The Arduino Due.
Raspberry Pi has received the lion's share of attention devoted to cheap, single-board computers in the past year. But long before the Pi was a gleam in its creators' eyes, there was the Arduino.
Unveiled in 2005, Arduino boards don't have the CPU horsepower of a Raspberry Pi. They don't run a full PC operating system either. Arduino isn't obsolete, though—in fact, its plethora of connectivity options makes it the better choice for many electronics projects.
While the Pi has 26 GPIO (general purpose input/output) pins that can be programmed to do various tasks, the Arduino DUE (the latest Arduino released in October 2012) has 54 digital I/O pins, 12 analog input pins, and two analog output pins. Among those 54 digital I/O pins, 12 provide pulse-width modulation (PWM) output.
Samsung has built itself a Android dynasty with its Galaxy phones.
Over the last three years, Samsung has risen to become the unequivocal success story for the Android platform. Not only is it the only profitable manufacturer, but it has also spent the last couple of years striking more and more fear into the heart of its mobile arch nemesis, Apple.
As its competitors sprayed Android handsets over the retail scene like buckshot with micro-variations and diverse UI skins, Samsung quickly focused and put most of its effort into creating and promoting a flagship line of handsets. The company set aside support for increasingly niche features like hardware keyboards or confusing, subtle model tweaks in favor of focusing on one quality handset.
Now, the Samsung Galaxy line is unquestionably the most successful one in the history of Android. The most recent version, the Galaxy S III, even briefly displaced the iPhone as the top-selling smartphone for the third quarter of 2012, according to one source. Even Google is reportedly afraid of how successful Samsung has become with its mobile business.
Users are spending more time with their smartphones and tablets and less time on their desktops and laptops.
This transition is happening so fast that the business models which support the industry are struggling to catch up. The evidence can be seen in Google’s Q3 earnings, where lower mobile ad rates deflated overall CPCs by 15 percent.
At the heart of the problem is a fundamental change in how we use our computing devices. The experience most users have when they are at their desk on their laptop is typically far more active than when they are using their tablet on the couch or their smartphone on the bus. Users are far more likely to plan a vacation or do their holiday shopping on their desktop or laptop than on their smartphone or tablet. As a result, advertisers and merchants have been reluctant to expand their marketing budgets to reach these new post-PC users.
In just a few years, a large percentage of consumers may no longer even own a traditional PC or laptop. This simple fact is sounding the general alarm inside ad-driven businesses like Google, Facebook and Twitter. While this is a frightening prospect for many industry heavyweights, it also represents an enormous opportunity for the companies who manage to crack the code on post-PC advertising.
So, what's the solution?
How do we bring the revenue potential for post-PC apps to parity with their cousins on the desktop and laptop? The first step is to understand the nature of the problem. Today, when users want to research products or make a transaction, they are more likely to put down their smartphone or tablet and open their laptop.
The reason for this is simple: performing detailed work on mobile and touch devices can be cumbersome. Not only is the screen real estate limited, but simple tasks like copy and paste, keyboard typing, app switching and web browsing are more laborious on touch devices than on desktops or laptops with a keyboard and mouse. As a result, users are habitually more passive and less interactive when using their post-PC devices.
We need better front-end apps and better back-end software to facilitate streamlined interaction on post-PC devices. The good news is that this is entirely possible, and it can be achieved by combining machine intelligence and predictive analytics with the abundance of contextual data available from post-PC devices.
Imagine you are having a conversation on your smartphone and your friend suggests that you watch the new James Bond movie tonight. Today, if you are on-the-go, you would probably wait until you reached your home or office before you got online and bought tickets. A couple years from now, I suspect that your phone, having understood your conversation and knowing your location, will automatically give you the option to purchase tickets at a local theater in one or two taps as soon as your call ends.
While the engineering required to realize an example like this is not trivial, it is most certainly achievable through clever application of technologies available today.
Specifically, applications will need to continuously analyze and better understand a variety of input data signals such as location, audio, and online activity streams. Second, applications will need better models in order to glean insights and make targeted recommendations based on this abundance of contextual data. Last, applications will need to perform proactive, real-time search and data gathering behind the scenes to intelligently narrow down all the available options to just the few we need.
With capabilities like these, it is not hard to image how the monetization potential of post-PC applications can far surpass the revenue models supporting companies like Google and Facebook today. Given the coming explosion in the number and variety of computing devices in our lives, this represents a huge opportunity for the organizations that can crack the code on this new generation of intelligent applications.
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Recently, Stephen Colbert swung by Google’s New York Office for a turn as interviewee at the hand of chairman Eric Schmidt. After opening with an esoteric question about what the title of Colbert’s newest book means — it’s called America Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness we Never Weren’t — the conversation moves on to the infamous Bush White House Correspondents Dinner and the differences between Colbert the man and Colbert the character. The comedian lets the truthiness fly when Schmidt jokingly tries to cajole him into starting a YouTube show, saying "does that violate my contract with Viacom to have that? You guys had a billion-dollar lawsuit against each other, you realize. And Sumner Redstone would rather see your head on...
I'm a little embarrassed to admit how much I like the Surface RT. I wasn't expecting a lot when I ordered it, but after a day of use, I realized this was more than Yet Another Gadget. It might represent a brave new world of laptop design. How can you not love a laptop that lets you touch Zardoz to unlock it?
(I'll leave the particular unlock gestures I chose to your imagination. Good luck hacking this password, Mitnick!)
I have an ultrabook I like, but the more I used the Surface, the more obsolete it seemed, because I couldn't touch anything on the screen. I found touch interactions on Surface highly complementary to the keyboard. Way more than I would have ever believed, because I lived through the terror that was Pen Computing. If you need precision, you switch to the mouse or touchpad – but given the increasing prevalence of touch-friendly app and web design, that's not as often as you'd think. Tablets are selling like hotcakes, and every day the world becomes a more touch friendly place, with simpler apps that more people can understand and use on basic tablets. This a good thing. But this also means it is only a matter of time before all laptops must be touch laptops.
I've become quite obsessed enamored with this touch laptop concept. I've used the Surface a lot since then. I own two, including the touch and type covers. I also impulsively splurged on a Lenovo Yoga 13, which is a more traditional laptop form factor.
One of the primary criticisms of the Surface RT is that, since it is an ARM based Tegra 3 device, it does not run traditional x86 apps. That's likely also why it comes with a bundled version of Office 2013. Well, the Yoga 13 resolves that complaint, because it's a Core i5 Ivy Bridge machine. But there is a cost for this x86 compatibility:
Surface RTSurface ProYoga 13
weight1.5 lb2.0 lb3.4 lb
runtime8 hr6? hr5.5 hr
display10.6" 1366×76810.6" 1920×108013.3" 1600×900
memory2 GB / 32 GB4 GB / 64 GB4 GB / 128 GB
The size comparison isn't entirely fair, since the Yoga is a 13.3" device, and the Surface is a 10.6" device. But Surface Pro has x86 internals and is otherwise as identical to the Surface RT as Microsoft could possibly make it, and it's still 44% larger and 33% heavier. Intel inside comes at a hefty cost in weight, battery life, and size.
You do get something for that price, though: compatibility with the vast library of x86 apps, and speed. The Yoga 13 is absurdly fast by tablet standards. Its Sunspider score is approximately 150 ms, compared to my iPad 4 at 738 ms, and the Surface RT at 1036 ms. Five hours of battery life might not seem like such a bad tradeoff for six times the performance.
I like the Yoga 13 a lot, and it is getting deservedly good reviews. Some reviewers think it's the best Windows 8 laptop available right now. It is a fine replacement for my ultrabook, and as long as you fix the brain-damaged default drive partitioning, scrape off the handful of stickers on it, and uninstall the few pre-installed craplets, it is eminently recommendable. You can also easily upgrade it from 4 GB to 8 GB of RAM for about $40.
But there were things about the practical use of a touch laptop, subtle things that hadn't even occurred to me until I tried to sit down and use one for a few hours, that made me pause:
- The screen bounces when you touch it. Maybe I just have hulk-like finger strength, but touching a thin laptop screen tends to make it bounce back a bit. That's … exactly what you don't want in a touch device. I begin to understand why the Surface chose its "fat screen, thin keyboard" design rather than the traditional "thin screen, fat keyboard" of a laptop. You need the inertia on the side you're touching. The physics of touching a thin, hinged laptop screen are never going to be particularly great. Yes, on the Yoga I can wrap the screen around behind the keyboard, or even prop it up like a tent – but this negates the value of the keyboard which is the biggest part of the touch laptop story! If I wanted a keyboardless tablet, I'd use one of the four I have in the house already. And the UPS guy just delivered a Nexus 10.
- A giant touchpad makes the keyboard area too large. On a typical laptop, a Texas size touchpad makes sense. On a touch laptop, giant touchpads are problematic because they push the screen even farther away from your hand. This may sound trivial, but it isn't. A ginormous touchpad makes every touch interaction you have that much more fatiguing to reach. I now see why the Surface opted for a tiny touchpad on its touch and type covers. A touchpad should be a method of last resort on a touch laptop anyway, because touch is more convenient, and if you need true per-pixel precision work, you'll plug in a mouse. Have I mentioned how convenient it is to have devices that accept standard USB mice, keyboards, drives, and so on? Because it is.
- Widescreen is good for keyboards, but awkward for tablets. A usable keyboard demands a certain minimum width, so widescreen it is; all touch laptops are going to be widescreen by definition. You get your choice between ultra wide or ultra tall. The default landscape mode works great, but rotating the device and using it in portrait mode makes it super tall. On a widescreen device, portrait orientation becomes a narrow and highly specialized niche. It's also very rough on lower resolution devices; neither the 1366×768 Surface RT nor the 1600×900 Yoga 13 really offer enough pixels on the narrow side to make portrait mode usable. You'd need a true retina class device to make portrait work in widescreen. I began to see why the iPad was shipped with a 4:3 display and not a 16:9 or 16:10 one, because that arrangement is more flexible on a tablet. I frequently use my iPad 4 in either orientation, but the Yoga and Surface are only useful in landscape mode except under the most rare of circumstances.
- About 11 inches might be the maximum practical tablet size. Like many observers, I've been amused by the race to produce the largest possible phone screen, resulting in 5" phablets that are apparently quite popular. But you'll also note that even the most ardent Apple fans seem to feel that the 7" iPad mini is an inherently superior form factor to the 10" iPad. I think both groups are fundamentally correct: for a lot of uses, the 3.5" phone really is too small, and the 10" tablet really is too big. As a corollary to that, I'd say anything larger than the 10.6" Surface is far too large to use as a tablet. Attempting to use the 13.3" Yoga as a tablet is incredibly awkward, primarily because of the size. Even if the weight and volume were pushed down to imaginary Minority Report levels, I'm not sure I would want a 13.3" tablet on my lap or in my hands. There must be a reason the standard letter page size is 8½ × 11", right?
- All-day computing, or, 10 hours of battery life. The more devices I own, the more I begin to appreciate those that I can use for 8 to 10 hours before needing to charge them. There is truly something a little magical about that 10 hour battery life number, and I can now understand why Apple seemed to target 9-10 hours of battery life in their initial iPad and iPhone designs. A battery life of 4 to 6 hours is nothing to sneeze at, but … I feel anxiety about carrying the charger around, whether I've charged recently or not, and I worry over screen brightness and other battery maximization techniques. When I can safely go 8 to 10 hours, I figure that even if I use the heck out of the device – as much as any human being reasonably could in a single day – I'll still safely make it through and I can stick it in a charger before I go to bed.
To appreciate just how extreme portrait mode is on a widescreen tablet, experience it yourself:
This isn't specific to touch laptops; it's a concern for all widescreen devices. I have the same problem with the taller iPhone 5. Because I now have to choose between super wide or super tall, it is a less flexible device in practice.
The Yoga 13, if representative of the new wave of Windows 8 laptops, is a clear win even if you have no intention of ever touching your screen:
- It boots up incredibly fast, in a few seconds.
- It wakes and sleeps incredibly fast, nearly instantaneously.
- The display is a high quality IPS model.
- A rotating screen offers a number of useful modes: presentation, (giant) tablet, standard laptop.
- Touchpad and keyboard work fine; at the very least, they're no worse than the typical PC laptop to me.
- Does the prospect of using Windows 8 frighten and disturb you? No worries, smash Windows+D on your keyboard immediately after booting and pretend you're using Windows 7.5. Done and done.
It's a nice laptop. You could do far worse, and many have. In the end, the Yoga 13 is just a nice laptop with a touchscreen slapped on it. But the more I used the Yoga the more I appreciated the subtle design choices of Surface that make it a far better touch laptop. I kept coming back to how much I enjoyed using the Surface as the platonic ideal of what touch laptops should be.
Yes, it is a bummer that the only currently available Surface is ARM based and does not run any traditional Windows apps. It's easy to look at the x86 performance of the Yoga 13 and assume that Windows on ARM is a cute, temporary throwback to Windows NT on Alpha or MIPS which will never last, and understandably so. Do you see anyone running Windows on Alpha or MIPS CPUs today? But I'm mightily impressed with the Tegra 3 SOC (system-on-a-chip) that runs both the Surface RT and the Nexus 7. Upcoming Tegra releases, all named after superheroes, promise 75 times the performance of Tegra 2 by 2014. I can't quite determine how much faster Tegra 3 was than Tegra 2, but even if it is "only" ten times faster by 2014, that's … amazing.
I think we're beginning to uncover the edges of a world where lack of x86 compatibility is no longer the kiss of death it used to be. It's unclear to me that Intel can ever reach equivalent performance per watt with ARM; Intel's ultra-low-end Celeron 847 is twice as fast as the ARM A15, but it's also 17 watts TDP. In a land of ARM chips that pull an absolute maximum of 4 watts at peak, slapping Intel Inside will instantly double the size and weight of your device – or halve its battery life, your choice. Intel's been trying to turn the battleship, but with very limited success so far. Haswell, the successor to the Ivy Bridge CPUs in the Surface Pro and Yoga 13, only gets to 10 watts at idle. And Intel's long neglected Atom line, thanks to years of institutional crippling to avoid cannibalizing Pentium sales, is poorly positioned to compete with ARM today.
Still, I would not blame anyone for waiting on the Surface Pro. A high performance, HD touch laptop in the Surface form factor that runs every x86 app you can throw at it is a potent combination … even if it is 44% larger and 33% heavier.
Google may have taken extreme measures in the past to keep prying eyes from its data centers, but the search company’s latest endeavour has pulled back the curtain. As detailed on its official blog, Google has posted an expansive — and impressive — photo gallery of its data centers strewn across the globe. The company enlisted the help of photographer Connie Zhou to illustrate the technology, people, and places that keep the internet moving. As if that wasn’t enough, Google has mapped the inside and outside of its Lenoir, North Carolina server farm using Street View, allowing users to explore both the interior and exterior in great detail.
A short video has also been posted to accompany the experience, explaining exactly what...
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The startup was one of the fist partners for YouTube's new channels initiative, creating a sports channel named Network A, but wanted to push things a little further. "We love YouTube, but we also want to expand beyond the model of showing TV on the internet. The web's strength is that it lets you do...
Ever since he began programming from his dorm room at Yale University, Jordan Mechner has wanted to make games that tell stories. Rising to prominence as a game designer during a time when the expressive qualities of computer games were severely limited by the machines they ran on, Mechner's timeless classics like Prince of Persia have become recognized as foundational to modern day gaming. His now-expansive career, which also includes screenwriting and filmmaking, recently led him back to his native New York, where he spoke at NYU's Game Center this week — ironically, his first time giving a talk there since being rejected from their film program in the early 80s.
Mechner is currently at work on a remake of Karateka, the narrative...