Friday, March 23, 2012

Smart phones, dumb people

The onset of spring reminds me of many things - beers in parks, the project that was due to finish in February, etc. - but the most relevant one is that I've actually been owning my HTC Desire Z for almost a year. My, how does time fly when you have a smartphone! Remember how tedious the longer trips to the bathroom were back in the day, reading those shampoo labels over an over again, waiting for the relief of the long awaited splash sound? And now you just can't get enough of those moments, replying to your facebook messages in the privacy of the smelly cubicle; and before you know it it's time to wipe, but you still look at the screen while you do. Mobile computing has indeed changed our lives profoundly.

I remember those days when I first fell in love with my latop, thinking that no other gadget will ever get nearly as close to my heart. And I still love it dearly - but let's face it - no matter how mainstream geek culture has become it will always be considred weird to walk out of the toilet with a laptop. Still, I must admit, smartphones have a long way to go - although Android is quite good for what it's worth, it doesn't come anywhere near a full featured OS and my limited exposure to WP7 and iOS has clearly indicated that they have a different but at least equally annoying sets of drawbacks. This is to be expected - one needs to make efficient use of the limited resources of the small device so some cuts have to be made and in the same time the millions of morons that use it around the world should be prevented from from ruining it by downloading dodgy stuff.

My smartphone has anyway found a unique place in my digital life and is inching its way towards my heart. Nevertheless, ask the general population what they think about smartphones - most will be like "Oh, those zombies staring at them iphones constantly, I wonder how they don't get run over by buses! Mine phone shows me the time and takes calls and that's all I need". It's natural for people to not feel needs that have never been fulfilled - you never miss something that you've never had. I'm confident that these are going to be a dying breed soon, though. In fact, it's already happening, at least in London - the overall UK smarphone penetration is at the top of the range for Europe at 40% but this includes rural areas with poor 3G coverage where it makes little sense to own one; in London the tedium of the trips in the tube and the congested traffic has forced most people to kill time by tapping their fingers on various screens. And in Singapore it has already happened, with hefty 90% - gosh, don't they have old people there, I thought it's a civilized country but apperently they euthanize them at 50.

Now tablets are braced to be (or already are?) the next big thing. When the first iPads came out they looked kind of neat although I couldn't quite see their niche. iPads, I thought, are only good for use in cramped seats, and iPad owners never travel in cramped seats. I was willing to try one but as someone that types with more than 60 wpm, I see the physical keyboard as a very important part of the human-device interface, so the urge was not that strong. Then the Android-based tablets came out and although they are still in their infancy I'll be damned if I buy a gadget with storage that I can't browse with my shell but should rather sync through iTunes, one of the shittiest applications every to be shoved down the users' throats. Immature as they are, the tablet wars have already provided for some hilarity with the countless legal battles that Apple and Samsung are locked in, cultimating to the one that invokes 2001: A Space Odyssey and shall from now on be known as the Kubrick defense (after the Chewbacca defence). I another twist in this story, the supposedly game-chaning new screen of the iPad and its heart, the A4 system-on-a-chip (i.e. CPU + GPU) are both manufatcured by Samsong. Go figure! The only thing that's for certain is that the Samsung tablets are not likely to be technologically inferior to the iPads. Now throw in an open OS and lower price and I can see them getting popular quite soon.

Still, I'm not entirely sold just yet. Apart from the cramped seats, which I do use often, I have limited use of a super big phone that doesn't fit into a pocket, which is what tablets pretty much are if you run iOS, or even android, on them. Now if only this thing could have a real OS on it and still last that long on battery!

I kind of like Microsoft's strategy here - they include tablet support for the full-featured OSs and leave Windows Phone just for, well, phones. Subsequently, vendors of Windows-based tablets are trying to fit a real computer into the form factor, rather than going bottom-up (i.e. enlarging a touchscreen phone). An example is the Samsung Series 7 Slate PC, that has a real i5 processor and comes from their laptop, rather than mobile phone division. That's a gadget I'd love to use so much that the 3:30 hours of battery life will simply not be enough. Now there is a lot of hype about Windows 8 and how tablet-friendly it's going to be and I must admit that I'm kind of succumbing to it, if someone manages to put it on something equally powerful that lasts for more than 7 hours on battery I'll be the first to buy one (online - not queueing like an apple addict).

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