App Review: Touch Life by Pocket Metaverse.
From time to time, I've had a genuine reason for needing access to Second Life on the move. Normally this would involve carrying my laptop around, or just going without. Sparkle, a Second Life chat client for the iPhone, offered a bit of the Second Life experience, but it was very bare bones - offering basic chat with teleport and pay support. I've got to be honest, I wasn't too keen on it, some versions were quite laggy, and the fact that my avatar rezzed just as a cloud kind of put me off. SL on the go, it occurred to me, just wasn't going to happen - that was - until I tried Touch Life.
Touch Life is a Second Life client developed by Pocket Metaverse, a company that, as I far as I can tell, is a newcomer to the app store - yet with their very first app, they've created something so amazingly rich and full featured, that even this usability fella is having a hard time faulting it. Here's a quick list of what it supports (compiled by me, so some stuff may be missing).
- Local (with /me support, no shouting, whispering, or gestures) and IM supported
- Contact list
- Distinguishes between online and offline contacts
- Displays profile text, groups, and picks as well as IM, pay, Add Friend, and Offer Teleport buttons (of which the last two also allow you to include a custom message as in the desktop client)
- Group list
- Tapping a group brings up the group profile which displays IM and Join buttons as well as description and a members list.
- YOU CAN MOVE!
- Basic moving is permitted by a radar-like screen with turning and forward buttons super-imposed on top.
- Fully rezzed in-world. You do not appear as a cloud!
- Interacting with menus
- Menus that are brought up by chat commands can be interacted with
- Map screen
- Shows a full graphical map with search function
- Position of avatars indicated by green dots (yellow contact markers not supported)
- Tap and hold allows you to teleport to any location on the map (seems to drop you off at ground level)
- Includes a button to centre map back to your avatar
- Landmark directory - lists every landmark located in your inventory's landmarks folders, tapping brings the location up on the main map and offers a teleport link
- Full Second Life Search
- Full search that includes profile, groups, wiki, and places (just like you'd expect from the desktop SL client)
- Tapping a location brings up the description and buttons to show on the map or teleport
- Tapping a group or profile brings up the relevant group or profile screen
- Inventory list screen
- Displays your entire inventory
- Tapping an item brings up an information screen which shows the type of object, the creator, the owner, your permissions and the next owner's permissions (editable if you're allowed), the item description, and give and open buttons.
- Open button support textures (including snapshots) and notecards (excluding scripts) - landmarks don't work for some reason
- Textures may be saved to the iPhone's photo album, and notecards support the iPhone's built in copy and paste.
- Give button brings up a screen where you type in the name of the person that you want to give the item to.
- Upload photo screen
- Allows you to pick a photo from you iPhone's photo album or take one with the camera, and then upload it.
- Alerts indicate when you've been paid, offered an item, and added as a friend, all with the relevant accept and deny options
- Information screen
- Giving credit where credit is due.
- Logging Out
- Closing the app logs you out instantly - as does turning off the iPhone or letting it idle.
Local chat screen
Viewing a snapshot
For me it's the movement controls and the fully rezzed avatar that really makes Touch Life stand out over it's closest rival Sparkle. Seriously, anyone that can see you will have no idea that you're logged in from an iPhone. Lag too, is something that's almost non existant - having a quick conversation between my avatars Aaron and Az, one logged in on my iMac the other on my iPhone revealed no percievable delay. The chat experience you get with TL is pretty close to what you get from the desktop client. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately depending on your opinion) shouting and gestures don't yet seem to be supported, so casual harrassment is out of the question, but if you're looking for a friendly chat on the move, Touch Life is definitely the way to go.
One problem I did find was with relation to my connection. I couldn't connect via EDGE (I can't pick up 3G here, so I'm afraid I couldn't test that), and when my iPhone turned itself off, turning it back on showed the app as if I was still logged in, although clearly I wasn't - all lists were blank and I couldn't do anything. That's not a major issue though, closing and re-opening the app isn't a major chore, and generally I can get hold of a wifi signal when I need one. I'm fairly optimistic about how it'll perform over 3G though - I'll try and update when I've had a chance to test it.
In terms of usability issues, there are very few. The user interface is clear and I managed to work out how to do most things, although I was expecting a search history from an icon which turned out to be the landmark directory and I just couldn't work out how to discover who was nearby even though TL's description on its AppStore page said that this was possible. Collision detection would make for a nice addition, as I know how important manners are to people in Second Life, so it'd be good if there was a way of knowing if you'd accidently walked into someone. Exact coordinates would be pretty good as well, considering that I managed to walk off the edge of a sky platform in my test. But of course I'm just being picky - these really aren't things that affect the user experience much at all, and implementing them wouldn't hugely enhance an already spectacular app.
So as you might be able to tell, I'm in love. Touch Life is a genuinely fantastic application - the kind that makes you glad you're an iPhone owner. Sure there is room for the odd tweak here and there, but until it becomes feasible to support the full SL graphical experience, I can't see Touch Life being outdone. I leave you with a picture of Aaron and Az relaxing at the lab. Guess which one is connected via Touch Life.
Update 30 August 2010: Since writing this post, Touch Life has been renamed to Pocket Metaverse and now hosts a wide variety of extra features - most notably the ability to play parcel audio streams through your device. It's now also a Universal app - and it's proving to be a great Second Life iPad viewer.