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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 9, 2011 at 10:07 AM

“Angry Birds” iPad’s killer app?

Spreadsheets and word processors persuaded people to buy early PCs. Messaging and mobile browsers did the same thing for smartphones.

If you haven’t bought an iPad or tablet computing device yet, maybe it’s because you’re not yet hooked on “Angry Birds.”

The addictive slingshot game is the killer app for these touch-screen gadgets filling the gap between smartphones and portable computers.

People buy tablets thinking they’ll use them instead of computers, but most don’t. They end up playing “Angry Birds.”

Last week a Nielsen survey said most tablet owners are using their PCs as much or more than they did before buying their tablet. Earlier, the firm said games are the most downloaded mobile application, and the best-selling app, is “Angry Birds.”

The game, made by a small Finnish company called Rovio, has been downloaded more than 140 million times, and at least 40 million people per month are playing. They’re collectively spending more than 200 million minutes per day tapping and flinging birds across the screen, trying to knock down a series of structures built by obnoxious pigs.

“Angry Birds” was originally designed for the iPhone in 2009, but it’s best on a tablet, where you can see more of it and have more room to control the aiming.

“It’s certainly the most dominant game on tablets. There’s nothing close to it, I believe,” said Rich Wong at Accel Partners, a Silicon Valley venture firm that backed Facebook and invested in Rovio in March.

It makes you wonder if Microsoft hooked up with the right Finnish company to resuscitate its mobile business. Maybe it thought Nokia was behind the birds.

After handling more tablets than an Egyptian librarian, I’ve come up with a shopping guide, for those willing to spend $250 to $800 for the best “Angry Birds” experience.

Motorola Xoom, $599-$800

“Angry Birds” is prominently featured on the Xoom packaging, and the game works well on the device.

The Xoom’s 10-inch screen is a good size for displaying both the launch area and target structure, even on upper levels with passages, outbuildings and stashed explosives on the far right side of the screen.

Although it’s the first Android tablet with a dual-core processor, there wasn’t a noticeable difference in loading. Nor did it reduce the wait time between levels.

On a bus, the Xoom’s considerable heft steadies the device enough to play on bumpy roads.

The Xoom did cause one embarrassing birds incident.

During a discreet session Friday, before my deadline, the app abruptly froze. When I restarted it, it launched with the mute button off. There was no warning of this changed setting, and I was busted by the loud theme music.

Frantically tapping the screen and pressing the power button didn’t stop the telltale flute. It took forever to power off, and paused to ask “are you sure?” before it stopped.

Otherwise, the Xoom scored well in the “quick exit” test. I could close the game and pretend to be working with a single click.

Barnes & Noble Nook Color, $249

After updating the Nook’s operating system, you can download the original version of “Angry Birds.”

The Nook market offers only the original “Angry Birds,” for $2.99. Later versions and the free, ad-supported ones aren’t available yet.

The Nook is the most economical option for tablet birding and doubles as a browser and electronic book with a 7-inch touch screen.

It also fits in a large pocket and weighs just less than a pound. However, this portability made it difficult to hold the device steady on the bus, where I experienced a number of misfires and errant shots.

Resolution on the Nook didn’t seem as crisp as on higher-end tablets. I could see jagged edges on the blades of grass.

The Nook fared the worst in the “quick exit” test, requiring six clicks to exit in the middle of a game.

Apple iPad 2, $499-$829.

The iPad’s big, bright screen is terrific for “Angry Birds” and provides plenty of room to aim.

Action is crisp and Rovio seems to put extra sparkle into the iPad version, highlighting edges of structures, for instance.

Both free and paid versions are available from iTunes, where the latest version of the game is the best-selling paid app. Two earlier versions are in the top 10.

There are a few niggles, though. The iPad version takes it upon itself to adjust the horizontal scroll mid-game, which gets annoying.

Also, every time you start a game, the iPad suggests creating or signing in to an account with Apple’s “Game Center” service. There isn’t an obvious way to disable this nagware, so you have to hit “cancel” every time. Then you get a message saying that “Game Center” is disabled, and you have to hit “OK” to start playing. This reminds me of Windows Vista.

It takes one click on the iPad to exit a game, return to the home screen and appear to be working.

BlackBerry PlayBook, $500 to $700

The PlayBook is a pocketable, 7-inch touch-screen device that’s widely available. But “Angry Birds” is not yet available on the BlackBerry market. An emulator that will run Andoid apps is being developed.

T-Mobile G-Slate, $530.

The G-Slate has an unusual 9-inch widescreen display format that’s particularly well suited for “Angry Birds.”

However, the screen also partly cuts off the information displayed on the Android Market, including the “more” button listing additional version of “Angry Birds” available from the store.

Like the Xoom, the G-Slate is based on Google’s new Android 3.0 software.

Currently, only free versions of “Angry Birds” are available for Android but paid versions are expected later this year.

Loading the game via T-Mobile’s 4G network was significantly faster than it was on the Xoom over Verizon Wireless’ 3G network, but the Xoom should be upgradeable to 4G before new “Birds” are released.

It takes a single click to exit a game and return to the home screen of the G-Slate.

Dell Streak 7, $200-$450.

The Streak has a 7-inch screen that’s just a hair smaller than the Nook, but overall the device is smaller and fits easier in a pocket for portable play.

It’s more like a computer than a Nook, and both its launch area and target can be displayed at a reasonable size. That makes the game more enjoyable than on a smartphone with a 3-inch or 4-inch screen.

However, the Streak resolution isn’t as crisp as the larger tablets and the device would re-size the game between levels, requiring a tedious extra pinch to get the game properly aligned in the screen.

The re-sizing isn’t a game-breaker, but these little design decisions lead to wasted time that adds up fast.

Seriously, how do they expect us to get any work done with these things?

Comments | Topics: Android, angry birds, Apple

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