only 28 per cent of apps are free.

For Android app downloads to hit the one billion mark indicates rapid growth, but there's still a long way to go until Android catch up with Apple, who hit the one billion mark in April last year.

What does this mean for Android? Can it catch up with Apple and carve out a chunk of the market, or is this just too late for another major player to make a chink in Apple's share?

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New iPod touch with FaceTime: email to replace phone numbers

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 07:28 AM PDT

The new iPod touch is rumoured to be arriving with FaceTime but so far we've been in the dark about how Apple would route calls without a phone number to kick them off. Now a source purporting to know its plans has suggested it'll all be pinned to your Apple ID. Here's how…

Boy Genius Report (which had a spot of bother with those Steve Jobs emails recently) says a more reliable Apple connection has given it the new iPod touch FaceTime plan. To set up FaceTime on your iPod Touch, you'll register your Apple ID and it will then use your email address to call.

FaceTime call requests will apparently be delivered to the new iPod touch via push notifications. The feature is said to already be lurking within the iOS 4.1 beta code.

There are still quite a few questions to be answered if this really is the way the new iPod touch will make and receive FaceTime calls. Will iPhone 4 owners also need to register an Apple ID for iPod touch owners to call them? Will the iPod touch finally get its own mic or will you still have to invest in headphones?

Using your Apple ID as your FaceTime calling card would also further open up the possibility of logging in to make video calls from iChat or even Skype. Apple has said it'll open-source the protocol and turning email addresses into universal alternative to a phone number would aid that.

And while the iPad hasn't got a camera this time around, the next incarnation is highly likely to get one and FaceTime calls would surely come along with it. Using your Apple ID to receive calls on it would work a treat.

What do you think? Does this seem like a smart way for Apple to bring FaceTime to the new iPod touch and the iPad?

Out TBC | £TBC | Apple (via Boy Genius Report)

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New Sony VAIO P hands on photos: Neon netbooks

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 07:08 AM PDT

Yes, yes, we know the new Sony VAIO P isn’t a netbook, according to the official line anyway. But how else would you describe something bright, tiny, eye catching and under powered? Sony’s covered the whole spectrum in its second gen models, and we’ve got hands on photos of the lot right here.

While you were stuck between shades of maroon and black for the original 2009 Sony VAIO P, this year’s line up comes in the kaleidoscopic tones you see here. And actually, we quite like them: combined with the new curves (Which actually feel slightly thicker) and matte plastic, they feel much more like toys. And considering the new Sony VAIO P is designed to pop in a manage or handbag, that’s pretty much what the eight inch liliputers are.

Read our Sony VAIO P review now

While we weren’t really able to test how much of a speed boost Windows 7 and the Atom Z560 chip give the new Sony VAIO P, we did get to try out the new touchpad to the right of the screen, which makes navigation around websites much easier than the “nipple” in the middle of the keyboard. There are also mouse click buttons on the left too, though we found these to be significantly less practical.

No word just yet on the exact release date for the new Sony VAIO P range beyond sometime this year, but really, if Sony’s going to charge as much for these as the last one, we’d be happy to sit these ones out. We won’t though: expect a full review just as soon as we can land them.

Out Autumn | £TBC | Sony

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Top 5 Apple screw ups

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 07:00 AM PDT

On the eve of Apple's mysterious press conference, let us not forget that the iPhone 4 saga is not the first time Apple has failed. Over the years, countless products have come and gone within a year or two, in cases of overpricing and underselling, and while it’s unlikely the phenomenal sales of the iPhone 4 will push it into the same obscurity as these gems, we at Electricpig towers couldn't help having a dig around the archive to bring you the best examples of Apple at its worst. We'll reserve judgement on the iPhone 4 until tomorrow…

#1 Pippin
The Pippin console for multimedia CD-ROM games was slow, with a weakling of a 14.4 kbps modem. It was more expensive and less powerful than competition, meaning it only sold 42,000 units before being discontinued about two years after it was launched.

#2 Twentieth Anniversary Mac
An obscenity of 90s design, the TAM was overpriced and undersold. Reactions were mostly to the jaw dropping $7500 price tag, which was eventually dropped to $1,9995. Despite being touted as an Apple design classic by collectors, it's a repulsive, like a 90s power suit, and jumpers tucked in to stone washed denim.

#3 iPod hi fi
The iPod hi-fi lasted just over a year, having been met not with the usual Apple euphoria, but with baffled shrugging and furrowed brows – why was Apple making a big box of an iPod dock cum speaker system when everyone else was making better, cheaper versions? The iPod hi-fi was largely disappointing for all involved, and came complete with compatibiltiy issues, a lack of radio function, and rubbish remote control.

#4 First generation iPod Nano
The vulnerability of the iPod Nano to scratches brought Apple a class action from a hoard of angry Apple fanboys finding it impossible to keep their iPods squeaky clean. After five years of legal wrangling, users received a cheque for $37.50 from the iPod Nanos settlement fund.

#5 Newton

The Newton was discontinued in 1998, five years after its launch. Early demos were fraught with bugs, such as the device getting too hot to hold, software repeatedly failing, and gobbling up batteries faster than you could change them. The first devices fell apart before they were shipped, and immediately needed a patch to train the start up software.

There's more we couldn't include, like Apple's first TV, the puck mouse and more. What do you think is Apple's biggest failure? Drop us a line in the comments…

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Macbook Air update: shrinking down to netbook size?

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 06:46 AM PDT

A Macbook Air update is pretty certain to pop up soon. The last refresh occurred in June last year (here's our Macbook Air review to remind you) so another tweak is due and the unsleeping rumourmongers at DigiTimes claim to have the details on the next incarnation. Could Steve Jobs, scourge of netbooks, be about to sanction shrinking the Macbook Air down to 11.6in?

DigiTimes Research Analyst, Mingchi Kuo, has been reading the runes thrown down by Far Eastern component makers and says Apple is about to slim down the already sylph-like Macbook Air even further. He says the new model will be built by Taiwanese firm Quanta.

The current Macbook Air is one of three 13.3in models offered by Apple along with versions of the Macbook and Macbook Pro. Boiling down the Macbook Air to a more compact size could help to differentiate it from them but it would also presumably mean seriously rearranging the keyboard and even purging more ports.

With the iPad offering similar portability and a 9.7in screen, a slimmed down 11.6in Macbook Air could become an even more niche product. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen rumours of a size change for Apple’s slimmest laptop. In January last year, there were predictions of a 15in Macbook Air which came to nothing.

Could you see yourself toting an even smaller Macbook Air? Or has the iPad throughly filled that sweet spot?

Out TBC | £TBC | Apple (via DigiTimes)

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Sony Walkman E450 hands on photos: The karaoke iPod nano

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 06:45 AM PDT

The new Sony Walkman E450 has a formidable rival in the iPod nano. It’s super slim, now has a video recorder and even an FM radio capable of recording tunes. But can it turn off the singing on every single one of your songs, letting you have at the lyrics yourself? No? This can.

Starting from around £70, Sony’s new Sony Walkman E450 (4/8/16GB) comes in at the bottom end of the company’s PMP line up – at least those with screens. It’s a little thicker than the iPod nano, but its 2-inch screen is one of the most pleasant QVGA panels we’ve clapped eyes on, and is deceptively sharp.

The Sony Walkman E450 plays the usual MP3s and AAC files with a quoted 50 hour battery life, but its quirky USP is its prowess as a karaoke machine. If you’ve got the associated .lrc files for your tunes, you can see the lyrics onetime on the screen, but it goes one step further and provides a karaoke mode which actually kills the singing on a track, and even lowers the key so you can hit the high notes.

Sony says it works by dampening the mid-range on a track, and that it should work, at least to some extent with any song. We were shown the feature on a Sony Walkman E450 with a Leona Lewis track, and sure enough, it shut the X Factor crooner up with not much in the way of distortion.

Whether this alone is enough to make you go for a Sony Walkman E450 ahead of an iPod nano is another matter entirely, but have a look for yourself in our hands on photo gallery to help decide. The Sony Walkman E450 is out in September.

Out September | £TBC | Sony

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Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E: hands on photo overload!

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 06:32 AM PDT

The Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E was announced just yesterday, but we’ve now nabbed a quick glimpse of the new interchangeable lens camcorder in the flesh. Read on for the photos!

While we’ve seen a very rough prototype of the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E before, this here model is close to what the finish version will look like. After holding a Sony NEX-5 still camera (which uses the same lenses), it’s surprisingly heavy, but then apart from the huge 14 megapixel sensor inside, it’s hardly like with like.

While the NEX05 does shoot high def video, thats not its primary function, whereas the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E is about offering the flexibility of switchable lenses to amateur video shooters never previously available, and th sound recording skills to go with it – not that there’s also a hotshot for an external mic if you want it too.

Read our Sony NEX-5 review now

Sadly, this Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E isn’t operational, but it’s not too long to wait, since it goes on sale in just two months’ time. What may be more restrictive is the price: a Sony rep told us that it might go on sale at around the £2,000 price point. That puts the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E out of the coach trip holiday market, but we’ve got a feeling that between enthusiasts and film schools, it’s going to go down a storm.

Check out the hands on photos of the Sony Handycam NEX-VG10E and stay tuned for plenty more coverage in the run up to launch.

Out September | £TBC | Sony

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HP Android tablet blown away by Hurricane webOS slate?

Posted: 15 Jul 2010 06:02 AM PDT

HP was planning a Moses-style fistful of different tablets back in January at CES. Then we heard rumours that the Windows 7 HP Slate was for the chop. Now it seems the proposed Android incarnation has been put on the back burner. What's blown them out of the way? The HP webOS tablet codenamed Hurricane.

With the HP Palm deal finalised and encouraging noises coming from HP execs, we've been anticipating an HP webOS slate for a while. Likewise the demise of the Windows 7-flavoured tablet flourished by Steve Ballmer at CES seems pretty much assured. But now All Things D reports that a slate running Android has also been pushed aside.

The Android HP Slate was apparently set for a release date in the fourth quarter of 2010 but the new rumours suggest that it's been delayed and may not even be released at all. HP has committed itself to making a webOS slate codenamed Hurricane and appears to be focusing all its tablet-shaped resources on that project.

Previously leaked HP Slate specs teased a 8.9in tablet with a 1.6Ghz Atom Menlow processor, 3G, GPS and two cameras. But that model was running Windows 7 and HP may well have ripped the whole thing up and started again to fit its webOS plans.

Google's next mobile OS, Android 3.0 Gingerbread, is set to be geared up for tablets but it looks like HP won't be tempted to take a bite just yet. Is it right to go for webOS instead of Android? Or do you even wish it had stuck with Windows 7?

Out TBC | £TBC | HP (via All Things D)

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