Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Million Dollars in My Pocket

I heard a speaker say the other day that technology doesn't become really interesting until it becomes almost free.

The reasoning behind this idea is that when technology becomes inexpensive, it is adopted by millions of people and becomes used in very interesting and creative ways -- typically in ways that the inventors had not envisioned.

I've been marveling about this, as I've recently been able to use and compare both an Apple iPhone 3GS and a Motorola Droid. Both are phenomenal devices that perform similar functions, yet have vastly different "personalities."

While I was using them earlier this week, I took a few seconds and thought about the millions of dollars that went into the creation of each of these devices; the thousands of people who came up with not only the hardware that make these devices; the thousands of people who wrote the software for these devices -- not only the operating system, but the thousands of applications that I can download for anywhere, for free or typically under $10.

I also think about the infrastructure that exists to make these devices work, as I sit in my home, as I travel from place to place, even on airplanes now through onboard WiFi. The basic function of these devices used to be a phone. However, they have moved so far beyond basic phone service. Really, it's amazing.

Nowadays, handheld devices are a combination of GPS devices, Web browsers, address books, calendars, game devices, word processors and entertainment devices, to name a few. It seems that every day, the functions these handheld devices perform continue to expand.

There are years of legislation that have been enacted to make these devices work, lots of marketing dollars spent, many agreements put in place, etc. All of these took resources of people, time and money. In fact, there have clearly been billions of dollars spent on making these devices available to me.

Yet with these devices, I can make virtually all the telephone calls I want, look up information, communicate with friends, family, and clients ... all for less than $100 per month.

I compare this to the first Motorola "brick" cell phone I had back in the early 1990s. I probably paid about the same amount per month for the phone, but received less than 1/10th of the value I do now for the same amount of money.

So even though I don't like paying as much for my phone service as I do and I hope that prices continue to drop, I do have to say that the value I receive is huge. The price I pay is a drop in the bucket compared to what it cost to bring this technology to me.

As I use both the iPhone and Droid, I continually uncover new features that are built in to each device, from speech recognition to integration with corporate and personal e-mail and calendar systems, to fun applications that serve no function except entertaining my children or me.

I am truly enjoying using both devices and, reflecting on how far we've come, I'm quite happy to imagine where technology will continue to provide value, often satisfying needs that we don't even know we have.

But for now, I will continue to marvel at what has been packed into the devices that are becoming essential parts of my life. I also find myself smiling when I uncover a feature or item that confirms the value of what I now carry with me.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 17 February 2010.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Friday, February 5, 2010

To iPad or Not to iPad

Every announcement by Apple seems to generate remarkable furor, including last week's introduction of the iPad.

While most people -- including the press -- haven't had much time to look at it in any depth, that hasn't stopped people from prognosticating about the iPad's future.

While the iPad looks like a really big iPhone or iPod Touch, it's a little of both and a lot of neither.

It's not like an iPhone because there's no built-in phone, but as I've discussed here for quite a while, most mobile devices are more computer than phone.

Neither does the iPad have a camera to take still or movies. Nor does the iPad have a USB connection with which it can connect to a computer over a physical wired connection, and it doesn't come with a physical keyboard, although there is an on-screen keyboard and a keyboard accessory that can be purchased.

Instead, the iPad relies on WiFi or a 3G (cellular) connection to connect to the Internet.

What the iPad does have is a much better screen for viewing Web sites, books, photographs and movies.

Oddly enough, the iPad's screen aspect ratio is that of traditional television, not High Definition TV (HDTV). Given that most computers nowadays are going to the HD widescreen format and are trying hard to accommodate HDTV, it's surprising that the iPad didn't include HDTV format and capabilities in this first iteration.

The iPad is also supposed to run most of the 100,000-plus applications from the AppStore, albeit at a lower resolution, as a result of the different screen resolutions.

Two of my biggest concerns about current e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook is the lack of color and multimedia. Apple's iPod addresses both of those items very well and Apple's new downloadable e-books will make a great change in how we view books.

From all available information, the first version of the iPad will be a great way to consume content from the Internet. It is not intended to create content such as word processing, spreadsheets, or video.

With the iPad's larger screen, it will be very interesting to see what applications are developed specifically for the iPad. Clearly, there will be many games and reference tools. But since the iPad isn't something you slip into your pocket, the iPad's larger form factor will make it better for some applications than others.

As a result, it's not likely that the iPad will replace anyone's laptop, desktop or netbook computer anytime soon. Instead, we'll have to see whether the iPad is creating a new niche of computer that's part traditional computer as we know it, part netbook, part e-book reader and part of something we haven't ever known before.

It could be that the iPad is just as good at creating a new market as the original iPod was. Despite the iPad's limitations, if the initial iPad sales are successful, there can and will be further versions of the iPad that will address many of the items that Apple and consumers consider to be shortcomings.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Friday 5 February 2010.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]