Wednesday, January 12, 2005
500% connected versus the big yawn
I love it when people leave comments ... like this one "The new age of iPod tricks and bluetooth enabled jackets is more like pointing towards 500% connected rather than 500% online. Online systems are a big yawn ... " I thought I'd got it wrong at first, thinking that the writer was talking about me wearing a bluetooth jacket (perhaps there's a new fashion there - gone is herringbone, houndstooth and whatnot); then I thought it was perhaps an ipod with a bluetooth jacket - like those horrible sleeves that people had to put around their Ipaqs. Then I realised I was right the first time, it probably is about a bluetooth jacket. I've been reading about those since Negroponte talked about walking up to someone, shaking hands and exchanging business cards from the spark between your palms. And still I know people who aren't able to use even the Nokia interface to exchange business cards between phones (and don't get me started about how the Treo 600 doesn't even support the standard business card format, .vcf). I'm all for 100% connectivity. I talked with Greg Papadopolous at Sun once about his thinking here. He believed then (and this was 2 1/2 years ago I guess) that the falling cost of connectivity (he measured it with the unit cost of an ethernet card as a proxy - I just bought one for £8) would lead to massive increases in the things that connect to each other. He had a great graph showing some power law curves so that the trend was clear to all. But to start that argument with a comment about bluetooth (let alone bluetooth jackets), well that's just half-witted. Bluetooth has been a pain in the arse since the first day. I still know only a few people that can figure out how to get any two gadgets, whether from the same manufacturer or not, to talk to each other. I see lots of people with headsets for their mobile phones though - they just have to shout twice as loud to be heard over the background noise. But the success rate of getting phone to hook to headset is nothing like 100% - geeks only need to apply. Eventually they'll get it right, by which time they'll have proved that the addition of bluetooth radiation to mobile phone radiation drills a hole the size of an apple in the side of your brain. Forget kids not using mobile phones, we'll have to stop them going out in case the bombardment from all the radiation kills them before they move. And then there's the ipod, that great example of an unconnected device. There's probably a reason that Apple kept it very simple - and it's not cost related (after all, they added photo capability - yes, you too can look at a pictures on a screen that is no bigger than a 35mm slide - for $100 and I see people buying those). No, the reason is that they know that the more they add, the harder the gadget gets to use and the less likely people are to use it. Connectivity is one of those hard things - ask anyone who tries to set up a secure wireless network at home, even with Windows XP. Or, perhaps try and share data across that wireless network (once you've got it going) between a Mac and a Windows PC. Or sync your Sony Ericsson P900 to your Mac. On the upside though, a year ago or so I plugged my xbox into my wireless network (using another gagdet) and connected straight through to xbox live without a blink. Now I can have conference calls with my friends around the world (and perhaps sometime soon with video too) and then blow the crap out of them on halo 2. Simple stuff. Yet they've just sold over 6.3 million copies of Halo 2 and only 380,000 people are online! Why's that - because figuring out how to stretch the broadband connection from your PC in the den to your xbox in the front room (or vice versa) is just too hard for most people. I firmly believe though that we are heading to an ever more connected world. But it's going to be more like 65% connected for a while, not 500%. I'd like the first problem solved to be the one that forces me to reset all of the clocks in my house twice a year the clocks change, oh and the dashboard clock. That would be a good test - kind of like the change of address problem for government. There are many things to crack before gadgets talk easily to each other. And with vendors arguing over the next DVD standard (also, worryingly, called "blue" - the odds of success are not good), there is little sign of them coming together to make it easy for us consumers. Some of the problems are: - Portable devices need good power supplies. Battery technology is way, way behind power consumption. That's why people are still excited about laptops that get 3 hours of life. I know that laptops are smaller and do more and have better colour screens and all that, but they still need juice. The ipod, while we're talking about that, is useful here too. Early versions ran for maybe 11 hours on a charge - but after a while, the battery gets tired and you end up running for a couple of hours at best. What, no removable battery? There are class action lawsuits on that point! - Complexity. It's hard enough talking to someone you know, let alone talking to someone you don't know. The same is true in spades for gadgets. - Security. I don't want anyone stealing all of the text messages from my bluetooth enabled phone, thanks. It's not that there's anything incriminating there, but if they can steal them, what else can they do to the phone? So, yes, 500% connected but only in very specific areas and only for the high-tech, high-touch, high-gadget dependent freaks. It will be a while before the consumer notices and then, I am sure, it will be in low end things. It will be that the audio system in your car gets updates from the same music source as your ipod (to save you having to jack your ipod into the car using the line out socket), it will be that your bluetooth headset plays music from your ipod and then cuts out when a phone call comes in - rather than your ipod becoming a phone or vice versa. Yep, e-government is a yawn compared to some other exciting projects, but compared to meddling and fiddling with gadgets trying to get them to talk to each other, e-gov is easy and worthwhile. I'd rather be an ABC1 serial planner than a hard and fast geek trying to get my bluetooth anorak to talk to my bluetooth socks.
Posted by Alan at Wednesday, January 12, 2005