Computing’s Form Factors

A girl friend of mine used to always mock me for lugging around a huge heavy laptop… and I said imagine my friend who goes to and from work moving his desktop computer [an 18pound custom design behemoth] every day. He keeps identically the same console at work and home for “quick hookup” [his words]. So I found the following NYTimes article about the emergence of the iPhone and mobile phones as a new and winning computing form factor of great interest.


The basic argument is that as CPU computing power continues to proliferate [but with some interesting multi-chips and power sapping twists], the mobile phone become extensible PDA as delivered first by Apple [but Google Android + Chrome OS and Palm’s WebOS are not so far behind], has become one of the winning form factors for computing over the next decade[by the way, give full credit to NYTimes electronics writer David Pogue who saw the immense advantage of downloadable software for the iPhone way ahead of most other observers of the gadget scene]. And I know friends who were PC and laptop phobic who have embraced the iPhone including downloading dozens of apps to my  amazement.

So what the NYTimes article goes in round-about fashion “discovering” is that the desktop PC and even the laptop may be ceding primacy to mobile phones as the preferred way to interact digitally in the world. Big surprise!

Since users entrusted Microsoft with Monopoly Lordship through Windows over the PC and laptop GUI experience … not much has happened since the very early 1990’s. Mouses have gotten fancier. Speech recognition and spoken commands have stalled out – not surprisingly given the annoyance factor in crowded environs as well as the challenging speech recognition problem[voices change over the course of a day let alone weeks and months and health conditions]. Gesture recognition on PCs have languished despite pioneering work by Opera and other vendors in this arena.  And as for tablets, Microsoft and tablet vendors have raised prices and still have not gotten the form factor right.

Open Sesame Says Steve Jobs

It is 3  times  now that Steve Jobs has created a major computing form factor [Apple ii for desktop computing devices, iPod for audio and then video devices, and iPhone for a lot more than phone services]  Now remember also that Steve Jobs and Apple were the first to hit the market with a GUI driven interface for PCs. Bill Gates and Microsoft had to play catch up, and with IBM’s help did so being more “open” than Apple. But since Redmonds ascendancy  then the need to interact with ones connections and stored intelligence device has taken a U-turn.

PCs have stagnated in form and design. So radically different devices and new form factors have fostered UI and smart device/computing innovations. It  started with Palm’s PDA and mobile phones and what can go into a smart gadget has accelerated. Hence the attraction of messaging over spoken words, Twitter over many competing forms of messaging, and the ability to quickly deliver new forms of simple interaction with gestures, multi-touch, and accelerometer based device movements. I/O- Input Output ease, naturalness and simplicty  continues to rule the smart device roost and Steve Jobs has been the major-meastro  able to deliver Open Sesame to new ways to interact with ever growing amounts of storage and ever faster yet lighter computing devices.

Form factors are now competing bigtime. Take Maps and GPS-Global Positioning Systems. Maps are moving down from PCs and desktops to mobile phones as the device a)where your most likely going to need to find where your at and b)have the connections to call a provider [think Google]for maps. Take mapping one stape further and then the ” where am I” and “how do I get there” questions move from specialty handheld devices to mobile phones devastating a just growing market as the smarts on board can easily accomodate GPS reception and cross link to mapping available on dozens of mobile phones.

Ditto for games and photos.  Sony and Nintendo must quake in their boots at not just iPhone, but Android and Chrome phones whose add-ons and computing power continue to muscle up and add on more sophisticated networked gaming. Likewise tinkertoy mobile phone lenses will see  vast improvements [and cross integration??] to make snap image and video taking a mobile app.

So convenience, downsizing=light and cheap, and easy to use will start to rule the smart device=computing world like never before.  And to think that Netbooks and Tablets which have the advantage of fast typing and direct to screen gesture IO, are just now emerging. I wonder why ?

Whose Not There

Its a surprising list of computing and electronic heavyweights. IBM – has given up on personal devices. Remembers PCs were just a distraction for a multi-user, massive server hardware, software and services oriented company. IBM will at best be a gatekeeper in the new formfactors of computing. Ditto for Oracle and SAP and other server software and/or hardware heavyweights. GE – is a conglomerate that uses smart devices, sometimes smartly. Sony – has had all the electronic device intelligence but not the packaging and OS smarts. Cisco is just getting into the individual game with dLink and Snap Video; and they certainly know how to route, secure, and deliver messages and intelligence. But it may be a case of too little too late.

In sum, a lot of vendors have forseen and reacted to the fact that ever increasing electronic intelligence would permeate their businesses. But very few anticipated and directed the opportunities in their business spaces. And fewer still have seen the pivotal role of I/O – being able to see, communicate and control attached intelligence simply and effectively.  The NYTimes illustration at the top of the page catches the idea brilliantly -there is a tornado of computing information, services and entertainments available to users through increasingly smart, storage-rich, and more communication adept devices. Now the question is which form factors [think PC Desktops, Netbooks, mobile phones and your favorite smart device] allow you to best control that information tornado.