Thursday, 21 January 2010

Tablet Explosion

This year is going to see a revolution. Its impact will be profound. The sudden feasibility of "e-readers" and tablets, and their expanded applications, are set to have a largely unexplored impact. Previously expensive and not as usable as real books, they have finally come of age, giving us cheap technology that is as readable as a piece of paper.

No more physical media, less waste

There is absolutely no reason to collect and horde physical media any more, and now, the same thing will be true for books. Imagine the reduced quantity of trees that will need to be felled if e-books and magazines are adopted by the majority of the population (and in due time, they will be).

Mass adoption of e-tablets and i-pads could also finally see the the realisation of the "paperless office". The practicality of this way of working finally looks set to become better than dealing with paper and printouts, so will hopefully bring unforeseen applications as well.

This is yet another way in which technology, and therefore the engineers, are saving the environment instead of the green movement. Yes we need to look at our consumption. But in many ways, technology can provide the means to reduce our impact while maintaining growth.

Blurring line between "real" books and "ameteur" more prominent than previous mediums like videos

Anybody can make an e-book. Yet they've never really been as big as "real" books because of their lack of readability on a PC screen. Now this has changed, we can expect to see a resurgence in e-books created by every man and his dog.

This will of course lead to a lot of junk, but could also see the birth of many new stars. (And when I say "stars", I don't mean like Afro Ninja, but more established online commodities such as ProBlogger and Steve Pavlina.) It will certainly become harder to tell who is an established publisher and who is "new in town", and indeed, it will begin to matter less.

Of course, this is going to find publishers struggling if they don't find a new business model fast, as people question their usefulness.

Increase in Piracy

Let's not kid ourselves. e-books are already rife on file sharing sites. With more users this will increase exponentially. And as the demand increases, as will the range. Writers, you may get rid of the publishers, but soon, it's possible nobody will be earning much from creating publications.

Let's hope you do it for the love of it.

Educational Impact

Once tablet PCs are as established as mobile phones, there will be no reason that they are not adopted in the classroom. The applications are unlimited. With wireless network capabilities, the teacher can link to all their student's devices. Augmented reality on a big screen can bring all sorts of new learning experiences.

It's also likely that this, combined with the new possibilities of tablets, will provide more opportunities for remote learning.

Animation and Interaction

Reading plain text is as old as the hills, and illustrations failed to radically change the landscape of books. However, animation, interaction, augmented reality, internet connectivity, and all the other as-yet-un-thought-of applications that a tablet will provide will add many new dimensions to reading.

Textbooks could incorporate Q&A sections, research projects, even practical guides for many topics. They can be updated remotely with the latest knowledge. Your favourite data can be bookmarked and compiled.

Fiction could be broken up with video-game adventures, cut scenes, and background information downloads. It could even lose its linear format, bringing the ultimate "Choose your own adventure" experiences. It's highly unlikely that traditional books will die, but the range of possibilities will certainly bring new and interesting choice to the marketplace.

2nd Time Lucky?

A lot of technologies emerge and fail because of a lack of practicality. Often they stay dead, but occasionally, they return when the technology reaches a level where they can be practical. I believe this is the dawn of the the tablet PC's revenge. The issues they had in the past are gone, and their cultural, practical, and commercial possibilities are just too great now for them to fail.

Of course, let's not forget the most significant cultural change. Suddenly, reading is going to become "cool". Maybe.

More info

Courier: First Details of Microsoft's Secret Tablet
'Major' Apple announcement coming January 27th, devs already working with beta SDK (update: shipping in March)

Friday, 15 January 2010

Disaster Proofing Our World

As we see the devastation in Haiti unfold around us, what is your reaction? Deep sadness? Frustration? Or a burning desire to do something about it?

For me, the great sadness drives the need to change things to improve this situation in the future. We might not be able to stop disasters, but we can sure as hell make things better.

Building with natural disasters in mind is probably the area we currently put the most effort into, but it still falls far short of the mark. It is improving, but at a heel dragging rate.

Rethinking construction from a person perspective would drive the focus in a new direction and enable us to explore more disaster enduring solutions.

The Person Perspective

Until we reach the possibly unreachable goal of disaster-proofing our world, or we stumble on another technique for survival such as mind-uploading or sealed virtual reality, there will always be a need to improve post-event rescue efforts. The unforgivable incompetency shown in the dealing of Katrina, the Tsunami and the current crisis is the perfect illustration of this.

Science and technology are increasingly creating new robotics, imaging techniques, and medical equipment. All we can hope is that this can be improved faster. We can go some way to improving education and encourage more people to enter more valuable fields such as engineering and science, instead of chasing dollars on a trading room floor, or trying to become a pop star when they have no interest in music, in the pursuit of money and fame.

With a growth in more practical sciences and technology created by a society with the desire to apply knowledge in more useful and benevolent ways, there would be a drive to improve technology in ways that save lives.

With this new focus, more scientific effort will be put into understanding, predicting and preventing disaster, as well as more efficient measures to save more people when it does happen.

More Emphasis on Life

The key is to put more emphasis on life – on survival. We see natural disasters often, and more often than not, are so desensitised that we ignore them. If they’re big enough (what is big enough? 1000 deaths? 10,000 deaths?) to make an emotional impact on us, we might send a cheque and get on with our lives. But whatever happens, we always still accept these deaths as inevitable.

It doesn’t have to be this way.