Some days ago Valve (Half-Life, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, Portal), quietly released a mobile version of their hugely popular digital distribution client, Steam.
Much like most other Valve products, prior to its announcement, there was no indication of its imminent release, nor any word on what the application would entitle its users.
The good news is that Steam Mobile does everything that you would expect it to do, and more. It grants users the ability to chat with friends, browse groups and profiles, browse the Steam store, and even more importantly, purchase games directly from the App, so that they're available for you when you get home. This also includes the added benefit of being able to purchase games during special sales while you're away from a "safe" computer to use or a decent internet connection.[please click the images to enlarge]
Upon first launching the app, you're greeted with a generic login screen. Valve have conveniently allowed users to log into the app with their existing Steam credentials, which means no secondary logins are required, nor are there any addtional hoops that the user needs to jump through in order to use the app (ergo, enabling options in their account, verifying information, etc).
Upon logging in you're presented with one of two outcomes -- The first, and most disappointing outcome, is a message informing the user that they're not yet a part of the BETA, however, by logging in, they've now automatically inserted themselves into a queue to receive BETA invites as they're passed out.[Edit: The app has switched to open BETA as of a few days ago 06FEB12]
The second, and obviously more favourable outcome, is to be greeted with the following,
From this view, the user has the ability to do one of three different things.
1. Tap a friend to view their profile
2. Chat with that person by tapping the speech bubble icon, or searching for them manuallay
3. View other services by tapping the small sidebar icon on the upper left
One of my early complaints regarding the chat functionality is that it does not easily facilitate the ability to pick up a conversation on your computer, and finish it off on your mobile device, as there is unfortunately no chatlog function.
This means that if you start a conversation on your computer, then switch to your mobile device, you will be unable to see a chatlog of everything that had transpired prior to switching to your mobile device.
The same goes for messages that you send on your mobile device -- Anything that you send to a friend in chat on your mobile device will NOT be visible when you switch to your computer, even if you were logged into Steam throughout the entire conversation.
The only way chat works correctly is if the user maintains an open chat window both on their desktop and on their mobile device. Unfortunately, even in ideal situations, certain messages don't get delivered, as shown below.
This is definitely one of the larger issues with the app, and really creates an overall disjointed experience -- One that leaves the user feeling like they're using two completely separate services.
Moving forward from the chat issues, another niggling problem is the way the store operates. One of the best features that Apple included with iCloud is the ability to purchase an app on your iPhone while you're at work, and have it automatically downloaded, installed, and ready to use on your iPad at home, without having to do anything aside from purchasing the app as you normally would.
Unfortunately Steam mobile does not replicate this feature in any way. Purchasing a game on Steam Mobile simply delivers it to your Steam account so that you may install it when you get home. There are no special pop-ups when you first log into the desktop version of Steam, nor any highlighted games to indicate "new purchases". It is up to the user to manually search through their games list and locate the game.
A very much appreciated feature would have been the ability to tick a box on Steam Mobile so that the desktop Steam client would automatically download and install a game for you, so that it would be ready to play upon getting home.
In any case, the store experience in Steam Mobile is as good as you would expect and handles the entire process very cleanly and efficiently.
The entire Steam catalog is available on the mobile app, and purchasing a game is as simple as tapping on it, adding it to the cart, and checking out. Users are also given the ability to gift games from within the app itself.
One glaring issue, however, is the fact that the app remains logged in at all times, even if you close it completely. Something like this wouldn't really be much of a problem, however, it's important to remember that Steam remembers your credit card information. This means that all you have to do is open the app, select a game, and buy it instantly without the app ever asking for a password or any form of user verification.
If the app were to get into the wrong hands, someone could very easily charge your account with several thousand dollars worth of game purchases -- And even worse -- If you were to dispute these charges and ask your bank to do a chargeback, you would then be met with your Steam account (and all of its legitimate purchases) being disabled. Legally, you would not be able to do a single thing about it either, as Valve (under the end user license agreement) are within their right to disable your account if you take such actions against them.
Besides the main issues highlighted above, the app performs as well as you would expect, and doesn't really offer users anything out of the ordinary. Valve have implemented a sidebar very reminiscent of the Facebook app available on iOS and Android, however they don't seem to have capitalised on the fact that it is in fact an app on a mobile device. There are no special phone-specific functions or features given to the mobile edition of Steam.
Valve have been gradually adding more and more social features into Steam over the years, and a mobile application would have been a perfect way to introduce new social features such as status updates or photo uploads.
In any case, what Valve have provided in their mobile app is both solid and functionally sound. Sans for a few very rough edges such as the 90's-esque "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" sign in the screenshots section, one can't really complain about a free application.
Users are provided with all the basic functionality that they need to effectively use Steam on their phone, and the overall experience at this stage, despite being rough around the edges, is most definitely enjoyable.
Check it out on the Apple App Store or the Android Market when you get a chance. http://cdn.store.ste...roid_AppBtn.png