Commentary

More Cheers Than Jeers

I must get a dozen "have you seen this?" emails a week from readers and contacts trying to turn me on to new mobile apps, sites, widgets and games. I am a total sucker for this kind of prodding. If there is such a thing as a geeky mobile hipster (or a hip mobile geek), I must be it. I have this fear of missing out on something really cool, so I suffer through piles of badness and mediocrity each week. I confess that I am like Barney Fife with a bullet always ready in his front shirt pocket. A bank of review phones from the major carriers sits at my side ready to answer the call of the cool.

That's until my head starts to hurt and the mobile bookmarks on my feature phones fill up. Then I know it is time for a brain dump. So, in no particular order of importance, here are just a few of the things I must say something about before I make room for more random coolness on my phones.

God of Woe? Game designers continue to believe that the console experience can be ported satisfactorily to a phone. With painful irony, Sony has taken its marquee "God of War" action franchise and at once created from it one of the best Playstation Portable titles available and one of the worst mobile phone games I have ever played. The PSP version of this action hack and slash pushes the PSP's graphics beyond what many of us thought possible. It beautifully downscales the control scheme, visual point of view and game play episodes for the handheld console. In fact, the game is so good at keeping the combo attacks manageable with the PSP's limited controls, I actually play this version better than the full console version. I have met an action game that is as diminutive as my gaming skills.

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The phone version defies every one of these good examples. The characters are so tiny they seem more laughable than heroic. The control instructions in the first five screens are too small to read -- let alone manageable enough to execute. And visually the game gives the player confusing feedback, so you never really know if you are close enough to an opponent to execute a move. The only thing this game proves is that it's really possible to damage a franchise with a bad mobile execution.

Obama Girl On-Demand. I am starting to dig the way Verizon VCast is aggregating a wondrous range of video clips into its Election 08 channel. All the major networks are here, some, like ABC and CNN, with very fresh clips; others, not so fresh. But what is cool is the thoroughly democratic mix of genres, from comedy to high-minded analysis and even viral videos. Interviews with Playboy Playmates on foreign policy sit inches away from Hillary's latest stern challenge to Barack. This is the kind of content aggregation that is just fun to browse because it is both targeted and diverse at the same time. We need more of this in carrier-level content programming, a light editorial hand that helps focus our attention on featured content.

Shh! Can't you see I am reading my phone? The absolutely brilliant TextonPhone Web app for iPhone is proving to me that we can and will read long-form media on a handheld device. You can find and load scores of public domain titles from the Gutenberg Project into an interface that is actually very legible. Buttons for making notes, maintaining bookmarks, and accessing other readers' recommendations make that Amazon Kindle look frowsy by comparison. A tap of the touch screen turns the page, and there is still enough text per screen to feel satisfied.

It's raining iPhone apps. All eyes seem fixed on the June release of the iPhone 2.0 update that will run third-party apps. Word is that 100,000 developers downloaded the SDK within days of its release. But as we lurch toward a more open iPhone-iverse, companies like Weather Channel are hinting at what may be in store. The beautifully executed Web app lets you tap on hours of the current day to make the main weather status screen actually fade into a graphic that reflects the anticipated conditions. The map page lets you overlay road and aerial views, clouds and radar without reloading the page. The most amazing thing about using this app over time is that you come to prefer it over the full Web version. In it I can glimpse how deft mobile programming will not just extend a Web brand but even surpass it with concise, well-customized data.

Perhaps mobile media suffers from a bit of an inferiority complex. Instead of "extending" brands or creating mobile "versions," of Web sites, the starting point should be deciding how a mobile platform actually can improve on our interaction with content.

  

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