The Future of Computers?

Right now we have a problem – the propagation of a number of essential smart devices. For example, at work I have a workstation with two LCD monitors. I also have a work laptop which I sometimes pair with a LCD monitor when I have it at home. Then there is my smartphone – currently a Verizon / Motorola Droid 2. Add onto this my Kindle eBook reader. Right there are four different devices between which I am constantly shuffling and synchronizing data.

Now, honestly, I’d also like to have a tablet. Yes, I have a Kindle – but a Kindle uses eInk technology and is great for reading books but a little obtuse for surfing the web. Truth be told I like to walk when I read (in circles, around the house) and a laptop is too large for this endeavor and a smartphone too small and difficult to navigate (maybe I just have big fingers).

I no longer carry a digital camera – my smartphone is perfectly capable and while I’ve never had a digital camcorder it seems this too is unnecessary, having been merged into my smartphone as well. But there is need for additional consolidation of electronic devices.

The problem arises when one considers that a single device cannot adequately fulfill all the needs of the user, for example:

  • My workstation is the most powerful machine by far and also the largest, it also has two large displays. This supports prolonged work, especially intensive processing such as application development and database management.
  • My laptop is more portable but gets sluggish when tasked when hefty tasks and still is too bulky for carrying around like a book.
  • My phone can fulfill a lot of tasks, but a screen large enough for my liking would never fit into my pocket (unless it is foldable).
  • My Kindle is wonderful on the eyes, but lacks the speed of any of my other devices.

And so on. The attempt to build one device that can fulfill all these roles is hopeless, unless….One builds the device and then creates a shell into which the device slides which allows it to fulfill a given purpose at any given time.

Unfortunately, while I had this idea several years ago, I didn’t have the means or motivation to bring it into reality….but fortunately Motorola has since taken the initiative and while still fairly limited in its implementation is moving towards this ideal device – a device which I hope Google will recognize as valuable and assist in making a commodity item.

The first such device was the Motorola Atrix 4G, soon to be succeeded by the Motorola Droid Bionic. These devices are primarily smartphones similar to so many other smartphones, but they are different in the accessories that are available for them.

Motorola sells a lapdock, which looks like a laptop computer and allows one to “plug in” one’s smartphone, thus powering the laptop off the smartphone. Motorola also offers several other accessories – including mounts for driving, alarm clock/weather, multimedia, and so on.

While the technology is impressive I have a few complaints/suggestions:

  • I’m not sure that the best idea is ramming a honking processor into a smartphone. My wife’s Atrix 4G always runs warm, and while she appreciates the extra heat generation I’m already warm enough without having a phone beaming heat waves into me. Instead, I’d recommend including a decent processor, but putting heavier processors into accessory devices that require it. The honking processors in smartphones are still puny compared to full workstations or even laptops and yet too much for a smartphone.
  • The process on the lapdock is too high – clocking in at $299. While cheaper than a laptop, its on equivalent grounds with a netbook. Why shouldn’t I just buy a netbook separate from my smartphone? It will have greater resale value in the long-run. Lapdocks need to be extremely inexpensive – I’m thinking $100 at the most and $50 would certainly speed adoption. Of course, if they include some additional abilities (such as more powerful processors) the price could go up a bit. But essentially, a lapdock should be just a plastic case with a basic interface, keyboard, mouse, and screen – nothing too fancy.
  • The Atrix lapdock is incompatible with Bionic devices and vice versa. This is a big no-no. If I drop $299 on a lapdock I better be able to use it when the next phone is released – or I’ll be one unhappy camper! If Motorola truly decides this is necessary they should offer free upgrades on lapdocks to early adopters.
  • The way the phone mounts to the lapdock is funky. Instead have the phone insert into the lapdock as if it was a hard disk. My lapdock should be indistinguishable from everyone else’s laptops.
  • There is no tablet accessory currently available. This is a huge minus. Getting my laptop and smartphone together is a plus, but to really make it worthwhile you have to consolidate at least three of my devices. While making the tablet accessory it just makes sense to make a similar eink device as well.
  • Of course, I’d like to see a workstation accessory as well, but I think this would be the least commercially successful, and I can understand if Motorola held off for a while on this component.

Nor have we in any ways fleshed out the limits of the roles this device could fulfill. For example:

  • GPS
  • Stereo
  • Digital Microphone
  • Personal Health Device
  • Thermostat

In the future I hope to carry one device around with me, this device I will then plug into other devices as needed. Eventually I can imagine there will be public dumb kiosks. Once inserts the smartphone and instantly has complete access to one’s files and settings. Sweet!

For those who are interested in learning more about these devices check out the following Motorola product information pages:

Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day (Android Phone Games)

Angry Birds? Who cares. Tetris? Blahh. Minesweeper? Please. Solitaire? Okay. I’m pretty specific in my gaming tastes. I like historical computer wargames. No, not that RTS-stuff “who-can-click” faster genre, but the real stuff that emphasizes mind over eye-finger response time. While there are some exceptions (e.g. the Total War series), I’m generally a fan of turn-based strategical or tactical war games.

There is a fair plethora of these games available for the PC – though still a lack in comparison to the games available in most other genres…but when it comes to mobile games for use on one’s phone…well, until recently you were out of luck. But then came along Joni Nuutinen with two games in quick succession which have single-handedly turned the corner for Android strategy gaming: Conflicts: Operation Barbarossa and Conflicts: D-Day.

While these games are World War II (a historical period I find to be heavily over-simulated), a wargamer can’t be picky when there is nothing else available in the field. Nuutinen has created an intuitive yet challenging series of games on what appears to be a similar engine and this gives me great hope that over time there will be additional releases in the series and perhaps even in other historical eras.

In Operation Barbarossa one takes command of German forces as they launch the initial invasion into Soviet Russia during World War II. One is able to command a variety of units including reconnaissance groups (able to extend line-of-sight), air fleets (able to bombard enemy units), infantry, special forces (e.g. Waffen-SS), tanks, and mobile units.

Over time units earn experience, suffer fatigue, and gain specific abilities (e.g. better resistance to mud when traveling, or an ability to stand firm after losing a battle rather than retreating from the field). Supply plays a key role in the game and new units and special abilities are doled out based on one’s holdings. At key points in the game one is able to trade Victory Points (VPs) for reinforcements.

The D-Day game is very similar, except one is command Allied forces in this case instead of German forces. The number of units has increased – there are now minesweepers, paratroopers, and so on. The variety of abilities one can secure has expanded (e.g. air support), but overall it is a very similar game with a different scenario.

Both games are challenging, yet intuitive. If you read the instructions you’ll fully understand how to play within a few minutes – or if you are like me, you’ll play first and read later. In either case, it isn’t hard to understand the game – though there are a few nuances you may not pick up on immediately if you don’t read the instructions, for example:

  • Resting one’s units is key. Unlike in many other games, new units are somewhat rare, so protecting and replenishing beat down units is extremely important.
  • Some resources (like special orders) are applied to a unit but only applicable for that turn, the next turn the unit will be back to normal.
  • Partisans will appear and interfere with your supply lines.

The Operation Barbarossa game is available in a lite version.. This is the same as the full version except it provides only a limited number of turns – but more than enough to get a thorough feel for the game. While the games are of significant depth and quality, their price is exceptional and I’d encourage any wargamer to go buy them right now – even if you don’t intend to play them. Supporting Joni and folks like him will ensure that similar games are designed in the future. The price is $2.99 per game! Try and find a quality turn-based strategic/tactical wargame for anywhere near that price!

Here are a few small items I’d like to see Joni work on as he continues to develop these applications:

  • The ability to create multiple save games. The games save, but they maintain only one save file at a time. So, you can’t play multiple games simultaneously and even more important, you have to start the game over if you really botch things up.
  • The ability to play as either side. Currently it is only possible to play as the Axis in Operation Barbarossa and only as the Allies in D-Day.
  • The creation of additional games in other eras – such as the Napoleonic Wars, Civil War, World War I, Vietnam, and Korea.
  • The ability to play multiplayer.
  • In D-Day when one wins a victory it says that the Germans won, this is small typographical error.
  • The ability to undo a move if it does not involve combat. Occasionally I accidentally move a unit and there doesn’t seem to be a way to undo the move.
  • The ability to merge combat units rather than resting them.

For those who are interested, here are links to the applications within Android Market:

Texty – Finally, Text Messaging Improves!

[Update: The application has undergone several naming revisions, it is currently MightyText.]

I’ve never been a huge fan of text messaging. Maybe my fingers are too big or maybe I can type too fast on a computer keyboard – but text messaging has always been frustrating to me when it involves any sort of sustained or substantive conversation. In spite of its primitive nature in many ways it has been and continues to be a major means of communication and its influence seems to be expanding rather than contracting. Thankfully, Texty has come along as one of a number of innovative startups that are stretching what SMS is and does…and I was lucky enough to get in on the Texty closed beta and have been using Texty for perhaps 1-2 weeks.

What is Texty? I’m glad you asked. It consists of two components. One is an application that runs on your Android phone, the other is an extension that runs on your computer in the Google Chrome browser. These two components communicate with one another – transferring text messages sent to your phone to the computer and transferring messages from the computer back to your phone.

Now my wife (who is a SMS fiend!) can text me to her heart’s content and I can reply back in a timely fashion without ever touching my phone! Sure, you could do this before but usually this involved using a different number for text messages sent from the computer than your actual phone number – and this became confusing.

Texty is a great step forward and I won’t be surprised if Google snaps them up (just for intellectual property rights). What Texty is doing is something that should have been a standard feature long ago.

That said, Texty isn’t the perfect application. A few features I’d love to see that would take the application to the next level are:

  1. Provide me with a way to backup/store my SMS messages – both from Texty and the phone – to my computer or the cloud. I don’t like having tons of text threads open or to have all the previous days and weeks conversations showing when I’m texting someone – but I do like to have these in the archives (so to speak) for future reference.
  2. Right now if you read a message on your computer via Texty and then look at your phone it looks as if you have unread text messages. Texty needs to mark the messages that are read on the computer as read on the phone as well. The easiest way to do this is if I send a reply after receiving a text message in Texty, then obviously I’ve read the message that was sent previously. I’m sure some folks will disagree – so perhaps this could be an optional configuration.

Have you used Texty? What do you love/hate about Texty? What about SMS in general?