Posts Tagged 'Gadgets'

December 9, 2010

Records Are Made to be Broken

You know how it works – a casual conversation leads to a Google search the next day. This in turn leads to enlightenment. Or something along those lines.

Last Tuesday morning, a PDF version of the January 30, 1983(!) issue of ‘Arcade Express – The Bi-weekly Electronic Games Newsletter’ arrived in my inbox. It made for good reading and brought me back to the days of my youth when I burned numerous hours and brain cells playing Intellivision, Atari and Commodore machines. I had access to two devices – one that sat in my family room (an Intellivision) and one that sat in a pal’s basement (an Atari 2600). My kids have access to much more – there are numerous devices at their fingertips; including a PS3, Nintendo DS, a MAC mini and my wife’s iPhone. Most of their friends are in similar circumstances.

A quick comparison is in order:

Device RAM Processor
Vic 20 5 KB 1.1 MHz
Intellivision 11 KB 894 KHz
Atari 2600 .125 KB 1.19 MHz
Nintendo DS 4 MB Two ARM Processors:
67 MHz and 33 MHz
156 MB Video
Seven cores @3.2 GHZ
iPhone 3GS 256 MB eDRAM 600 MHz
MAC Mini 2 GB Two cores @1.66 GHz

Processing power aside, I think that the more important thing to consider is the fact that we are approaching ubiquity for a number of devices in North America. Most people have access to the internet, most people have access to mobile phones (and more and more of them have access to smartphone like the iPhone or an Android device) and most people have access to a dedicated game device. Western Europe and parts of Asia (Japan and Korea) are the same and the rest of Asia is soon to follow, and will be the beneficiary of the tremendous innovation that is happening today. There is a lot of room for growth and maybe not a whole lot of clarity around what that next generation of devices and games will look like (I predict 3D, AI driven games played with a dedicated gaming chip implanted in your cortex).

The last page of the ‘Arcade Express’ newsletter detailed the honor roll of ‘The Nation’s Highest Scores’. Softlayer’s own Jeff Reinis was the top Arcade Game player for Pac-Man. His record was 15,676,420. I wonder how many hours of continuous game playing that is?


September 14, 2010

iPad: The Revolution

The iPad

"A magical, revolutionary product at an incredible price" says Apple.

"It's shiny!! I want one!" half my brain says in awe.

"It's over $600! The economy sucks! When's the last time you bought yourself some decent clothes? Haven't you wanted a road bike for a while? How's that savings account of yours holding up anyway? Doesn't matter, it should be double that. And while you're at it, you should spend less on food too." So protests the other half of my brain, a side that sounds curiously like my mother.

There was going to be no impulse buying here. If I were to get one, I would need a solid justification for it. So the justification became this: I'm a web applications developer, and the iPad has the potential to influence what I do for a living. What this influence will be is not altogether clear, but I will have a much better idea of what it will be owning an iPad rather than not. So the decision was made: a shiny, 3G, 16GB iPad to call my own.

Whether the iPad is "revolutionary" will be decided only after the revolution has occurred and its effects discussed, debated, and understood. But the potential for bringing about one is very much there. The iPad is also as much a product of a revolution rather than the instigator of one: the shift to ubiquitous internet access and cloud computing.

The Revolution the iPad Could Bring About

Computers were once only attached to keyboards, where people entered memorized commands. The mouse and graphical user interface were revolutionary in their day, allowing people to interact with computers who otherwise couldn't or wouldn't do so. Just as importantly, the mouse and GUI allowed the creation of software that would not exist elegantly in a world with just keyboards. One notable piece of software made possible by the GUI & mouse was the web browser.

Much like the mouse before it, the multitouch screen presents a major evolution of the computer-user interface. Unlike the combination of the mouse and keyboard however, it is a complimentary evolution. Multitouch screens will not replace the mouse and keyboard, but compliment them in many areas.

Suppose you have a button on a screen. In the past, pressing that button required "aiming" a cursor with a mouse attached to your computer, or (more recently), a trackpad. In many cases, the button on the screen might be "mapped" to a key or combination of keys. But the multitouch screen bypasses all this. If there's a button on a screen that says it does something, all you have to do is press it with your finger.

Trivial you might say? I would say "subtle," with powerful implications:

The precision of a dedicated mouse and keyboard is no longer required for many tasks that once depended on these devices. Since the iPad is a portable device, being tethered to a traditional computer or laptop is similarly no longer required. Much like the mouse and GUI before it, new applications that were not practical for mouse-based systems will now be written and many of course have been. Few people could have predicted that the web browser and its impact on society would be one of the many advances the mouse-based GUI would bring about, and it is entirely possible that such ground-breaking applications will one day be written for the iPad, or a device similar to it.

The Revolution That Made the iPad Possible

AT&T's coverage map shows the majority of the United States covered by their 3G or EDGE networks, and competing carriers show similar coverage. Whereas "cellphone coverage" once meant being able to make voice calls and send texts, "cellphone coverage" today is synonymous with internet access. The internet is everywhere, and it is all around us.

Imagine a device like the iPad in a world without ubiquitous internet, without wifi even. Would that iPad have a disk drive? It could have the greatest, most revolutionary interface in the world. But there'd be no argument that the device's utility would be much more limited, to the point where the device might appeal only to technical people.

The iPad is one of the first mass produced, practical cloud computing devices, and its success is in part owed to the many advances made before it. Companies like SoftLayer helped bring about cloud computing solutions to developers such as myself where such services would otherwise be inaccessible or prohibitively expensive.

So when I look at my iPad, I no longer just see a shiny new thing. The sticker shock has been more than offset by what the iPad represents: striking innovation and an attitude toward the economy all of us would do well to adopt: Don't complain, put your brain to work, and create something new.

Yet the iPad is not an isolated device either. Years of infrastructure investment and innovation by many companies brought us to the point where consumers and developers alike can leverage the power of the cloud. "Revolutionary" is a bold claim on Apple's part, but in the context of what the state of technology was even a few years ago, the term "magical" isn't far off at all.


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