Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Invaded by gadgets

Screenshot of Microsoft Windows 1.01
from Wikipedia

My life coincides quite closely with the development of microelectronics. From the invention of the transistor in 1948, to the Intel 4004 microprocessor in 1971, on to the Sinclair ZX81, the IBM PC, Windows and the modern tablet - I saw it all. Well most of it - I wasn't actually around in 1948. But I was fascinated by the possibilities as soon as Intel produced their 8080 microprocessor and the exciting notion of owning your own computer dawned.

I always expected home computers to evolve quite quickly into consumer products. In a way they have of course, but what I didn’t foresee in the early days was how much computing power would be gobbled up by our phenomenal hunger for graphics and graphical interfaces. I didn’t see how important the look of the thing would be, as opposed to what it actually does.

I thought word processing, spreadsheets and databases just about covered it as far as applications went. What more could anyone want?

Of course people wanted much more than that – and got it. Sometimes at the expense of computer performance which at one time seemed forever trying to catch up with hugely bloated software. Even so, the phenomenal advances in microelectronics have shrunk powerful computing devices down to the size of your hand – and smaller.

On Monday we were in PC World looking at the new KindleFire, comparing it to similar devices such as a Samsung Galaxy 7 inch tablet. The Kindle is an interesting device, not so much technically as functionally. It’s built to a mass market price with a view to tying the purchaser into Amazon's content such as books, films, music, news media and so on.

The Samsung on the other hand, is promoted as being more of a general purpose web access device, although with the free Kindle app, it can be much like a Kindle.

One thing I noticed with the Kindle Fire is the difference in price between two versions, with and without advertising - currently £129 with and £139 without. Amazon describes the difference as

Special offers and sponsored screensavers display on the Kindle Fire's lock screen.

Is this a sign of the future? For years computers have been bundled with all kinds of trial software, much of which is just a nuisance, but what of the future?

My ideal computer.
My ideal would look like a small mobile phone but thinner and lighter - about the size of a credit card. I'd communicate with it by voice only, with link back to my home computer and the Web. So I might be out walking and I'd ask it...

Any comments on my last blog post?
Three from the usual suspects. All of them rather witty so you'll be stuck for a decent reply.
Okay, take a photo of this antique pig trough and pop it into a draft post.
Any emails?
Only the usual Amazon crap.
Junk them.
Done. Am I supposed to be logging this walk via GPS?
Er - yes. Are you logging it?
Yes but you didn't tell me to.
That's okay. Nice pig trough.

Back home I'd have a very light 15/16 inch screen with a long battery life and wireless charging. For me, it is possible for computers to be too small. too fiddly with not enough information on the screen, so I see a decent screen as a necessity.

Not so sure about the keyboard.

I'm not sure about the mouse either, although in many ways it is the ideal pointing device. Touch screens are the thing of course. Apparently Windows 8 has been designed round touch, but for word processing and blogging I don't see the attraction.

That brings us to backup of important files and photos, which for me would be local - ultra simple wireless NAS. I can't see me ever trusting the cloud.

So for me, the computer doesn't have too far to go in order to become that consumer product I always expected. A few more twiddles and that's that as far as I'm concerned.

Suppose computing devices evolve into bog-standard Web content portals and surfing as we know it today becomes more difficult – more clunky as you have to negotiate the built-in stuff which can’t be deleted because that’s what you signed up to when you bought your latest shiny gadget. Very much like the Kindle in fact.

It may well be that the Web ends up being policed via the devices we buy and their tied-in content providers. Not that the Web will become inaccessible, but the commercial content may be all most people see because that’s all they want out of the device. A gateway to the Web may still be open, but most people won't use it because all they want is glitzy content. Films, music, games, social froth and gossip from mainstream gossip mongers - maybe that's what the devices will focus on. As they tend to do now really.

So the big blogs will have to go mainstream to survive, signing up to content and advertising deals, simply in order to keep their audience. Other blogs will continue to be very much a minority interest.

Possibly not even that.


Anonymous said...

For goodness sake, AK, when you said you were 'troughing it' I assumed you meant Claridges!

Also, mine is bigger than yours - er, that's computer screens, by the way. I treated myself to a 21" screen which means I can loll back in my chair and, through glasses specially configured to give me optimal focus at the length of my arm plus 12", read quite easily. No more peering - hoorah!

Demetrius said...

A reliable source of information once told me that 150k of memory was quite enough for anyone.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the marketeers and governments will try to dominate, too good an opportunity not to charge for, tax and keep tabs on. Expect more annoying popups, surveys and hanging around for sponsor content.

I should think the pad market will go for all manner of built-in and un-removable spyware to track your interests and pester you with annoying ads. Expect more manipulation of what WEB content you are allowed to see, the current free-for-all won't last.

BTW, be interesting to see how quickly those Raspberry Pi things turn up on eBay after Crimbo.

James Higham said...

t may well be that the Web ends up being policed via the devices we buy and their tied-in content providers.

There's something hackable coming up tomorrow to circumvent these sorts of things.

A K Haart said...

David - but what happens when you want to punch the screen? It's too far away!

Demetrius - I bet that was Bill.

Roger - Raspberry Pi is already on eBay. Can't see what use it is myself.

James - I'll watch out for it.