TUAW - The Unofficial Apple Weblog
Skylanders iOS versions officially announced
We've known since the beginning that the enormously popular toy/video game combo of Activision's Skylanders would come to Apple's iOS platform at some point, and now here comes the official announcement that Skylanders fans are getting not one but two different iOS games to play. Skylanders Battlegrounds will be the game that most closely matches the current console versions: It'll be a more standard RPG/action game that will even pair up with a Bluetooth "portal," to let players connect their Skylanders toys up to the in-game action, just like on the PS3, Wii and Xbox versions.
The portal will be available at retail stores sometime this November for US$49.99, along with three figures, a code for the downloadable iOS game and a "Platinum Treasure Chest" with codes to redeem for lots of in-app purchases. Even if you don't buy the portal, though, you'll still be able to pick up the game for a price "between $5 and $7" (probably) and play it without figures. But of course the big draw of Skylanders is this combination of physical toys and the digital titles: Players can level up their characters in the game, and then save that progress right onto the physical figurines.
And Skylanders: Lost Islands is a free-to-play take on the universe that looks a lot like your standard freemium town-building game. That one is already in beta in Canada, which means it should be available very soon here in the US (possibly within the next few weeks or so). Lost Islands should also work with the buy-it-separately Bluetooth portal, but Activision will also be kicking off its own social network soon, called Activate, that will tie together all of players' little figure data through the cloud as well. Both of these games should be out by next month, and fans of Skylanders (or, more likely, their parents) will have yet another piece of the series to buy and play.
Can't save PDF files from Safari with Mountain Lion? Here's the fix
Safari can view PDF files just fine, but for many people the problems start when you go to save the files or print them. The files get corrupted, and you're met with a message that tells you the file is damaged. There is no problem viewing a PDF you already have in either Apple's Preview app or with Adobe Reader. If Safari is involved, however, you are likely to have some issues.
You can try to open the file in Adobe Reader, and you'll get a similar message.
The cause seems to be a problem with Adobe Reader updates. There's a file in your Library/Internet Plug-Ins called 'AdobePDFViewerNPAPI.plugin'. Find it, and trash it. You'll also see a file called 'AdobePDFViewer.plugin'. Don't trash that one, it's fine.
I had this problem on both my Mac laptop and Mac Pro. I checked with a couple of friends and they all had the same problem. Some people have spent a lot of time on the phone with Apple and haven't gotten the problem resolved, as the issue rests with Adobe, not Apple.
Let us know if you've seen this, or if you haven't. Lots of people are affected, but you may not see the problem until you need to view or print that PDF. Saving a PDF link without opening it works fine, but if the document is opened in Safari, and then saved, then the trouble can begin.
Pocket Frogs getting a big update this week
NimbleBit has had two big freemium hits now with both Pocket Planes and (before that) Tiny Tower, but my favorite of the company's titles is still Pocket Frogs, where brothers and developers David and Ian Marsh first cut their teeth on the generous freemium gameplay they're now known for. And this week, they're returning back to that title with a big update: Pocket Frogs is being updated for the iPhone 5 with version 2.0 this Thursday.
Not only will the updated app include support for the iPhone 5's taller screen, but it's getting new content as well. Over 40 new frog breeds are being added, bringing the total number of collectible amphibians up to 100. And NimbleBit is also making another big change: They're switching the game's backup and social system from Ngmoco's Plus+ service into Apple's Game Center.
That's a pretty significant change, but a solid one, since the official Game Center service has become much more prevalent lately. But it does have one side effect: Players will need to make sure they have at least one install (and run) of the current client before upgrading to the new client. Otherwise, the Game Center version won't be able to grab the Plus+ backup, so all of your frogs will be lost.
Hands on with FreedomPop's free data for your iPad and iPod touch
FreedomPop's free data pitch is aimed at the thrifty consumer: put down a refundable deposit on a USB dongle or MiFi-style router (iPod touch cases are also an option) and receive a monthly 500 MB bandwidth stipend for life. For free.
If it sounds too good to be true, well, it might be. But before I get to that, let me give you a general idea of where FreedomPop is coming from.
FreedomPop is currently a Clearwire 4G WiMAX rebundler (they will be moving to Sprint in 2013). You can use FreedomPop's equipment in any area that Clear currently services. You choose from three plans:
- Free 500 MB - US$0/month for the first 500 MB and then $0.02/MB after. That's $20.00/GB. This is the bottom feeder plan that many consumers will choose.
- Casual 2 GB - $18/month ("for a limited time") for the first 2 GB, and then $0.01/MB after, or $10/GB.
- Premiere 4 GB - $29/month ("for a limited time") for the first 4 GB, and then $0.01/MB after, the same $10/GB as Casual.
Leaving family plan sharing aside, the Casual and Premiere data compare well to major carriers. AT&T's 250 MB/month plan costs $15 and $30 for 3 GB. Sprint offers 300 MB/month for $15 and 3 GB for $35. Verizon's offerings include 1 GB for $20 and 2 GB for $30. As you can see, FreedomPop's paid plans are competitive.
What's more you can share this data among multiple devices if you select the Freedom Spot hotspot. It supports up to 8 devices at once, and offers up to 6 hours of use according to FreedomPop's marketing text.
Penny Pinching Data Usage
My concerns surround the Free 500MB plan. I suspect most users will choose this plan. I don't see how this loss-leader approach readily extends towards a revenue stream to ensure the company's health and longevity.
That's because frugal users will likely disable FreedomPop's automatic top-off feature. In its default configuration, user accounts for the free plan auto-renew to paid $20 top-offs after 400 MB of bandwidth is used. Users can easily switch this feature off. (Set Billing > Billing Settings > Automatic Top Up > Enabled to No.)
So where else can FreedomPop earn from its free users? It provides a low-rent data-for-completed-offers program. Sign up for clubs, mailing lists, surveys, etc. and FreedomPop extends your free data with one-time boosts.
I honestly think users would probably prefer to pay $5 or $10 a month for the same 500 MB data plan and ensure the company's long-term health than see it try to make a go of it with this kind of low-end "sell your consumer information" approach.
That's because unbundled data is a precious commodity, and one that's hard to find frugal solutions for. Ever since AT&T killed their data feature plans back in April, it's been something that many users have done without.
As a point of comparison, Clear's unlimited data plans cost $35 and $50 for basic home and mobile use. These provide excellent alternatives for the high-end data consumer. It's the low-use, on-the-go consumer, who lives in areas with plentiful Wi-Fi who struggles to find an affordable solution for filling coverage gaps.
Tony Miller, FreedomPop's marketing VP, has given hints that the company will try to build additional revenue streams by adding services like VoIP. I'm not convinced that this will work.
It's not hard to beat AT&T's 3G (aka "4G") data service if you live in Denver. As you can see from the SpeedTest.net screencap that follows, AT&T's service is just awful. And yes, I live in a supported area.
Interestingly enough, I live outside the supported Clear zone. I'm in one of their "partially covered" rather than fully covered locations. (This translates to light green vs dark green on their service map.)
FreedomPop's Clear-powered WiMAX data absolutely smokes AT&T, both at home and around town. Here's a typical test from my iPad, when connected through the Freedom Spot. Be aware that each test consumes a fair portion of your monthly allowance, so you don't want to be running many of these tests unless you're doing a write-up for a blog.
Steve Sande, who lives about 10 miles south of me, uses Verizon on his 3G iPad. He regularly sees data numbers equal to or better than these while around Denver. Steve is in the middle of changing his iPhone AT&T service to Verizon for exactly these reasons. I may follow next year, when my current AT&T contract is up.
FreedomPop will be switching from Clear's WiMAX network to Sprint's LTE next year.
As much as I love the budget data FreedomPop is offering, I do have concerns about the company's long-term health. Their low-end Free plan doesn't seem fully thought out to me. If you sign up, keep that in mind.
At the same time, I've developed respect for Clear -- a service I never had an opportunity to test before. A quick Google search revealed mixed experiences with Clear customer support, but after this test, it's a service I'd consider using. I think it might work particularly as an alternative to my current iPhone-as-primary-data-consumer lifestyle, especially now that Apple offers the iPad mini.
I'm holding onto the FreedomPop for a while, to continue testing. Here's hoping the company can make it work. I'm just not convinced it can.