Ryan (thesolidone) wrote,

Form Factor

So I have to say I spoke a bit hastily about using windows 8 on a laptop/trackpad. I have to admit I've never liked those. The laptop form factor annoyed me to no end with it's heavy battery use, weight, and interface. However, I can say any trackpad that supoprts Windows 8 gestures the experience is probably even better than the desktop with the mouse which I didn't mind. The issue with track pads  is that you have to make multiple motions the way you used to with old mice and the movement area is a lot smaller. But having used my tablet with swipe from the side and scroll gestures it removes the need to move the cursor around as much. Talk about fast multi tasking, full screen to full screen without having to resize windows or click on specific icons. In fact I would say this interaction is so good that it is simply better than Windows 7 on the supported devices. In fact, once you get used to it I think Windows 8 is all around better for any Windows platform machine that can run it. 

Mind you what about devices that can't. This has been the source of confusion around what to buy with Windows 8.  You have 2 operating systems and 3 processor classes for devices that look basically all the same from the outside yet have all very different capabilities. The focus has been entirely on the 10" + market which might have seemed smart a year ago, but even Apple now recognizes the appeal of smaller devices.  Microsoft has made many smart moves with it's Desktop/Tablet OS but it's Phone OS leaves a lot to be desired. Eventually it will have full RT support, but for now it's a completely different ecosystem, and worse a lot of features that you'd expect is not being built into the hardware because it isn't supported. No HDMI out.. Seriously? I wrote a post about componentized computing about a year ago and the capable of their phones is seriously disappointing whereas their Desktop approach is industry leading.

Google has made things more interesting by not directly porting their apps to Windows. It's a ballsy move. I think they realize that if they can avoid making it easier for people to adopt the new systems with their great library of applications maybe they can consolidate their hold with Android. On the other hand if Windows is accepted and people become accustomed to not using their products, they risk just getting pulverized. Each company now lines up to each other quite well in their offerings: search engines, cloud services, maps, browsers, OS', devices.. The biggest issue is Android has the potential of being redundant if it's fighting in the same arena due to the lack of unification with desktop based offerings. Their only chance is right now while adoption is slow and Microsoft is pretty much useless in the smaller than 10" form factor. It's a shame though because I think Windows 8 might be the best thing Microsoft has ever released in terms of its placement compared to competitors. I've always commented how aside from compatibility issues etc Apple has been so far ahead of the game. This has been pretty much true since it's inception. There was a period in the late 90's where Microsoft almost caught up. Now I think Microsoft is ahead but people just have missed it. 

I love how analysts blame Windows 8 for the lowering numbers on desktop computers. I'm not sure what they are expecting. The decline is natural. Not because it's a sinking ship as some would have you believe. It's because of how good it's gotten and doing what it needs to. It's kind of like how we use less paper now. Our methods of recycling have improved too. So a paper vendor would say sales are down. However they are producing less new paper cutting costs, and it is still very essential. You could say in some ways our paper is better now that before and it's no fault of it's quality that it has less usage even if it's application has increased in other ways including environment friendly packaging. People don't need many desktops anymore. You want a desktop when you want to maximize performance. It isn't an individual device, it powers a household. Similarly in the workplace, sure there was an exodus to laptops in the early 2000's but we've also seen the move to heavy virtualization where people aren't running crazy server farms for testing. They can set up all their environments on one machine. The desktop has become the home and office mainframe. It will have it's place until componentized computing is fully realized. 

So why is the sub 10" form factor so important. First of all it's Android's space who I saw as the primary competitor to Windows systems. Apple will always keep their niche clientele. Their business model allows it as long as they stay ahead. But Android is the every person device. If you asked me about 10 years ago what I saw the perfect portable device size would be I would have said about 7 inches (including Bezels). Basically the size of a paper back book (not in depth). Small enough to fit in a coat pocket or purse but big enough to still actively consume content and interact with the screen. The huge success of 7 inch tablets seems logical from that, but more interesting are the Phablets. Basically phones that have 6 inch screens. I think we are approaching the sweet spot for those devices in terms of size of a portable tablet. However holding one of those up to your ear is about as ridiculous as a 1980's car phone. Unfortunately it being your phone is part of the desire for the all encompassing device.  Remember before the smart phone era how small phones were getting. The smaller the more high tech. Ultra thin flip phone and sliders became all the rage. Phablets are the right form factor for Tablets but the wrong one for the conventional phone. This is an intermediate step much like the laptop, and the netbook which are ultimately doomed to become extinct in the near future.

Now there are a couple options here. There is the componentized approach in which hardware specifies function but it all integrates, like earpieces/headsets. But we all remember that guy walking down the street or talking to himself on the bus to remember how ridiculous that was. It is no surprise why messaging is so big. It's hard to facilitate situations where you can do voice and especially video communication. Both require certain consideration of those around you and potential loss of privacy. It's this consideration that the audibles of the phone ringing or vibrating, and the visual of the receiver up the ear act as an indications and the proper social behavior follows. Any piece would have to be just as visible without looking tacky. Eventually we will probably end up going to some sort of componentized approach but the technology isn't there. Or rather there hasn't been a way to make it social acceptable or a real need. No one wants to forget a piece and not have the system not work. Given how essential communication is, it is clear it needs to be part of the core piece.

For now more like is this new flexible OLED technology that produces bendable touchscreens. Advances in display technology are definitely of interest since they are largely the most defining part of the size of devices. We aren't at a point where we can fold up a tablet and unfold it. Or that we have dual sided OLED displays that are resizeable based on folding and orientation (ie make your own screen size). Or ones that are inbedded in clothing. What if your sleeve could become a touch interface? Or even your shirt a way of interactive advertising.

The biggest thing holding the whole phone form factor back is the idea of the phone in the first place. I've already lamented over the painful cost of running a phone when they should just be charging for data. Seriously will they ever offer Skype phone in Canada. I realize the need to coexist with the existing system hence the skype number, but once people can break away from the idea of "phone call" and "text message" and move to the understanding it's all the same thing the social conception around having a phone will die and we will just be all talking about the same devices. The only question will be mobile data versus local data network capabilities. There is no reason for any computer not to be a phone. Once that barrier is gone I think we will see a normalization of form factors rather than such a large customization. We will identify function and size based on function useability rather than an traits of the hardware or software.
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