Posts Tagged ‘Whither’
After sitting through three major press events at E3 this year and wandering the halls, I began seeing comments regarding the viability of consoles in a constantly-changing tech landscape. First there were the memes that essentially suggested that this year’s E3 was a gift to PC gaming and then John Carmack, the granddaddy of FPSes, (and bear in mind Carmack is working on a virtual reality helmet so he may not be quite grounded in absolute reality) said:
Now his statement may seem absurd on the surface but let’s unpack it. He’s suggesting that as a piece of hardware the console may go the way of the high-end turntable or a really nice stereo. The rabble will use cloud-connected PCs to play popular games but those who want “pure” experiences will spend thousands on gold master discs and a powerful console to play them on. Again, this is far-fetched – a game that is truly divorced of the media on which it resides – but it could happen.
But assessing how things look in the short term is a different animal. Take, for example, the rumored Steam console. This device will epitomize the vision of cloud gaming but, if rumor is correct, it will be less a purpose-built console and more a living-room PC.
And there’s the rub: as technology swiftly outpaces even the most conscientious of gamers, how can a console hope to beat an upgradable PC or a simpler streaming service like OnLive in the living room? Why would a parent buy a Wii U when junior is just as happy with a few games on a platform that will grow as the child grows?
Obviously there are lots of reasons for buying a console – franchise titles, a stable experience, media streaming – but many consoles are now jacks of all trades and masters of none. A console offers a stable platform that developers can grow into and a universal control device that works (for some people) better than a keyboard/mouse combo. But is that really enough? Sure the Xbox is encroaching on cable boxes, but is that really a source of revenue? Most of the folks Microsoft hopes to woo with cable channel access don’t want a game console. They just want to watch reality shows on TV after surfing five hundred channels with giddy abandon.
I’m definitely not saying that this E3 nailed the lid on the console coffin. It’s clear that the manufacturers are biding their time and allowing current generation hardware to reach its natural end of life. We can probably expect to see new consoles announced next year from Sony and Microsoft with shipping dates in 2014 or 2015, but I worry that by then a high-end, dedicated console will look as quaint as an HD-DVD player in the living room. The technology can catch up, to be certain, but that doesn’t mean the consumer will always wait for it.
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The iPod revolutionized the portable media player market. The iPhone shook up the smart phone market. The iPad is setting the standard for the revived tablet market. What is it about Apple that makes these products so great? In part it’s Apple’s dedication to user experience; but I’d argue that the larger factor in their success is Apple’s end-to-end control of the product. They make the hardware and the operating systems, and build the two to work in near-perfect synchronicity. A lot of CrunchGear commenters say they’re really waiting for a Windows 7 tablet to compete with the iPad, but I say they’ll be waiting for a long, long time: Windows 7 on the multitude of tablet hardware options will be just like Windows 7 on desktop PCs: an appeal to the lowest common denominator, thereby hobbling both hardware and OS advances. (And I actually like Windows 7, so belay the Apple fanboy comments for a moment.) But what about an Ubuntu tablet? The svelt, modular Linux kernel has breathed new life into many aging PCs, and Canonical has been working on a netbook-specific interface for Ubuntu for some time. They have multitouch support, now, too, so couldn’t they pretty quickly roll out a wonderful Ubuntu-powered tablet?
The multitouch stuff in Ubuntu is interesting in its own right, since they’re developing a whole “touch language” that will allow for chaining touch sequences into sentences of complex actions. I’m actually quite excited to see how this develops, especially since the multitouch libraries are hosted on Launchpad for public consumption and participation. More on this below.
Before reading my thoughts on the matter, take a look at this opinion piece over at Shanzai.com: Could Ubuntu make the x86 tablet more attractive?. It’s an interesting, if somewhat myopic, look at the question.
My opinion: I don’t think Ubuntu is a good fit for tablets. I’m generally a big proponent of the “small pieces, loosely joined” mentality behind much of the Linux desktop; but I think it creates way too much complexity on a tablet form factor. The X window system alone, I think, is too much for a tablet, and then Ubuntu is going to heap on D-BUS messaging and the various GNOME pieces and parts, and before long the tablet is too complex for its own good. You don’t need a multiuser operating system running on a tablet.
I’m a huge Linux and Free Software advocate, and I do want to see it succeed in a general sense in the tablet market. I think that Android is the best bet to make that happen. People see “Apple iOS” marketed on iPhones and iPads, and most people have at least passing familiarity with an iPhone, so they think to themselves “Oh, the iPad is like a gigantic iPhone. I can handle that.” People see the word Ubuntu and either say “What’s that?” or they say “Oh yeah, I remember when Wal-Mart was pushing those crappy $200 desktop PCs with Ubuntu.” Either way, they have a strong negative reaction.
But say “Look at this Android tablet!” and people will say “Android? Like on those Motorola phones?” Their interest will be piqued. They’ll know that there are a plethora of apps available. In short, they’ll have a more positive reaction, and will see the tablet for what it can be.
As for the advancements of Canonical’s multitouch libraries, I don’t know that complex “touch sentences” make a lot of sense — yet — on a tablet. I can see such interactions having tremendous utility on a desktop or laptop, where you’re doing complex things with files. But since the entire metaphor of “file management” is so abstracted on tablets, by necessity, I don’t think there will be much real need for anything beyond the few “magic gestures” standardized by Apple. The range of things you can do on a tablet is a small subset of the range of things you can do on a desktop.
I’m eager to see Android mature, and for third-party application developers to really push the envelope of what the tablet form factor makes convenient. I’m hopeful that real competition can drive advancement, thereby making all consumers winners. I continue to advocate for Free Software solutions on all of the computing platforms I use. But just like I don’t use Ubuntu on a compute cluster for research purposes, I don’t expect to use Ubuntu on a tablet. Pick the right platform for the hardware and the job.
Props to CrunchGear
Whither Natal? Microsoft’s unique E3 challenge
Microsoft has been more than coy about its upcoming motion control hardware, known at the moment as Project Natal. Some members of the press, more fortunate than we are, have seen it, although their coverage could only include images of the writers, not the hardware or the game itself. In some demos last year Peter Molyneux helped the reporters play with the creepy virtual boy, Milo, who could …