Monday, 5 November 2012

Does size Matter?

It might sound a bit of a cliché but does size really matter?

I think it might.

As I have reached my 50th year,  I have found that my eyes have deteriorated as a result of poor screen pixelation on computers and poor refresh rates causing eye fatigue, headaches and sight difficulties.  Such is the life for many people who spend much of their life in front of a computer screen.

I notice that the font size is critical to me; if it is too small then I have to change to my reading glasses. Too small is defined as the size of font size currently used on many pre-packaged ready meals.  This means I either have poorly cooked food or have to put on my reading spectacles.

On a computer or mobile device the font size is extremely important.  For many smartphones there are apps that can be downloaded to change the font size but few are absolutely ideal and most will change the font of some items whilst leaving others at their originally small size.   

The smartphone and tablet computer tend to mitigate this problem by the use of icons, so the user does not need to read the name of a programme, they just click on the icon.  Pictures are often easier to recognize and have greater utility than just words but when in an app such as notepad the user must fiddle with the settings to change the font.  Most games do not allow for font change making them a little difficult to play on a smart phone.  Similarly texts are often unable to be read easily unless a text font modifying app is installed.

Size is also important in relation to the size of the screen; bigger screen better font is usually the case.

The iPad and iPad mini

The Samsung Galaxy S3  and S3 mini

The iPhone 4 and iPhone 5

The most important size though is the size of the device itself. The mini iPad for example has been criticised as it is more difficult to pocket than its 7 inch counterpart the Google Nexus 7.  The Samsung Galaxy S3 and the iPhone 5 are substantially bigger than their previous incarnations, this has caused Samsung to rethink the S3 and bring out the S3 mini, similar phone but smaller.  

Depending on what you want to do with your phone the size of the device matters. 

If you just want to receive calls and make them, then the device needs to be big enough for the numbers to be visible that are being dialled.  If texting is a priority then the screen needs to be bigger but small enough for thumbs to glide effortlessly around a keypad. If the phone is smarter and the user wants to play games on it, then it needs to be bigger still; and if the person wants to use the phone as a photographic studio to edit and take photos it should be even bigger.

Mobile devices can be too big and cumbersome. Many tablets are very portable but not suitable for one handed use for long periods as they are a little too heavy for most people. Similarly, large screen mobile phones are great but can be a privacy issue as if the screen is too big, allowing others to see the content as well as the user.

It is interesting to note that most easy to use phones have large screens and large fonts but the phones themselves are largely quite small. So this is acknowledged as an issue of importance but one that many smartphone manufacturers have not heeded.

So the $64 million question is what is the best size? 
Is their and ideal size?

What size is best?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Computing today and the challenges of tomorrow

When I was growing up, computers were being invented. I recall my brother getting his first calculator, which was made by Casio and could add, subtract, multiply and divide to fifteen decimal places.  It was a large fat device and the buttons were very dodgy and kept misreading the touches.  It was fantastic for showing off with, it could do pi (π) to fifteen places, which was the sort of thing that people in the playground would think of as cool, in some schools.

The Casio Calculator

My first experience with a computer was at university, where we had to log in via DOS and use DOS commands to do simple functions.  These were basically used as calculators for large sums.  I will always recall the dread of the “\CD” “C>” prompts, which at the time seemed be some sort of Masonic code to people like me who were more concerned with humans that computers.  The computer screen was a cathode ray tube and provided a black screen with small white/grey writing on it when you typed.  I also recall some using early rudimentary word processing packages that allowed you to type something and then print it. 

Floppy disks were huge and bigger than the 7” single we all possessed.  They were fragile and easily broken or corrupted. They fitted snugly into the post box like slot in the computer and made various crunching noises as their whirred around.  This means I have witnessed and used a range of floppy discs from the 8-inch, through the 5 14-inch, to the 3 12-inch floppy disks and now the flash drives and other media formats.

Floppy Disks

The computer screens changed from black and white to green and black and then eventually black and white pictures were produced which were followed shortly after by their colour compatriots.

The computer itself changed colour from grey to black to white and now can be obtained in many colours.   The once huge computer, which was a mainframe, changed to being portable and then a laptop, netbook and currently a tablet computer or phablet.   

The internet when it arrived was obtained via a wire and called the Ethernet; this then became a 14-54kb mobile data/fax modem that everyone at the time used. This allowed pages to load before your eyes. Line by line, the page would slowly come into view.  Web pages were designed to be small and light, so they could load quickly.   I recall when I started doing my first web pages back in the 1980’s, I would send the URL of the page to a site that would tell me how fast the page would load.   This also meant that a good web page would load fast and have few pictures on the page. The current wireless modems and superfast 3g or 4g speeds of today not only download web pages in fractions of a second. Wireless connectivity has freed the computer from the ties of cables and extensive battery life allows greater flexibility.

A network terminal with two floppy disk slots

Today, your computer can download movies or play games wirelessly anywhere where there is a wireless network point.

What does the future hold for computing?

It seems there are some interesting challenges ahead. The ubiquitous computer provides the ability to embed computing into everyday objects, so the social world can be more accessible. The use of voice recognition provides greater flexibility for devices, but no one wants to constantly chattering to the ether. Similarly, virtual technology and 3/4g provide excellent opportunities for communication and gaming, but virtualisation has it's own limits. There is a optimum for sized devices and although different devices might have different size requirements, for different functions but there will be an optimum size derived eventually. Ideally, on one the one hand it would be ideal to have technology that reads thought commands, this could also be extremely problematic or even dangerous in certain circumstances.

So the challenges are becoming apparent, they centre on improving technology from a person- centred perspective. The challenge is to find out what people want and need from technology, and delivering just that, no less and no more.  

I would also suggest that part of this challenge is to provide an off switch so the always on society can also be the sometimes off.  Privacy and security are to be more of an issue the more things are networked together.

As we invest more of our future technology, reliability and survivability are also critical elements. Technology should not fail and if it does systems should be in place to ensure that data survives.

Some of today's wireless technologies

Battery power is also the issue for the mobile user, especially owners of smartphones and tablet computers who are forced to charge their devices daily. We are increasingly becoming tied to power points to charge our phones, laptops, tablets, MP3 players etc.

As technology becomes more embedded in everyday objects we will also see the increase in need for more reliable battery power or the ability to recharge as the battery is used.

The future is a mass of possibilities, like the missions to space, the Universe seemed within our grasp, and technology offers the potential for considerable good as well as possible doomsday scenarios. We need to encourage the good and hinder the bad.

Most importantly it is important to recognise that the current improvements made by technology are temporary and the equilibrium or normality of service will be reinstated eventually. This will inevitably involve a considerable amount of technology, but this should be technology that supports us, not technology that we are supporting.

Controlling technology or being controlled?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The iphone Legacy

Should we reconsider our current dating system in the world?

I wonder if we should change from the BC/AD system we currently use to the new iP?

Using the dating system of  iP, there would be BiP and AiP, which would stand for Before and After the iPhone. Currently, if we follow this new time scale, we are currently in 5AiP, as the original iPhone was originally produced in 2007.

The iPhone has become a revolutionary piece of technology, taking the mobile phone from a artefact that allowed the user to make calls and occasionally surf the internet toast fully integrated multimedia device. With an iPhone the user can store data, surf the Web, store music, and Install apps. The app has revolutionized the way we view installing programmes.  No longer are we required to install programmes permanently, instead installing and uninstalling is quick and simple with apps.

There is little doubt that the iPhone set the benchmark that others still try to match. With its fifth iteration, the game of catch up is back on. Other mobile manufacturers are innovating causing Apple to occasionally play catch up, although their phone still retains the number 1 slot.

What is interesting is that other manufacturers produce a new model every three months or so, Apple produces one new model a year. Apple currently sells only one phone.

The iconic status of the iPhone is well founded but it is fascinating that a phone that looks almost unchanged in five year's still commanding such attention and provenance in the mobile market.  This is evidenced by the queues of people outside Apple stores internationally awaiting its arrival.

So the question is, should other manufacturers take Apple's lead, and only focus on one phone design and work specifically on improving the software and hardware this phone?

 If, for example, Samsung concentrated all their efforts on the Galaxy S and poured their resources into just this model and stopped innovation on all their other models, would they make their as convincing an update as Apple do with their new phone?