Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Android MegaPad - 23" Android Tablet for $600

I'd like to introduce to you a project I've been hacking on for the last few weeks - a prototype of a product I think will become a mainstream computing device in the next few years. As we all know, Apple brought touch computing to the mainstream in 2007 and showed us its potential. In 2010, they introduced the iPad and showed us that different screen sizes open up new possibilities but also demand different apps.

The Android MegaPad is then the next logical step - a modern touch-based computing device with with a screen size that will enable a whole different set of experiences. Unlike tablets, devices like this will make simultaneous use by two users a practicality and will let users more fully immerse themselves in apps and games. In the demo video below, you can see two apps that, while written for phones and tablets, nevertheless demonstrate the usefulness of such a device.

What makes this rather unique is that it was build using off-the-shelf components in my kitchen for less than $600, though it is not portable. On top of this commodity hardware, Android was used because its openness and flexibility make it the only modern touch-based OS that is able to be adapted for uses beyond what's currently available in the market. Stay tuned for technical details.

How To Save RIM

Last week was brutal for RIM . After announcing dismal quarterly results - profit down nearly 60%, revenues down 10% and PlayBook sales less than half of what was expected - the markets decided to punish them with a 20% drop in stock price.

RIM is going through a tough time right now. Like many other tech companies (for example, Apple in the 90s), years of neglect and complacency have led the technical foundations of the company to stagnate, ultimately affecting their ability to put out great products. Fortunately, it is still too early to write RIM off completely. Despite their troubles, they are still profitable, they have recognized their weaknesses and have acquired QNX and TAT to try and address them and perhaps most importantly, they command huge mind- and market share amongst young people. Should they be successful through this transition, they'll be one of the few companies competing in the mobile computing and communications market - a market which is likely to encompass nearly every person on the planet by the end of this decade.

One weakness they have not addressed however, is the lack of leadership at the top. Although it's understandable that RIM (like nearly everyone else) was caught off-guard by the iPhone's introduction in 2007, their inability to correctly asses the threat and create a competitive product over the last 4 years isn't. What they need then is someone with a wealth of experience in the consumer market and a keen eye for both hardware and software design - Jon Rubinstein.

Jon Rubinstein has one of the most impressive resumes in the tech world. After working with Steve Jobs at NeXT building their workstations, he was asked by Jobs to join him at Apple in 1997 and take over hardware engineering. Under Jobs' direction, Rubinstein was tasked with creating the iPod, which he did on an extremely tight schedule. After 10 years of numerous successes at Apple, Rubinstein left to become CEO of Palm.

In 2007, Palm was bleeding money, market share and talent and everyone expected them to go into bankruptcy soon. Nevertheless, Rubinstein managed to introduce the new Pre and WebOS - one of the most innovative and well-designed operating systems out there. Despite lacking the scale to become a major player, WebOS heavily influenced both Android Honeycomb and the PlayBook's OS.

I can't imagine Jon doing very well these days though. After HP acquired Palm with the intent of becoming a major player in the consumer space, a scandal and a change of CEOs led to a radical change of direction towards HP being an enterprise cloud provider with no interest in the consumer market. The cancellation of the TouchPad, Pre and the uncertain future of webOS imply that Jon has little, if any, future with HP.

This then, is a match made in heaven - RIM's still-solid position combined with Rubinstein's wealth of experience will increase RIM's chances of making through this transition and remaining a major player.  How likely is this to happen? Given the entrenched positions of both RIM CEOs, I think things will have to get much worse before major shareholders try and replace them. A shame then, given the current possibilities.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

TetriNET is back as - multiplayer tetris in your browser

Are you are current or former TetriNET or Blocktrix player? Then I have some excellent news for you - today we are finally taking the wraps off is essentially a very modern take on a a very fun, but abandoned classic game - instead of requiring players to download and install software, search for servers, ensure compatibility, etc, implements the game entirely in the browser. It allows people to play without worrying about software and we've made a number of usability and gameplay changes to make it even better than the original.

We're pretty excited, so I cordially invite you all the give it a try and let us know what you think.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why Android Tablets Will Dominate

The Allegory of the 3 Series
The 3 Series is a magnificent car. It is not too big, not too small. It is safe, aesthetically pleasing, thoughtfully designed, expertly engineered and very well-built. It provides a thrilling driving experience and although it costs a bit more, both new and used models are still affordable for most folks. In many ways the 3 series is the perfect car and yet, not everyone drives a 3 Series. Even people who freely acknowledge its magnificence. Why?

Android Smartphones
2010 was a great year for Android phones. In the US, they outsold the iPhone and BlackBerry combined, saw 1600% growth in Europe and displaced Symbian as the world's #1 smartphone OS. All this in the same year that Apple released their best iPhone, whose lineage had an year-and-a-half head start on Android. The reason for this popularity is simple - unlike the iPhone which is a rigid, one-size-fit-all solution, Android phones come in a dizzying array of features, sizes, customizations and price points, allowing people to select the phone that's right just for them.

Android Tablets
Consider the leading-edge tablet OS contenders: Android, BlackBerry Playbook OS, iOS and webOS. Of those, only Android has been designed from the very start to be flexible and open enough to be adapted to different needs and uses. Within a year (or perhaps even this year's holiday season) we will start to see the same kind of diversity in Android tablets as in Android phones. Screens from 5" to 12", tablets that are thin glass slabs, tablets with sliding keyboards, laptop-like clamshells, dual-screens and god knows what else. The fact that the iPad has a big head start and many more applications in March of 2011 will prove as irrelevant in the long term as the iPhone's head start. Only Android will be able to provide consumers with a modern tablet OS in a device suited for their particular needs.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
I don't think this calls for pessimism on Apple, RIM or HP. I think they'll all continue to put out great products, maintain a sustainable market share and influence the direction of the market. However, I have little doubt that Android will be the way the majority of the world's people will interact with smartphones, tablets and other digital devices that'll dominate our interaction with technology in the coming years.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The difference between Android and iPhone illustrated

I was a iPhone-only user for about 2 years when I got my Nexus One last year. Instead of ditching the iPhone, I've been using both devices for the past year - the Nexus One as my phone and internet device (email, browsing, etc) and the iPhone for music and gaming. I take both of them when I travel, when I go to work, when I get in the car, etc. After a bit, I realized I didn't want to ditch either of them, as I liked and disliked things about both of them, and thought of an interesting way of explaining that.

The iPhone feels simple, yet complete. It knows what it can do, does it very well and rarely screws up - the homescreen is a simple icon grid, all settings are in one place and everything is smooth and neatly animated. The downside of course is, that is feels a little dumb - notifications are uselessly simplistic, apps can't tie into each other and worst of all, you have to use iTunes - the music player/content store/social network/central hub/software configuration system/kitchen sink monstrosity that makes me yearn for the days of Real Player.

Android feels smarter and more ambitious, but very much incomplete. It allows you to personalize your device as much as you want, apps can tie into each other and adjust to different phones and it uses Google's cloud as an integral link to the device - your email and calendar just show up, apps can be pushed from a browser and software updates are quick, painless and delivered over the air. The downside is that Android is still very much a work in progress - you can wipe your device and sign into another and your email/calendar/contact list will show up, but not your call or SMS log. Music? Figure it out yourself!

Growth and Development

Both platforms are changing and the analogy applies here as well. We can imagine Android to be a big puzzle that Google solves in public by adding more pieces all the time, whereas we can imagine Apple releasing a complete, solved puzzle once a year - each puzzle being larger than the previous, yet still containing the previous year's puzzle in itself.
Ultimately both have to borrow a lot from each other's play book - Apple must eventually ditch iTunes as a hub and move to the cloud (image the absurdity of using your PC to sync your phone in 2015), while Google must still deliver important pieces like purchasing music and other content.