Digital Life: Don't worship iPad's second coming
Attending an Apple event feels more like a religious experience than a product launch. The invite always teases with breathless promises of revelations and when you arrive you're ushered into the "church" by a coterie of identically dressed disciples.
Last week, the place of worship for several hundred journalists was the vast Studio One at BBC TV Centre in London, normally home to the likes of Strictly Come Dancing. But instead of witnessing mincing celebs, we were there for unveiling of iPad 2 -- Apple's response to the army of rival tablets encroaching on its territory.
However, no one was prepared for the vision of the high priest himself, Steve Jobs, appearing via satellite link from San Francisco.
Jobs went on long-term medical leave in January and, frankly, few expected him to ever grace an Apple function again given his uncertain health.
But Steve was in full preacher mode as usual as he tore strips off rivals' efforts to emulate Apple's startling success with the original iPad (15 million sold in the nine months to the end of 2010).
"While others have been scrambling to copy the first-generation iPad, we're launching iPad 2, which moves the bar far ahead of the competition and will likely cause them to go back to the drawing board yet again," he said.
There's more than a grain of truth to Jobs's rhetoric but the redesign is far from radical.
Many observers speculate that Apple is doing just enough to keep its nose in front of upcoming competitors from Motorola and Samsung while it prepares a much more extensive overhaul, possibly to be released late this year.
After the presentation, Digital Life elbowed his way past hordes of hacks for a few minutes of hands-on time with iPad 2.
At first glance, it's difficult to see any difference -- the shape is roughly similar, just thinner. But a few seconds in the hand tells you the lighter weight (1.3lb vs 1.5lb) is noticeable and welcome.
The faster internals add some much-needed zip while working with many applications open.
No doubt, some people also will be pleased with the new video cameras, front and back, for online chatting.
We'll have a full review when iPad 2 goes on sale on March 25 for the same price as the models they succeed and starting at €500.
In the meantime, the "old" iPad will be sold off at a discount of up to €120 and at that price you're still getting a competitive tablet computer.
Last week, the gaming media got a sneak preview of the return of Duke Nukem, the foul-mouthed, chauvinistic star of several bestselling shooters in the 90s.
Duke is played for laughs, of course, as much at himself as others but no one's quite sure how his brand of politically incorrect humour will go down when it relaunches in May. Twenty years later, no one's making games like that -- except maybe Bulletstorm.
On the face of it, it appears a familiar space-marines shooter with characters chiselled, not coincidentally, from the Gears of War mould. But thanks to a script littered with some fantastically creative swearing and a scoring system that rewards inventive kills, Bulletstorm finds another level.
Enemies can be dispatched easily with a weapon but it's much more useful to juggle them into the air before, say, booting them to their death into a cactus spike or man-eating plant.
To the outsider, Bulletstorm's gruesome kill system, with its decapitations, maiming and impalements, may seem juvenile and crass. But taken in the spirit it's intended, it's more like a grotesquely funny game of trick-shot pool.
Packed with crazy weapons, genuinely varied landscapes and fizzing one-liners, Bulletstorm drags the shooter genre by the scruff of the neck in a welcome new direction.
Mario Sports Mix
Squeezing another drop from the Mario brand, this collection of four cartoony sports -- ice hockey, dodgeball, basketball and volleyball -- lacks variety and longevity. Despite the usual Nintendo polish, only the rapidly paced ice hockey stands out as one worth revisiting.
A Minipops version of the trashy Just Dance rhythm game, DJ leans heavily on the charm of kids singing versions of popular songs while waving their arms in time. The young audience will be much more forgiving of the abysmal motion tracking, however.
Mysterious case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
This DS edition of the hidden-object style of game popular on iPhone suffers because of the low resolution of the Nintendo screen.
Hunting for the clues to the story often degenerates into tapping endlessly with the stylus in the hope of triggering the required items. All this at a price three times that of the iPhone equivalents too.
Bits and bytes
Just the ticket online gallery step back in time
For those of you with an understandable dislike of Ticketmaster, Entertainment.ie now offers an alternative ticket service for Irish events.
Obviously, its reach is quite limited versus the Ticketmaster behemoth.
In fact, you might even say most of the shows it's promoting so far are a bit obscure but it's a good way to find ticket for smaller venues such as the Laughter Lounge or Project Arts Centre.
- You don't have to travel the world to see the greatest works of art -- just fire up a browser and head for Google's new Art Project.
Dubbed "Google Street View for paintings", it allows you explore 1,000 works of art from 17 museums around the globe.
You can stroll virtually through a museum or stop to examine a painting so closely you can see the brushwork. Venues on offer include London's National Museum to New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Step back in time
- Keen genealogists or those with an interest in Irish history will be fascinated by the launch of the Irish Archives Resource, a new online hub that tracks the digitisation of paper records.
It's a useful jumping off point for finding out more about your family tree or delving, for example, into the history of Irish film.
The IAR is not digitising anything itself yet, just pointing the curious in the right direction.