Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Resurrecting Publications

As I was flipping through the past week of tech news in Google Reader, I stumbled upon a Time Inc. Magazine Tablet demo and my jaw dropped. Although I wouldn't necessarily pick up a Sports Illustrated, even in digital form, the live cover page, photo flipping, ease and speed of navigation, and multimedia throughout the magazine makes it a very compelling device. Just the way that the engineers implemented the ability to rearrange pages based on reading preference is just brilliant. Maybe my three years of mostly unopened Wired issues will finally become a thing of the past. In fact, I am tempted to hold off on renewing my subscription until the digital tablet edition arrives.

Now if only they will allow me to flip through my Google Reader quickly, I'll be set. Anyhow, check out the video below.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nintendo Should Apply a Tick-Tock Strategy to Gaming Consoles (thanks @Engadget for the inspiration)

I was listening to Engadget Podcast 169 and they started talking about Nintendo releasing the DSi LL, a slightly larger DSi. They (as well as others) have speculated that it is really for the older generation; given the success of Brain Age and the existence of a Japanese dictionary and other educational and productivity apps, it makes sense to release a slightly larger version to appeal to a different croud and inspire people to buy the new device. Those who purchased the DS or DS Lite for the gaming innovation don't really have a motivation to move to the DSi, given that the DSi does not support Gameboy Advance games and (as far as I know) does not allow you to convert your physical collection to a virtual format (R4 anyone?).

The Engadget guys then went on to joke that Nintendo will release a new version of the Wii with support for a gaming chamber (but with the same Gamecube graphics). As funny as that scenario would be, more realisically Nintendo should follow more of a tick-tock strategy (similar to Intel) with how they approach console updates. There may be a Wii HD in the works; rumours started about it this week but I have been hoping since the Wii first came out that an HD version better be around the corner.

Given that the PS3 and Xbox-360 are struggling to catch up on the revolutionary approach the Wii took, I think Nintendo is really onto something. All they have to do is provide a tick (user interface upgrade) and a tock (higher definition graphics) at some regular interval and they will be able to stay light-years ahead of the competition.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Synergies of a Palm and Nokia Union

First, my disclaimer: I do not typically support mergers as I fear they tend to reduce options and opportunities in the computing market. However, Palm doesn't have many platforms to support their business; Motorola still has the Telecom component and other computing devices, Apple has computers and notebooks, and Nokia has telecom and services (and apparently a great deal of relevant mobile patents). So if a Palm acquisition was absolutely necessary, Nokia would probably be the best company to perform the act.

So, to begin this justification, I first need to go into a little bit of detail on the Maemo and WebOS platforms. Feel free to skip this section if you are already familiar with them.

I have experience with Maemo as a developer and a user. I primarily worked with Maemo 2008 on the Nokia N800 internet tablet. The Maemo kernel is based on Linux v2.6.21, and the filesystem supports the Debian distribution model.

The advantage of the Maemo platform is how open it is. Root access is very easy to enable (just enable the third-party app repository and install openssh, then load up the built-in Terminal). All of the applications are either taken from open-source repositories and compiled for the platform or written in native C or Python, etc. The GUI is based on X-Windows withs support for GTK and QT. The browser is Mozilla-based and has flash built-in (hulu, anyone?).

WebOS is currently utilizing a Linux kernel based on v2.6.24, and it support the Itsy Package Management System (which is very similar to Debian's packaging system). Gaining root requires just enabling developer mode; an app providing that switch is pre-installed and easy to access. Once you telnet to the device (using novaterm), you can add an ipkg repository and install openssh.

The platform supports native applications, but the GUI is homegrown and currently only supports applications written in javascript. The browser is Webkit-based and will support flash later this year.

The following comparisons can be made between the two platforms.
+ Maemo and WebOS use Linux as their kernel base and support glib.
+ Maemo and WebOS use nearly the same packaging system.
+ Both platforms are not locked down and include the tools that allow anyone to install anything on their devices.
- Maemo uses a native development environment and supports any X-enabled GUI application that can be compiled for the platform. WebOS allows for non-GUI applications to be run without killing the homegrown graphical interface, but the graphical interface must be closed in order to run standard X apps.
- Maemo has a built-in GUI terminal app. With WebOS, you have to use a web-enabled terminal.
- Maemo supports desktop widgets. WebOS currently does not.

Despite the differences between the two platforms, the goals that the two platforms try to achieve are parallel to one another. Both Maemo and WebOS provide for easy multitasking and provide applications to support simple communication via the Internet. Nokia and Palm both handle notifications in a similar fashion, but Palm's approach feel more polished.

Even though Nokia could accomplish what Palm has given time, it would be to their advantage to inherit Palm's design approach and immediately have a competitive platform with respect to Google's Android and Apple's iPhone OS. And given that Nokia has been open-sourcing platform they have acquired (Symbian, QT), I feel that they would approach WebOS in a similar manner, which would be a good thing for the mobile computing community. And let's not forget: Nokia makes really good hardware, and they have the resources to support Palm. Given that the Palm Pre has been getting a good reception in Europe, it makes even more sense for Nokia to embrace Palm.

We'll see what transpires...all I know is that Dell buying Palm is not quite so appealing when you consider Nokia as a potential parent.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Palm WebOS Should Support Facebook Open Platform and OpenSocial APIs

This seems so obvious that I held off posting about it until today, but it bothers me. Granted, I've already run out of space for apps on my Palm Pre (hopefully they either expand /var or create a container for apps on the FAT partition, or maybe I'll give in and do it myself), and i'm not a big user of Facebook apps (aside from Go, most of the apps I do have are for syncing information), but given that the current application SDK is based on Javascript and rendering HTML, it only makes sense that Palm would build in support for Facebook and OpenSocial apps. Having API support for these platforms would provide Palm and WebOS users access to numerous and a growing ecosystem of both web-enabled and native applications. Of course one can use these applications via the built-in browser, but having the ability to both install and use any of these applications would be a huge selling point for WebOS. In fact, syncing support within WebOS should provide the capability of syncing one's installed set of Facebook and OpenSocial Apps.

And while they're at it, Palm should also add bookmark syncing and integrate Facebook and LinkedIn profile links within Contacts. Facebook Chat should also be added to Messaging, and Facebook and LinkedIn messages to Email. And, of course, let's not forget about making everything work faster under WebOS...I think i'll have to leave my set of requests at that for now.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Sense Experience Running on Android

I decided to take a look at a review of the HTC Hero on Engadget to get an idea of what innovations HTC has implemented on top of Android to improve the overall experience of using the device. This review is a bit dated, but given that the Hero is now being offered on Sprint I figured it was somewhat relevant.

I have played around with the Google Dev Phone (i.e. the HTC T-Mobile G1), and I also have experience developing a basic networking / statistics gathering application for Android OS. Similar to the Pre, once you provide your Google login information you are given access to a slew of Google services and applications including Gmail, Gchat, your Google contacts, and Google Voice.

The Android OS application development environment is based on Java which drastically decreases the complexity of designing for this platform, and in addition to providing an open distribution model (applications can be distributed via a website or through the Android Market) which would explain the influx of developers despite the small (albeit growing) number of users on this platform. Overall, I felt that the web documentation, multi-platform integration with Eclipse, and the ease of testing applications on either a real device or the emulator provides for a great developer experience.

While I did enjoy tying Google Voice with Gizmo on the G1 (to provide me with a cell network-less phone) and using native applications such as Gmail and MP3Tunes, I was not incredibly impressed with the method of multitasking on the device (relying on the pull-down menu to access running tasks and notifications) and not being able to keep websites loaded while I am using other applications. The Sense UI, however, in conjunction with the standard widgets currently available on Android, does allow for having simple functions concurrently and quickly accessible via the available 7 "screens". Having the weather, messaging, music player controls, bookmarks, and photo album access always running and available quickly is advantageous, but not having the ability to leave browser pages open prevents me from truly taking advantage of the multitasking goodness of the OS. I could see myself trying to make do with a Google Reader widget, but as soon as I started selecting links and interfacing between that site and Facebook/email/messaging, I feel I may be left a bit disappointed. It sure is nice for Android to have Flash lite, but Engadget demonstrates how slow it really is (hence why Adobe's announcement of Flash 10.1 mobile for WebOS and Android is so important). Anyhow, take a look at the Engadget demo of widgets in conjunction with the Sense Experience below.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Motorola CLIQ: "Everything was a blur..."

"It sounds like a night of drunkin' know...'I don't know what happened...I sent a text message, I got an email, I added a new contact...I woke up in a gutter'...Moto Blur!" I think Joshua Topolsky (Engadget Correspondent) got it down when he covered it during The Engadget Show - 001.

While WebOS on the Palm Pre provides a mechanism to receive notifications and integrate your online accounts onto the device, it does so in a way that is non-obtrusive and functional. Motorola's Blur, on the other-hand, brings you all of your social network notifications within one universal inbox, in which you'll have to swipe through (or select individual networks) to follow the stream. I feel that Blur would be on the verge of social network / information overload.

When I want to dive into the stream with the Pre, I use applications such as Tweed, Google Reader, and Facebook. I do receive SMS updates from Facebook, but once there is a good notification-enabled Facebook app, I will likely disable those as well. I also added more filters into my Gmail inbox to only receive emails I really want to be notified about on my communicator.

The one advantage to the Motorola way is that it may be easier to view a person's social tweets or read about a topic within my stream. Hopefully there will be an application for that ;-)

For those interested in seeing a demo of the Motorola CLIQ, see below (taken from the Engadget first hands-on impressions).

Engadget Show 001 with Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein

Monday, July 13, 2009

Windows 7 Touch vs. Chrome OS

Many of you may have already seen the Windows 7 Touch demo shown by a CNET commentator; for those of you who haven't, I highly recommend watching it, just to get an idea of what using Windows 7 on a touch screen would be like. I'm not traditionally impressed with Windows GUI enhancements; I used Windows 2000 until up to a year after Windows XP was released primarily because I felt it was silly and resource inefficient, but I eventually had to give in. The primary Windows Vista feature I have enjoyed is the instant search (just hit the Windows key and start typing for applications and files, etc., then hit to launch).

Windows 7, however, brings many features that make Windows are much more useful than Microsoft has introduced since Windows 95. The Apple Dock-like grouping of running windows/applications in the former quick-launch area is really nice, especially given its quick-preview capabilities (first introduced with Windows Vista). The Sidebar widgets can now be placed anywhere on the desktop, and with the desktop quick-look feature on the lower-right corner of the taskbar (just hover to see your desktop), widgets become as useful as Apple Dashboard has made them.

I'm sure Chrome OS will be bringing a unique WebOS-like interface to using a touch-based netbook. Native Client would allow Google to bring the advantage of running applications natively to Chrome OS, and Chrome OS will properly manage web pages more as processes running that can be left open while the netbook is in use. I would say Chrome OS is more appropriate for a netbook than running a traditional UI-based Windows or Linux has been.

But if you take a look at this Windows 7 touch demo, you'll see where Microsoft will excel. Many people already use Windows and are familiar with it; what is a nice touch is that Microsoft ensured that the new GUI features introduced into Windows 7 will also make touch navigation native to the OS. So without further ado, watch the below youtube clip and feel free to leave comments on any additional information you find about either OS.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My New Communicator: The Palm Pre

Before-Pre Mornings: I wake up, refresh the iGoogle page on my laptop, and check Entourage for work emails. I would grab breakfast and watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (depending on what I had last seen). I would head to work and refresh my iGoogle page when I got there, checking it throughout the day for personal emails, Google Reader alerts, and news headlines.

After-Pre Mornings: I wake up, grab the Pre and turn on the screen. I look at the notifications bar and find a chat and email alert; I respond to the chat(s), whether they be GChat, AIM, or SMS, and I look at the emails (both work and personal). I then load the Google Reader mobile page and start going through all of my Facebook alerts, Slashdot headlines, and White House RSS messages. 20 minutes later, I finally put the device down and grab breakfast. I may start watching The Daily Show or The Colbert Report; if I do I still pick up the Pre half-way through the episode and start browsing the web; if I don't, I just take a shower and walk out the door still looking at stuff on the Pre.

I think you get the idea...Palm has become the center of my life once again.

I was first introduced to Palm OS by my aunt; she bought me a Handspring Visor Deluxe when I was 16, and at the time I was obsessed about syncing my Calendar, AvantGo (for news articles), Memos, and To Do Lists. I also ended up buying a SoundsGood expansion for the Handspring so that I could listen to mp3s with it, and I also obtained the eyemodule to take pictures with.

When I was 18, my aunt bought me the Targus StowAway foldable keyboard, which I used quite a bit Freshman Year of College (I had to spend time working on assignments outside of my dorm room, which insipired me to use it).

Then my family surprised me with a cell phone for Christmas Freshman year; I remember how pissed I was. I guess I was trying to avoid getting a cell phone for as long as possible; not all of my friends had cell phones yet, and I felt like I could get away with not having one (I stayed logged into AIM 24/7 at the time, and responded to emails). I think it was mostly the fact that my parents had signed a 2-year contract for me, and it was with a really crappy Kyocera phone (Phatom KX414).

By the time the two years were almost up (Junior Year of College), the phone would barely work for 5 minutes without dying, so I had to get a new one. Rather than sign another contract for a new phone, I looked on ebay for a used smartphone and found the Kyocera 7135 (a Palm-OS based phone). I ended up paying ~$65 for it, which I thought was a great deal at the time for a smartphone.

The advantage of having a Kyocera 7135 is that I was able to easily migrate from the Handspring, including all calendar events, contacts, memos, and applications; it was also nice to finally have a color screen. The disadvantage was that the phone application was unstable at times and I did not get good talk time with it. It was nice being able to use a stylus to type text messages, but sometimes I would not receive messages and the phone would struggle to send them. I also started to get sick of having to constantly sync my phone to preserve my data and update web applications. I had to use a backup program that I setup to backup everything nightly to an SD card; I had to restore my phone everytime the battery completely drained or the phone crashed and I had to do a hard-reset.

Some of my most used applications on Palm OS include:

AvantGo - News articles updated at each sync; I also created a custom page load for the bus routes, which was very handy.
Tetris - This game came with my phone, and it worked great in all its color glory. I would still love to put this on the Pre at some point, but I'm willing to wait for an official app. (I tried loading it into Classic, but the game showed up black-and-white and was awkward to play.)
MineHunt - This is a classic Palm OS game, but it is still really fun to play; I also hope this ends up on WebOS at some point.
HardBall - Again, another fun classic Palm OS game.
Advanced Calc - This was a Handspring-exclusive Palm OS app that I really miss. I haven't been able to migrate it to my Kyocera 7135 or the Classic app successfully; if anyone knows how to migrate locked Handspring Palm OS apps, please let me know.
CityTime - Another locked Handspring Palm OS app that I loved. I just want to be able to have time of more than one locale...why is it so hard to find apps that do this. BTW, I currently use VelaClock on the Mac OS Dashboard...hope they develop a WebOS app!
RoscoView - This was a nice picture viewer for Palm OS.
CardBkup - The backup program I was talking about earlier.
Bebopper - A nice basic mp3 player that worked well on the 7135.
DocumentsToGo - Nice for browsing .doc files, etc.

I still can't believe I continued to use the 7135 for as long as I did; one of my friends even found a spare that I switched to when my battery was bad and the device was acting up. I really wanted to retire it, but I wasn't pleased with the lack of updates to Palm OS, and I wasn't too interested in getting a PocketPC-based smartphone (although I did consider it at one point). Blackberry was tempting for a little bit (just so that I could access email quickly), but ultimately I was looking for something that could truly become my new personal assistant and all-in-one mobile device.

Then came the iPhone...I think if I hadn't gone to the Philippines, I might have picked up the original iPhone and switched to AT&T. At least the original iPhone included 250 SMS Text Messages a month and was $59.99 for the 450 minute plan (in retrospect, I would have been very happy with this plan). Then the iPhone 3G came out...and AT&T raised the price to $69.99, or $74.99 with 250 SMS Text Messages...and I was very unhappy. At that point I had returned from the Philippines and, again, craving a new phone, I would have considered buying an iPhone if Apple had come out with the 32GB version in Summer 2008 and AT&T hadn't raised the service fees.

If Palm hadn't come along to introduce the revolutionary WebOS and the Palm Pre January 2009, and if they had postponed the release past June 6, I might have bought an iPhone 3GS 32GB instead. I've been waiting for a long time for a new phone, and I would have loved the extra space and processor upgrade. But Apple remained hard-set on locking down the iPhone and preventing it from multitasking with 3rd party apps.

So when Palm introduced the Pre and told us it would be on Sprint, I was very excited...finally, competition that would bring the service fees down and provide an alternative way of using a mobile device. And alas, I am very happy with the $69.99 Everything Data Sprint plan, and I love using the Pre. So here we go, time to talk about the Palm Pre (finally...).

The weekend the Pre was released, my friends had scheduled a camping trip to Devil's Lake and they wouldn't let me get away with sitting in Madison all weekend just so that I can pick up the Palm Pre. Fortunately my friend Jesse needed to drive back to Madison early Saturday morning for a family event, so I convinced him to leave around 6:30AM. I had been planning to pick up the phone at Best Buy, but I was worried about the limited supply (~5 at each store in Madison), so I would have gone to the store at 5AM, but Sprint sent an email letting everyone waiting know that the Sprint stores would be open at 8AM. So I ended up standing outside of the Sprint store 10 minutes to 8; I was 15 in line. At that point, I was tired, smelled of campfire, and thinking that I probably wouldn't be able to get one, given I wasn't in the first 5. But they let us all in and gave each of us a printed sales sheet with a number; by the end of the 1.5 hours I was there, they had over 100 people, and they still had enough phones for everyone!

I had U.S. Cellular up to that point (I love U.S. Cellular; they provide great cell service in Wisconsin and I haven't been disappointed, even when visiting IL, MN, or MI; customer service is also #1; if they had been able to offer the Pre with a good comprehensive service plan, I would have stuck with them; good luck to them on ending U.S. exclusive handset deals, which really only benefit the large cell service providers.) The switch took a couple of hours, so I had to take the Palm Pre home and was unable to turn it on until the migration completed. Fortunately Sprint had a way to check the status online (it turned out the rep was missing a key piece of information that I provided when I called customer service after going home).

When I first turned on the Pre, it asked me to register for a Palm Profile and then asked me to log in to my online accounts. First was Google; all I did was type in my login info once on the phone, and with a couple exceptions the phone downloaded all of my contacts, calendar events*, email, and logged me into Gmail chat. Next was Facebook, and then Synergy began to do its thing, linking my Google contacts to Facebook. I found that it did a relatively good job; it even pulled in my contacts' photos from Gmail and Facebook and put them as the contacts' photos :-) And it is very easy to link more contacts together or remove incorrect links, and correcting Google contacts results in the changes being pushed back to Google (and vice-versa). I was so impressed with this...this is exactly what I wanted my new communicator to need for syncing with my computer! In fact, the first time I actually plugged in the usb cable to access data was to mount the device in USB target disk mode, where I can drag files back and forth, and that's how I added some audiobooks, mp3s, images, and Classic apps. I have not used media sync yet (I'm not terribly interested in using iTunes as my media manager, although if I can have sync'ing happen over wifi, I would consider it).

WebOS also had no problem connecting to Exchange using the web-access http method; it downloaded my mail, calendar, and provided access to the Global Address Book within contacts. The only issue is that sometimes you need to look at the Accounts section for alternate apps and make sure you don't need to enter your password a second time; once you do this, everything starts syncing as excpeted.

*With regards to Calendar, I had a Google sync'd version of my work calendar in addition to the Exchange-based calendar. Both of these calendars for conflicting with one-another, which caused the day view from not being displayed properly. However, I continued to receive event notifications, and the day were gray-shaded within the month view. Anyhow, by disabling and re-enabling calendars, I was able to get the Calendars to show up.*

The browser is very fast and I've been relatively happy with it. With regards to mp3 links, I am able to stream podcasts over 3G, and most of the time I am able to listen to the entire thing without refreshing the page. This does tend to be a memory-intensive task; once the podcast has fully buffered, I tend to run out of memory and am unable to open anything other than the podcast. I have also noticed that WebOS acts similar to a web browser with tabs; if you open tabs that consume a lot of memory, some browsers (and older versions of Firefox) have difficulty recovering memory after you close done a tab. The only resolution to this on a desktop is to completely shutdown the browser and restart it. With WebOS, I find myself having to close down ALL open cards and wait up to a minute before I can open new cards again; on rare occasions I also have to reboot the Pre to have it free all memory. Having some better garbage collection and memory management within WebOS should drastically improve performance and useability, and I expect this will improve in the future (that's the negative of designing a truly multitasking environment, but it's a good negative to have ;-) ).

One more thing about the has great pinch and double-tap support (almost exactly the same as the iPhone's), but the pivot is the best feature (just hold down your finger on the area of the page you'd like to zoom to, and use the pinch gestures to zoom in or out within that area.

Some requests for the browser: I'd like to suggest that the orange button on the keyboard, which currently functions to move the cursor in text boxes, also provides an option key or right-click function, in which I would be able to click on a link or a picture and Save As (to support downloading files to the communicator). It would make me very happy to be able to download an mp3 or save a jpeg without having to plug the Pre into my computer or send it via email. I would also like to be able to copy and paste into fields within the browser, and to select text to copy/paste that isn't in an email, etc.

I am extremely happy with the Messaging app and the notifications area. I find myself chatting with my friends a lot more often now than I have during the last few years. I just haven't had the desire to login to a chat program and leave it running; the phone is the perfect place for an always-on chat program to run. I love how Gmail, AIM, and SMS are tightly integrated within this app, and I find great enjoyment walking and chatting with people (I think it will become my new pass-time; it will get me to enjoy the outdoors more often).

I enabled the advanced gestures, and after having gotten used to them, I enjoy doing right-to-left and left-to-right gestures to alt-tab between open cards.

As soon as I realized that I could use Pandora Radio in the car, I went to Best Buy and started testing Bluetooth stereos. I found the Pioneer DEH-D7000BT to be the easiest to configure and pair with my phone, so I went with that, and I have not been disappointed! As long as I leave the Bluetooth radio on with my phone, I can walk into the car, turn on the stereo, and it automatically links up to my phone within 1 minute. At that point, I am able take calls hands-free and listen to internet radio and use turn-by-turn over the stereo! In fact, these apps were designed so well that when I receive a call, Pandora automatically pauses, and when the call ends, Pandora resumes! With turn-by-turn by Sprint, the music fades out while the directions are read, and the music fades back when the turn-by-turn is done talking! It's so awesome...I was even able to drive between Madison and Milwaukee on 94E and then 43N and finally highway 60 without any skips (Pandora may take a few seconds to buffer if I skipped a song though).

In terms of 3G and Wifi performance, using the iPhone speedtest, I was getting ~1500 Kbps on 3G (full strength) and ~2500 Kbps on Wifi, which is better than the iPhone.

SprintTV is great (high-quality and loads quickly), and Youtube works great (the browser automatically passes any youtube link to the app so that it loads properly on the Pre). I also enjoyed being able to update WebOS without needing a PC (over the air)!

This has gotten really long, so I'm going to try to wrap up. The Music app needs to at least be able to resume mp3 playback (it is difficult to listen to audiobooks without this capability); it also needs to allow me to create custom playlists on the fly. I also would love to have more than 8GB (so easy to fill with audiobooks, images, etc.). But aside from the above complaints, I've been extremely happy with the Pre, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good alternative to the iPhone. In fact, if one is looking more for a communicator and less for a mobile computer, the Palm Pre fits perfectly for this role. I feel that the iPhone is great for multimedia, apps, and gaming, but the fact that you can't stay logged into AIM (without using Apple's push notifications or GChat while you are browsing the web and listening to Pandora Radio is a huge gap in how I expect to use a mobile device. Please feel free to leave comments or send messages to @techramble on Twitter.

Links (Updated 3/24/09):
Anandtech Palm Pre Review
Ars Technica Palm Pre Review (Part 1)
Ars Technica Palm Pre Review (Part 2: WebOS)
Engadget Podcast Palm Pre Review Discussion
Palm Pre on MP3Tunes Forums

P.S. Pandora is nice to have, but is what I really want on the Palm Pre! Please follow through with this soon,!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Onlive: Gaming in the Cloud

Onlive is the next step in "The New Age of Desktop Computing". Onlive is an example of providing online access to a series of applications requiring fast, local compute resources. As more streaming HD-like video services become available online, it is natural to expect that an all-you-can-play gaming service would prop-up. Gamers with desires to play the latest games either have to invest in a powerful console (such as an XBOX360 or a PS3) and live with the hardware's limitations until a next-generation console is released, or upgrade your PC regularly. To run the latest games at the highest settings on a PC, one would be investing in new graphics cards, which may be purchased as early as every few months to as late as every couple of years, and the processor and memory limitations would require one to build a new computer every couple of years. For example, Crisis is a game that modern gaming PCs continue to struggle with at high resolutions.

I think that it's quite possible for something like Onlive to work; with a high throughput connection, one can stream at up to 1080p (albeit with more compression and possibly less quality than locally) without having to upgrade one's PC everytime the next generation of games are released. Control signals (such as mouse and keyboard input) do not requirement much in terms of bandwidth, but they are very demanding in terms of latency. There's a reason why gaming mice exist: to increase the resolution and physical-to-digital capabilities of one's input to the PC, and all that information needs to be transmitted very quickly to the remote servers to provide that ideal fast, remote compute system experience. Given possible deals to provide gaming as a service through transmission line companies (i.e. cable, phone, etc.) or local data centers (i.e Google), the company would be in the position to install systems at locations that can provide low latency to the gamers and provide a good experience.

As the gaming industry begins to surpass the movie industry, one can envision people willing to pay a monthly subscription fee similar to cable to be able to play unlimited games anytime, without having to use a powerful console or PC. Most likely, Onlive's largest issue will be its capacity to scale; games are power-hungry and will require huge compute farms based on the number of users in that local area, and these compute farms need to be duplicated in local environments to provide low latency to users. This will likely be more expensive to run than Youtube, given that Youtube only has to transcode the content once and serve there-in. This will be an interesting company to follow...don't be surprised if a large transmission line or Internet company ends up buying them in the near future.

See also: Engadget

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Open Company - Running your business as if it were an open-source project

This is an interesting article about a topic I've had in the back of my mind for a while. Here's the slashdot article it originated from. I may add to this further at some point, but I just wanted to present it for others to think about and discuss. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Apple TV: More than just Movies and Music

I only have two gaming consoles right now, the Sony Playstation 2 and the Nintendo Wii. I purchased the PS2 freshman year of college once I had a chance to experience the console and the many RPGs available for it. There are still quite a few games (God of War 2, Onimusha, Xenosaga II) on the PS2 that I look forward to playing through one day; I feel that the PS2 is long from losing its useful life for me. I also enjoy the fact that the PS2 can all play PS1 games; I have taken advantage of this feature many times in the past.

The Nintendo Wii won me over as soon as I realized the social potential of the console. The first task to complete with a new user on the Wii is to create a new Mii for everyone who wants to play, which alone sells the console's ability to bring people together and introduces a new style of wireless gaming. It is also a perfect console for someone who does not own any Nintendo consoles; the Wii provides full Gamecube game and controller compatibility along with Virtual Console releases of most [Super] Nintendo [64] and some Sega and Turbo Grafx games.

My appeal for the Playstation 3 is quite limited right now, especially given that they have removed backward-compatibility for PS2 games. I am currently at the stance that I will only purchase an Xbox360 or PS3 if the consoles are redesigned to be smaller and to run cooler. In fact, the Xbox360 is more appealing at the moment since I have wanted to play certain Xbox games for a while (Oddworld, DOA3), the 360 provides backward-compatibility for their previous system, and the CPU and GPU are both 65nm now and power consumption drops to nearly half of the original 360.

Finally, I gave in and purchased a Nintendo DS to use during my travels between the Philippines and the U.S. last year, and that was also well-worth the purchase. I still enjoy bringing it out and playing some Mario Kart or Brain Age on the bus on my way to class, and I absolutely love the dual-screen stylus and key combos (pick up the system and try playing Zelda Phantom Hourglass or Elite Beat Agents and you'll understand). I wish more games were available that use the Nintendo DS in tandem (as a controller) with Wii games.

The one aspect missing from the Nintendo DS (and that the Sony PSP currently has) is the ability to download and store games on the device without any add-ons (like the R4, which is awesome). The iPhone is Apple's first dive into downloadable programs for an iPod-like portable device, and naturally (due to Apple's desire to create a portable device that is fast and fluid with its innovative UI) the iPhone has become a gaming device on the realms of competing with the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. Let's compare the specs of these three portable systems:

Nintendo DS - ARM946E-S (67 MHz, handles 3D) and ARM7TDMI (33 MHz, handles 2D)
Sony PSP - 2 MIPS32 R4000-based CPUs (333 MHz) and GPU (166 MHz)
Apple iPhone - Samsung S5L8900 (ARM, 412 MHz) and PowerVR MBX GPU

Based on the specs, the Sony PSP is by far the most powerful portable gaming system, but the Apple iPhone is not too far behind. If Apple were to allow the Samsung CPU to operate at the full 620 MHz, it might be able to compete reasonably well with the Sony PSP. And given that people like me prefer to only carry around one portable device, an all-in-one phone/pda/ipod/gaming device is very appealing. So I think the Apple has a lot of potential to compete with Sony and Nintendo in the portable realm.

But what about the console space? Can Apple compete there? Well, contrary to previous gaming system introductions (Microsoft with Xbox, Sony with Playstation), Apple has introduced gaming to their portable device first, but that doesn't stop them from bringing the experience to the Apple TV. Alas, the iPhone and Apple TV GUIs share similarities in that both devices run the same core OS (atop of differing processor architectures), and both are designed to present the user with a more limited albeit extremely useable experience given the specific purposes they serve. So, as with Mac OS X 10.49 and above when Apple had to deal with different architectures in their PCs and laptops, Apple now faces a similar predicament in the Apple TV and iPhone OS realms. Fortunately, their solution on Mac OS X was Universal Binaries, which I think was brilliant, and is a solution flexible enough to be implemented on their counterparts. Just as Universal Binaries provide PowerPC and x86 32-bit and 64-bit binaries and libraries on PCs, they could also provide ARM and x86 binaries and libraries for the iPhone and Apple TV, respectively). And on these more limited devices, the user doesn't even need to know how the software packages are distributed.

So we are not very far off from seeing an Apple TV with support for iPhone applications, including games. And hence the CNET article documenting a patent for a type of Wiimote-like remote for the Apple TV makes perfect sense (although I don't understand why they can't just employ an iPod Touch Nano for this purpose :-D ).

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Palm Pre

I've fallen really far behind documenting revolutionary computing solutions, and the Palm Pre is one of them. For those of you wondering why I don't have an iPhone yet...well, despite the popularity of the App Store, Apple is still very slow about adding features I'm really interested in to their platform. For example, why is it that they still have not come out with a 32GB iPhone? Why did Google just announce the ability to sync calendar and contacts directly to the phone? And why is it that I can't customize the lock screen (without jailbreaking)?

Anyhow, enough complaining about the iPhone, let me just brief you on the Palm Pre and why I think it's worth a great deal of attention.

- Magnetic induction charging technology
- All data syncs over the air (this is big because i really don't like docking my phone anymore, and haven't for years except for backup purposes)
- "Deck of Cards" style GUI (more on this later)
- WebOS, resulting in all applications using Web 2.0 APIs
- Has a keyboard that recesses into the device

Unfortunately, they are only including 8GB of flash (and no expandable storage). But despite the fact that I refused to buy the iPhone until a 32GB version came out, I don't really care much that the Palm Pre doesn't have enough storage for music. And that is because the Palm Pre is designed to be an always-connected device, while the iPhone is designed to be more like a portable computer. As much as I appreciate the graphics capabilities of the iPhone, I think more effort should be put to bring the platform more closely tied to the net. And despite the iPhone supporting full desktop APIs, I appreciate that Palm is trying to bring application developers to designing local web-based applications.

In order to address the GUI, I have to bring up my current (personal and job) workstation tendancies. At work, I use an 8 virtual desktop setup (using Virtual Dimension). I devote a desktop for source code, a desktop for all of my Cygwin instances, a desktop for CRTs to my board(s), two desktops for web browsers (one for personal and one for work), a desktop for email, a desktop for Microsoft Office documents, and a desktop for misc remote tasks. I have found myself to be extremely productive with this setup.

I was really excited when Apple finally introduced virtual desktops to OS X 10.5 (termed as "Spaces"). I started out with 8 on my personal laptop, which had a similar configuration for work, except that I had a music space instead of CRTs, and I had one for virtual machines. Two weeks ago, I switched to 12 desktops with the following setup: 3 horizontal spaces for web browsers and other web-based tools, another set of 3 horizontal spaces for email, pdfs/images, and ical, another set of 3 for music, chat, and microsoft office, and another set of 3 for virtual machines, remote desktop, and terminals. And I have to say, I did breath a sigh of relief once I expanded my desktop configuration, and I just love having multiple desktops.

So now you can understand why I would love that approach on a mobile device. Being able to configure certain spaces for email, web browsing, chat, and music makes it very easy to use and find the tasks that I need instantly. Multitasking becomes a breese, and my stress level goes down a notch. So despite the fact that the iPhone is more of a multimedia device and the Palm Pre is designed to be a communcation device, I would much prefer the communication device with media capabilities. As a result, I am really looking forward to the Palm Pre.

For more, check out the Palm Pre CES Press Event and watch a primary contributor to the iPod design present the Palm Pre.