AirPods are hopelessly basic, and I still can’t get enough of them

My love/hate relationship with AirPods is now just love.
My love/hate relationship with AirPods is now just love.

Image: bob al-greene/mashable

I finally caved. After nearly a year of inwardly mocking anyone and everyone I saw wearing AirPods, I walked into an Apple Store and handed over $172 so I could have my own set.

And, even though I hated myself a little bit for it, I don’t regret it one bit. 

First off, yes, they still look completely ridiculous. I won’t pretend they don’t. But I have long hair that almost always covers my ears, so most of the time they are far less visible than any other buds I own. 

And, as silly as they look — and as much as it pains me to say it — they do feel pretty great. I have abnormally small ears and EarPods were already about the only earbuds that fit comfortably without falling out constantly. At $159 AirPods cost more than five times as much as basic EarPods so, naturally, they feel that much more comfortable. 

I wear earbuds several hours a day most days. So believe me when I say AirPods are more comfortable than any other headphones I’ve worn. Even my most cushy over-the-ear cans don’t feel great after several hours. 

Now, just to be perfectly clear: I realize how stupid this may sound to many of my non-AirPod wearing brethren. I get it, I really do. 

It took me more than a year to cave and get a pair, even though I spent months listening to friends and colleagues tell me how great they were. I’m still mad that Apple’s “courageous” decision to ditch the headphone jack essentially forced my hand. (My blood pressure still spikes when I think about how much time I wasted frantically searching for headphone dongles.) 

I get that AirPods, perhaps more than any other product, almost perfectly encapsulate what so many people hate about Apple products: They’re significantly overpriced, completely unnecessary, and, yet, so meticulously designed that no wireless headphones will ever work so easily or so consistently with all of your Apple devices. 

Not only that, but your experience is noticeably worse if you don’t use them. Which of course is why so many are still offended by the very idea of AirPods in the first place. 

They’re the most slavishly Apple fangirl product you can buy. They’re hopelessly basic. In the words of Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal: “the pumpkin spice latte of wireless headphones.” But, then again, there’s a reason why the cloyingly sweet pumpkin spice lattes have taken over the world.

And there’s a reason why iPhone owners — this one included — love their AirPods

So, go ahead and call me basic. I won’t be able to hear you with my AirPods in, anyway.

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Accelo hauls in $9 million to digitize operations for project-driven small businesses


Accelo, a six-year old startup, is trying to solve a big problem for project-driven small businesses like architects, accountants and designers. These companies, which typically have less than 100 employees, don’t usually have access to software to get a complete view of their business operations.

That’s where Accelo comes in. It has designed a set of tools specifically for these cost-sensitive project-driven businesses. CEO Geoff McQueen says he walked in their shoes when he was running his own digital agency in Australia for 10 years. While he could peer at month-end financial reports to get one dimension of the company’s financial health, he couldn’t understand the business’s daily operational picture and that frustrated him. If it was a pain point for him, he reckoned that other small businesses were feeling it too and Accelo was born in 2011.

Today, the company announced a $9 million Series A led by by Level Equity with participation by from Fathom Capital and existing investor Blackbird Ventures.

Over the years, Accelo has built a suite of tools that now includes CRM, project management, customer service and accounting pieces. An uber tool that combines all of these tools into a single interface is being rebranded today from PSA to ServeOps.

McQueen says the ServeOps product gives customers insight across their entire business. As he points out, small businesses have very little room for error when it comes to bidding, winning and running a project. They have to bring it in at or under budget, and the only way to do that is to keep the entire process under control throughout the project, something that’s really difficult to do when you are only looking at monthly financial reports.

The company strives to pull as much data as it can from external sources like calendar entries or email to automate as much data entry as possible. It includes a timer customers can turn on when they start working on each project, so they can easily track project work inside the program.

Accelo was launched in Australia, where it still houses its engineering team. The rest of the team is in San Francisco (not far from TechCrunch’s offices). The company was bootstrapped from inception until 2015 when it received $2 million in seed investment.

McQueen said the Series A comes at a time when the company is actually profitable, not something you usually see with an early round like this. He believes that’s because they are solving a real problem for small service businesses and helping to keep them organized and running profitably.

And in case you’re wondering, McQueen says his company, which has 60 employees, uses its own products to run the company.

Featured Image: Kelvin Murray/Getty Images

Marketing startup Synup gets $6M Series A to help brands manage their online reputation

Synup founder Ashwin Ramesh

Synup, a startup that helps marketers monitor where their brands are mentioned online, announced that it has raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Vertex Ventures. Existing investor Prime Venture Partners also returned for the round.

Though based in Bangalore, Synup’s main market has been the United States and Canada since it launched two years ago. It will use some of its new capital to expand into the United Kingdom and Europe by the middle of next year.

Founded and CEO Ashwin Ramesh says the U.S. was not only the largest potential market for Synup’s services, but also “the best geography for us to build and perfect our template before going global.”

Synup’s customers use its cloud-based software to track all the places online—including review sites, business directories, search engine results and social networks—where their businesses or products are cited. It makes sure address information is synced, analyzes traffic and conversion rates, monitors the content of customer reviews and makes suggestions for search engine optimization.

Synup claims it hit an average rate of return of $1 million just nine months after it was founded, but it also faces competition from established rivals like Yext and Moz that also help brands track and manage their online mentions. Ramesh says that he believes Synup’s roster of features, which include optional manual listing services provided by the company, reputation monitoring tools for specific industries and insights for Google My Business, Bing and Facebook, is the most comprehensive so far. Synup also provides a white-label program and training for marketing agencies.

In addition to expanding into new markets, Synup also plans to use its new funding to launch new features, including more detailed analytics and new tools for its white-label program.

Twitter is bringing its Lite web app to a native Android version

Twitter is packaging its data-friendly, space-saving Lite mobile web app into a native app version, starting with Android.

The social media firm is testing the Android app only in the Philippines for now, paving the way for a mainstream release down the road, TechCrunch reports.

Like the mobile web version that was released earlier in April, the Twitter Lite app is made to take up less space on your device (less than 3MB), and demand less resources, so it can load faster on low-end to mid-range smartphones.

More importantly, the app is made to weather patchy data coverage, so it’ll have some caching to work offline. It’ll also show a preview of images and videos, and will only download media if the user chooses to.

Both the app and web version look fairly identical in terms of UI and function, but the app is likely to help draw more people to Twitter Lite by being listed on Google Play. 

It’s also more likely to retain user logins, compared with the mobile version, so it’ll make the experience smoother.

The Philippines is a smart choice as an early testbed. The country’s users are one of the world’s most active on social media, and it adds mobile users at a faster rate than many other developing markets.

Twitter Lite comes over two years after Facebook launched its low-data version, Facebook Lite on Android.

By February this year, Facebook Lite already grew its user base to 200 million.

These “light” apps are essential for the companies to grow their user bases in developing markets, as more users experience the web for the first time via mobile handsets. Chances are, many of those handsets are lower-end Android devices — and not pricier iPhones — which is why we don’t see developers bringing these to iOS.

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Inkitt, a ‘reader powered’ book publisher, raises $3.9M to discover the next best-selling author


Inkitt, which bills itself as “the world’s first reader-powered book publisher,” has raised $3.9 million in pre-series A funding, in a round led by Redalpine, with Frontline Ventures, Speedinvest and a number of private investors also participating. The Berlin-based startup is part writing and reading community, and part publishing house, with one aspect feeding the other.

Let me explain.

The Inkitt online community consists of a forum to post writing work in-progress and get feedback, and to solicit support for things like editing and plot development. However, a major focus — and key to the startup’s unique publishing model — is the beta readers section.

Here Inkitt members are encouraged to post full manuscripts to be read by the app’s over a million readers. This is a way to get reader reviews and further feedback, but can also lead to a publishing deal with Inkitt itself if the reader engagement data the company collects points to a potential best-seller.

“We analyse reader behaviour, analyse their engagement,” Inkitt founder Ali Albazaz tells me. “If they start reading and stay up all night to continue reading, if they use every break during the day to continue reading your story, we look at this reader behaviour in order to see if a book is good or not good”.

In addition, since Inkitt employs Facebook log in, the startup has demographic data on its readers and this, says Albazaz, puts it in a position to be able to make decisions very objectively. “If we see that the metrics are great, we offer the author a publishing deal,” he says, which covers ebooks, print, audio books, movie rights, and merchandise rights.

To date, the company has published 24 books, of which 22 have become Amazon best sellers. “We are basically a full publishing house but without acquisition editors,” says Albazaz. “Inkitt is about author equality not about what you have done before or the network you have. Three years later we are proving that our approach works. We are able to predict best sellers with incredible accuracy”.

Meanwhile, Albazaz regards Inkitt’s most direct competitor as Chuangshi by Tencent, a large fiction site in China. “It is our main global competition, but also our main proof point for a successful data-driven fiction publisher. Tencent’s service focuses exclusively on China,” he says.

Otherwise, the Inkitt founder reckons that, with the exception of Amazon, few publishing houses work extensively with data science or use online to its full potential. Instead they still rely on gut-level decision-making by literary agents who in turn pitch a publisher where an editor ultimately decides whether or not a work is sellable.

Photo marketplace Picfair raises £1.5M, aims to ‘weaponise’ photographers


Picfair, the London-based photo marketplace founded by ex-journalist Benji Lanyado, has raised £1.5 million in new funding — capital it plans to use to market its “fair trade photography” proposition to the plethora of companies that need authentic photo content.

These include publishers, creative agencies, and, with the huge rise in so-called content marketing, SMEs and corporates. However, rather than spend a ton of money on paid-for online marketing, Lanyado says the plan is to “weaponise” the marketplace’s 25,000 or so photographers, who, he believes, are best placed to spread awareness of Picfair and are already doing so.

Specifically, he says many of Picfair’s photographers — who range from smartphone photographers to professionals, as anyone can upload their work to the platform — already share their Picfair-hosted photo listings on social media or embed a link to the marketplace on their own portfolio sites, in a bid to point buyers away from industry behemoths, such as Getty and Shutterstock, and to Picfair. That’s because Picfair lets photographers set their own prices and takes a much smaller 20 per cent cut on each photo sold.

Now the startup wants to add a further incentive in the form of affiliate revenue, thus giving photographers an additional 10 per cent on every photo they sell direct. It is also developing tools to make embedding a Picfair buy button and other promotional materials much easier.

“Picfair’s growth among photographers has been almost exclusively organic, all through word of mouth” Lanyado tells me. “We’re the only place a photographer can set their own license prices, anywhere. That’s crazy but it’s true. Instead, the huge [photo] agencies have institutionalised their control of the industry by imposing themselves as brokers, setting the fees, and then — brace yourself — taking 80 per cent of the royalties. Picfair reverses this, giving 80 percent to the photographer. We only make money if they make a lot more”.

He says that photographers talk, and that the control and fairness that Picfair offers means they tell their friends, some of whom are on the demand side of the image licensing equation. “Ceatives across publishing, the agency world, and the ever-expanding tier of corporates who license images (this is pretty much any company – website collateral, social media, content marketing; everyone’s a publisher these days),” he says.

“So during Picfair’s next phase, we want to supercharge this. We’ve started gradually rolling out out incentives for photographers who refer customers to us – splitting our 20 per cent commission with them for a year on every customer they refer. And then we want to tool them up – with online resource suites, marketing material, offline assets”.

Meanwhile, the sell to photo buyers is that Picfair images are more authentic and unique, often avoiding the stale look of traditional stock photography. Despite living through the biggest proliferation of images in history, with the average image quality of non-professional imagery improving exponentially, “the supply of images to the industry is 99 per cent professional,” Lanyado says.

Picfair’s solution is to open the doors to everyone, while its “ever-improving curation technology” does the heavy-lifting of sorting through the resulting uploaded images for quality, agnostic of whether they are taken by an award-winning professional or a complete amateur.

The startup’s new round of funding was led by the Claverley Group, owners of Express & Star regional U.K. newspaper. Picfair is also angel-backed by the likes of Alexis Ohanian, Tom Hulme, Duncan and Max Jennings (the VoucherCodes brothers), Richard Fearn, John Fingleton (former CE of the OFT and Treasury advisor), Jeremy Palmer (Quantum Black CEO), Chris Sheldrick (CEO of What3Words), Anthony Eskinazi (CEO of Just Park), Julian Worth, Force Over Mass, and D5 Capital.

Backed by Accel, GlowRoad helps Indian women build home businesses

GlowRoad’s team with founder Dr. Sonal Verma (center in green shirt)

Indian e-commerce company GlowRoad is built on a simple premise. By connecting manufacturers with resellers and using drop shipping, it keeps everyone’s overhead costs low. The Bangalore-based startup, however, doesn’t just aspire to be an online reseller network. Founded by a former physician, GlowRoad’s goal is to give housewives and stay-at-home mothers a low-risk way to start their own retail businesses from home.

GlowRoad, which secured $2 million in Series A funding from Accel Partners earlier this month, currently claims 100,000 registered users, 36,000 of whom are active resellers. Most selling takes place in WhatsApp groups or in-person and GlowRoad claims that its resellers complete about a total of 1,000 transactions every day.

While some resellers do keep physical inventory in their homes, most products are shipped directly from manufacturers to buyers. The company’s business model is designed to benefit resellers by letting them build an online store without managing stock and suppliers who have a ready-made distribution network.

“The idea is that women should be able to earn from home, without putting in any money and it should be a secure system, but if you look at it from a business person’s point of view, what it becomes is a very strong sales network,” says founder Sonal Verma, who acqui-hired the team behind LocalQueen, a reseller network, two months ago to build GlowRoad. “So if you launch something and want to launch it in all the cities in India, you can do so very rapidly and very cost-effectively through this channel.”

While working as a physician, Verma focused on community medicine before co-founding a telemedicine startup called HealthcareMagic.com. Going from medicine to e-commerce might seem like an odd path, but Verma says she was inspired by the women she treated.

“I wanted to work in a venture that empowers women and I saw a lot of reselling happening in my neighborhoods, so that put the idea in my head,” she says.

India’s e-commerce market is expected to be worth $220 billion by 2025 and, according to a report by Zinnov, one of the main beneficiaries will be women running businesses from home.

The consulting firm says about two million women have already made $9 billion in gross sales by reselling clothing and lifestyle products online, and that the number of “housewife resellers” is expected to increase to 21 million to 23 million by 2022.

GlowRoad’s suppliers offer goods at wholesale prices and resellers decide what margin to charge on top of that. While sellers have an online storefront on GlowRoad, they usually market their products through WhatsApp and Facebook groups or in their residential communities. GlowRoad monetizes by charging its suppliers 500 rupees a month (about $7.70). Opening a store is free, but resellers pay to unlock premium features.

GlowRoad’s biggest category is fashion, with Indian ethnic wear moving the most products, says Verma. Cosmetics and jewelry are also popular.

“WhatsApp has changed a lot of things for everyone,” says Verma. “Most ladies have fairly large WhatsApp groups and are members of multiple ladies groups on WhatsApp or Facebook. When they become serious resellers, they start doing it by sending more messages, saying that I’m in this kind of business, and then they start to make their own groups for their business.”

As each reseller’s business grows, GlowRoad teaches them how to run Facebook ads and optimize search results for their GlowRoad online stores. Since most GlowRoad resellers use drop shipping, it only takes them a few minutes to fill their online stores with listings.

Relying on drop shipping, however, comes with several risks. For example, not seeing a product before it reaches customers means resellers have very little control over quality. GlowRoad mitigates this by sending members of its team to vet manufacturers before adding them to the site and then using a review system that rewards top suppliers by setting them up with the site’s newest resellers.

Verma says some of GlowRoad’s Series A funding will be used to ensure that its quality assurance system can scale up. The company also plans to hire more people to build its digital marketing team and tech platform.

“Improving supply side is what we are working on the most at the moment, but we’ll ensure they have the best quality products,” says Verma.

Star Trek: Discovery boldly goes where no Star Trek show has gone before

There’s never been a Star Trek show entirely like Star Trek: Discovery.

It’s been more than 10 years since Star Trek: Enterprise left the airwaves, and in that time, television as a medium has changed a lot. And for a Star Trek show to survive in today’s day and age of so called “peak TV,” Trek was going to have to change too.

Fortunately, it seems Discovery is up to the task, both as a successor to the Star Trek legacy and as a new TV show in its own right.

Spoilers for the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery follow

First things first. At this early stage, at least, Discovery is surprisingly satisfying, to the point where it’s easy to forget the hubbub of chaos that surrounded the show’s development, including the release delays and loss of Brian Fuller. Television has always been the medium where Star Trek has thrived, and Discovery is already taking advantage of the format for the kind of thoughtful, long-term storytelling and character-building that the recent action-packed theatrical summer Star Trek blockbusters have sorely lacked.

CBS aired the first two episodes of Discovery on Sunday night — the first on traditional CBS television broadcasts, and the second on the network’s $5.99 per month CBS All Access subscription service, which will be the exclusive home to Discovery, at least in the U.S. and Canada. But the two episodes are more or less just an extended pilot that’s been cut in two. These two episodes serve as an introduction to the world of Discovery, and in particular, the protagonist, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham.

Burnham isn’t like any protagonist we’ve seen in Star Trek so far, and not only because she doesn’t command a starship or space station. She’s a far more rounded, human character than any of the previous captains, with some serious trauma from a Klingon attack in her youth that’s left her predisposed to hate the warrior race. And while Star Trek has plumbed the “main character has demons” well in the past — most notably with Sisko in Deep Space Nine, and Picard in the later films, when it comes to the Borg — Burnham feels far more compelling for not being a flawless human being in other respects, as her series-protagonist predecessors were.

CBS

The supporting cast — at least, those who have shown up so far — are also enjoyable to watch. Frequent Guillermo del Toro monster-performer Doug Jones does excellent work as Saru, bringing a mix of Spock/Data-like calm combined with an almost neurotic fear of danger. And Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou is a steadying presence to rival even Jean-Luc Picard. Beyond that, though, the dialogue and banter between the crew is just genuinely entertaining. Viewers are told these people have been serving together for years, and it’s believable. Their interactions feel far more natural and realistic than the sometimes stilted, formal scripts of Trek series past.

As for the Klingons, they’ve received the biggest redesign of the series, both physically (the design falls somewhere between the ridged foreheads of Next Generation and subsequent shows, and the rebooted race from Star Trek Into Darkness) and aesthetically, with the Klingon outfits taking on an ornate, golden style that’s different from anything seen on Trek series before. Discovery’s Klingons are also fiercely religious, seeming to worship Kahless the Unforgettable, the first Klingon ruler to unite the species, and the founder of the Klingon Empire.

The new Klingons are also incredibly devoted to the idea of Klingon culture above all else — T’Kuvma, the Klingon leader, has a rallying cry of “Remain Klingon,” and while he is (relative to the other Klingon houses) open to accepting any Klingon, even those considered to be outcasts, he loathes the Federation ideals of equality, diversity, and peace. It’s easy to draw parallels to America’s current political atmosphere, where issues of isolationism and racial supremacy are sadly rearing their ugly heads again — which the showrunners absolutely intended, according to an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

CBS

By any previous Star Trek standard, Discovery is a competent successor to the series’ legacy. But the creators seem to be taking lessons from modern TV series too. The narrative so far doesn’t seem to be designed episodically, with an eye toward syndication, and there seem to be real consequences to the events in the first two episodes, instead of the often-mocked “Reset Button” of Next Generation. And CBS has clearly spared no budgetary expense, with the CGI miles ahead of the reused stock shots of earlier series.

The show certainly isn’t perfect. Discovery’s first episodes also feel a lot like an extended prologue, establishing Burnham’s personality and the overall premise of the Klingon conflict, but not much more than that. By the end of the first two episodes, there’s still no sign of the actual USS Discovery, where we’ll be probably be spending the bulk of the season. Burnham has landed in Starfleet prison, and T’Kuvma (initially, the series’ presumed antagonist) is dead. It’s hard to predict at this point what the rest of the show will actually look like.

And while Discovery is purportedly set in the original timeline of the original Star Trek shows — specifically in the gap between Enterprise and The Original Series — so far, there isn’t much connective tissue linking it to the existing Trek universe.

Aesthetically, Discovery’s modern designs bear a closer resemblance to the rebooted J.J. Abrams Trek film series, albeit with an occasionally overwhelming burnt-orange color palette. Discovery also plays fast and loose with existing Trek lore — for example, the use of a cloaking device by Klingons in an encounter with the Federation seems to contradict the 1960s series episode Balance of Terror, where Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are surprised by the existence of Romulans using that same technology. Similarly, it seems curious that Trek’s TV continuity has never mentioned Spock having an adopted sister until Michael is introduced, but so long as the story it tells is good, it can be forgiven for blazing its own trail in the canon, at least for now.

Star Trek: DiscoveryStar Trek: Discovery Image: CBS

It’s too early to say whether Discovery will be able to keep this momentum going, or whether it’ll fall into the same traps as other Trek shows. And there’s still the unproven paid-distribution method of CBS All Access, which is guaranteed to dramatically cut down on potential viewers in the coming weeks, as compared with shows available via public broadcast.

But Discovery is off to a promising start, and with all the pressure weighing down on it going into this premiere, that may be enough of an accomplishment for the moment — and enough to start building the word of mouth CBS is going to need if its new distribution model is going to succeed.

Twitter Lite site gets the inevitable app, now being tested in the Phillipines

Why it matters to you

With 45 percent of global smartphone connections on 2G networks, lightweight versions of apps are key to success. Twitter is jumping on the bandwagon with Twitter Lite.

Facebook has done it, YouTube has done it, Twitter is doing it, too. We’re talking, of course, about offering a lightweight version of the platform to make it easier for users in countries with less robust access to data to use Twitter. In April, Twitter product manager Patrick Traughber published a blog post announcing the debut of Twitter Lite, described as “a new mobile web experience which minimizes data usage, loads quickly on slower connections, is resilient on unreliable mobile networks, and takes up less than 1MB on your device.”

Though the we do have Twitter Lite, it was inevitable that an app would be released, and Tech Crunch reports it’s being tested in the Phillipines.

For users in the Phillipines, the app can be found in the Google Play Store for those who have Android 5.0 and above. It has English and Filipino support, and can be used on 2G and 3G networks.

“The test of the Twitter Lite app in the Google Play Store in the Philippines is another opportunity to increase the availability of Twitter in this market,” a Twitter spokesperson told Tech Crunch. “The Philippines market has slow mobile networks and expensive data plans, while mobile devices with limited storage are still very popular there. Twitter Lite helps to overcome these barriers to usage for Twitter in the Philippines.”

The app is under 3MB and has a “data saver mode to download only the images or videos you want to see,” according to the app’s download page.

While smartphone adoption is growing at a rapid rate around the world, infrastructure isn’t necessarily keeping up. In fact, the GSMA reports, 45 percent of mobile connections remain on 2G networks. And given that smartphone adoption is now at around 3.8 billion connections, that’s a lot of phones on slower networks.

The Twitter Lite site not only requires less data, but promises 30 percent faster launch times and quicker navigation throughout the platform. Users can still be able to see the core components of the social media service, including timeline, Tweets, Direct Messages, trends, profiles, media uploads, and notifications without an app. No word if Twitter’s new night mode will come to the Lite platform.

And to make things more efficient still, Twitter’s data saver mode, could potentially reduce your data usage by up to 70 percent. Twitter Lite also offers offline support so you’ll be able to maintain your session even if your connection is spotty.

You can check out Twitter Lite at mobile.twitter.com on a smartphone or tablet. More information can be found at lite.twitter.com, and if you’re interested in learning how the tool was built, you can do that here.

Update: Added information about Twitter Lite app being tested in the Philippines. 

‘The Witness’ for iOS brings you soothing graphics to accompany tough puzzles

App Attack is a weekly series where we search the App Store and Google Play Store for the best apps of the week. Check out App Attack every Sunday for the latest.

Puzzles can be exciting for some, and frightening for others. When you’re young, those big, colorful pieces were always exciting to put together — mainly because there weren’t very many of them. As you become older, the pieces become smaller and far more numerous and confusing. This week, we have an app that still brings you bright visuals accompanied by intense puzzles.

The Witness is a single-player game with over 500 puzzles, and it has a few distinguishing qualities from other such apps. For starters, the plot begins with you waking up alone on a deserted island. You’re unable to remember how you got there, and so you spend the game discovering clues and regaining your memory. Most importantly, you’re also attempting to find your way back home.

The game originally launched on PC and PS4 back in 2016, following by XBox One and Mac later on. While it’s already been available for Android, the app now has a home on iOS as well. You’ll have to make sure you’re running on iOS 10 or iOS 11 in order to be able to play it on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. As far as price goes, it will cost you $10, which seems expensive, but is a bargain compared to the $40 price tag it has for gaming consoles and desktops.

When I say it’s a single-player game, I really mean it. You get little to no direction other than the ability to walk completely throughout the locations to try and spot a clue. If you’re looking for a game with guidance and barely any no effort, you might want to consider one that’s far more easy-going. I’m not the biggest fan of puzzles but when I downloaded The Witness, I figured they would be a bit challenging but more simple for the most part — I was really wrong.

In the beginning, you start off walking through a dark tunnel and up a staircase to what looks like a garden. You’re on your own to find where the puzzles are and then solve them, though. The puzzles look extremely similar to the ones you’ve probably seen in coloring books, where you have to find the direct path to the exit. With this game, the biggest hint you’ll get is where the actual exit which is signaled by a blinking circle. But it’s up to you to figure out how to get there. To try and solve them, simply run your finger across the path you think is correct.

While the puzzles themselves are a struggle to solve, the interface is super easy to navigate and follow along wit. In order to move around, all you have to do is tap the screen twice to start running and once to walk or stop. If you want to run further distances without having to continuously double tap, you can tap to where you want to end up. A beam of light will appear to mark where the end point is, so you know exactly where you’l stop. You can also zoom out and back in with two fingers, the way you normally would on your iPhone.

When it comes to graphics, I loved how bright and crisp they were. As a first-person game, The Witness takes every last detail into account to give you an immersive experience. From vivid colors to changes in scenery depending on which direction you walk in. I went from a rugged trail out in the open to an area filled with bright orange Fall leaves coating the grass.

The sound effects are also what makes the game even more enjoyable, with a notification in the beginning letting you know it will sound better with headphones. Walking through the outdoors, you’ll hear everything from the leaves crunching underneath your shoes to the body of water calmly flowing in the background. It can definitely also act as one of those ambient noise machines because before you know it, you’ll walking around to enjoy the view instead of attempting to solve puzzles.

It makes sense that a game with such difficult puzzles would need nature to help balance out your sanity. When I started the puzzles in the beginning, I was on a roll, zooming through each one. But soon enough, you’ll start to realize they’re not easy at all. Even though the game does tell you the end point, the paths become more complex and what seems like unsolvable. Another aspect of this game I really appreciated was the fact that you don’t have to solve the puzzle right in front of you in order to move on to the next one. If you find one of them is too difficult, you can abandon it and come back to it later.

The game may seem intimidating after a while — I wasn’t able to play for more than an hour at a time — but it will keep you coming back. Sometimes, when you don’t overthink the puzzle too much, you’ll realize the answer is actually right in front of you. Other times, it’s best to simply move on and come back to it later. It’s not like there aren’t tons of places to see and discover within the game — don’t forget to give your brain a break. With over 500 puzzles to solve, it’s one of those games you’ll most likely always have available to play.