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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Device Evolution

Watching evolution is fun, especially when it happens right around you, and happens so fast. A mutation we saw yesterday was a new animal scientists gave the name “Chrome OS Notebook”, but it’s surrounded by other smart animals of all kinds and shapes. What do they fight for? Their nature are our offices, living rooms, cafes and parks; their food are our individual interests.

Computing devices: the more we have, the less we notice them. Sneaky things, changing the color of their skin on different backgrounds... we don’t even know they’re computers anymore! The sneakier they fade in, the more likely they’ll hunt down our interest when it appears.

You’re in your room, and you just had the idea of going to a cafe to read a newspaper, and perhaps chat with some friends. You can now hear small leafs crack, the surrounding grass rustle, and there’s even some dramatic discovery channel music starting to play. You’re surrounded by smart devices, large and small, elegant and clunky. Some with big screens, some with speakers, some accepting cable of type one, some accepting cable of type two. Some will know when you throw and turn them. Some have a touch screen, others offer a special typing device to please your fingers. Some devices have been put to their desktop drawer grave already because they were starving and never found any of your interests. This is nature... diverse, sometimes cruel.

The device with the smallest screen makes its first move, jumping towards your pocket. It fits right in, is small to carry, can play some casual games! It went by many names in the past, from telephone to phone to mobile phone. But it mutated over the years, growing hair and legs and eyes suited to hunt down all kinds of our interests. “No,” you say, “You’re great for playing games and chatting with friends, but I really want to read a newspaper. Your screen is much too small to comfortably read.”

As you push away the last device – its group status in your room device hierarchy permanently lowered, with giggles all around – a new one comes forth. It’s of much larger size and can be conveniently opened and closed as you carry it. It has a hardware keyboard that allows for a lot of fast typing. It’s connected to the internet, like the rest of the devices, but it can also download programs that please you with super fast graphics. “Notebook PC, you’re great when I want to get work done, I know you the longest, you know I love you even though you transmit all kind of diseases, but you know, I don’t want to work in that cafe I’m going to, and reading newspapers is not really what you excel at.”

The desktop PC at this very moment ponders to also come forward, but then retreats to a darker corner of your desk with a nervous cough. The clunkiest of the beasts, this device realizes its days in evolution might be numbered. It blames it on the Notebook and quietly schemes to kick it off the table one of these nights.

There’s a semi-large-screen device animal jumping up and down begging for your attention, trying to grab that tasty use case of cafe-newspaper-reading-and-perhaps-some-chatting. “Don’t be so desperate my friend,” you’re saying, “I’ll hear you out.” The device introduces itself as “Android OS Tablet” and says its parents were a Tablet PC and a Smart Phone. It claims it has thousands of games, apps, lots of gadgety entertainment, and it can also surf the web. It even offers you books to read on it. Hearing that, the Kindle from up in the book shelf breaks out in laughter and starts to chant “E-Ink! E-Ink! E-Ink” in annoyingly loud voice. The Android device can’t take it anymore and is climbing upwards to shut the Kindle down for good.

“OK,” you say, “that was fun you guys, but let me just pick the iPad here, and fine, I’ll grab the phone for my pocket. The tablet can read newspaper subscriptions, surf the web, there’s some books already downloaded in case I get bored and the connection breaks down, and if I want to chat to someone, I’ll make a phone call.” As you pack your things, the door to your room opens. The light goes out, a spot gets turned on, and someone loops the “sci fi” sound on the synthesizer.

“You know who I am, don’t you.” the device says.

The room goes very quiet. The Kindle and Android device stop in mid-brawl. The Windows Mobile phone temporarily rolls in its grave. The PlayStation Portable jumps on top of the Kinect to get a better view. Even the coffee making device in the next room goes silent.


Silence. The Android OS is quietly pondering to use the time for a surprise punch in the Kindle face, but looking around figures it would be inappropriate. More silence.

“Care to explain?”, you say. In slow monotonous voice, the Chrome OS Notebook tells you its long story. How its grandfather, a browser, had to go through rough times in the war. How his father, a browser himself, met his mother, a traditional PC, and how granddad used to frown upon the relationship. We browsers should stick to our kind, granddad said, and how you two had to meet in dark corners... nothing could stop your love. How he eventually fell out with his cousin Android OS – same family and all, but brought up totally differently – and how the two didn’t call each other for years. Some of the devices are crying by now. The desktop PC even moved closer to the MacBook Air, despite their generation gap.

“To make a long story short, I’m Chrome OS Notebook. You can check your email with me, surf the web, read newspapers online, stream movies, grab casual web apps and simpler games. You can set me up in under a minute and I boot in seconds.” (The Windows Notebook puts on a terrified grimace and suddenly feels very, very sick.) “I can’t do a whole lot offline and can’t play your DVD but online, I’ll be damned if I’m not the very best thing there is.”

You want to take Chrome for a longer test ride one of these days, but you really need to go now, and you grab your newspaper device and your chat device and off you go. On your way to the cafe you ponder who will survive in the wild animal kingdom of your room. And you suspect an answer: whatever device will be versatile enough to grab the largest amount of your interests, whatever device will be the best to fit in to any environment, whatever device will be smartest to adjust to new living circumstances, whatever device can specialize if needed but takes a general approach, whatever device can beat the others by emulating and incorporating their strengths through learning, a device that can blow up its size when required and become really small when not, a device that is perfectly easy to use, a device that rules over the whole ecosystem due to its strength, yet is still lean enough to move quickly.

Yesterday’s mutation wasn’t the last we’ve seen. Watching evolution is fun, and it happens right around us, and right through us.


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