Emergent development

When the University of California at Irvine built their campus, they just planted grass. Then they waited a year and paved over where people had made paths in the grass. I first heard this in an interview with Larry Wall about 10 years ago but it may well be apocryphal.

I’m seeing parallels with what could be going on with Apple’s iPhone development plans. Release a basic device and wait for the crowds to clamour for what they feel is missing from the device. Pay attention to those that shout the loudest (case in point: the recent enterprise features) but make sure that you set some of the most popular requests to one side for introduction in the release of your second generation model.

Compare and contrast to the usual practice of bundling a metric ass-load of rarely-used crapware that serves mainly to clog up the menus on other phones. Video editing and ringtone composition on a mobile phone have been nothing more than gimmicks.

A little bit of history repeating

This year has already started to see the blurring of the edges between online Web 2.0 and traditional desktop applications. The traditional downside to this software as a service (SaaS) has been what to do when there is no connection to the Internet. There are various technologies now available from the big players (Adobe AIR, Google Gears, Microsoft Silverlight, Mozilla Prism and Sun with JavaFX). These all allow developers to keep your data in sync when you don’t have Internet access to their applications.

Another obstacle is changing attitudes to software. You will no longer own the software that you use but instead be charged either on a pay-as-you-go tariff or, more likely, on a monthly subscription basis.

There is also a gathering trend toward smaller, more portable computing devices with limited hard drive capacity like the Asus Eee PC. New solid state Flash drives offering a reasonable amount of storage are still expensive but these drives offer better battery performance and allow for smaller footprints.

Couple these new machines with a wireless connection, offline synchronisation and advancing online applications and you’re not a million miles away from the thin client model of computing in the 1970s. The major difference I can see between the aged dumb terminals and the new emerging way is a matter of the public perception of security and trust online. Throw in reliability (or lack thereof) issues, encryption bottlenecks and the economics of dealing with a serious amount of bandwidth into the mix and it’s clear than there is still a lot of progress to be made.

Losing is now a good thing?

Yesterday Toshiba all but threw in the towel on the ultimately redundant next generation movie format battle between their own HD-DVD offering and rival Blu-ray from Sony. Shares in Toshiba went up by five per cent after these rumours. Sony shares rose by only one per cent.

Sure enough, Toshiba today confirmed that they will stop production of HD-DVDs.

Maybe I’m missing something again, but since when did losing become something that inspires confidence in a company? I don’t seem to remember the failing of any number of the bespoke formats (UMD for example) that Sony are so keen on having the same effect on their market value.

I’ve just this moment realised that Sony appear to have actually garnered widespread industry support for their own technology.

For me the winner has always been clear-cut: it may be more expensive but “Blu-ray” just sounds so much cooler. Well, that and the fact that the porn industry decided the winner a couple of years ago.

Convergence

I read about the secrets of a slim wallet on Lifehacker a while ago and realised that I could go a little further and stop carrying around several things when just one would suffice1. I’ll freely admit that the camera on the iPhone isn’t fantastic so it hasn’t totally replaced my Pentax.

Now, apart from my keys, I only have one thing to remember to take with me but at the same time, only one thing to lose.

Before: Sony Ericsson k800i, 2nd generation iPod behemoth with headphones and wired remote, wallet, Pentax Optio S4.

Now: iPhone, headphones with inline remote and Krussell case.

The Krussell case has a few slots for cards, in which I keep a business card, my gym card and debit card as these are the ones that I use the most often.

I haven’t included the various docks, cables and chargers in the comparison but taking these into consideration makes using just the single device even more of an appealing option. I do have a way to go before I reach the levels of Australia’s geekiest man.

1 Okay, so strictly speaking I still carry more than one item but everything is kept inside a single thing. Stop splitting hairs.

The highest form of flattery

“Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
Pablo Picasso

Imitation is rife. Apple may just have been inspired by Braun design from the ’60s and ’70s for the iPhone calculator, iPod and G5 tower. The Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Xerox GUI copyright lawsuits are well known.

Over the past couple of years I’ve noticed more and more pieces of PC software that try to achieve one thing: make the PC behave more like OS X. The application notifiers Growl and Snarl. The application enhancers Quicksilver and Colibri. The window managers Expose and Exposer. Unsurprisingly not one of them quite match-up to the Apple versions.

Now after years of mediocrity it seems that the PC manufacturers have finally realised that good design will set them apart. The days of the big beige box are thankfully long gone but until very recently the aesthetics of the offerings from Dell, Gateway and the like have been distinctly poor. Dell have upped their product design staff to 90 (from just six a few years ago) and are already receiving plaudits from the industry for their efforts.

In this years Microsoft CES keynote Bill Gates boldly predicted that we’ll be relying less on the keyboard and mouse in the next five years. Gosh Bill, do you really think so? What a revelation! Take a look at some bleeding-edge design concepts for some examples that might just make it to market over the next few years.