Hot on the heels of yesterday's striking Vizio Co-Star announcement - a proper Google TV device for $99 that also happens to incorporate the excellent OnLive streaming game service - was Google's big I/O event today. There were several major reveals, including the nifty features of the next version of the Android operating system, Jellybean; the Nexus 7 7" tablet; the Google Nexus Q, a streaming media device that's made in the USA; and Project Glass, Google's upcoming augmented reality glasses. Let's take each one of these in order:
My, how plans change. I was all but dead set on waiting for Windows 8 to come out and then getting a new kick butt PC, but the more the Windows 8 story has publicly evolved, the more I realize that that's probably not a direction I want to go. This led me to go on a search for a new PC now, one that I've decided may end up lasting me until it no longer makes sense to have the type of PC we traditionally consider "killer." Let me explain why I think this is an inevitability...
Here's a famous quote that sums up the reaction to yesterday's surprise announcement by HP to stop supporting webOS, and, by extension, the TouchPad tablet, as well as get out of the PC business, courtesy of the classic 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes: "YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!". We all knew that Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker was a software guy, we just didn't realize that meant he'd pull the rug out from under consumers and do a dramatic IBM-style business shift. At least we can still buy their printers, right? ... Anyone?
This affects me personally, because I was working on TouchPad For Dummies, which would have been my third book for 2011, to go along with the recently released, Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, and the upcoming, My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE. While these events are much bigger than me and others will be affected far more dramatically, I thought I would still give my personal impressions, starting first with a little background on the book stuff, some discussion of the TouchPad itself, and then get a bit more into an analysis of the present situation within the industry.
I had recently written about what I perceive to be the false notion of console gaming holding PC gaming back (and, frankly, with a recent release like L.A. Noire and future releases like Skyrim, again, it's hard to make that argument outside of a purely superficial (audio/visual) - not contentual - standpoint). Perhaps, as this new article puts forth, it's not consoles, but tablets, that the traditional PC industry has more to worry about?
Of course, as far as I'm concerned, we're actually still at least a few years off from that happening, at least until Apple breaks the required link between their iOS devices and a computer equipped with iTunes (and that's a question of "when", not "if"). Android devices are of course close to completely breaking free of the computer tether, but there are other issues for those classes of devices to overcome first. Other tablet OS's, present and future, are probably somewhere in-between the two.
Interestingly, there's a girl here at my day job who had bought an iPad 2 about a month back and then recently got an iPhone 4, but was frustrated that there was no way to copy what was on her iPad 2 (purchases) over to the iPhone 4. You see, she considers her computer horribly outdated and really didn't want to go through iTunes on her rickety old PC! Obviously, very flawed thinking, but it's very interesting what the non-techies have in their thought processes (and in this case how she wants to basically compute outside of work exclusively on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4)... Definitely a paradigm shift of some type! In any case, it's the old argument that it's not so much computers that are being challenged, it's the limited generalized definition of what a computer is that is being challenged. Does a computer really mean that desktop or laptop many of use a good portion of the day? Sure, but that's not all it means. As an iPad 2 user - outside of the tethering restriction for the occasional iTunes sync - I can argue that my tablet is as much of a computer as most desktops and laptops, with strikingly similar functionality (and in some cases, then some).
Ultimately, I think it's clear we're all headed to a connected eco-system of devices, where a lot of stuff is in the cloud, with minimal need for local storage. You'll simply use whatever device is handy or whatever is best suited to a particular task (say a touch screen or a keyboard). We even already have brilliantly functional cloud gaming services (and of course, VOD, like Netflix), so, outside of artificial bandwidth restrictions by ISP's, there's little reason to think that the future has anything to do with increasingly more powerful traditional computers. For some of us who have been in love with technology since our earliest memories, this is a tough sell, but it's hard to argue that's not where we're headed, and perhaps it's just as hard to argue that it's even a bad a thing. I'm sure even the most hardcore among us have tired of the upgrade/incompatibility/instability cycle at some point, if only briefly.
There's an interesting piece by Mercury News Columnist, Troy Wolverton, boldly titled, The PC's reign is ending, where he basically states that this is the beginning of the end of the PC's dominance as our primary computing device. This is the same basic premise as "PC gaming is dying", which we all know is an overblown idea that's been run up the flagpole since the 90's, but, as with that well-worn mantra, I have to agree there's some truth to the concept when it's not taken strictly as a sensationalistic headline. After all, many of us, myself included, have smartphones that perform the majority of functions we used to need powerful desktop or laptop computers for, effectively replacing them in a surprising number of situations.
Luckily, the article is not as superficial as the headline and opening, and does in fact make the point we've made around here time and again, that the reality is a computer by any other name is still a computer. So while it may not be a big gray tower under your desk or a clamshell notebook with a full stroke keyboard in your briefcase, it's really just an evolution of the form factor and more specific functional repurposing (e.g., a smartphone being designed around making calls first, or a videogame console being designed around playing games). The reality is when you factor in things like smartphones and now, tablets, computers are more explosively dominant than ever and will continue on such an upward trajectory until we reach the point of complete saturation and actual disposable computing devices. It's said everything will eventually have a microchip, and really, we're not that far off. I for one welcome our new computing overlords, no matter what shape they take or by what other category we try to place them in.