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2012 In Review

2012-2013And so goes another year. CES is just around the corner, with new toys aplenty, and with a new year comes another 12 months of developer conferences, product announcements, and updates.

But before we embark on all that, here's what I've had to live through during 2012. There are sharp criticisms to be had, but each one of them is only that much more a window of potential success.

HP-Palm FailBetter PC Hardware

If you only need a consumer unit, one for basic word processing, Web surfing, and email, then there are many decent machines available. Nowdays you can find them loaded to the gills with storage and memory, which is nice. A lot more than the average person would even know how to fill. But if you're a professional who needs a PC with actual horsepower? The pickings are a lot slimmer.

It comes down to who provides powerhouse machines. And of that, it really comes down to two: Dell and HP. The former is notorious for making hardware that fails. The latter is notorious for putting so much bloatware on their hardware that it fails, and given the company's past and present instability one can hardly count on them for any quality.

A person looking for a high-end machine shouldn't have to choose between the lesser of two evils in order to get the level of performance they want. Nor should they have to consider getting an Apple machine and run Windows on it just to get some hardware that works.

PC manufacturing needs to step up and get serious. Drop the propriety bloatware that gets uninstalled anyway and that no one uses. Make a quality machine. Standardize the parts for quick and easy replacement. Consolidate into simple modules that pop in, pop out. We don't need all these variant motherboards and the inane categorizations of graphics cards; gamers and pros want the highest end and consumers don't care what's inside. All the middle tiers just confuse everybody.

The PC market has lately been jealous and lagging behind the Apple market. This is how to bridge the gap. Microsoft, you're playing catch up with Apple. Take their best lessons, learn from their weaknesses. Streamline the hardware but keep it open to end-user configuration. You have the clout to make this happen, to standardize the OEM industry but still keep them happy. Google can't top that, yet. If Windows 8 was your last chance, this is your opportunity to cement its success. Speaking of which...

Windows 8Surface Potential

I think Microsoft's Surface tablets held great promise. Just imagine, a tablet you can carry with you and use, but sit down at a desk, insert it into a docking station with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and BAM you have your full desktop at your fingertips. All done with work? Simply disconnect and walk away. It's essentially an "executive" tier laptop but even more compact and with the added "minimal" tablet mode for when you hold it in your hands.

It could've been the perfect blend between the "I need the versatility of a desktop, but laptops are too cumbersome" and "this tablet is neat, but limited with the amount of work I can easily do with it."

Instead, we get a tablet-only version of Surface, which is essentially just a different iPad. The real Surface that everyone's been waiting for is too expensive, too heavy, and too short on battery life. It went from being a portable computer to a desktop that could be lugged around. What's the point of a tablet if you have to keep it constantly plugged in? Microsoft chose performance over battery life, but in the mobile market it's all about portability.

But it's not too late. Come out with a docking station, make some changes to the UI, and get serious with the hardware. It can still happen.

Android CensusAndroid Consolidation

Android phones are great. Updating them is not. Having to get used to entirely different layouts and UI's whenever you upgrade devices isn't either. Nor is having hugely outdated versions between tablet and smartphone. There are too many versions of Android still out in the wild.

A big part of the problem is the phone carriers. They are only concerned with selling the devices; they couldn't care less about the software running them. So the carriers don't care about enforcing the latest Android OS, and barely even support it.

Google, Android is your baby. If you want to remain king of the hill, you need to pay better attention to your children. Apple's restrictive walled garden has the added benefit of keeping everyone up to date, but yes it's restrictive. Android seems like the exact opposite, more control but also more anarchy. The latest Windows smartphone foray isn't as rigid, but still tries to keep its host devices on the same line. So far it's the closest in balancing the two extremes.

If the carriers are going to sell your mobile OS, then make sure they're treating it with the respect and support it deserves.

AppleApple Polish

If it's one thing Apple and Steve Jobs did overwhelmingly right, it was the polish. A perfectionist to a fault, at least you could count on his products to work (they may not have done everything you wished, but of what they could do they did it well).

He never announced a product he wasn't going to sell the next day; no prototype teasers, no pre-conceptual announcements. He presented only what he had in stock, never leaving the audience drooling for something they couldn't have. Because if there's no supply to meet the demand, you don't make money.

And yet, it awfully feels like that's starting to slip. One too many products and features have launched seemingly haphazardly, more to the aim of simply beating the competition to the punch instead of bringing out a refined, polished product. Especially given the reputation Jobs worked to build, all these little disappointments can add up. Eventually the "Apple magic" becomes just another manufacturer's gimmicks.

Apple, don't blow it by riding on your own coat-tails. Jobs said "stay hungry, stay foolish." Don't get content and lazy. Microsoft did that, and now they're the hungry and foolish ones. Unless you want history to flip yet again, you'll keep the standards up.

Powered by LinuxFriend of Tux

Linux, you are that third OS that only geeks know about and only hardcore geeks use. You are all the benefits of a UNIX foundation with all the customizable fun Windows users enjoy, but to even greater lengths.

With all the Linux distros out there, surely there can be a mainstream competitor to Windows and OS X. Something that consumer end-users can use and understand, but give them the strength of the other operating systems with less of their respective drawbacks.

I know that for the most part only programmers like you, but that can change. And I'd love to see that change.

JARVIS Interface, as seen in Iron ManNew User Interfaces

Touch is fun for tablets, but too cumbersome for desktop and power-user use. Keyboard shortcuts are incredibly fast, but not good for graphic design. Mice are simple and convenient, but too precise for anything but desktop use.

There is great discrepancy here. Right now the current line of thinking is how to better integrate all of these inputs together. But what about thinking outside the box? What about eye-tracking, more semantic voice commands, air gestures, even thought-controlled processes?

All of these exist today in varying stages of early form, but why are they not seen more alongside computer use? A computer UI that understands us negates the need for buttons and wheels. A computer UI that we can mold in our hands negates the need for outlining tools. A computer UI that can keep up with our minds and bodily nuances will respond faster than even the quickest fingertips (no matter what those tips are hitting).

A netbook, smartphone, or tablet isn't what is going to revolutionize computers. Those are not the true "Post-PC era." That domain exists within the realm of how we physically interact with our computers. We have Kinect, Siri, mental-powered kids' games, and optical tracking. We just need to focus more on these fields and better weave them together. Success is when the computer understands us, not when we have to understand the computer.

/Rant

So what do you think? Are these points something we can expect to see improve in 2013, or am I just dreaming wistfully for an ideal but impractical world?

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