Tag Archives: Design

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The Masterful Audio of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The original Legend of Zelda came out in 1986 on the NES. Games were evolving from endurance tests to simple narratives in the Socratic tradition. Having recently stunned the world with Super Mario Bros in 1985, legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto set-out to create a game with a world. Miyamoto grew up in Japan exploring the fields, woods, and caves of Kyoto. He designed the first Legend of Zelda to be “a miniature garden that players can put inside their drawer.” He combined Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, and the Arthurian legend of the sword in the stone to create what would become one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises.

Zelda Creator Shigeru Miyamoto

Zelda Creator Shigeru Miyamoto

31 years and over 18 iterations later, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for Nintendo Switch to widespread critical acclaim—many publications have declared BOTW to be among the greatest games ever created.

As any game designer knows, audio is vital to providing an audience with feedback. As with every element of the game, Nintendo has taken Zelda’s audio to a new level with Breath of the Wild. Here is our review and breakdown of what makes the audio of BOTW so special:

MUSIC

Nintendo composer Koji Kondo initially intended to use Maurice Ravel’s Bolero as the theme music for the original Legend of Zelda in 1985, but upon learning the copyright was intact, he composed the legendary “Zelda Theme”. Nintendo has always dedicated a large amount of time and care to the music of Zelda, but with BOTW, they’ve taken things to the next level.

Acute Zelda-philes will recognize the integration of electronic and orchestral instrumentation as innovative to the franchise. Music has always been used to give the user feedback regarding the setting— Dungeon Theme, which plays when Link is in a dungeon level.

In music, this technique is called a leitmotif: a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.

In BOTW, music is used to delineate location, themes, characters, and even special enemies! While the combat theme plays fighting most baddies, anyone who has played BOTW will recognize the infamous Guardian Theme and of course the Hinox Theme.

The first time the player hears these songs come on, it is scary and immediately invests you with a bombastic sense of imminent danger.

Music changes by location and by time of day, as demonstrated by the Gerudo Town Day and Night songs.

In the Korok Forest, when entering uncharted territory, the user hears an eerie tune that gradually increases in volume until the user is transported back to the start of the forest, as demonstrated in this video:

Shards of stories are told through musical sequences sung by Kass, dispersing exposition about the world and clues to the puzzles the user must solve.

All told, The Legend of Zelda Soundtrack has about 211 songs! Dedicated players can easily invest hundreds of hours into an open-world RPG, so diversifying the music is vital to keeping players engaged and preventing  the game from feeling repetitive. Big, sweeping orchestral soundtracks like these are saving symphony orchestras, according to the Wall Street Journal.

SOUND DESIGN

Longtime composer and sound supervisor Hajime Wakai oversaw the sound of BOTW. While audio cues for sound effects in the Zelda series traditionally have had a very lo-fi electronic feel, BOTW uses fully orchestrated, live-performed instruments, investing the user with the feeling of watching a live performance. Wakai recorded over 10,000 different sounds for the game. In the Nintendo blog, he explains the many different types of footsteps.

“I mixed various kinds of sand so to get good footsteps. We searched for a combination of materials and how to apply them for the sound of the equipment. Ice boards melt and crack each time they walk and have to be replaced. The studio is full of stinky smells as you continue stepping on the grass. There were various hardships.”

Check out these photos from inside the sound studio:

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The intricacies of the sound design are on full display in BOTW, with different sounds for hitting flesh creatures, hitting bone creatures and the very notable sound of the Master Sword clashing against a Guardian:

The sound of BOTW enhance the experience and helps the user FEEL the game. Perhaps no better example of Sound Design doing this is the sound effect made when a user breaks their weapon:

Perhaps the biggest departure from the Zelda series is the use of voices. While Zelda games traditionally only represents dialogue with text and strange grunts, BOTW includes cut-scenes with fully-voiced Zelda, Daruth the Goron, Mipha the Zora, and more. BOTW incentivizes accruing these cut scenes or “Shattered Memories” by having them be collectable. Only after collecting all of the “Shattered Memories” can the user watch the story of the game in full from front to back.

OVERALL

Given the grand scale of BOTW, it’s no surprise that the game overdelivers when it comes to its soundscape. Nintendo’s first major entry into the Zelda series in 6 years is a masterpiece. Game designers take note of what is perhaps the best sound design ever created for a video game.

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Integration with Siri and iMessage: Everything Your App Can Do

The upgrade from iOS 9 to iOS 10 was the biggest upgrade iOS has received in its 11 year history. As we covered in our blog How iOS 10′s Open Functionality Can Take Your App to the Next Level, the biggest upgrade to the operating system was the opening up of Siri and iMessage for third-party extensions.

The ability to integrate applications with iMessage and Siri creates a host of new functional possibilities for software developers. Here’s our rundown of the top ways to improve apps through Siri and iMessage integration:

SIRI INTEGRATION

As Alexa has proved, the voice assistant is burgeoning billion dollar business. With Google and Amazon leading the pack, Apple has taken many steps to improve Siri, including opening Siri up to third party integration.

However, Apple is prioritizing quality over quantity when it comes to Siri integrations.  Limiting the types of apps that can integrate with Siri enables Apple to build out robust integrations that take into account complex verbal applications. With robust integrations, Siri will be able to fulfill actions without forcing the user to alter the colloquial, natural construction of their spoken sentences. In other words: the integration is comprehensive, but it will only work with the following types of apps:

  • VoIP (Voice over IP) Calling
  • Messaging
  • Payments
  • Lists and Notes
  • Visual Codes
  • Photos
  • Workouts
  • Ride Booking
  • Car Commands
  • CarPlay
  • Restaurant Reservations

Siri integrations use “intents”. Apps that fit into the aforementioned categories describe a set of intents, or things the app can do, and Siri categorizes spoken orders by the user into intents to determine the next logical action.

Siri can pull up photos from applications like Vogue Runway and Looklive through voice command. It can send money to friends through Square Cash and Monzo, and can send messages through WhatsApp and LinkedIn. Siri’s vocabulary can process complex requests like “Hey Siri, show me my best photos of idyllic sunsets taken last summer using The Roll.”

iOS 11 opened up a host of new intents. Siri can now lock smartcars and manage notes and to-do lists in productivity apps, as well as complete on-the-spot language translations.

With Siri integration, app developers can make use of one of the most extensive digital vocabularies on the planet to make life easier for users.

IMESSAGE APPS

iOS 10 not only opened iMessage up to developers, it also spawned iMessage apps: apps designed exclusively for the iMessage platform.

iMessage integration allows make it easy to pull up documents, links, and information right from iMessage and send it on the fly. Productivity apps like Evernote can integrate to allow for updates to be both sent and updated through iMessage. Travel apps like AirBNB make it easy to discuss potential travel plans. Games like Words with Friends and GamePidgeon make it easy to simultaneously play games and text. The Starbucks iMessage app allows users to send digital gift cards using Apple Pay. Dropbox and OneDrive make files stored in the cloud easily accessible and shareable.

Unlike Siri, there is no limitation on what types of apps can integrate with iMessage. Due to limited functionality, enthusiasm for developing apps exclusively for the iMessage platform is fading according to Mac Rumors, but integrating with iMessage can greatly enhance the UI of existing apps.

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The Best New Features of iOS 11

While we thoroughly enjoyed iOS 10’s open functionality and all it offered app developers, Apple’s premiere operating system is due for a refresh. iOS 11 has been making waves in its public beta release, here are the top upgrades coming to Apple’s landmark OS:

MAJOR UPGRADES FOR IPAD

Apple’s iOS 11 preview states right off the bat: “A giant step for iPhone. A monumental leap for iPad.” iOS 11 offers a number of improvements for iPad users.

The improved Dock now looks a lot like the macOS dock. Users can put dozens of apps in the doc and easily pull it up by swiping upward.

Need to use two apps at the same time? iOS has your back. Like Picture-In-Picture Mode for Android, which we detailed last week in our coverage of Android Oreo, iOS 11 allows you to use two apps at the same time—something that will inevitably come in handy on the large screens of the iPad.

Apple Pencil Instant Notes via Redmond Pie

APPLE PENCIL receives a major upgrade in iOS 11. Instant Markup makes it easy to mark up PDFs, screenshots and more. Instant Notes and Inline Drawing let you customize your screen. The Scan and Sign feature also makes it easy to sign important documents online and send them in the flash of an eye.

SIRI MATURES

WIRED recently detailed the path toward improving the voice of iOS: Siri. While Google and Amazon have excelled in their virtual assistant development, Siri seems to have lagged behind. iOS 11 revamps Siri’s voice to sound much more natural, while also teaching her to translate Chinese, Spanish, French, German, or Italian.

GET READY FOR AUGMENTED REALITY!

When Pokemon Go took the world by storm, “Augmented Reality” became a household name. Now, the time has come for app developers rejoice! iOS 11 features ARKit, a new development framework that makes it easy for developers to build incredible AR experiences.

ARKit allows developers to create 2D or 3D elements in the live view from iPhone and iPad camera’s in order to make them appear as if they exist in the real world. ARKit combines device motion tracking, camera scene capture, advanced scene processing, and display conveniences to make building AR experiences a breeze.

Check out some of the best AR experiences built with ARKit so far.

CAMERA TIME

Thanks to a new compression technology, iOS 11 will be able to store video using less space than ever. Additionally, the camera will allow users to loop live videos, to trim and edit live videos, to grab a still from a live photo, and to capture time and movement with long exposure photos.

Apple App Store via BGR

APP STORE REDESIGN

The rigorous standards of Apple’s App Store always lent itself to curation. With that in mind, Apple has redesigned the App Store to emphasize discovery. The new App Store will offer a completely separate tab for Games, a variety of daily stories and a tab for the best apps of the day, all curated by Apple!

FILES, PAYMENT, AND MORE

iOS 11 is a comprehensive upgrade that comes equipped with a host of other great additions, including:

- FILES: Never lose track of important documents again! The Files app makes it easy to find files stored on iOS devices, in iCloud Drive, and even across other cloud services like Box and Dropbox.

- APPLE PAY IN IMESSAGE: iOS 11 will make peer-to-peer payments easy, allowing users to send Apple Pay payments as a part of iMessage.

- CONTROL CENTER: The Control Center has received a complete redesign. The new Control Center will appear all on one page and is customizable, allowing users to personalize the design to the most helpful layout.

TAKEAWAYS

If you are an iPad user, you are truly in for a treat when iOS 11 comes out. If you only use iPhone, iOS 11 still delivers a fresh redesign with improved functionality. iOS 11 is yet another solid entry in Apple’s OS canon.

SEO Pro Tips: Perfecting the Title Tag

Over 100 billion searches per month are made on Google worldwide. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) has become one of the top marketing disciplines for anyone trying to drive web page traffic and digital revenue.

Title tags are one of the most important facets of SEO. Title tags are the titles of web pages that display in search engine results pages (SERPs) and as the clickable headline for a given result. They are the most obvious element in a search result and are pulled to the forefront of SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). They display as below:

Social networks use title tags to determine what to display in the link preview when you share a page:

Title tags are extremely important for SEO, social sharing, and UX. They are one of the major on-page SEO elements. Keywords in title tags will factor heavily into a web page’s rank in any keyword-based search query.

Below find some of the best practices for crafting the perfect title tag.

KEYWORD EFFECTIVELY: Since title tags have a direct affect on SEO, effective keywording is crucial. Putting important keywords in the front of the title tag will increase SEO rankings, while keywords and search phrases at the end of the title tag will be less of a factor. For this very reason, it is best to put a company or website name at the end of the title tag, unless that name is an important keyword phrase. Keyword stuffing, or overloading keywords without making sense, will result in penalization. Ultimately, keywording effectively means writing clearly to an intended audience while factoring in important search phrases.

OPTIMIZING LENGTH: Title tags are not measured by length, but by a 600-pixel limit. Pixels do not equate to characters since certain letters require more pixels to compose than others. 600 pixels generally equate to about 50-60 characters. Measuring pixels can be made easy with this pixel length measurement tool by Search Wilderness.

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH: Statistics show 48% of marketers worldwide identified keyword/phrase research as the most effective SEO tactic. Effective research means honing in on your audience and enacting relevant keyword searches to observe the organic search competition. It is also important to note the inorganic competition: promoted ads for web pages that are boosted to the top of searches by Google AdWords.

Having a solid understanding of what a web page is up against in search engines helps web developers optimize their pages to stand out in the face of the competition. Since the competition and search rankings are constantly changing, research is an ongoing process. 34% of marketers cite frequent website updates as a key to their success.

PIPES “|”: Pipes can be used to punctuate and divide sentiments while minimizing punctuation and word count. See below for an example:

As with any copywriting, writing for an audience is crucial. Since the Title Tag is often the first thing a search user will see about your website, it is ultimately very important that it clearly communicates the subject of the web page and entices the intended searcher. Effective title tags are the first step on the way to SEO dominance.

Stay tuned for next time when we explore how to write an effective meta description!

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How To Design Battery-Efficient Geolocation Apps

The ability for smartphones to offer location services fostered major opportunities for app developers looking to create new apps and enhance functionality of existing apps. Tinder, FourSquare, & Waze use geolocation in the center of their functionality to great success. In combination, these three apps can help a user determine a dinner companion, restaurant of choice, and route to the restaurant. By delivering location-sensitive information to users regardless of where they are in the country, these apps appeal to massive audiences.

Programming geolocation services into an app will have a major impact on the overall quality of the app—and it’s easier said than done. Inefficient geolocation services drain device battery life and deliver inaccurate location data. When apps drain battery life, users uninstall them. In order to determine the best method of programming geolocation services, it is vital for app developers to know who is going to be using the app and how they are going to use it.

Location can be determined by a smartphone in a number of ways. The most widespread include:

GPS: All modern iOS & Android smartphones are equipped with GPS technology. GPS can use at least four satellites to determine a user’s location within about 60 feet.

Cell ID: When GPS isn’t available, phones can use Cell ID, information from cellular towers, to determine location. Cell ID is ideal in big cities with vast amounts of cell towers. Serial fans should be familiar with how cellular tower information can be vital in identifying one’s location. GPS & Cell ID can also work in conjunction to deliver a more precise GPS location.

Wi-Fi: Devices can detect Wi-Fi networks in the same way they can detect cellular towers, but Wi-Fi is more precise as Wi-Fi networks cover smaller regions. Devices can use RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indication) to refer signals from the phone with Wi-Fi points database. Devices can also use the user’s frequently visited places, a profile or wireless fingerprint based on locations in Wi-Fi networks frequented by the user. Wi-Fi can identify a user’s position within 2 meters of accuracy.

The decision of how an app should prioritize these three methods to determine location is a vital one. If users are located in the city, that means both dense Wi-Fi router and cell tower coverage will open up options. If the app is being used primarily in a domestic situation, Wi-Fi might be both the most accurate and efficient method. Apps designed for rural areas may have to use Wi-Fi due to lack of cell towers.

Geofencing Graphic from Applidium

GEOFENCING

Geofencing utilizes a device’s GPS to determine a user’s distance from a particular point. Geofencing can sense when a user enters within a set radius defined by the coordinates of its center. Geofencing will sense when users are inside or outside of a retailer and offer action prompts for either space. There are three types of geofencing:

Static geofencing is based on a user’s position in relation to a specific place. For example, a retailer app sends a message to users who pull into the parking lot of a mall containing the retailer.

Dynamic geofencing takes into account both a user’s location and a changing data stream. For example, a parking app sends the user a message about a recently evacuated parking space that the user is approaching.

Combined geofencing determines when a user enters into a location in relation to other users. For example, apps like Yelp, Facebook, or FourSquare send notifications if a friend checks into a nearby merchant .

CREATING BATTERY-EFFICIENT APPLICATIONS

Making a geolocation app battery-efficient is one of the biggest challenges  app developers face in the programming stage. Developers must create a comprehensive strategy based on their audience.

ACTION THRESHOLDS: Defining accurate action thresholds and use-cases for an app’s geolocation services will dictate its level of battery-efficiency. The more precise your location accuracy requirements, the greater the battery drain. Action thresholds and use-cases define how an app is intended to be used, allowing a framework for developers to enact an efficient model of internal processes for location determination.

COMPREHENSIVE TESTING: Testing the app aggressively to gather a large amount of data is the only way to know the most efficient action thresholds. The more the developer understands how an app is being used, the more they can refine their programming. After release, continuing to gather analytics from user behavior and refine tactics based on how users are getting value from the app becomes a crucial ongoing process.

POLLING FREQUENCY: One of the major variables dictated by action thresholds is polling frequency. The more an app polls for locations, the better its location accuracy. The necessary level of location accuracy varies depending on the app. The precision of location accuracy necessary for an app to be functional can vary. A restaurant app, for example, might be able to get away with accuracy from 200 meters to a few kilometers, while an app that locates friends might need accuracy within 10 – 20 meters.

Evaluating the most efficient polling frequency requires thorough use-cases and some creativity. Programmers can design algorithms to reduce polling frequency if an app hasn’t changed locations for several minutes. Programmers can also analyze the speed of the device and use this data to change polling frequencies. A developer may elect to increase polling frequency as a car accelerates to ensure they maintain location accuracy within a selected radius.

DEFERRING TO OS: Many major mobile platforms will share geolocation information at an operating system level. As a result, any app that is listening can receive location updates requested by other apps. By deferring to other apps already polling for location data, apps can minimize battery drain while still retaining acceptable location data.

Check out Apple and Android’s developers’ sites for more information on best practices for programming location services.

How Mobile Commerce Is Changing Retail Sales

Smartphones have brought about unparalleled convenience in our daily lives. We are constantly connected to our rolodex of contacts with a variety of methods of communication. We can access all the information available on the world wide web anytime. Consumers looking to make purchases on the go can find the nearest store with ease. For businesses, the mobile platform represents not only a major avenue for advertising, but an opportunity to give customers the ultimate convenience when purchasing products.

According to Internet Retailer, mobile commerce represents 30% of all US e-commerce and rose by 38.7% from 2014 to 2015. According to The Mobile Playbook, the absence of a mobile presence is the financial equivalent of closing a store for one day a week. Mobile commerce drives sales, and businesses lacking a mobile strategy are missing out on a major opportunity to increase revenue. Here are the top mobile commerce trends for 2016:

INTEGRATING PHYSICAL WITH DIGITAL

Although the digital world is virtually omnipresent in households, the appeal of immediately receiving one’s purchases by shopping in store remains attractive. Retailers are increasingly offering a variety of online + in-store options to capitalize on the convenience of digital and the immediacy of making a physical purchase.

Apps like Curbside have partnered with Target & Kroger’s to enable customers to reserve their purchases and skip the line when picking up products.

Beacon-enabled features like geo-targeted offers and loyalty rewards are becoming more and more popular. Geo-targeted offers can drive in-store traffic when delivered effectively. According to Target Marketing Magazine, 85 of the top 100 retailers are planning to adopt beacon technology by the end of 2016. Business Insider has predicted beacons will directly influence over $44 billion in US retail sales in 2016.

PERSONALIZED MOBILE PAYMENTS DRIVE LOYALTY

Although services such as Apple Pay and Android Pay were once hailed as the future, they have had a hard time receiving mass adoption. While mobile payment services haven’t gained popularity, the mobile wallet has made a major impact on commerce. Starbucks drives 16% of transactions through its mobile app. Walmart Pay arrived in December 2015, and now Target is next in line to develop their own payment app.

WEARABLES ON THE RISE

According to Arc, there will be a 61% growth in wearable ownership in 2016. App developers and retailers are still plotting on how to capitalize on wearables. Many anticipate a hands-free shopping experience in which one can simply walk out with their purchases and have automatic charges through wearable devices. Malls and large stores like Walmart may use wearables to make it easier for consumers to navigate stores. Wearables represent a major avenue for retailers to create innovative strategies and dictate trends to come.

THE MOBILE WEB DRIVES PURCHASES

While about 85% of time spent on mobile devices occurs in apps, the mobile web has actually proven to be a more successful in driving website traffic. While app usage is prevalent, consumers spend 80% of their app time on their top 3 apps. The mobile web drives twice the amount of site traffic than mobile apps. With 82% of smartphone users looking to their phones in stores when deciding what to buy, many anticipate the mobile web to surpass apps as the largest revenue driver in the next few years.

HOW CAN MOBILE COMMERCE HELP YOUR BUSINESS?

With technology in constant flux, the potential to drive revenue with a refined mobile strategy is constantly growing. Mobile strategies must be created, enacted and reevaluated with every new OS and device. Mobile is an ongoing investment. Understanding the value of a mobile strategy and how each device can enrich a customer’s interaction with your business will lead to long-term revenue growth.

5 Essential Mobile Game Monetization Strategies to Keep Your Pockets Full

A recent study by Venture Beat showed that less than 1% of mobile game players contribute 48% of total revenue to game publishers. Inability to effectively capitalize upon this hyper-concentrated group of revenue drivers leaves many mobile game developers in the red. The rise of the Freemium model has essentially killed the paid gaming app, leaving many developers scratching their heads on how to turn a profit out of their passion. Here are some of the best methods for mobile game monetization:

1. SEGMENTATION Without a price to download, app publishers can no longer rely on a single method of monetization. Thus segmentation, the division of profit streams, is key to any mobile game monetization plan. App monetization revenues stem from three major categories: in-app purchases, subscription-based premium upgrades, and ad revenue. Highly-successful games can also bring in money through sponsorships, merchandise, and even big-budget Hollywood movies, but the bulk of app developers generate revenue from inside the phone. Experienced mobile game developers use their understanding of each of these revenue streams and how they relate to their target audience to leverage multiple revenue streams within their games.

2. REWARDED AD FORMAT Ads and in-app purchases are both great assets to mobile game developers looking to monetize, but what if you could play them off each other to increase both sources of revenue? That’s the idea behind the rewarded ad format. In exchange for watching full ads during breaks in gameplay, users receive in-game rewards, power-ups, lives, etc. The incentive increases video completion rate, as well as ad revenue, and preview premium features to entice more in-app purchases. While the rewarded ad format can lead to a surge in both in-app purchases and ad revenue, it still requires strategy. Keeping the audience in mind by ensuring the user base will find the content of the ad interesting will increase completion rate. Strategic rewarded ad placement is also key to keeping users engaged. Rewarded ad overkill will alienate users and prevent them from playing the game. For more tips on rewarded ads, check out this awesome article by InMobi.

Castle Clash Rewarded Ad via AdWeek

3. FREEMIUM The popular Freemium monetization method entails developers offering a free download of the most basic form of the app to entice the user, then premium services and features available for purchase or through a subscription fee. The Freemium model drives revenue through in-app purchases, premium features available through subscription fees, and ads. Apps like Tinder and Candy Crush have capitalized on their massive user base by enticing users to make in-app purchases and update to premium accounts. Candy Crush also uses social media to allow users to receive premium features in exchange for sharing with their friends.

4. NATIVE ADS Native ads are advertisements designed to match the form and function of their surroundings. TwitterFacebookGoogle, and Instagram all offer native ads and tools to help developers create and customize their ads. Native ad placement increases the chance of engagement by seamlessly blending the design of the ad in with the UI of the app. While many ads stand out in the context of a mobile app, native ads look like they are a part of the app rather than an advertisement. Some say native ads are unethical and deceptive, while others praise the improved customer targeting and enhanced content. Effective native ads blend seamlessly with the surrounding UI. The number one rule of native ads is to know your audience. If the developer can incorporate relevant content rather than ads for products that do not interest the user, native ads can appear to become more of an enhancement than an interruption. Here is an example of a native ad by Google’s service AdMob:

Native Facebook Ad via The Next Web

5. FEEDER APPS Feeder apps are simple games with addicting gameplay which app developers utilize to spread brand awareness. Feeder apps often feature such simple gameplay, in-app purchases and ads would feel intrusive. Instead, push notifications and links in the main menu redirect users to their company website or another one of their games in iTunes. Many mobile development companies develop a network of feeder apps as a part of their publication and monetization strategy. By utilizing a well-integrated native ad for the company or game the developer intends to monetize, developers can turn viral feeder apps into profits. This comprehensive article by Scientific Revenue offers a great example of how feeder apps can function effectively. ZeptoLab cross-promotes their featured app King of Thieves through their feeder app Cut the Rope.

CONCLUSION Succeeding in the world of mobile gaming requires the same intense flare for competition which fuels mobile gamers. Experienced game developers know the stakes and come out swinging, ready to capitalize on every strategy they can to create a revenue stream. With the right combination of smarts, app developmentpromotion and strategy, mobile game developers can capitalize on their user base to rake in the big bucks.

Apple Brings the Internet of Things Home with HomeKit & iOS 10

Anyone engrossed in the tech scene knows the Internet of Things is one of the trendiest technology topics on the web. The IoT is shaping our world and building fortunes for innovators, futurists and top app development companies. However, in the common household, the IoT has yet to break through to the mainstream. The biggest company in the world is now looking to enact change.

Tim Cook, in his September Announcement, declared that iOS 10’s HomeKit update is the first time home automation has been integrated with a major platform. While Apple introduced HomeKit in 2014 with iOS 8, iOS 10 comes with a dedicated app called Home that controls all home automation devices.

HOME IS A HOME RUN

Home Apple App via Wareable

Home combines IoT technology with the masterful UI of iOS. Previous iterations of iOS and HomeKit required the user to manage each interface separately. So if a phone had 20 HomeKit apps, they would have 20 user interfaces to manage. The Home app unifies HomeKit apps, creating a central control center for all home automation applications.

With over 1 billion active Apple devices across the world, Home enters the market with giant global reach. Virtually every major manufacturer of home automation devices now supports HomeKit. Accessories cross all major categories, from lights and air conditioners to window shades, locks and home security. Commercial IoT companies now have massive domestic reach, and iOS users have more incentive to update their homes than ever before.

HAVE SIRI SET THE SCENE

Siri Scenes via Next Market

One of the coolest features of Home is the Siri integration. Users can control Home from both the Control Center and Siri, but Siri can work at the speed of your language. Siri’s ability to handle multiple requests means users can accomplish their ideal environmental preferences in the speed of a sentence. Apple refers to these combination commands as “scenes” and users can give “scenes” a nickname. A rambunctious user might say “Hey Siri, let’s get funky,” prompting Siri to lock the doors, dim the lights, put Barry White on the speakers at a reasonable volume and provide the most apt customized ambience for the user to rock out.

THE APPLE TV IS THE HEARTH

The fourth generation Apple TV can also act as a hub for the Home app, with the Siri Remote making it easy to control your home on the go. Apple TV’s seamless integration with HomeKit and other iOS products makes it the ultimate smart TV for a smart home, providing yet another reason for consumers to consistently buy iOS products.

BUILDING COMMERCIAL IOT FROM THE GROUND UP

The Home Automation page on the Apple website is a clear indicator of Apple’s intentions to not only be a household name, but to be the name on your household. The company already has a major market share of phones, tablets, computers, TVs and watches. They are rumored to be looking to acquire McLaren as a part of Project Titan. Apple understands that the ubiquity of the iOS platform makes them the most appealing platform for manufacturers of smart devices. Apple also announced that leading home builders, including Brookfield Residential, KB Home, Lennar Homes and R&F Properties, are integrating many HomeKit devices into new homes.

With the Apple Home potentially on the horizon, one can only wonder how much of Apple’s vision of the smarthome will be realized in the next 5-10 years.

How iOS 10′s Open Functionality Can Take Your App to the Next Level

When it comes to mobile app development, iOS is the preferred platform. The lack of device fragmentation on iOS, along with the consistent quality of hardware and the more spend-happy userbase, makes it the number-one platform for generating mobile revenue. During Apple’s September Announcement, Craig Federighi began his iOS 10 demo by proclaiming it the biggest release of iPhone software in Apple history.

A week into its release, it has become apparent that iOS 10’s openness marks a revolution for iOS apps and functionality. Apple has opened up many internal apps to developers, including Siri, iMessages and Maps.

DEVELOPING FOR SIRI

iOS 10 Siri Payment (via idownloadblog.com)

Apple was very excited to announce Siri is officially open for third-party app extensions. The Siri API is currently limited to six kinds of applications: ridebooking (i.e. Lyft), messaging, photo search, payments, VoIP calling and workouts. Machine learning allows iOS 10’s Siri to build a contextual understanding of its user and decide when it should handle a voice query by itself, or shuttle it off to a third-party app.

When you ask Siri to bring you Chinese food, it will use Seamless, Yelp or your go-to delivery app to offer options. Users can have Siri book a taxi, pay a friend, and help manage a workout. The integration gives Apple more access to both how people use language to interact with their iPhone, and how they use their apps. Apple is taking their analytics to the next level while giving developers the ability to integrate voice control without having to invest in voice recognition and query interpretation.

App developers must take note in building their new apps and updating existing apps. SiriKit details how app developers can code for the program.

IMESSAGE EXTENSIONS

iMessage iOS 10 Gaming via 9 to 5 Mac

Apple gave iMessages its biggest overhaul ever in iOS 10. What was once a fairly traditional SMS system is now opening its doors to third-party developers for integration. This dramatically beefs up iMessage’s capabilities to allow personal payments and more. The new iMessages resembles WeChat, a popular app in China with versatile functionality.

The advantage to the user is the ability to keep all conversation on a single thread. The ability to pay friends without having to leave the app is very convenient and makes sense, considering most payment apps send a text to confirm anyway. iMessages comes with its own app store which offers categories including games, stickers, productivity, lifestyle, travel and more. Users can play chess, pay a debt, make a drawing, and even book movie tickets with Fandango all without leaving iMessage.

The upgraded iMessage opens up a world of social possibilities for mobile gaming. In a sense, it’s a new gaming platform within the iMessage. iMessage also has added the ability to send drawings and have added a ton of new stickers to the app store.

The API framework for iMessage can be found on Apple’s Developer website.

APPLE MAPS

Apple Maps has been opened up to developers. Like Siri, extensions in Apple Maps can allow you to book an Uber, make reservations at a restaurant and more.

PARTNERSHIP WITH CISCO AND IMPROVED COLLABORATION

Apple and Cisco announced their partnership in 2015 and have introduced major updates in iOS 10. The major initiative was to improve collaboration. When connected to a Cisco network, iOS 10 optimizes WiFi connectivity, sensing the fastest WiFi network as AP signals diminish on the closest router. Cisco also has improved business app prioritization, allowing businesses to enhance performance on critical apps. Cisco’s research has shown roaming is 8x faster on iOS 10, voice over WiFi & Spark is 66x more reliable, and there is a 90% reduction in web browsing failures. Learn more directly from Cisco.

TAKEAWAYS

Apple is pursuing the Android way of thinking and opening up their software to developers. With Apple’s internal apps more accessible than ever, mobile app designers are being given the resources to build upon Apple’s impeccably designed OS. The new and improved Messages app makes the most immediate impact on the user, coming with its own app store which begs unlimited possibilities for integration with everything from business to gaming apps. Siri’s redesign is significantly smarter using machine learning. And extensions using Siri will allow Apple more analytics, which will ultimately benefit developers looking to improve their apps.

Overall, iOS marks a major step forward for the platform and is a gift to developers. If you have an iOS app or are planning on building one, it’s time to take a good look at what iOS 10 can do for you.

Game Design Techniques: Significantly Increase Ad Revenue with a Sharp Core Loop

Due to the budgetary, software and hardware limitations of mobile games, developers must hook audiences with a well-built game incorporating layers of psychological strategy. The core of any mobile game is the Core Loop. The Core Loop is the main facet of gameplay. It’s the beating heart upon which all progress is precipitated. In sports games, it’s the matches. In Angry Birds, it’s launching the birds to destroy the pigs. In Candy Crush, it’s the levels. The Core Loop is the obstacle that users willingly take on with the intention of overcoming in exchange for a feeling of accomplishment. While retention techniques can reinforce that feeling and can add to the experience, no game can survive a poor Core Loop. In some cases, a great Core Loop doesn’t need any sort of extravagant retention technique. Flappy Bird, which took 3 hours to make, can accrue $50,000 a day in ad revenue purely off the Core Loop.

THE BASICS

A good Core Loop for a mobile game generally entails a simple, enjoyable, repetitive action which triggers a reward when executed properly. This reward is something in-game which triggers a dopamine rush for the user. The rewards can be anything from gaining points, getting lives, advancing levels, power-ups, unlocking characters and items, and so forth. These rewards are tiered and the dopamine rush should vary depending on the level of accomplishment. For instance, the main action of Fruit Ninja is slicing fruit. Slicing one fruit triggers a dopamine rush, but clearing a level of fruit triggers a larger dopamine rush, and getting on the high score list triggers yet a larger one, etc. Retention tactics can dictate how these rushes are tiered, but the action which produces the rush is the most important thing: the Core Loop.

LOOPING

Rule number one of the Core Loop for mobile games is to actually loop. After one loop completes, another loop begins. The user completes a level and begins at the next level with their score intact, or they fail to complete the level and begin at the start of the same level with their score reset. Even rewards apps for retail stores rely on Core Loop to hook users. Console games are monetized through retail, so they can craft larger budget, more intimate single-player experiences, but mobile games are generally monetized through the Freemium model, which means ad-revenues will make up the bulk of their profits. Ads come at the end of the Core Loop, so the more loops per user, the better. Thus, mobile developers generally invest in simple but rewarding, well-crafted, repetitive gameplay systems.

PROGRESSION AND REPETITION

Pac Man Level 1 Vs. Level 2 via GitHub

While a Core Loop must loop, it also must instill a sense of progression. If the user doesn’t feel like they’re making progress, they will likely quit. Users want the satisfaction of accomplishment, and both satisfaction and accomplishment require a sense of finality. Arcade games are popular on mobile devices because they thrive on repetition. Level 2 of Pac-Man is not much different from Level 1, but it is different, and that minor difference instills a sense of progression; the sense that a new challenge must be conquered with skills accrued in past gameplay experience. Memories unconsciously become technique. In games like the aforementioned Flappy Bird, the goal is simply to get a high score. There are no levels, but a sense of progression is still built purely through how one’s high score builds. If the high score weren’t displayed, Flappy Bird would still have a Core Loop, but nobody would play it since one couldn’t measure one’s progress. It wouldn’t feel like a game. The beauty of high scores is they represent a single player game with a social release, which is also great for social media promotion.

SESSION LENGTH

Session length is a vital aspect of the Core Loop. The Starbucks Test entails that the user should be able to have a meaningful experience with the game in the time it takes the barista to make them coffee. A concise session length will get users coming back often in the empty pockets of their day.

DUAL LOOP

The Dual Loop is an advanced game development technique that can deeply enhance gameplay. At the end of the first loop, the Dual Loop technique offers the user the option to stop their session and enter into a mini-loop which enhances the next loop, which is a continuation of the first. When you play Clash of Clans, you can battle, which is the main loop, but you can also collect resources or build and train your army in between battles. The dual allows the user to add quick 30-second interactions which pass the Starbucks Test and increase their investment in the competition.

One of the best ways to enhance your ability to develop a Core Loop is to play and analyze other games. A well-designed Core Loop can lead to mobile gaming success on minimal budgets, and massive success on larger budgets.