Tablet computing then and now

People who've known me a while usually know me as a computer guy. Back in the mid to late nineties, this was especially apparent because I carried this odd looking hand-held computer around with me -- the Apple Newton MessagePad.

This is long before Apple started work on the iPhone or even iTunes, and most certainly before the iPad, but the functionality was incredible for the time and when I pull it out and play with it from time to time I'm reminded there are features still not well replicated on modern devices.

Newton vs Android

Sure, my new Dell Streak (shown overlapping my MessagePad 120 here) is in full colour, has Wifi, 3G and Bluetooth, but neither Android nor iOS replicate some of the core functionality found on a Newton.

I could pull up the notepad screen for instance and write out (in longhand) "Remember Cindy's birthday next Wednesday" and then click the 'Assist' button on the screen to have the Newton open the calendar, scroll to next Wednesday, and create a day-long reminder named "Cindy's Birthday". Other functionality such as customized business card styles on a per-contact basis were very nice for personalizing individual contacts. It understood the difference between business entries ("Microsoft Support") and people ("Bill Gates").

I could start drawing free-hand on the notepad screen and it would interpret the shapes I was drawing -- freehand circles became perfectly round (and had editable edges that could be dragged to accurately fix sizing), lines and other shapes properly aligned and closed, etc.

Do I want to go back to using it for my day to day routine? Of course not, its slow and bulky compared to modern devices. But do I wonder why after fifteen years I don't have functional handwriting recognition and basic AI on my new tablet phone? I sure do.


Bandwidth lies and video streaming

I have the joy of living in a great forward thinking country with excellent amenities and pretty good access to services.  I love my country, I'm Canadian through and through.  I've gotta say though, like any one else, I get a little annoyed when my tax dollars get spent on utter stupidity.  For example, an arm's length regulator like the CRTC that has far exceeded its mandate and is trying to regulate things like whether Bell Canada can impose their bandwidth usage limits on third parties who access their system.  This has been in the media lately as Usage Based Billing.

First, we need to define the situation.  Many people don't understand how this works, so I'll try to explain.  High speed phone line internet service (ADSL/DSL) requires that your Internet provider (ISP) be able to communicate at very high speeds over your phone line.  This requires that they have equipment connected as physically close as possible to your home.

Since your local phone company owns the copper lines where you live (probably Bell), your Internet provider needs to work out an arrangement with them to offer you Internet service over those lines.  Now if Bell were just another company that had private property involved, this would all seem much more simple, but that's not the case.  Bell has over the years been given fantastic amounts of taxpayer money by the government to help them provide phone service to Canadians.  As a result of this government-granted monopoly on the service, they're required to allow third-party Internet providers to use those lines at a fair price.

As it stands however, the price Bell charges a third-party ISP is not fair.  And on top of that, with the recent request the CRTC granted, Bell gets to impose bandwidth limits on those ISPs who then end up having to pass them on to you.  Here's the rub: it costs Bell nothing to handle your Internet for that ISP.  Bell has equipment they're renting out to your Internet provider, and the Internet service itself is 100% handled by your ISP.  Bell's feelings about your Internet usage shouldn't be relevant at all.

I'm glad some in our government understand how unfair and incredibly biased the CRTC decision was and have vowed to overturn it.  If the CRTC is going to regulate anything with regards to Internet billing, maybe they should look at usage limits ISPs impose unfairly on consumers in the first place.  But that's another issue altogether.


Open is better than closed

I like open systems, I prefer them, for a few reasons. I use both open and closed systems by necessity, but I prefer open. If your'e totally lost, in the software and hardware world, we consider platforms and systems to be closed when they're only managed by a private entity. A system is open when it can be changed or edited or modified by anyone. Some systems are also called open because their specifications are fully published and not hidden. This isn't what I'm talking about though.

In this case, the open system of the day is Android's phone and tablet platform. The closed system it takes on is Apple's iOS. Totally ignoring Apple's product for a moment, because you're all aware of it I'm sure, lets look at some interesting things happening on the Anrdoid front.

LG has created an Android phone with full 3D display and true 3D camera with dual lenses. It can create and display full 3D content. Instead of inventing their own competitor to the iPhone, software and all, they were able to just create hardware capable of doing what they envisioned and then modifying Android to understand their hardware.

Elsewhere, Android devices are being made hardened for Military use. This isn't a market most consumers care about, but it allows the Military contractors to use a known platform for their hardware and save effort on that front, while creating something familiar for the soldier.

The argument against open platforms like Android is so-called fragmentation. That the system isn't static, that it changes from device to device. This makes it moderately harder to write software for the system and to maintain the operating system (Android) itself. The benefits outweigh this issue, in my mind.

Will Apple release a 3D camera and display for their iPhone? Perhaps. What if you don't feel like paying for that feature if and when they did? They might make two versions, but then there'd be fragmentation on their platform too. They might force everyone into the 3D version, in which case you lose the cost-saving choice. They might ignore 3D as a platform, and lose you the option of having it.

Personally, I prefer dealing with companies that offer me choices and create devices that entice me personally but also don't limit my options. That means even if an iPhone did everything I wanted it to do, being dependent on Apple to maintain it in the future is a problem for me. As the twice owner of Newton Messagepads, I'm well aware of how Apple maintains products it stops caring about.