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Martin Darby

I think what we will see is that the PC will specialise its role as a content creation device, while post-PC devices will capture increasing market share for content consumption and that will become the primary distinction.

I believe Steve Jobs realised this when he saw that Apple had the technology to manufacture the iPad. Smart guy.

Jared Hester

Your usage of the term "PC" seems slightly off. Mobile phones, tablets, laptops, they're all different form factors for personal computing. "Post-pc" is little more than marketing jargon when Apple uses it. The “cloud computing” trend is simply a return to the terminal. You’re still tethered to a machine somewhere, but the internet allows more space to run around while chained.

The most important questions are what form factor are games and software being designed for and where do they expect computation to occur. All that has changed is a new form factor has been added into the mix. It is for this reason that Microsoft’s decisions about Windows 8 are anything but trying to make “a shallow imitation of a smartphone” on a big monitor. When they are considering devices like the Asus EP 121 http://bit.ly/nA0aHi and the tablets that will eclipse it in terms of raw power the Windows 7 UI doesn’t cut it. Their game plan seems to be building a single OS that will run well on desktops, laptops, and tablets without any feeling like the bastard child. I’ve been reading the Building Windows 8 blog regularly http://bit.ly/p3Tewc and so far IMO they are not abandoning power users. I hope that didn’t come off as me being a Windows fanboy, I still have many concerns over how Windows 8 is going to turn out, but your description hardly seemed accurate.

It really isn’t conceivable to think of Adobe and Autodesk becoming streaming providers in the next couple of years because it’s unlikely that people are going to be connected to a strong enough network to have access rates faster than internal transfer speeds. Distributed computation is only one side of the problem, managing gigantic files quickly and responsively is the other big aspect. It’d be awesome if it came faster than the next 4+ years, but I have trouble seeing that as probable.

Even if it were to happen more quickly the way that artists use their computer wouldn’t be changing. A tablet and laptop will never cut it for a lot of computer graphics work. A full keyboard is more useful for a full set of commands, a mouse pointer is necessary for precision work, a Wacom tablet or Cintiq for drawing, and a large high resolution monitor for good color and detail. Where does that leave you? Still working at a desk.

“Higher quality computers that speak to the needs of a passionate audience are the future.” I don’t see how that’s different from the way things are today. The people who want a magic box will flit between OS, form factor, manufacturer depending on whatever happens to be in vogue and whether it’s in their price range. They’ve just started liking games and their importance has been overblown, unless you like making games for them of course, but they were never really here in the first place. They haven’t been building custom rigs off of Newegg and Tiger Direct, they don’t buy new video cards for the latest version of Direct X, and they probably think a dedicated server is the same as a butler.

There’s no need for it to become a premium product all over again, it’s never stopped being one.

Tadhg

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Jared.

I think your arguments tend to fall into the 'technically correct but contextually missing the significance' bracket however. For example, yes it's technically true that the mobile phone is a kind of personal computer. It's technically true that cloud computing can trace its heritage back to dumb terminals of the sort that I used to use in university back in 1991.

Those kind of reductionism tends to lead statements like 'All that has changed is that a new form factor has been added into the mix.' as though that's a small thing. When it's actually a very big thing, the sort of thing that rewrites the rules.

Microsoft is developing Windows 8 in order to encompass all sorts of devices, true, but not because tablet is just another form factor. It's because they know full well that they stand to lose significant market share, but at the same time they also know that they risk their existing market.

This is why they have been trying for years to get the world to believe that 'Windows' is more than just Microsoft Windows, but instead a whole ecosystem. It's why the Windows Phone 7 has the name that it does when it clearly has nothing to do with Windows 7 itself. It's why they keep pushing Windows Live, naming every product that they can Windows Live Somethingorother, and so on.

In otherwords, they know full well that they are in a fight for relevance, and their solution (which is understandable if you see it from their point of view) is to try and change the meaning of the name so that it does seem relevant into the next decade. Hence Windows 8 will be on everything everywhere all at once.

The thing is that that's only a problem that Microsoft has. It's not a problem that their customers have. So Microsoft is developing this giant product that's trying to solve a problem that nobody cares about, and the trade-offs for doing are enormous.

It's things like trying to bring one approach to UI (Metro, panels, etc) to all devices. It started with the Xbox, then Windows Phone 7, then tablet, and now PC itself. Does it work in all situations? Not at all. On the phone it's not bad (although arguably too scroll heavy) but pretty. On the Xbox it makes finding content below one menu level a complete disaster. On tablet it looks like it will be good but also expensive (in terms of memory etc) to run. On desktop they are practically falling over themselves to tell everyone that Explorer etc will sit behind the UI.

Basically, Microsoft are trying to create the One Ring in order to stay in the game, but nobody actually needs that. What they need are focused, simple and fast products. They can't seem to get their heads around that.

On streaming connections: If it works for gaming then it will definitely work for software. There are few kinds of software that are so constantly demanding as a game. I agree that the connection architecture is not quite there yet, but it's close. The assumption there is that the files and management of them will also sit in the cloud. So you log into your Adobe suite remotely, and your work is up there in the cloud along with your software.

On use cases: Well it's actually a huge assumption to say that artists will not stop using Wacom pads and the like. The whole point of touch interfaces is that they bring the user closer to the creation, and while they certainly have some issues there is not an artist I know who wouldn't love to be able to draw directly onto the screen than have their drawing action be at one remove from their work. That's why I think Macs are going to move to an architect table format.

Finally, on passion: The point is that the PC can leap forward in terms of power and solving its many legacy issues if it doesn't have to worry about casual users any more. Even the most powerful rig that you can buy today is full of compromise and caveat, bits that need updating and lots of other things that are trying to cover the use case of absolutely everyone. Every PC always exists in tension between what it could be doing in the future versus what it's stuck with in the present and what it's holding onto from the past.

That won't entirely go away, but it will lessen.

Again, thanks for the comment. Much food for thought of a Sunday morning.

Jared Hester

You're totally correct about the Adobe and Autodesk software. The "necessity" of storing and backing up files locally had me imagining a monstrous hybrid of local storage and cloud computing and rendering which doesn’t make sense at all. If all they’re streaming is the changes in the images it’s completely feasible that they could do it in a few years.

The main reason artists haven’t stopped using Wacom tablets and haven’t switched to screens they can draw on is price. The Cintiq is that screen you can draw on, it just costs $2000 putting it well out of most artist’s price range. The other advantages the tablets have over the Cintiq is they can work with large monitors (Apple 30” cinema display */drool*) , and the pads covering their active drawing areas can be switched to provide different textures while drawing. As an artist the Asus EP121 is a hypnogogic prelude to my technological wet dream, a true digital sketchbook. It has a Wacom digitizer inside, but the pressure sensitivity, screen size, raw power, and battery life don’t quite cut it yet.

A touch interface and a capacitive screen are hardly enough to simulate natural media and give a high level of control, so until they start making digitizing screens as large as a drafting table, combinations like an Ergotron arm and a Cintiq will have to suffice http://youtu.be/WJZlLF3chxo . When they can take a screen like this one http://bit.ly/qtIKKt build in a digitizer and also hook it up to a haptic pen http://bit.ly/mXZiv9 so that you can feel different levels of pressure as you sculpt in 3D with no glasses I’ll probably have a joygasm induced aneurism before I have a chance to try it.

I’ve been lurking for a few months and should have mention before that I think you’ve been doing excellent work with this blog. As someone who regularly plumbs the depths of game design theory and critique blogs it’s hard to find material that isn’t a rehash of articles/posts I’ve read several times already, but I regularly find your points and topics take a refreshing perspective or cover new material. Keep up the good work.

You may find this video about computer HCI interesting http://vimeo.com/7408389

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