Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The death of the converged device.. I am free

Hundreds of companies - big and small - are all racing to replace your cellphone / MP3 player / digital camera / video camera / PDA / PC / gaming platform / etc with a single device. I've been waiting years for this device to emerge, and it finally occured to me that it is not ever going to happen. When did this epiphany occur? I was reading Wired magazine a month or two ago and somewhere in there, they recommended that small and/or home based businesses should go get combo fax/scanner/printers.

[Start of scanner/fax/print tangent]

As someone who has started small companies on a shoe string, worked with other friends / companies in this position, I have just one thing to say: Do NOT buy a combo fax/scanner/printer unless you want the crappiest printer, crappiest scanner, and a fax machine that may or may not being sending that important fax of yours, but is missing the feature where it actually prints / displays some kind of status. Maybe the fax was sent. Maybe there isn't even a phone line plugged into the thing. It's just a big mystery. Go invest in a small shelf, and for a similar price to the combo device, go buy three devices that actually do what they say they do. Even the cheapest fax machine will out perform your combo device. I keep seeing this question, even though the combo devices have sucked forever - nothing has changed.

[End of tangent]

[Start of dedicated MP3 player vs. combo device tangent]

In the past I was on the (relatively) bleeding edge of technology - I own an original RIM pager - I own a Palm I [I even duct taped it back closed after upgrading it to the equivilant memory of a Palm III] - I bought a great little laptop, the Fujitsu Lifebook 2000 and something with a Transmeta chip - after watching the dynamism website , and I remember looking in awe at a friends Nokia brick from the mid 90's that was a clamshell that opened up to a relatively full qwerty keyboard in which he could actually ping servers from a command prompt on the phone [sweet!]. I have a Kodak digital camera with a 4 meg CF card that is just way too old.

When I had kids, I fell of of the technology curve - I've kept current laptops, but otherwise am no longer on the any other kind of technology edge at all [bleeding or not]. Last month I decided that rather than carry a 6 pound laptop around to act as an MP3 player, I would go get a dedicated MP3 player. In a slightly related note, I have been following the Treo story, was curious if the Treo 600 might fit my needs, but the 650 is available in the US, and the screen is double or quadruple the resolution, and I read that the stock headphone that came with the Treo 600 was mono so I would need an adapter - then questions about battery life, storage capacity, etc, etc. My choice was whether to get a $600 cellphone with the capabilities of a $50 MP3 player, or whether I should just go get a $300 MP3 player. I choose to get a Rio Karma [which I love and carry with me everywhere... It's docking station has an ethernet port, and an embedded web server - everything should have an embedded web server, but I don't want to get on a tangent within a tangent].

[End of dedicated MP3 player tangent...]

I began to think about other "converged" things that are failures:

  • TV/VCR (and now DVD) combo's - the TV/VCR has been around for over 20 years, and do you know anyone who has one of these anywhere but at a cottage? As a door stop? Same here. There has been ample opportunity to get this right, and nobody has done so with any success.
  • The 3DO - a console / edutainment console that succeeds at being neither (for $700 no less).
  • The Nokia N-Gage

I picked a small list, and there are people that have all found uses for all of these devices, but they are not meeting the needs of the market, and are not able to compete with a more dedicated and focused device.

So when I read about giddy companies and individuals waiting for the next big thing - the mobile Internet - 3G services - imagine - I can watch TV on a 1" screen on a thousand dollar phone, or I can buy a TV for $100 that has about 400 times the screen surface area. Or that I could surf the web on this wonderful cellphone device - but it won't have a keyboard, so I can't even begin to describe what it would take to go to a particular URL or fill out an online form, or whatever else I might need to do.

I've been watching the OQO, and perhaps a future model might be what I'm looking for, but I suspect that if I get one, and use it as an MP3 player, the one I've got now (that will be long out of date) will be equal or superior to it. And while this is important to me, there are hundreds of other people, all with different opinions and priorities about how they will be using the converged device, and all I can say is that we will all be compromising. I can stop watching dynamism. I can stop reading the hot new product reviews, the vaporware, the comdex best of show reports. The converged device will not exist. I am free.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

A9 skimmed...

A9 is Amazon's search engine, and if you haven't yet seen it, I suggest you check it out. In particular you should checking out some of their cool interface features - I’m interested in the drag and drop functionality and resizable tables in particular. I've glanced a few times at the code - it isn't obfuscated, although it isn't commented - so many people will be able to read through and understand how this works.

A couple of things of note:

  • They keep changing the javascript... [When I first looked at the page, the JavaScript was right in the page, meaning every page update meant re-transmitting the full JavaScript]
  • There is a single file for both IE and Mozilla. If you look around for drag and drop javascript information, and try the examples, you'll see that many of them work in only Netscape/Mozilla or IE, and very few work properly in both.
  • They haven’t bothered to compress the JavaScript
  • They are using gzip encoded content, meaning that the 70K JavaScript file is just a 15K download.

I won't be going through the A9 code line by line, but rather will be writing something from scratch - might take a month before I've got something worthwhile to post.

Many people have posted comments / suggestions and questions to by Google Suggest Dissected article, I've read everything, but have been too busy to respond to most of the comments - I'll try spend a night in the next 2 weeks answering some of these great questions in another blog entry.