Orba: My New iPhone Obsession

Every once in a while you run across a piece of software that’s so elegant and well done it makes you smile from ear to ear. Orba, the new free puzzle game from Kieffer Bros. is such an application. Released for the iPhone and iPod touch in late November, Orba is a great example of casual gaming in the spirit of Bejeweled or Tetris.

I love games that can be explained in 25 words or less and Orba’s just such a game. Clear as much of the board as possible by tapping chains of three or more same-colored orbs. The bigger the chain, the more you score. The premise is simple, but after playing just a few games it quickly becomes apparent tap mashing won’t get you very far. Each game starts with only 3 colored orbs shown on the board, so creating long chains of like colors is relatively easy. As you progress, more and more colors are introduced and it becomes quite difficult to clear enough of the board to be able to continue. When no chains can be cleared, the game is over.

As is the case with much of the software that lives on my iPhone, I first discovered Orba via a tweet from a friend, Jason Snell of Macworld. Since I know all too well how important it is to get the word out about great iPhone apps, I’m only too happy to recommend Orba to all of you iPhone and iPod touch users out there.

The game’s user interface is drool worthy. Everything about the game’s design just seems right from the user interaction and the help screens to the friendly “Hello Again.” message that greets you every time you begin. The UI is minimal, but elegant and does a wonderful job of not getting in the way as you play while still looking freakin’ cool. About the only thing I probably would have done differently are some of the sounds. They too are minimal, almost to a point of being non-existent. Despite the audio nit pick, the designers at Kieffer Bros have a well-earned reputation for beautiful software and their work on Orba is no exception.

As a causal gamer, I was surprised and delighted to find that Orba was being offered on the App Store absolutely free. As a fellow developer of iPhone titles, I would have gladly paid upwards of $4.99 for this wonderful piece of art masquerading as a casual game. Since my parents always taught me never to look a gift horse in the mouth, I won’t say any more regarding the decision to give away Orba except to say “Thank you” to the folks behind the orbs. I’ve already gotten many hours of enjoyment out of the download, and that will most likely continue for some time.

I love that I can play this game for a few minutes or hours on end, pause and come back at will. Since there is no time constraint, the only pressure to achieve higher scores are the ones you impose on yourself. Orba doesn’t have online scoreboards or social network boasting, but it doesn’t have to. It is what it is. If you’re looking for a well designed, friendly and casual game for your iPhone, Orba just might be the game for you. Head on over to the App Store, download a copy and let me know when you break the million point mark.

UPDATE: Of course on the very day I decide to publish this post, Orba goes from free to 99¢. I’m actually glad they made it paid since it’s worth 4-5x what they are asking for. You can still try the first 12 levels for free by downloading Orba lite so no harm, no foul.

New Blue for You

The New York Times reported this past week that chemists at Oregon State University have created an all-new, extremely durable and intense blue pigment. Like so many other famed scientific discoveries, this one came as a complete surprise to Mas Subramanian, a professor of material sciences, who was attempting to make new compounds for use in electronics.

Subramanian and his fellow professors discovered that by mixing manganese oxide with other elements and heating them to very high temperatures (2000 degrees F), crystals were formed that reflected only blue light. The potential uses for this new pigment are vast, especially since so many of the modern blues in use can fade or, in some cases, are toxic. The only stumbling block seems to be the use of an expensive chemical, indium, which the researchers are now attempting to substitute for a less expensive component.

I love stories like this because it reminds us that science isn’t always about creating super conductors or finding a cure for cancer. Although such discoveries are important in their own right, finding a new blue reminds us that chemistry is the basis for everything in the natural world, including the colors we see each and every day. An awesome, elegant and artful combination.

The Domino’s Effect

Back in August I wrote a post about the need for increased feedback in the review process for Apple’s App Store. I made the thoughtful (and delicious, I might add) case for how the folks at Domino’s had the right idea when they unleashed their famed Pizza Tracker into the online world. The Pizza Tracker allows customer to see each step of the pizza making process thereby eliminating anxiety, fear and doubt in the mind of the hungry consumer. It stood to reason that one of the ways Apple could make the whole review process easier for the fragile psyche of today’s iPhone devs would be to supply more information when apps are submitted for review. I’d love to claim that it was my well-timed blog post that spurred Mr. Jobs into action, but alas I have no tangible proof.

What we do know however is that Apple has introduced a new status history to the review process thereby removing some of the mystery of where your app is on its road to public release. As Mashable reported this week, it may not tell you the actual name of the individual(s) reviewing your application, but it does let you know what stage your app is in, why it might have been rejected, how to correct and so on. This is certainly good news for iPhone developers like myself who no doubt take the change to mean Apple is listening to its critics. The change comes just a bit too late for famed iPhone developer Joe Hewitt however.

Hewitt, the noted dev behind the massively popular Facebook app, announced rather publicly this week he was abandoning the iPhone in favor of mobile web-based applications. Hewitt cited the restrictive policies of Apple’s app review process as the main reason he was leaving and it’s more than fair to say his departure has made other developers sit up and take notice. Overall I find Joe’s protest a good thing but considering his application had the App Store approval process wrapped around its little finger, more than a little ironic. At one point, the Facebook app had no less than 3 updates pushed to the App Store within 72 hours of each other. This is something unheard of in the iPhone development community, unless of course you’re a massive juggernaut like Facebook.

In the end, Apple’s addition of the new status history and even Joe’s rather public resignation from the App Store should help the platform. These developments can’t come soon enough. The staggering growth of applications for the iPhone has meant ever-decreasing visibility for publishers, longer wait times, mounting frustrations and increased competition. With this week’s update, Apple is doing what it can to help turn the tide of criticism before it snowballs out of control. I just wish they’d have delivered it in 30 minutes or less.

UPDATE: Add iPhone developers Rogue Amoeba to the list of developers who are quitting the platform. Four months of delays, roadblocks and black bag treatment by the App Store and it’s broken (yes, it really IS broken) review process has been enough for them. In my Losing iReligion blog post, I said that if things didn’t get better, we’d start to see developers head for greener pastures. Guess what? It’s really starting to happen. All those who commented that there’s nothing wrong with the App Store, go read RA’s post. Then read it again. Not surprisingly, it’s going to take more than a status history to make iPhone developers happy.

UPDATE II: Brett Archibald Jeff Lamarche offers a different view of the Rogue Amoeba situation and comes to the defense of Apple and the App Store. Jeff makes some good points, it’s certainly not a black and white issue. I think the thing that makes RA’s situation so bad is that it took 4 months to resolve. Three-four weeks inbetween submissions to know if your fix is correct is unacceptable in my book.