Tag Archives: Microsoft

Tablets Vs PCs


There is a lot of debate these days about the future of PCs vis-a-vis Tablets. There is a school of thought that believes that Tablets are an inevitable replacements for PCs. A second school of thought believes that we are heading into a “PC plus” era where Tablets will only augment PCs, as Tablets will be used more for “content consumption” and PCs will remain the mainstay for “content creation” in the years to come. They believe that only PCs and desktops will have the necessary features such as bigger displays, more memory and higher processing power needed for programming, graphics design etc. The tablet supporters, rubbish this notion by showing how smartphones and tablets have evolved into powerhouses which can handle complex content creation tasks (as displayed by iMovie for the iPhone/iPad) and will only expand in their abilities to handle additional complexities.

Both these arguments are slightly flawed however. The future is simply, the Cloud. In another 5 – 6 years, the processing power or memory capacity of the system (PC or Tablet) will not matter. The strength and speed of a broadband connection will. All complex processing tasks will be performed on the Cloud and content delivered to a user’s system. A netbook will then be able to handle as complex processes as a PC. All data will be stored online and so will applications which will manipulate data real-time on the cloud. Hence, the user’s devices will be nothing more than a smart display (with hardware, software or gesture based I/O systems including voice recognition) which will receive the content from the cloud and send data back to it.

The cloud is already here. Atleast for data storage. Think about it. All your photos are mostly on Facebook (atleast the non-embarrasing ones). Movies are increasingly being streamed online. We probably listen to and share music more over Youtube and other such cloud based services. Why then would we store such data on our desktops? Onlive is a startup which is working on delivering games to your PC through the Cloud. All the processing power required by the game will be handled by Onlive’s servers and the content will be delivered to your system. That means one will not need to bother about the kind of video card or RAM installed. All you need to have is a good HD display and a strong broadband connection. True, this technology is still in its nascent stages, but even Microsoft and Sony are working to strengthen their cloud based offerings in their next console. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see such gaming happen post 5 years.

What about applications? Word and Spreadsheet processing is already happening on the cloud (think Google Docs, Office 365). IT majors are all focusing on cloud application development under a SaaS (Software as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) model. There are cloud-based image editing softwares which aim to replace Photoshop. While this is a tall order currently, there is no denying that these can become much more powerful in the coming decade.

Tech Giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft are recognising this. Hence, they are increasing their focus on cloud solutions with iCloud, SkyDrive etc. They are also busy integrating their OSes to work across all devices. Hence, Apple’s Lion was a move to integrate their iOS with their traditional Mac OS X and maybe with a potential Apple TV in future. Windows 8 aims to be a common platform for Tablets as well as PCs and maybe even Xbox and smartphones in future. Future versions of these OSes are being designed to run on smartphones, tablets and even gaming consoles/TVs. A common OS across devices, because in the future, content will be streamed to the device and hence the nature of the device itself will perhaps become unimportant. What will probably matter is how the content is consumed on these devices and the user experience each of these devices can offer for the content (think: iOS and Google’s “App Tiles” versus the Win7 “live tiles”.) HTML5 based applications then, though not very powerful today can soon become the most major threat Apple, Google and Microsoft might face, and not each other.

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Where is the Apple “Kinect”?


Microsoft released ‘Kinect’, its all new motion control system for the Xbox, last week. Kinect is an Xbox peripheral which allows users to play games without the need for a hand-held controller. The Kinect basically uses a camera and sensors to track the movements of the player’s body and translates that into the specific action on-screen. Think players swinging their arms at Table Tennis or throwing punches in Boxing. The Kinect hardware system as such has been receiving mostly positive reviews with users pointing out the need for having a very controlled environment and a lag in games as the only negative points.

For long I have wondered about the feasibility of a game controller which would make gamers stand in front of their TVs and swing their arms and jump and perform all sorts of juvenile actions. You see, we gamers are essentially a lazy lot. A bunch of couch potatoes if you will. Theres nothing more we would like than to unwind by slinking on the couch, playing the latest Call of Duty while hogging on a bowl of chips dipped in mayo. But more on that later.

Point is, the Kinect is a revolutionary way to interact with game systems and any system for that matter. It also has voice-recognition which allows users to issue voice commands to the Xbox. Combine the voice recognition and gesture recognition features and we have an intelligent way to interact with our computers or A.I systems.

We could give voice commands to run programs and use hand  gestures to navigate through menus . Its a whole new user-experience. While the input systems for mobile devices have shifted from hardware keypads to touch screens in the last 5 years, the input systems for the PCs have still remained pretty much what they were in in the 1990’s. High time for a change don’t you think? Touch-screens have not seeped into the PC space as, research has shown (and as Steve Jobs pointed out recently) that touch-screens are not easy-to-use for vertical displays i.e our PC monitors. Its called the Gorilla Arm Syndrome. So, that rules out touch screen inputs for our PCs. The next logical step would be voice commands and/or gesture recognition.

And Kinect has shown that this is feasible. Is it possible that Kinect for the Xbox was a testing ground for this feature to be implemented in Microsoft Windows too? Steve Ballmer has already mentioned that Windows 8 will be their most risky venture till date. Does Microsoft have plans of using this Kinect system as a new mode of user interaction in the next Windows?

And if Microsoft has such plans, can Apple be far behind? Steve Jobs definitely prides himself on revolutionizing the music and mobile phone industries. He brought mobile touch screens in vogue, changing the way people used their mobile devices. I’m dead sure hes got an eye on the Kinect and realizes how it can change every single form of device-user-interaction across all industries. While the next Mac OS Lion does not have any such features, there’s no telling that Apple is not already working on its own Kinect-like system for its Mac and other devices like Apple TV. With his strong focus on providing an innovative high quality user-experience on Apple products its only a question of when, and not if, Steve Jobs will announce Apple’s own “Kinect”.