Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.
As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.
But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.
If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.
But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.
I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.
The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious.
The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.
There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2.
We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards.
The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.
However, memory cards for the Vita — which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita — are sold separately.
A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.
It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
The future of video games is increasingly shifting from discs to downloads over Internet-connected consoles, phones, tablets and PCs.
Microsoft Corp. is aware of this trend as much as any other player in the gaming industry and rolls out multiple promotions a year to bring attention to games available for download through its Xbox Live Arcade storefront on the Xbox 360 console. And next up for Microsoft is the Xbox Live Arcade House Party, which starts Feb. 15 and includes the launch of one game a week for four weeks.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, I went hands-on with Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which will be the first game to roll out in the month-long promotion.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a sequel to the on-disc game Alan Wake, which was released in 2010 to critical acclaim for story-driven game play that mixed a psychological thriller plotline with the action of a third-person shooter.
The game, which focused on a fictional fiction writer named Alan Wake and his quest to solve the mystery of his wife's disappearance in a small Washington town, was also praised for its inventive use of lighting, with Wake spending a lot of time running around in dark forests at night with a flashlight and a gun.
In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the game's hero finds himself in the deserts of Arizona. The impressive lighting effects are back and shooting mechanics are solid. I tried my hand at the new title's Fight 'til Dawn survival mode, which pits players in a 10-minute scene with wave after wave of enemies attacking. (You can check out our hands-on with the new game above.)
The game play was intense and challenging, and it should be a satisfying experience for fans of the original Alan Wake game as well as those of shooting games such as Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and the Call of Duty series' zombie modes.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare will also have a campaign of about four to five hours, depending on how much time a player spends exploring and digging into the game's story, said Oskari Hakinnen, a spokesman for Remedy Entertainment Ltd., the developer of the series.
For those who haven't played the original Alan Wake, there's no need to fret. Hakinnen said that the sequel will pick up where the first title left off story-wise, but it was written in a way that won't confuse those who are new to the world of Alan Wake. Pricing for the game hasn't yet been disclosed.
The other three titles coming out in this year's Xbox Live Arcade House Party are Warp, a new puzzle game from Electronic Arts; arena-based first-person shooter Nexuiz from THQ; and the eagerly anticipated I Am Alive, from Ubisoft, which follows a man searching for his wife and daughter a year after a worldwide disaster killed most humans on the planet.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot from Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Credit: Remedy Entertainment
The most interesting and impressive gadget I saw at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show this week was Nintendo's next video game console — the Wii U. It was also one of the riskiest products I saw, outside of Nokia's new Windows Phone handsets.
Despite not offering games with high-definition graphics, Nintendo's Wii home console changed the way people play video games, introducing motion sensing controllers called Wii remotes and a then-new level of casual games that appealed to millions of people who in the past didn't consider buying a gaming system. But since the Wii's launch in 2006, the gaming landscape changed as well.
Microsoft's Xbox has controller-free motion gaming with its Kinect technology. Sony has motion-sensing controllers with its PlayStation Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 console. Casual gaming is increasingly taking place on smartphones and not home consoles.
The Wii U intends to have an answer to all of its rivals, Nintendo of America's President Reggie Fils-Aime told me this week in an interview and hands-on demo of the new system in Las Vegas (you can see a video of our hands-on above). The demos we played were the same demos Nintendo showed off at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles last year.
The most obvious feature that separates the Wii U from rival hardware is the system's new tablet-like controller. Traditional buttons, triggers and joysticks are found in the Wii U controller, as is a 6.2-inch touchscreen in the middle of the unit that can be used by hand or with a stylus. The controller was 5.3 inches tall, 9 inches long and about 1 inch deep. There's also a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, with a front-facing camera, microphone, speakers and a motion-sensing strip to interact with the remotes introduced on the Wii.
So what can this new controller actually do? One gaming demo, called Chase Mii, was essentially video-game hide and seek. My character in the game was the one being chased and, with the Wii U controller's screen, I saw an entirely different view of the game then those I was playing against with an included map of the terrain I was using to hide from my chasers.
In another demo, Fils-Aime and Nintendo spokesman J.C. Rodrigo showed me a recording of a car driving around a street in Japan. The same image that was on the HDTV that the Wii U console was connected to showed up on the Wii U controller in my hands, but when I moved the controller to either side or above my head, the view changed. I could see the street in 360-degrees; the sky, the cars passing by, a rear view, all just by moving the controller around.
The potential that this sort of technology offers video game developers is hugely exciting if you love playing video games, as I do. The military shooter genre is hugely popular right now — how about the ability to see a digital battlefield in 360 degrees while not disrupting the view on your TV? Maps and menus on the Wii U's controller are an obvious choice as well.
The most important feature of the Wii U for video game developers, however, might be that it can handle high-definition gaming, up to 1080p in resolution. This can allow for developers to more easily develop games for Nintendo's new hardware alongside high-definition titles being made for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
We'll have to see whether or not Nintendo can actually get developers on board en masse to bring major titles to the Wii U, but adding HD gaming should make this option more attractive.
I saw a demo of a Legend of Zelda game in HD and it looked outstanding. The main character of the game, Link, had texture details in the fabric of his clothing that simply weren't possible on the Wii's lower-powered hardware. I was able to change major environmental details, such as being able to switch the scene from night to day and back, with just a tap on the Wii U controller's touchscreen.
The touchscreen also seemed to me to be a play to court developers who are building for smartphones and tablets. The Wii U's hardware will enable it to be a console that (if enough games are made) can offer something for the hardcore gaming crowd and something for the smartphone set. Angry Brids or Cut the Rope on a Wii U controller? Yeah, I'd love to see that and I'm sure Nintendo would too.
The Wii U controller's second screen can also act as the only screen for gameplay too. For example, if you're playing a game, and your roommate or partner wants to watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show, the Wii U can stream the game to the controller so you can keep gaming. Despite looking like a tablet, the Wii U controller isn't a tablet and isn't usable without the Wii U nearby.
But as impressive as the demo was, Fils-Aime and Nintendo didn't show up to CES with much new information about the Wii U. We still don't have a price for the system, launch titles haven't been announced and hardware specs are few and far between. The Wii U will play downloadable games and games on-disc. It will also be backwards compatible with Wii games. It will also have some undetermined amount of internal flash storage, four USB ports and at least one SD card slot will also be included for expanded storage. IBM is supplying a multi-core processor and AMD is supplying a graphics processor as well.
Fils-Aime also wouldn't say whether or not the Wii U will be able to support multiple Wii U controllers or not. This, in my opinion, is a huge question for an otherwise solid-looking piece of hardware. If the Wii U only supports one Wii U controller, I think Nintendo will be making a mistake. Unlike the Wii Remotes, the Wii U offers the experience of a traditional controller. Some games are better played by pushing buttons and using joysticks rather than flailing your arms. For example, with fighting games and shooters, many gamers prefer the precision and speed that a regular-old controller can offer. If only one person can use a Wii U controller at a time, playing the sorts of games with friends on the couch won't be as fun. Hopefully the new console will support multiple Wii U controllers and give gamers the ability to choose the gameplay set-up they prefer.
Nintendo still also hasn't offed any details on what it will offer in terms of online multiplayer. In my opnion, Microsoft's Xbox Live service is the best in console gaming and allows gamers to play with their friends online and talk in real time as they play in their respective homes. Online multiplayer has been something that so far Nintendo has flatly failed to include in a compelling or easy-to-use way with its home consoles. For that reason most games for the Wii are single-player games. I believe Nintendo has to get online gameplay right in order for the Wii U to succeed.
So, when will our questions be answered? Hopefully at E3 2012 in June, which will be the next time Nintendo makes a big push before the press with the Wii U.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Zelda in HD on the Nintendo Wii U console. Credit: Nintendo
Nintendo is set to launch the Wii U, a new video game console, later this year. And while there is a lot of excitement around the Wii U, there are also a lot of questions hovering around the Japanese company, which seems to have its back against the wall despite a history of innovation and success in an industry it has helped define.
The company's current home gaming system, the Wii, is on the decline, selling about 4.5 million units in the U.S. in 2011, down from about 7 million sold in 2010.
Meanwhile, the 3DS, Nintendo's new hand-held console, started out selling slowly when it launched in March. But by the end of 2011, the system sold about 4 million units in the U.S., hitting that mark faster than the Wii when it first launched in 2006.
With all that in mind, I sat down with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. You can see parts of our interview in the video above, but as expected, Fils-Aime said he didn't see sliding Wii sales as a negative but a positive leading into the release of the Wii U.
"The Wii is now approaching 40 million homes here in the United States, so from a penetration standpoint we're beginning to top out in terms of the total number of systems sold, and that's why it makes so much sense to prepare for the launch of the Wii U," he said.
The Wii U will still use the motion-sensing controller system introduced in the Wii, but will add to the mix a new tablet-like controller with a built-in 6-inch touch screen. Some have said that, so far, the Wii U's new controller is a winning idea, while others have questioned if it's already destined to fail.
Fils-Aime said Nintendo is on the path to breaking new ground again, just as it did when it added a joystick to a controller for the first time or when it was first to add motion and rumble feedback to controllers as well.
"The big innovation with the Wii U is the controller and the ability to have an interactive experience that leverages all of your traditional input buttons as well as a screen built right into the controller," Fils-Aime said. "Yes, the system is HD capable; it'll generate the most gorgeous pictures. But for us that's not enough.
"We need to continue pushing the overall experience forward. We need to bring new types of entertainment. New types of gaming and the combination of a big first screen — your home TV — coupled with a second screen in your hands, in our view, is going to bring gaming to a whole new experience and to continue driving the industry."
Fils-Aime offered little new information about the Wii U — we still don't know much about specs and Nintendo isn't announcing launch titles, pricing or release dates yet.
But for now, the Nintendo executive said hardware horsepower isn't the point as much as what the Wii U and its new controller will be able to do that rival gaming platforms — the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and even Apple's iPhone and iPad — can't.
"The system is capable to do the most complicated, the most HD-intensive types of games. But plus, now with a touch screen in your hands, all types of other gaming possibilities exist. So we want the full experience," Fils-Aime said, later adding, "One of the things that we think makes us different from all of the other companies here at CES is that we leverage technology for people to have fun."
Stay tuned to the Technology blog for more on the Wii U from CES. I also got to go hands-on with the Wii U, and on Saturday I'll offer my take on just how much fun the new system is.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Nintendo's new Wii U controller. Credit: Nintendo
Some times the coolest new things you see at the Consumer Electronics Show aren't gadgets or apps or even 55-inch OLED TV sets (although, admittedly, those are cool). Sometimes they're just technologies, which is what digital stereoscopic displays and gesture recognition were before they became 3D TV sets and XBox Kinect.
A good example this year is Alljoyn, an open-source software project coming out of an innovation lab run by Qualcomm. Alljoyn enables nearby users of an app to interact with each other, even when there's no local data network. Multiple people in the room can join the activity, whether it be playing a game, taking turns in the virtual DJ booth or working on an electronic whiteboard. And unlike collaborating through a congested Internet, there's little or no delay — the users' devices are seamlessly synchronized.
The magic isn't in the short-range communications technology — Alljoyn runs on top of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. What's special is the ability it gives developers to quickly add proximity networking to just about any app, even if they have no expertise in radio communications. For example, it took programmers at Namco only a week to add Alljoyn capabilities to their Pacman Kart Rally game, according to Qualcomm's Liat Ben-zur.
The demos at the Qualcomm booth showed how nearby tablets, smartphones and even a tablet and a connected TV could join in games and productivity apps. Because Alljoyn connects apps, not devices, users can collaborate simultaneously with separate groups on different programs, with no overlap — for example, working on a virtual whiteboard with one team while collaborating on a document with another.
Ben-zur said the potential uses include a wide variety of entertainment, education and business applications. The breakthrough here, she said, is that any developer will be able to make apps that can seamlessly discover and interoperate with related apps nearby. She added, "I believe this is a new Pandora's box for mobile."
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
Photo: Two tablets play an Alljoyn-equipped version of Spud-Ball by Signature Creative. Credit: Jon Healey
It's all fun and games for one company at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Seattle's Discovery Bay Games wanted to combine the modern iPad with the old-school arcade experience to give gamers the best of both worlds. The end result: Atari Arcade, a $60 console featuring a joystick and four push buttons that connects with an iPad or iPad 2, enabling users to play classic games such as Centipede, Pong and Asteroids using the tablet as a screen but the console as the controls.
"I think what people were missing was that real tactile experience of having the joystick and the buttons, because on the touchscreen you kind of lose the feeling," Discovery Bay Games spokeswoman Natalie Dent said. The tech and gaming company was giving demos of the device Monday at Digital Experience, a consumer electronics media event held in Las Vegas the night before the official opening of CES.
Created through a partnership with Apple and Atari, the Atari Arcade was released at Target, Toys R Us and Apple stores during the holiday season last year and was a bestseller for Discovery Bay Games, Dent said.
Consumers who buy the device have to download the Atari Greatest Hits app to their tablets to play the games; $9.99 gets you 99 classic arcade games.
Discovery Bay Games also released two other iPad-compatible devices, which the company calls "appcessories" on its website, over the holidays: the Duo Pop, a set of remote "poppers" (they look a bit like asthma inhalers) that operate as wireless game buzzers; and Duo Plink, a device geared toward younger children that sits on top of an iPad and acts as a scoring machine.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Organ Trail, a zombie-filled spoof of the beloved Oregon Trail computer game created in 1971 and played in elementary schools across America, is coming to mobile devices.
The Men Who Wear Many Hats, a group of indie developers that originally released Organ Trail as a free playable Flash game on its website in 2010, have raised more than $7,000 through the website Kickstarter, more than double their original fundraising goal. That gives them enough money to build a version of the game for the iPhone, iPad and Android.
“I often sit in awe, almost every day now, at the outpouring of love and support (and money) that community is giving us,” said Ryan Wiemeyer, a lead member of the group. “We know how to make games. We’re still learning how to put a product out. It’s pretty frightening, but I couldn’t be more excited to be pushing our group to new cool things.”
Organ Trail is based on The Oregon Trail, a computer game designed to teach schoolchildren about the challenges of 19th century American pioneer life — dysentery! Typhoid! Cholera!
In Organ Trail, instead of dealing with the trials faced by pioneers, the player deals with the trials of living in a world populated by bloodthirsty zombies.
“How will you cross the undead hordes?” read the directions to the game. “If you have money you might hire some bandits (if there are bandits). Or you can ford the undead and hope you and your bus aren’t swallowed alive!”
You know, just like The Oregon Trail, but not.
The Men Who Wear Hats released a free version of the game a few days before Halloween 2010 and report that it has since been played by more than 600,000 people.
Wiemeyer said the game might be available for the iPad in early spring, but that could change.
He also said the game was pretty easy to make because it is mostly a series of menus. The hard part was keeping it fun.
“We get to cheat a little because people already love the idea,” he said. “But the trick is to make something compelling enough that when that initial delight at all the puns and nostalgia wears off, we have them engaged in the experience.”
And how will it look? “We decided to stick to the Apple II color palette,” he said, “which is like 15 colors that all look like they came from an Easter-themed coloring book.”
– Deborah Netburn
Image: A screen shot from the Organ Trail game. Credit: The Men Who Wear Many Hats
Got an Apple iPhone this Christmas? Well, you're doing pretty well for yourself. It may or may not be Santa Claus' smartphone of choice and you successfully avoided waiting in long lines as many Apple fanatics do once a year when a new iPhone launches.
But marketing and hype aside, the iPhone is one of the best smartphone lines on the market and each of the devices currently available — the 3GS, the 4 and the 4S — run iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. With that in mind, here are five places to get started if you're a first time iPhone owner.
1. Photography apps: Apple's App Store (the only place you can get iPhone apps), with more than 140,000 apps available, is a major bragging right for the iPhone versus its competitors, but not all apps are created equal. However, no other smartphone platform can currently match the iPhone for slick apps that produce fun and artistic photos. The best place to start is likely Instagram, which combines a solid selection of filters to make photos look like they were shot on vintage film cameras and a social network of other users so you can see the world through other lenses. Hipstamatic is another popular choice, which takes the vintage filter approach to another level with the ability to mix and match digital lenses, flashes and film choices to create a more customized look than in Instagram. Another app, called SwankoLab, allows you to alter photos already taken using a simulated dark room.
2. Games: The iPhone is also arguably the best gaming smartphone out there and the choices here are plentiful. Angry Birds is one of the most popular games available on smartphones and is a good place to start. But other choices such as Robo Surf, Cut the Rope, Tiny Wings, Bumpy Road and Kosmo Spin are worth checking out too — each combining unique art styles, enchanting soundtracks and simple touch screen controls. For those looking for a bit more of a gaming challenge, the third-person shooter Minigore and puzzle game Scribblenauts impress. The sword fighting games Infiniti Blade and Infiniti Blade II show what the iPhone is capable of with detailed 3-D graphics and fast-paced action.
3. Music: Apple's iTunes allows for easy music buying, but there are plenty of other music related apps worth checking out as well. Shazam can listen to and then identify thousands of songs. Band of the Day is a great way to discover new music. Soundtracking is a unique social networking app that allows you to share what you're listening to with others, as well as check out what tunes they like. And if you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, the Spotify app is a must.
4. Built-in Twitter: If you're a big Twitter user, as I am, or even if you're new to Twitter, you're likely going to appreciate that the social network is baked into iOS 5. Checking out a website you care to share in the iPhone's Safari web browser? You can tweet that directly from Safari without having to go and open up a Twitter app. Same goes for photos, videos and locations in the maps app.
5. Ask a friend: As always, talking to a buddy can generate suggestions that may line up with your interests on just about anything — same goes here. Ask a friend who uses an iPhone what they like about the phone or available apps and you're bound to find something you may enjoy too.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A newly purchased iPhone 4S smartphone outside an Apple Store in New York. Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images
So, you got a new iPad for Christmas? Congratulations! You've totally been wanting one of those. But you also may be feeling overwhelmed. Your new iPad can be a digital recording studio, an alarm clock, and it can help you study for the Bar exam. So where is an iPad novice to begin?
Right here! We've put together a list of some our favorite iPad magazines, games, and books to help you get started with your new super-sleek super computer.
1. Get yourself some apps: Apple says it has over 140,000 apps in its store, and its adding more every day. That sounds like a lot to sift through, but do not panic. Trust in the wisdom of the masses and take a look at Apple's top-10 list of apps across various categories. Start by downloading a few free apps to see what you like. Some basic ones are Netflix, which lets you stream movies and TV shows right on your iPad, and Flipboard, which will arrange your Twitter and Facebook feeds in a magazine-style format.
2. Check out Apple Newsstand: The magazine publishing industry is hoping that tablets like the iPad will breathe new life into its faltering business, which is why major publishers like Conde Nast and Hearst are pouring resources into the iPad versions of their magazines, packing them full of photo galleries, how-to videos and animated spreads. Martha Stewart Living, Wired, Sports Illustrated and The New Yorker are all definitely worth looking into in iPad form. You'll find them all in the Newsstand app that is preloaded on your iPad.
3.Explore iBooks: This is another app that comes preloaded on the iPad. According to Apple, there are 700,000 titles in the store. Again, don't panic. Either search for a book you've been wanting to read or check out the best-seller lists if you don't know where to start. Publisher's Weekly just gave a great review to a poetry book app called Chasing Fireflies: A Haiku Collection. A lot of people love Penguin's Amplified ebook series version of Jack Kerouac's "On the Road." Our three-year-old can't get enough of "The Monster at the End of This Book" and "Miss Spider's Tea Party."
4. Want to play games? You'll find a dizzying number of them in the app store, but here are a few suggestions from the L.A. Times tech desk to get you started: Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. And for those who want a real 3D game experience, tech blogger Nathan Olivarez-Giles says Infinity Blade is the best.
5. Talk to friends: We gave you a few places to start, but the easiest way to find great apps is to talk to people who already have an iPad and can tell you what they enjoy most.
Image: A customer tries out the iPad 2 at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York in March. Credit: Emmanuel Dunland / AFP/Getty Images.
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
What do popular iPhone games have to do with a little-known indie pop band that hails from Brisbane, Australia?
Well … nothing. But that didn't stop the band Hey Geronimo from conceiving, and then actually making, a music video for their single "Why Don't We Do Something?" that incorporates real-life versions of Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Cut the Rope and Flight Control.
It's neat. It's funny. Cats are involved, and so are dogs in costumes. And it's gotten the band worldwide attention on YouTube ,where their goof-ball video has received more than 650,000 views in just two weeks.
Of course, just because a video is goofy, doesn't mean it was easy to make.
Pete Kilroy, lead singer of Hey Geronimo and the producer of the video, said the band spent six months working on and off to make the video. "Making films with no money = hard yakka!" he wrote in an email.
He also said he thought the Plants Vs. Zombies part was the most fun to make, "Until one of the sunflowers fainted… (It was 100 degrees!)"
The best parts to watch, in our opinion, are the all too brief Angry Birds scenes in which members of the band, dressed in full Angry Bird costumes, jump on a trampoline and then hurl themselves into a life-size replica of the elaborate structures in the game.
Kilroy said he and his crew built the set out of "Lots and lots of polystyrene," and added that he is "on a first-name basis with Dorris and Meryl down at the box factory now."
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: The Brisbane, Australia-based band Hey Geronimo has made a music video that riffs off of popular iPhone games. Credit: Hey Geronimo
If you're familiar with ZTE in the U.S., then you're familiar with low-cost or free phones from prepaid or contract carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, and from major carriers such as AT&T.
And you'd also know that ZTE's phones are nowhere near challenging top-tier handsets such as the Apple iPhone, or Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. Like HTC used to do, ZTE often makes products devoid of their own brand for carriers looking for entry-level devices.
But next year, the Chinese company is looking to change things up and launch a high-end smartphone in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
A high-end ZTE handset, running on speedy 4G LTE networks, could arrive toward the middle of next year and "by 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE," said Lixin Cheng, ZTE's North American president, in a Hong Kong interview with the Journal.
Such a smartphone would offer iPhone-like features at a price still somewhat lower than Apple's handset, Cheng told the Journal, declining to go into specifics about price.
The newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, starts at $199 for a unit with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, increasing to $299 for 32 gigabytes and $399 for 64 gigabytes.
The idea may seem a bit far-fetched if you've never heard of ZTE before, but the company's growth is very real. As noted by the Journal, ZTE grew to a 5% share of global cellphone shipments in the third quarter of the year.
That recent push propelled ZTE to pass Apple as the No. 4 shipper of cellphones (not just smartphones) in the world, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. Aside from phones, ZTE also makes mobile hotspot and USB-wireless dongles for carriers such as T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.
ZTE is "in talks" with U.S. carriers about selling its high-end phones, which may run either Google's Android operating system or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software, Cheng said in the report.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ZTEusa.com, ZTE's website for the U.S. market, which displays the AT&T Avail, an Android smartphone ZTE builds for AT&T. Credit: ZTE