T-Mobile Giving Free Data to Pokemon Go Players

T-Mobile has announced that it’s giving customers free data to play Pokemon Go as part of its T-Mobile Tuesdays promotions. Starting next Tuesday July 19, customers will receive free data and a bunch of other discounts (while you “gotta catch ’em all,” the company has to sell accessories). Here are the official particulars from the press release.

Next Tuesday, as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays, we’re thanking customers with:

  • Unlimited data for Pokemon Go through August 2017
  • A free Frosty (you gotta stay fueled up to hunt)
  • A free Lyft ride up to $15 (to explore new Gyms and PokéStops)
  • 50% of select accessories like battery packs (to keep playing for hours and hours)

On top of that, 250 people will win $100 to spend on PokéCoins, and five will win trips anywhere in the US to hunt new Pokemon with a guest.

Out of the four major US mobile carriers, T-Mobile has had the most interesting marketing efforts. This is another stellar example of the company’s fantastic marketing. Pokemon Go is the mobile craze at the moment and it’s borderline shocking that a telecommunications company has taken advantage of the phenomenon so quickly. Then again, this is T-Mobile — the company with the most charming (and quite possibly unbalanced) CEO in the industry. T-Mobile plays loud and bold, so if any of the “big four” took advantage of a modern trend, I’d expect the company to be first.

While free Pokemon Go data through August 2017 is outstanding, the other bonuses are pretty sweet too. The Lyft ride can be useful for finding new Pokemon and going on PokeStop binges. The battery pack discount is fantastic, as an external charger is a must for serious players (I highly recommend this Anker external battery).

T-Mobile’s Pokemon Go promotion is absolutely clever. It makes the company seem more in touch with today’s trends, as it sells lots of accessories. While I’m on old, stodgy, and boring Verizon, I’ve been wanting to switch back to T-Mobile for a few years. I want to support cool marketing efforts and an insane CEO while saving money on my mobile bill. Who’s with me?!?

Kabam Aaron Loeb Interview (DICE Europe 2015)

It was a strange privilege interviewing Kabam senior vice president Aaron Loeb on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for DICE Europe 2015. It was a privilege because Aaron is an excellent fellow that has accomplished a lot in the videogame and theater worlds. Prior to working at Kabam, Aaron held high-level positions at Planet Moon and EA, while his plays have been performed across the country. The interview was strange because we both used to be videogame journalists. It’s true! Once upon a time, before Aaron became a powerful executive and I became a verbal entertainer of international renown, we used to be game journalists in San Francisco. To paraphrase the immortal Phil Collins, “Take a look at us now!”

Here are a few excerpts from the interview. The first clip is about whether Aaron’s experience as a videogame journalist has had any impact on his work on the development side:

For a little while there, no. For what I’m doing at Kabam, very much so. As you know, when I was a journalist, I was entirely in the web space and was never really on the print side — even back in the ’90s. Learning how to talk to an audience every single day, learning how to see what they’re interested in or not interested in, and figuring out how to target your editorial to cover the topics the audience actually wants to hear about and how to target your editorial to come up with stuff that the audience doesn’t yet know they want to hear about — those are all things that help me today.

Next, Aaron talks about his experience as a playwright crossing over into his day job:

When I’m working with writers from one of our games, they take my feedback more seriously because they know that I’m also a writer. I’m not just an executive pinhead. [Laughs] Normally if you’re a writer and you’re getting feedback from the senior vice president of the studio you’re thinking, “Why is this jerk talking to me?!? How can he possibly know the difference between good writing and bad writing?!?” So I do get some respect from our game writers because of my background as a playwright.

Check out the full interview when you have a chance (please!). Aaron is an excellent man and I’m thrilled for his tremendous success.

Unity David Helgason Interview

It was an absolute pleasure chatting with Unity founder and former CEO David Helgason. While it’s normally intimidating talking to someone that’s exponentially smarter than you are, David Helgason is such a nice and interesting man that the exercise was fun. We had a lengthy chat about Unity’s evolution, games that inspire him, and his eclectic taste in movies. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

You know, we didn’t even call Unity an engine in the beginning. We thought of it as a tool to help developers build the games that they wanted to build. At first, we focused on small platforms, where the target specs were pretty low. When mobile started to grow, we targeted that — around the time the iPhone 2 came out. At the time, the hardware was super low end. As the market grew, our customers became more and more demanding, wanting to build bigger and bigger games. Then we started working closely with the console manufacturers. These days, AR (alternate reality) and VR (virtual reality) are really taking off, so we’re working closely with that as well. We’re constantly working to try to stay ahead of the curve and provide our customers with all the technology that they need. It’s very different when you’re working on a high-end VR game than an iPhone 2 game in 2008. [Laughs]

We’ve been very lucky that we have a lot of customers that are happy to pay. Unity doesn’t really cost a lot, but we have enough customers that are happy to pay the pittance it costs. That enables us to aggregate the revenue and hire a lot of great people. We’ve been hiring like crazy in order to invest really deeply and long-term into the Unity platform.

When we started, we were out to democratize game development. We wanted to significantly change how games were built and who could build games. We wanted to expand that universe, so we had to give people great tools.

Again, I’m really, really happy with how this interview turned out. Please, please, please hit the source link, give it a read, and let me know what you think. If you’re a male gamer nerd then I guarantee that you’ll have a man crush on David Helgason. If you’re a female gamer then it’ll more likely be a crush crush.


Google Project Fi is a Potentially Awesome Mobile Alternative

Earlier this week, Google announced the upcoming Project Fi mobile service. A unique take on how consumers are charged for wireless connectivity, Project Fi is potentially awesome for some consumers and a novelty for others. Launching exclusively for Google Nexus 6 phones, there are a number of features that make the service stand out. Let’s take a look at them and see if Project Fi is right for you.

Billing — The aspect of Project Fi that seems to be getting the most attention is its costs and cost structure. The price is split into two parts. The mandatory basics cost $20, which includes unlimited domestic calls, unlimited texts (international included), inexpensive international rates, WiFi tethering, and coverage in 120+ countries. After that, customers select their data packages, which cost $10 per GB. The cool part is that the cost of unused data is credited to the customer’s account after each billing cycle. So if I have a 3GB plan and only use 2GB, my next bill will have a credit of $10. Overages are billed at the same $10 per GB rate, pro-rated, so a 350MB overage would cost $3.50. Project Fi plans do not require contracts and, as expected, the usual taxes and fees will be charged.

Network — Domestically, Project Fi will use a combination of the Sprint and T-Mobile networks. Between the two, consumers in large cities should have ample LTE coverage. Phones on Project Fi will automatically select the network with the best coverage at the given time. For those in rural areas, the use of these two networks could be a deal breaker. It all depends on how strong coverage is where you live, work, and play. For me, T-Mobile coverage is very strong in Los Angeles, while Sprint pretty much blows. In many rural areas, these networks are very weak compared to AT&T and Verizon.

WiFi — Project Fi will rely heavily on WiFi connectivity to complement LTE coverage. Calls can be made over WiFi, with Google promising seamless handoffs of calls transitioning from WiFi to LTE and vice versa. I’m curious to see how the software solution works, as current WiFi calling handoffs work well, but not quite great. Consumers can choose to receive their Project Fi calls on their phones (duh), computers, or tablets.

International Coverage — Google claims that Project Fi users will have coverage in 120+ countries. There are a few caveats though. Data rates are “limited to 256kbps (3G)” and call costs could add up if users aren’t careful. International data usage in countries where Google has roaming agreements is deducted from the user’s monthly bucket. For business users that need to reachable 24/7, the international roaming is potentially awesome and much cheaper than what the incumbents charge. Personally, I’d rather use a local SIM card so that I can have 4G data, but understand that some people need their phone number active at all times.

My Take — While I’m greatly intrigued by Project Fi, it’s not something that I care to try straight away. First off, I’m not high on the Nexus 6 — at all. I expect the service to be limited to Nexus phones for the next year or so (at least) and am more interested in the rumored Nexus 5 v2. As far as network coverage goes, most of the places I travel to domestically are covered nicely by T-Mobile, while having Sprint as a backup is nice a nice feature to have. The international coverage isn’t for me, since data is more important for my needs than having my domestic number reachable. I always go with a local 4G SIM when I travel abroad.

Even though Project Fi isn’t right for me at this time, I absolutely love what Google is trying to do with this service. Most American telecommunication companies suck. The prices (for single-line plans) are expensive for what’s delivered. Project Fi’s relatively inexpensive and easy-to-understand pricing is refreshing to see. Between T-Mobile’s aggressive initiatives and services like Project Fi, I hope the American mobile market gets the shakeup that it sorely needs.

Oh yeah, for people on family plans, Project Fi isn’t nearly as compelling. There are some great family deals out there and they make Google’s pricing seem banal.

While I’ll be watching Project Fi with great interest, I’m content with my iPhone 6 Plus on Verizon for personal/work use and my Nexus 5 on T-Mobile ($30 plan!) for Android work projects. What do you guys and gals think about Google’s service? Any of you thinking of requesting an invite? Do you think Project Fi will change the American mobile telecom market? Or is it another pie-in-the-sky initiative from Google? Leave a comment and let me know (please!).


Coffee Talk: 639: Foursquare is Out of Touch and in Denial

After becoming one of the most popular mobile apps over the last five years, Foursquare is looking to reinvent itself in 2014. The company is making some bold moves and taking some big risks, but it’s also alienating many of its users. For those of you not familiar with Foursquare, it’s a social app that blends gamification and location sharing information. Foursquare users “check in” to various locations and have the option to leave tips or ratings on the venue. Users compete for badges and “mayorship” of locations, while the company gathers incredibly valuable data from user activity.

For most of the app’s existence, the majority of users focused on the check-in aspect of the app. The gamification system is fun and people love scores, achievements, etc. (even for driving!). Strangely, Foursquare wants to drastically change its identity and deemphasize check-in activity. In May, the company launched Swarm, an app that takes the check-in aspects of Foursquare, increases the font size, and dumbs down the whole gamification system. While some users are fine with Swarm, there are many longtime Foursquare users that loathe the app because it takes away the features (mayorships and scores) that made the original so popular. Check out some of the user reviews on the Apple App Store and Google Play to see why the app is reviled.

Swarm by Foursquare

The reason for moving check-in activity to Swarm is that the company wants to make Foursquare a “Yelp Killer” of sorts. The company has five years of excellent data from its users and will use it to power local recommendations. In some ways, Foursquare has more useful and practical information than Yelp. While I believe that the idea of using Foursquare user information to power a “Yelp Killer” is fantastic, the company’s execution has been terrible. Worse yet, Foursquare doesn’t appear to believe that the company has a problem.

In a recent feature on The Verge, Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley and COO Jeff Glueck addressed some of the criticisms the company has been facing. It’s a nice article, but there are two bits that really bugged me:

Foursquare admits that it could’ve managed expectations a bit better, and timed the two app launches closer together so users weren’t confused. ‘It wasn’t a mistake. There is no prior arc with someone trying to do an unbundling like this before,’ says Crowley, ‘but I don’t think there’s any real perfect way to do it.’

Glueck emphasizes that it’s a very vocal minority of Foursquare users who have opposed the company’s changes, which not only moved check-ins out of Foursquare but largely removed mayorships and the app’s points system for competing with friends for check-ins.

The pair come off as executives that have no idea what their customers really want. Addressing Crowley’s point, pissing customers off is always a mistake. Why unbundle to begin with? Why not leave Foursquare as it is and launch a new product like “Yelp Killer (Powered by Foursquare)“? Swarm is hindered by baggage that should have been anticipated; when you force people to use a new app because you removed functionality from the old one, people aren’t going to like it. While Swarm has been improving (though is still not great), there are some people that will always hate it because it was forced on them. The same goes with the “new” Foursquare; some people are going to hate because it’s not the old one. Why not launch a new product and give it a fresh, baggage-free start? “Yelp Killer (Powered by Foursquare” — it seems so obvious.

As for Glueck, the “very vocal minority” is comprised of many longtime users that loved the old Foursquare app and hate Swarm. In all likelihood, there are probably many Foursquare users that liked the old app, didn’t like Swarm, and didn’t care enough to write a review on the App Store or Google Play. It seems like he’s ignoring some of the company’s oldest and most passionate customers. Being ambivalent about burning bridges with longtime customers is…stupid.

Since the unbundling of Foursquare and the launch of Swarm, I find myself using the company’s products less. I used to use Foursquare maniacally. These days, I sometimes use Swarm, but often forget about it because the deemphasis of mayorships and points makes the app less fun for me. I barely touch the Foursquare app at all. It’s a shame, because Foursquare was one of my favorite social apps and something I’d use several times a day. Executive decisions have made it an afterthought.

While I’m curious about the new Foursquare and interested to see how the company will compete with Yelp, I’m not sure it’s something that I’ll use personally. Initially, I’m sure it will do some things better than Yelp and some things worse. I just don’t like some of the decisions the company has made and I’m not sure I want to support Foursquare (again, on a personal level). Foursquare has burned a lot of goodwill and its top executives don’t appear to care. Judging from their quotes in The Verge article, Crowley and Glueck seem out of touch with their customers and in denial about having problems.

I know that some of you were annoyed by the “unbundling” of Foursquare into Swarm. What do you think of the Swarm app? Has your usage of Foursquare products changed since the unbundling? Are you excited for the new Foursquare? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Foursquare’s strategy. Share your wise observations in the comments section (please!).

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames,  the latest photo of Ben Batfleck, Ray Rice’s suspension, or  everything you wanted to know about Harry Potter losing his virginity, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Saber’s Edge, To-Fu Fury Exclusive to Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon Game Studios has announced a pair of videogames exclusive to the upcoming Amazon Fire Phone — Saber’s Edge and To-Fu FurySaber’s Edge combines puzzle gameplay with strategic combat, while To-Fu Fury is a platform game that appears to star a…menacing ninja marshmallow (yes, I know it’s a tofu cube). Both games take advantage of the Fire Phone’s unique “Dynamic Perspective” feature. You can check out the trailers for both games below. Here’s a clip from the press release:

Saber’s Edge and To-Fu Fury are co-developed with partners, Hibernum and HotGen as part of Amazon Game Studios’ mission to build fun, immersive games from the ground up for Amazon devices. These new games were created exclusively for Fire phone and take advantage of Amazon’s groundbreaking Dynamic Perspective. With Dynamic Perspective, Fire phone enables players to control gameplay with their head movements or by tilting the device to change direction or view.

‘Amazon Game Studios is working with some of the best studios to co-develop games that leverage the amazing capabilities of our new devices,’ said Mike Frazzini, Vice President of Amazon Games. ‘The new games we are releasing today deeply integrate Dynamic Perspective and offer players new ways to engage with games—using head movements to navigate gameplay and tilt gestures to strategize upcoming moves.’

While I was intrigued by the Amazon Fire Phone when it was announced, there are some aspects of it that are unappealing to certain tech nerds. Seeing “exclusive” games like Saber’s Edge and To-Fu Fury is an important step in the right direction. Content is king and exclusive content is…uhm…an intergalactic warlord (yeah, that’s it!). It’s good to see Amazon supporting its unique phone with unique software. These titles should be the first of many that are exclusive to the Amazon Fire Phone.

Amazon appears to understand how important mobile games are and looks like it will support its hardware nicely through Amazon Game Studios. While I’m interested in the games (particularly To-Fu Fury), I’m more interested in seeing how big and bold Amazon Game Studios will be. There’s some fantastic potential there and it’s always good to have another big player in the videogame space.

Anyway, check out the trailers when you have a chance and let me know what you think about the games (please!). Also, what do you think Amazon will accomplish with Amazon Game Studios?

Coffee Talk #631: The Amazon Fire Phone and You

Yesterday, Amazon caused quite the stir with the Amazon Fire Phone. At best, it’s a compelling smartphone that offers some great features and backed by unique Amazon services. At worst, it’s a smartphone that’s exclusive to a mediocre network (depending on where you live) and backed by an ecosystem that isn’t broad as what Android or iOS bring to the table. For certain consumers (those that are technologically apathetic or ignorant), the Amazon Fire Phone seems like a great choice; on paper, the hardware compares favorably to other top-of-the-line smartphones and millions of people are already comfortable with buying from Amazon. For others (tech nerds), it’s tough to make a case for the Amazon Fire Phone…continued

Welcome to Coffee Talk! Let’s start off the day by discussing whatever is on your (nerd chic) mind. Every morning I’ll kick off a discussion and I’m counting on you to participate in it. If you’re not feelin’ my topic, feel free to start a chat with your fellow readers and see where it takes you. Whether you’re talking about videogames, Han Solo breaking his leg, Joel Embiid breaking his foot, or Kevin Love’s next NBA team, Coffee Talk is the place to do it.

Yesterday, Amazon caused quite the stir with the Amazon Fire Phone. At best, it’s a compelling smartphone that offers some great features and backed by unique Amazon services. At worst, it’s a smartphone that’s exclusive to a mediocre network (depending on where you live) and backed by an ecosystem that isn’t broad as what Android or iOS bring to the table. For certain consumers (those that are technologically apathetic or ignorant), the Amazon Fire Phone seems like a great choice; on paper, the hardware compares favorably to other top-of-the-line smartphones and millions of people are already comfortable with buying from Amazon. For others (tech nerds), it’s tough to make a case for the Amazon Fire Phone over the top Android and iOS devices. This is especially true for consumers that live in areas where AT&T service is poor.

Now that we’ve all had a day to think about the Amazon Fire Phone, here are some random thoughts (binary style!) on the product. Naturally, I’d love to hear yours as well. After you’ve read my binary list, please share your thoughts on the Amazon Fire Phone in the comments section. Are you hot for the product? Mildly intrigued? Or left with a sense of ennui? Whatever the case, I want to know! Now onto the Amazon Fire Phone binary list.

Amazon Fire Phone

Good: The Amazon Fire Phone’s specs are good to great — 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, 4.7-inch HD LCD display with a 1280 x 720 resolution at 315 ppi, and 2,400mAh battery. It competes nicely in the high-end market, though there’s certainly room for quibbling.

Good: The device brings some excellent marriages of hardware and services. On paper, the camera looks good. More importantly, photo storage is backed by Amazon Cloud Services for unlimited storage. Firefly is a devilishly clever service that turns the Amazon Fire Phone into a 24/7 impulse shopping portal that’s fun and easy to use.

Bad: While there are some places where AT&T has great service, there are some where the service is dreadful. The service pricing isn’t the cheapest either. There are some people (mostly tech nerds) that won’t use AT&T products based on the company’s anti-consumer policies. It’s a shame that the Amazon Fire Phone is launching as an AT&T exclusive. Hopefully that window is small and the phone will come to other carriers before the end of the year.

Good: The phone comes with one year of Amazon Prime. This stellar service offers free videos, free music streaming, and upgraded shipping on most Amazon purchases. I’ve been an Amazon Prime member since the program’s inception and absolutely love it.

Bad: The phone’s pricing is inline with other high-end smartphones, but I expected something much more radical from Amazon. Considering that the Amazon Fire Phone is a gateway to all sorts of Amazon purchases — both digital and physical — I expected a much higher subsidy. Amazon’s e-readers and tablets are aggressively priced; the inexpensive hardware is made up for through digital and physical purchases. Considering that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is a fairly aggressive executive, I was disappointed by the conservative business model he pursued with the Amazon Fire Phone. I was hoping for something like a $99 phone with a two-year Amazon Prime subscription. Instead, he’s following the same model that everyone else uses.

Bad: For some people, Amazon’s app offerings will be just fine. Amazon offers a solid selection of Android apps through its own store. For certain consumers, that app environment won’t be good enough. The curated selection isn’t as diverse as what Google offers though Google Play or what Apple offers through the iOS App Store. In the context of the Amazon Fire Phone costing the same as any other high-end phone, I can see tech nerds having a problem with buying a phone that has a smaller walled garden than competing Android and iOS smartphones.

Good (Potentially): Amazon made a big deal about the phone’s “Dynamic Perspective” feature and the demo was awfully impressive. That said, I’m not yet convinced it will work as good as it was shown. I’ve seen several attempts at this type of usability and all of them were better on paper than they were in practice. Still, that demo almost convinced me. I want to believe it works that well and hope it does, just so it pushes competing operating systems.

Bottom Line: I was really intrigued by the Amazon Fire Phone press conference…until the product was announced as an AT&T exclusive. That killed most of the enthusiasm I had for the Fire. While I’m still curious about the Amazon Fire Phone, I’m really disappointed by the “me too” pricing and exclusive carrier. While I never expected it to replace my Apple iPhone or Google Nexus, I thought it could be a compelling alternative. For some people, the Amazon Fire Phone will be a great choice. For me, the carrier and app store limitations negate the phone’s interesting features.