First Look Steam for Mac

The arrival of Steam, the popular online gaming service and store, on the Mac platform may very well be a watershed moment for Mac gaming that’s discussed for years to come. But before I start waxing too ecstatic, let’s take a first look at the private beta of the service and see what Steam has to offer.

Steam, for the uninitiated, is essentially an iTunes Store for games, except with more socializing and actual demos of many games (*ahem*, Apple). It’s the creation of game developer Valve, the company behind games like Team Fortress, Left for Dead, and one of gaming’s most beloved and legendary series: Half Life. Over the years, Steam has become the go-to place for Windows gamers to shop for and try out everything from blockbuster releases to indie hits, find new friends to frag with, and stay up to date with the latest patches. A Steam buddy list lets you see which of your friends are online, what games they’re playing, as well as invite friends into your game or quickly join them on a campaign already in progress—all with a click or two.

Fortunately, Valve spared no expense in bringing Steam to the Mac. This isn’t some duct-taped Java port that limps along with a fraction of its Windows counterpart’s features. Valve used native Cocoa tools, even going so far as to re-engineer the Steam client and store on Windows to use Apple’s WebKit rendering engine—which, in turn, was one of the original hints that a Mac version was in the works.

Steam for Mac is very much a doppelgänger of the Windows version, so some elements certainly don’t feel very Mac-like. The navigation toolbar, for example, contains large text links for things like the Steam Store and your Library, instead of colorful, intuitive icons like Apple and third-party Mac developers favor (this navigation design actually feels heavily inspired by Microsoft’s Zune). If you’ve used Steam before, however, you’ll feel right at home. As a long-time Windows gamer via Boot Camp, there was no learning curve; I instantly started adjusting options for microphone input and downloading my library.

In fact, Valve even brought its Steam Cloud feature to the Mac client. This is a useful service of the Steam APIs that allows developers to synchronize your game settings between each of the computers on which you install your games. If games are compatible with Steam Cloud (Portal and Team Fortress 2 are), your settings will synchronize between the Mac and Windows versions. Customize a game’s default keyboard shortcuts, for example, and they get synced back up to your Steam account, then back down to any other computers (Mac or PC) that you install the game on.

Just like installing Steam on a new Windows computer, the Mac client allows users to see the full library of games that they’ve purchased from the store. Since Steam allows users to load their games on an unlimited number of computers, I could begin installing my games with just two clicks. The music, TV, and film industries could learn a lot from this very appreciated 21st-century convenience.

As Steam for Mac is still in private beta, only two Valve games are currently available: Portal and Team Fortress 2. Now, Valve has promised that more (and more recent) games like Left 4 Dead 2 will be available soon after the beta goes public, and the upcoming Portal 2 sequel will arrive simultaneously on both Mac and PC this fall. The company has also said that third parties are working hard on bringing their titles to the Mac. So far, Ruinic, a company of ex-Blizzard employees, announced its Diablo-esque Torchlight is coming (though its level editor probably isn’t), and Tripwire has announced it’s working on a couple titles.

As far as the games available in the private beta now are concern, I’m happy to report that Portal and Team Fortress 2 feel right at home on the Mac. Admittedly, I got a slight chill the first time I started Portal: no Windows, no emulators, no tricks—just one of the greatest games in recent memory, running natively on my 27-inch 2.66GHz iMac. Startup took a little longer than I’d like, but again it’s a beta, so I’ll reserve judgement until Valve drops that label. But the game itself runs well, and I noticed no stuttering, even after bumping my resolution up from the default to 1600 by 1200.

The Steam for Mac beta is expected to go public on May 12. The client itself is free, and Mac versions of PC games will cost the same as their counterparts. In fact, Valve has created a new Steam Play license and badge in the store to denote games for which you can purchase one license and run the game on both Mac and Windows computers. If you have already purchased Portal, Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2, or Left for Dead 2 on a Windows PC (sorry, Xbox 360 or PS3 owners), you won’t have to spend another dime to play them on your Mac.

Given Steam’s beta status, there’s little else to report for now. Portal ran well, and I’m anticipating Steam going official and the arrival of more games. The only reason I’ve bought Windows XP, Vista, and 7 licenses since switching to the Mac is so that I can play the games I love. But those days might finally—finally—be coming to an end. Considering how well Valve has done with this initial beta of Steam for Mac, those days can’t end soon enough.

Yahoo News

Forget O2 & Vodafone 3 UK Offers The Best iPad Data Plan

If you are comfortable using a knife to downsize a SIM card into a microSIM, then you might want to have a look at a little known offer from 3 UK which could slash the cost of using your Apple iPad to around £5.33 a month per GB.

The smallest independent mobile network operator in the UK is the only one in the business to sell a “starter kit”, one which offers a USB modem pre-loaded with data that can last for a significant amount of time.

For example, you can get a 12GB pack, which is basically 12 months at 1GB, for a mere £80 from Argos, Maplin and Very (part of Littlewoods), a price that includes a 3G modem that can be used as a memory stick and the knowledge that you won’t need to sign for an expensive contract.

What’s more, Very has a “£30 off £60” promotional code (ZZ450), valid for first time customers, that brings the price of the dongle to a mere £49 excluding delivery.

Get two for £128 and type XV188 in the code section at checkout to delay the payment till May 2011.

Therefore, you get 24 months worth of 1GB broadband for £128 at £5.33 a month; that’s roughly half what you’d pay at O2 for the same data allowance although you get unlimited WiFi from the latter.

That said, you won’t be charged extra if you go over the 1GB limit per month and you can carry forward anything what you haven’t consumed in the past month; just bear in mind that there’s a one-year limit on the package.


Analyst Android phones outsold the iPhone in U.S. last quarter

Here’s a head-turner for you: The wireless analysts at NPD Group are claiming that in the first three months of 2010, Google’s Android OS managed to squeak past the iPhone in total number of smartphones sold, marking what NPD calls a shift in the market.

According to figures that NPD released Monday, handhelds running on the BlackBerry OS still rule the roost, accounting for 38 percent of the U.S. smartphone market. In second place with a bullet: Android, which snagged 28 percent of the national smartphone market last quarter, leapfrogging the iPhone and its 21 percent share.

Come again?

NPD’s numbers are estimates based on customer surveys — so yes, if you wanted to question the figures, there’s certainly room to do so.

Another important point: Even assuming Android handsets did manage to outsell the iPhone last quarter, Android still has a way to go before it can overtake the iPhone in terms of overall users. A recent ComScore survey found that as of February, the Phone had 25.4 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, versus 3.8 percent for Android. (RIM is way ahead of everyone else — at 40.8 percent, according to ComScore.)

Still, NPD’s first-quarter numbers are eye-openers. Analyst Ross Rubin says “carrier distribution and promotion have played a crucial role” in market share. And indeed, while the iPhone continues to be a hit for AT&T, you can now buy several different Android handsets from any of the big U.S. carriers, while Verizon Wireless has been giving Android phones like the Motorola Droid and the HTC Droid Eris the full-court press.

The news bolsters the feeling that Google’s Android OS is on a roll right now, although I’m curious to see whether other wireless analysts fall in line with the NPD’s conclusions — as well as whether Android keeps its head of steam through the second quarter and beyond.

Yahoo News

Archos Preparing New Archos 8 Tablet

Archos has revealed to a Chinese audience that it will sell an Archos 8 tablet to complement the existing, newly-introduced, Archos 7.

A spokesperson for the company told the Inquirer that the Archos 8 will be coming out this year, very soon after the release of the 7.

The device is set to have an 8-inch screen capable of showing 800×480 pixels, be less than a half-inch thick, weigh 400g and come with 4GB internal storage.

It is not yet known whether there will be expansion slots like a USB port or a card reader.

According to French website ArchosLounge, the Archos 8 will be part of Archos’s new lineup consisting of six tablets with a screen size ranging from 3-inches to 10-inches.

The device will be priced significantly cheaper than its competition, Apple’s iPad, with the cheapest costing $100 and the most expensive $350.

A prospective Archos 10 is likely to have an ARM Cortex 1GHz, Multitouch and 3G Open GL capabilities.

Given that we already know there are 3, 7, 8 and 10-inch tablets, we are left with only one remaining unknown model. As for the Archos 8 Tablet, it should be with us within the next few months.


Android handsets outsell iPhone in US

After a strong showing in the UK a research report by analyst house NPD has found that mobile phones using the Andorid operating system were outselling Apple’s iPhone for the first time.

In the new Android handsets accounted for 28 per cent of the market, beating Apple’s 21 per cent but still below market leader Research in Motion (RIM), which holds 36 per cent. NPD attributes the increase to the number of vendors using the operating system, marketing campaigns and new investment in the sector.

“Recent previews of BlackBerry 6, the recently announced acquisition of Palm by HP, and the pending release of Windows Phone 7 demonstrates the industry’s willingness to make investments to address consumer demand for smartphones and other mobile devices,” said Ross Rubin, executive director of industry analysis for NPD.

“Carriers continue to offer attractive pricing for devices, but will need to present other data-plan options to attract more customers in the future.”

Of the major carriers AT&T had the largest slice of the smartphone market, with almost a third of its customers using advanced handsets. Verizon’s share stands at 30 per cent, with T-Mobile and Sprint at 17 and 15 per cent respectively.

Android may have problems in the future however. Apple is widely expected to unveil a new generation of iPhone next month and, if the leaks are accurate, it could well prove to be a huge hit.


App Industry Roundup Android overtakes iPhone in key measure

Both Apple and Google gain traction in smartphone sales, as we note in today’s App Industry Roundup. Also, you don’t really need a mouse with that iPad and new Wi-Fi standards are coming. This time, look out video cables.

Sales for iPhone on the rise, but Android OS tops in share

Apple’s share in the smartphone market continues to rise, as the iPhone maker now ranks third in the world in terms of sales, according to first-quarter data released recently by IDC. The iPhone’s share rose 5.2 percent, hitting 16.1 percent for the first quarter compared to the same time last year. The world’s top smartphone maker remains Nokia, even though the Finnish carrier has minimal influence in the U.S. It hopes to change that with the recently announced Nokia N8, which is getting mixed reviews while offering Apple-like controversy. Research in Motion’s BlackBerry line-up is second in terms of hardware sales.

But the story is different when it comes to share of operating systems in the U.S. BlackBerry is on top, but the Android operating system moved into second place in the first quarter, according to data released Monday by NPD Group. Here are the top three smartphone operating systems, in terms of first-quarter 2010 market share:

1. RIM — 36 percent
2. Android — 28 percent
3. Apple — 21 percent

Android’s rapid growth can largely be attributed to the fact that the OS is now available on phones at all four major U.S. wireless carriers. Meanwhile, the iPhone remains available only through AT&T. Yet AT&T’s footprint, thanks to the iPhone, is substantial. According to NPD’s press release, smartphone sales at AT&T comprised nearly a third of the entire U.S. smartphone market (32 percent), followed by Verizon Wireless (30 percent), T-Mobile (17 percent) and Sprint (15 percent).

Mouse, meet iPad. You don’t have to be pals

People, if you keep adding accessories to your iPad, why did you buy it? Yes, there are times when having a keyboard attachment could be useful, but it raises the question of why. Such as, why do you want to use your iPad like a laptop when it was designed to be operated with your fingers? Now comes word that you can use Apple’s Magic Mouse to control the iPad. Again, why do this?

Adding tools to control the iPad is completely missing the point. If you’re the first kid on the block to figure out how to use a mouse with your iPad, good for you. You’ve earned extra credit today in your uber-geek class. But let’s be clear: If you drop $500 for the iPad — and that’s the low-end model, of course — stop adding the accoutrements. You’ll start looking like an Apple fanboy with an uncontrollable habit to buy everything Apple just so you can make it work together.

You want a keyboard with that? Buy a MacBook. You want a mouse, try an iMac. If you love to use your fingers, get an iPad.

Got it?

Can we finally cut the cords?

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced new standards for transmitting data over the air. But the twist here is that these standards pertain mostly to video transfer issues, so that the jumble of cords that sit behind our home entertainment centers could vanish.

It may take two years for these new standards to appear in products, Wi-Fi Alliance marketing director Kelly Davis-Felner told the Associated Press, with Blu-ray players likely the first. The Wi-Fi Alliance has partnered with the WiGig Alliance to promote the standards, and that group is made up of tech heavyweights like Cisco and Intel.

This push could be bad news for start-ups in the field of wirelessly moving HD video files across the house, according to this GigaOm story. Still, the opportunity to seamlessly move high-def video content from devices like the iPad to a television, or from a computer and cable box to the TV, would be a lovely development for geeks and interior decorators.


Samsung's Bada gets a developer kit

When I’m Bada I’m better?

Developers desperate to start creating applications for Samsung’s Bada platform can now start coding, though it will be few more weeks before there’s a handset to run them on.

The Software Developer’s Kit version 1 is available from the Bada Developers’ portal, which promises that the Bada-based Wave phone (which should be shipping by the end of the month) will be followed by “successive promising handsets”, and that Bada phones will be available globally later this year.

Bada is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s iPhone/iTunes combination – the platform is entirely owned by Samsung, which will approve and distribute all the applications. That might seem strange given that Samsung also supports both Android and Symbian and is a member of the widget-obsessed Wholesale Application Community, but never let it be said that Samsung left a base uncovered.

The Wave is an attractive enough handset, but at almost £400 it’s priced more like a smartphone than the mid-range feature phones that the Bada platform is supposed to enable applications for.

But the Wave is intended as a flagship phone for Bada, the one that developers use to show off their applications before selling them to punters equipped with lesser handsets.

How much lesser we don’t know, and until Samsung tells us it’s hard to imagine many developers rushing to create applications for a phone that promises all the expense of a smartphone without the features.


Apple Gianduia to Substitute Flash

Apple doesn’t need Flash, it has Gianduia

The war of words between Apple and Adobe over the former’s resolve to never to let Flash on its devices has taken a new turn now. Apple is all set to launch Gianduia, which is a substitute for Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight platforms, on its mobile devices. Apple had stated earlier that it would rather go for HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. Apple unveiled Gianduia at World of WebObjects Developer Conference, describing it as a client-side, standards-based framework for Rich Internet Apps to create quality online apps for its retail users.

If you think that Gianduia is a new thing, you are in for a surprise as this technology is already in use in its retail support applications such as One to One program, iPhone reservation system and Concierge program for Genius Bar and Personal Shopping reservations.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs had stated his opposition for Flash on Apple devices because it is “a closed system” and that Apple would support only open web standards. He further stated, “We know from painful experience that letting a third-party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in substandard apps, and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.” Will Gianduia will be a Flash-killer? Only time will tell.


Hacker Brings Android to the IPhone 3G, IPhone 3GS Up Next

Apple surely isn’t happy about this

Much like the open platform Windows invaded the traditionally closed hardware platform of Apple’s Macs — first unofficially, and then later officially condoned — Android is now establishing a beach head on Apple’s coveted iPhone.

Hacker David Wang, better known as “planetbeing” on the internet, made waves a few weeks ago when he showed off a first generation (2G) iPhone that he got running a modified Android OS kernel. Wang is well know in the hacking community for being one of the key contributors to the iPhone 3GS jailbreak. This week he showed off Android running on the iPhone 3G, or the version with the “nasty plastic, easily scratched back”, as Wang puts it.

Wang’s solution is dual booting. You can only run one OS at a time. Wang is using the OpeniBoot tool to manage the multiboot. Rebooting takes a while because the NAND and FTL (flash translation layer) drivers aren’t optimized yet, though Wang feels this will soon change.

Wang had to port UltraSn0w (from the iPhone Dev Team) into OpeniBoot to get the radio working. It starts running during the boot process — this is one of the slowest steps.

Currently almost everything — including Wi-Fi, internet, SMS, and MMS — is working in the Android port. The only thing not working is sound, which is a disappointment as you can’t make or receive phone calls. Don’t worry, though — Wang is promising that he’s make major progress in getting the sound fully working and ready for primetime.

There are now several new developers working on this exciting project. Wang states, “With their help I’m sure we’ll be able to bring the system to production quality before too long.”

Currently the code has not been published, but Wang plans to release a polished version within the next couple days for public consumption. Keep checking Wang’s website here.

Apple surely won’t be happy when they discover what Wang has been up to. It wouldn’t be surprising even, if they try to sue to stop the spread of Android on the iPhone. Apple has already stated that it believes jailbreaking and unlocking the iPhone to be illegal. Ultimately, though, it’s just one more sign that Android is threatening to do to the iPhone’s version of OS X what Windows did to MacOS/OS X on the personal computer.


Orange sets out iPad price plans

UK iPad owners offered pay-as-you-go, daily and weekly deals – kept separate from mobile phone plans

Owners of the 3G iPad in Britain will be able to buy mobile broadband access from Orange on a pay as you go, daily, weekly and monthly basis, the mobile phone network said today.

Prices start at £2 for one day’s 3G access and extend to £25 a month for 10GB of 3G browsing and 750MB of wi-fi usage, through BT Openzone hotspots. Vodafone and O2, who announced last month that they had also signed deals with Apple, are due to set out their pricing plans shortly.

Earlier today, Apple said it will start selling the iPad in the UK on 28 May with prices starting at £429. The cheapest 3G-enabled iPad, which also has wi-fi, will be a 16GB version at £529 including VAT; the 32GB 3G device will be £599 and the 64GB £699.

Orange is launching the device in Britain, France, Spain and Switzerland. In the UK it is offering a pay-as-you-go option that costs 5p per MB. Users of this tariff – which entails registering a credit card with Orange – will be charged a maximum of £40 a month, but can carry on browsing after using £40 worth of capacity (800MB).

Large data users, however, would be better off signing up to one of Orange’s four individual pricing plans, which all require payment up front.

For £2, customers can get a day’s worth of browsing – capped at 200MB. For £7.50, customers can get a week’s worth of browsing – up to 1GB. Beyond those usage caps, browsing is charged at 5p per MB.

There are also two contract options. Both are monthly contracts but can be cancelled at any time. For £15 a month, users get 3GB of 3G access plus up to 750MB of wi-fi browsing through BT Openzone hotspots. For £25 a month, users get 10GB of 3G access and 750MB of wi-fi through BT Openzone.

Consumers who want to use their iPad on a 3G network can pre-register for one of the micro-SIMs they will need in order to get online on the Orange website from Monday next week. The micro-SIMs can be obtained from Orange shops as well as directly from Apple.

The mobile phone companies had hoped to be able to tie their iPad pricing plans in with existing mobile phone subscriptions – so that, for instance, an iPhone customer could get unlimited iPad browsing for a few extra pounds per month. But Apple is understood to have made it plain that it wanted iPad mobile phone pricing plans to stand alone.

In the US, Apple’s wireless partner AT&T offers two contract-free options: $14.99 for 250MB per month and $29.99 for what it terms a month’s worth of “unlimited” 3G access. Customers can sign up directly through their iPad and check how much of their allowance they have used.


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