Obligatory new post so this place doesn’t appear dead

…even though it pretty much is.

Original post from early July 4th:
Just writing this cause I’m going to Anime Expo to help out with STG Weekly, and I gave out this URL, so I figured something needed to be here. If you’re dropping by after seeing us at AX, hope you enjoyed the panel and games and thanks for stopping by. As for this place, I post random nerdy ramblings every once in a while, but mostly just have stuff in draft form but rarely actually completed. Speaking of which…

I’m working on a joystick right now, (depending when you’re reading this) hopefully it will be/was completed or at least functional by then, and hopefully it won’t/didn’t crack into a million pieces and impale people with shrapnel. Here’s some prototypes and work in progress pics:

[...just imagine I took pictures (I did) and uploaded and linked them here (I haven't yet). I'll upload them soon. Hopefully.]

Then later on July 4th
Edit: maybe not…family emergency :(

Late July 10th/early 11th:
Edit for pics, finally:
prototype boxes
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Memoirs of a Beard

First off this has nothing to do with lesbians. Just some quick thoughts on going through “Movember” a few months ago.

Apparently other Asians think you’re Japanese if you can grow decent facial hair.

It’s very itchy, which is the main reason I’ll never keep a beard long term.

Since I didn’t trim or clean it up at all it started looking pretty bad. Right around Christmas and New Years (when Koreans go around and do family stuff) I was berated quite a bit by family. Mostly the women. Grandma was the worst of all. Then again she’s always critical so that wasn’t a huge surprise.

And then the weirdest thing, although I have no clue if it had anything to do with the beard. Just sitting there in my car, stopped at a red light, an old bearded, possibly homeless, guy walks across the street. Then he stops right in front of my car and looks in my direction and points. The says something that I can’t hear, smiles and gives a thumbs up, and walks away. I still have no clue what the hell that was about. Maybe he liked my car? Or was he impressed by an asian with a beard?

I’ll never know.

iPad event thoughts

A few weeks late and only quick thoughts for now. In no particular order:

MacBook Pro
Yay they finally killed off the old ones…wait no the 13″ is still there, dammit. Lowered prices as I had hoped and somewhat suspected, but 4GB base? Oy.

Mac Pro
Well it ended up $500-1,000 more than I was hoping at the base, and the spec I was hoping to be the base is kind of in between the two announced levels. My ideal setup was the W7000s D300s paired with the hex core E5-1650 v2 for $2,499. Instead they have the quad core E5-1620 v2 on the low end for $2,999, and hex as the $3,999 model with the mid range D500 GPUs. I’m really really hoping this ends up like the MBA and Retina MBPs, initial high price, lower priced later revisions. That they’re using the lower end Xeons at all is a good sign (all the way up to $texas models for the higher end options).

iPad Air and iPad mini w/Retina Display
I was planning on getting the new iPad mini, now I’m not sure. Big iPad = much easier to type on, view documents on. iPad mini = tiny footprint, light weight. The iPad Air cuts into that weight advantage and cuts off a chunk of the footprint enough that it might make the big iPad viable again. At least they both have the same hardware now, that was the biggest issue with the iPad mini for me so I’m glad they didn’t hold back there. Now if only they had Touch ID, maybe next year.

Mavericks
It’s pretty awesome. Safari no longer sucks up a chunk of CPU while idle, fan speed (and thus noise) is generally lower as a result. Finder tabs have my ridiculous number of windows down to…a less ridiculous number of windows. AirPlay display spanning is pretty awesome. Maps is kinda neat, if nothing else at least it handles Magic Trackpad input nicely, a much nicer experience than Google Maps for basic map use at least. Generally a nice performance update, with some more legacy cut off which raises some issues but will hopefully be ok long term. And free, woo!

iWork (Mac)
“iWork X” probably would’ve been a better name to get people used to the idea that it’s essentially a reboot like FCP X. Hopefully. Haven’t gotten to play with them much, but two basic changes in Numbers are already driving me nuts. They took off the sidebar. THEY TOOK OFF THE SIDEBAR! They replaced it with a horizontal list of worksheets like Excel and everything else. I can kind of understand making it behave like standard apps, but that’s one of the worst things about them. And custom table styles are gone, all that’s left is six template styles. If they don’t build it back up (like they’ve done with FCP X) I’ll be internet raging like crazy. Or just live with it while sending rants through Apple’s feedback page.

iWork (iOS/Web)
I completely forgot about these. They sure are something? I assume they’re the basis of the new Mac version, so my hope is that they also improve as the Mac version does.

Mac mini
Wait what the hell, no Haswell update? Boo! There’s some possible issues with Intel’s pricing for the $599 model so I could see a hold up there, but what I’m really hoping for is a new quieter model designed around what’s left, rather than the optical drive like the previous Mac minis. Or a Mac Pro mini.

Messiah Stylus!

Adonit has stolen my idea again!

…and by “stolen” I mean that they’ve come up with a similar idea completely independently of me.1 Whatever the case I both feel robbed of of the opportunity I was never going to take (cause I lacked the manufacturing, or technical know how in this case), and validated cause my crazy ass idea wasn’t entirely crazy apparently.

My first one was some sort of pivoting head with see through contact patch simulating a finger. The folks at Adonit had the same idea and came up with the original Jot, which I backed on Kickstarter. It worked, albeit not without some issues, with the main one being easily fixable with a little conductive filler in the ball joint. I don’t think they’ve addressed this unfortunately, but that’s in the past now.

The new hotness is thin tips.

(Like every normal pen and real digitizer stylus out there for years and years.)

Why this took so long I have no idea, although I’d guess it was a matter of execution being harder than the idea…assuming it works that way at least. Anyway the basic concept again involves simulating a finger, but using a small electrical field2 instead of physical contact, essentially creating an invisible contact patch. I’m not completely sure Adonit has gone this route but I’m pretty certain cause they say it works with all iOS devices, and implies that it’ll work in any app like any other capacitive stylus.

Interesting thing to me is that they’ve added an accelerometer, which I initially thought was for tilt (which may be possible too), but upon some further thinking along with some other Adonit verbiage about additional accuracy, I think it’s to compensate for the electrical field possibly creating a sphere of active area around the end of the stylus. So holding the stylus perfectly perpendicular to the screen, everything should be accurate, like so:

But as you tilt the stylus, the center of the field’s contact patch will get further and further away from the tip:


Actual field is probably pretty small, this was just big to exaggerate the effect of the possible tilt drift.

I’m thinking their trick to compensate is to keep track of the stylus’ accelerometer data and compare it to the tablet’s accelerometer for a frame of reference, and move the point on screen accordingly.

…granted that far from explains everything, but that’s my simple guess. The issue is that the accelerometer only measures acceleration, with gravity (down) as the main reference point, so it’d only really take care of the vertical angle. Accelerometers are sort of useless for side to side rotation, gyroscopes are what make the magic there. Perhaps it has a gyro and they just ignored mentioning it, who knows. There might be some magic with Bluetooth but that stuff is beyond my knowledge.

But whatever the case, this is just the beginning!

A while back Adobe announced their own stylus (and ruler?!) projects, Mighty and Napoleon. I didn’t give it much thought at the time because while the concept pictures showed a thin tip, the actual hardware they were demoing with had the usual fat tip.

Then they announced that they were going forward with release, and that they were working with Adonit. Which didn’t mean much up until the the stylus above. So I guess Adobe was serious about this:


I prefer “Messiah” but I guess “God” works too.

Main feature this has that the other doesn’t (as far as anyone knows) is pressure sensitivity…I’m hoping tilt as well. And button for a quick menu or something, should be nice compared to the Wacom stylus buttons, which only work in near proximity to the tablet surface. It also has some memory for “cloud” related features that I really don’t give a damn about.

Then there’s this little ruler thing. At first I thought it was pretty ridiculous or stupid, but after watching some demo videos of it in action along with people using virtual rulers and stuff in Sketchbook Pro, it actually seems pretty useful. One annoying thing about drawing on the iPad is the lack of the ability to hover a cursor to accurately place your input consistently, this seems to get around that.

Unfortunately Adobe’s stuff isn’t coming until next year, and since they haven’t actually shown off their thin tip in action who knows how well it’ll actually work. Even the Adonit/Evernote one isn’t shipping until next month, and there’s no video showing it off either.

And it’ll all cost $texas.

  1. Course there’s also been others with similar concepts, if not necessarily the same execution.
  2. This probably isn’t the right term, but it gets the point across I guess.

Watch Shots Fired

Today Samsung and Qualcomm announced their entries into the smartwatch race, the Galaxy Gear and Toq, respectively.

A few weeks ago I wrote my thoughts on what I thought were some basic requirements. Let’s see how Samsung and Qualcomm do with those:

Playing kind of fast and loose with those with the info I could find on them, but not too bad surprisingly. Unsurprisingly Samsung seems to have gone for features out the ass, but at $299 with poor battery life and questionable form factor I could see it having trouble beyond the early adopters. On the other side Qualcomm’s looks nicer and does less, but the focus and execution seems better as a result. Compare these short snippets:

Engadget on the Qualcomm Toq:

The pre-production Toq we tried out worked very well. It was responsive and easy to use, with an intuitive yet comprehensive interface. It’s rated for three to five days of use on a single charge, though the wireless power accessory couldn’t be easier to use.

The Verge on the Samsung Galaxy Gear:

There are a couple of significant downsides that temper my enthusiasm for the new Gear. First and foremost is the speed and intuitiveness of the user interface — or rather, the lack thereof. There’s a tangible lag to anything you do with the Gear, while the swipe gestures are hard to figure out and do different things depending on where you are in the menus.

That said it’s not as horrible a start as I expected, but not that great either. It’ll be interesting to see if either company gets significant traction, or if they’re just laying the groundwork for someone else to steal the show.

The $1,000 Gap

I’ve written about the Mac Pro a few times now, but not so much about the Mac desktop lineup as a whole. Right now, and the way it’s been for a few years now is Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro, priced like so:

Mac Desktops

Lots of price points covered, across a wide range. And here’s the laptops:

Mac Laptops

Again a lot of price points covered, but the range is a lot narrower, with 11 of the 13 models between $1,000 and $2,000. Counting the desktops that’s 13 out of 21 models. Considering the amount of coverage in that space, it’s not too surprising the ASP is in that range as well, at around $1,300 for both desktops and laptops these days.

Mix and ASP

Some wild assumptions and observations based on the data above:

  • Apple sees healthy enough demand in the $1K-2K space to focus primarily on it, particularly seen with the bulk of sales volume and models in the laptop range.
  • Overall sales skew towards lower end of that range.
  • Despite the presence of models below $1K, the desktop ASP still tends to skew higher than the laptops.

The last point is particularly interesting to me, since it seems to indicate a greater mix of mid and higher end models sold relative to the laptops. My wild guess is that the 27″ iMac (at the $1,799 and $1,999 price points) sees good enough sales to offset the Mac mini sales.

Whatever the case, the key point is that the $1K-2K range seems like Apple’s sweet spot. They have thorough coverage of the space, except one noticeable omission…

A headless Mac.




CRAZY THEORY TIME

First some observations about the whole Apple product lineup that this crazy theory hinges on. One is that bigger generally costs more, and conversely, smaller costs less. The other is that most major product lines are split further into multiple unique models, like so:

High and Low product mix
[Bracketed] models presumed to be killed off or replaced soon.

Hey big surprise, both headless Macs aren’t there! Of course one view could be that the Mac mini and Mac Pro are the low and high end models of a singular unnamed general headless Mac desktop line, but I don’t think that works the same way as the other product lines due to the relative appeal of each one for a given customer.

Price plays a part coming from the Mac mini side, the fact that it’s the cheapest Mac is part of its appeal after all (the “mini” name is multifaceted). If you’re considering the Mac mini because the price, the Mac Pro is way out of the picture, on top of whatever other reasons someone may want the mini (usually size/form factor related). On the other end, if you’re considering a Mac Pro, the Mac mini is likely out of the picture due to performance. It’s a fine little machine in its own right for most people, but is majorly lacking in comparison if you have hefty computational or graphics needs.

So if you want something more than the Mac mini,1 or less than the Mac Pro, you basically have nothing other than the iMac, which itself isn’t an option if you don’t want the screen. There’s a big ass gap there for a headless Mac in Apple’s best selling price range.

Here’s where the new Mac Pro and my crazy theory come into play. First off I think it has much more mainstream consumer appeal than the outgoing model, which is a big deal. Whatever it gets priced at (let’s just assume “expensive”) is relatively irrelevant to that point. I believe that If they see sufficient mainstream demand there it opens up the possibility for a lower end model somewhere in the $1K-2K sweet spot, where the bulk of their customers are.

If you can think of the high end (presumably) expensive Mac Pro to be analogous to the 15″ MacBook Pro, a lower end model would be like the 13″ MBP. Smaller and lesser specs, with a reduced price to match.

Basically I’m saying they could do the same with a Mac Pro mini.

I figure something like $1,599 or $1,699 would work, basically starting price between the 21″ and 27″ iMacs. Any decent parts would still provide a performance differentiator compared to the Mac mini, but at a more accessible price than the Mac Pro. But what about it would make it “Pro” compared to the iMacs, and conversely not as high end as the bigger Mac Pros?

Luckily Intel just happens to have the perfect option for that with the Xeon E3.

They’re priced like standard Core i5/i7 parts, because that’s what they basically are, except with a key “workstation” feature: ECC RAM2 support. Compared to the E5s they’re actually a newer generation “Core” part (Haswell vs Ivy Bridge currently), but they’re held back in terms of cache, core count, and multi socket capability (not that that one matters here).

Xeon E3 v3 lineup
All models have 8 MB cache, and all have 4/8 cores/threads, except for the 1220 and 1225.

I sorted them by TDP cause I figure with a smaller enclosure, heat might be an issue. Sorting by TDP happened to nicely segment them by GPU as well. The integrated GPU gives them some little advantages over the E5s, particularly Quick Sync, and if power/heat is a concern, it’d let them shut off whatever discrete GPU to keep heat down when possible. Ideally they’d be able to go with the 84 W parts with GPU, if only because the base frequency compares favorably to the iMacs.

As for that discrete GPU, the simple route would be to go with a single FirePro, and lower end models if other factors limit selection (such as price and/or heat). Crazier option would be to retain the dual GPUs, which would be an obvious differentiator over the iMacs if the FirePro branding isn’t enough. Performance wise a Radeon (or two) would be fine, but like the Xeon E3, just using the FirePro name gives that little extra “workstation” credibility even if it’s not that different from the standard parts.




So the short version of all this:

  • Apple makes and sells most of their machines in the $1K-2K range, with desktops trending higher than laptops.
  • They tend to make unique higher and lower end versions of products, but they haven’t done so with the Mac Pro.
  • The new Mac Pro has more mainstream appeal than the outgoing model, and if it sells well even at $2,000+…
  • Hey look they just happen to have a giant gap in the $1K-2K range for a headless Mac! And there happens to be a bunch of viable “workstation” parts for a lower end model!

This is my new xMac:

Mac Pro mini
Same diameter as the Mac Pro, but 2/3rds the height: 6.6″ x 6.6″ x 6.6″…almost a cube if you will.

Xeon E3, FirePro, dual Thunderbolt 2, and the rest of the standard ports for under $2,000. The Mac Pro for the rest of us.

Well I guess it’s missing an SD card slot.

  1. Granted the Mac mini may finally have a decent higher end upgrade in both CPU and GPU if they go with the Iris Pro parts, it’d provide both a quad core CPU and a substantial GPU upgrade over the normal HD 5000/5100 (assuming that and dual core CPU are the standard lower end parts).
  2. Which itself isn’t that much more costly than regular RAM these days.

Welcome to Butytown

I’ve been playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf for about a month now. This is where it all began:

Isabelle You’d like to submit a new design for the Butytown flag? Great!
Please show me the design!

wow

Butytown flag

70+ hours later I’m still playing and can’t stop.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf, $30 on Amazon:
Also available digitally for $34.99 on the Nintendo eShop
HIPPOTROUBLE
Rating system guide

More Mac Pro

A few new Apple products coming up, namely the Mac Pro and new iPhones.1 Mac Pros are generally expected to be expensive while the rumored iPhone 5C is expected to be nebulously priced lower than current models. Basically headliners for the old and new primary product lines at opposite ends of the pricing spectrum.

While I expect the Mac Pro to be expensive, I’m optimistic that it’ll start out at a relatively reasonable price. As for the 5C, all I can think about is the run up to the iPad mini where everyone expected $249 before Apple came out at $329. I’ve had $349 in my head for a while, so I’m half expecting $429.2 Significantly less than the $649+ iPhones but still a premium over competing low priced models.


While the 5C is expected to primarily address prepaid and lower end markets, the Mac Pro is still a bit of a mystery. The stated high end specs address higher end needs (up to a point), while the low end is a complete unknown at this point. Whatever the case it’ll probably be at least $2,000, if not the $2,500 it is now, or perhaps $3,000 or more. Going by some nerdy discussion at Ars, many assume it’ll be meant for high end pros.

I have a few issues with that line of thinking, mostly that it doesn’t fit with Apple’s M.O. these days. The high end pro market is small and the customers are a pain in the ass. I believe that they’re willing to address the market, but not address it exclusively, it just wouldn’t be worth it to make it appealing only to a tiny niche.

The old one did.

Price was an issue to wider adoption (particularly since it wasn’t competitive within its niche), but even a lower price would have only helped so much.

WARNING CAR ANALOGY APPROACHING FAST

A few months back John Siracusa compared the Mac Pro to a “halo car”. I agree with him in the general ideology and purpose of such a thing, but the Mac Pro hasn’t been a halo car in years. The main issue, and the reason why I don’t think it’d sell much better at a lower price, is that it lacks the desirability of a halo car in the current environment.

In general big desktop workstations aren’t as appealing these days, the Retina MacBook Pro is probably more equivalent to a halo car for the company. Image wise the Mac Pro is more comparable to a big ass commercial vehicle.3 Expensive and worth it for what they do, but not appealing to most normal people.4

Plus as far as they know they’re all pretty similar. The Mac Pro is basically like any other workstation, enough so that people even do hackintoshes as alternatives regularly these days, or just make the switch to Windows or Linux (since much of the software is cross platform). The novelty of the design has worn off after 10 years.5 For a company whose perceived strengths include differentiation and forward thinking, the big Mac Pro is like a remnant of the past at this point.

Which brings us back to the new one.

Conceptually it’s still a desktop done Apple’s way, just brought up to date with today’s values (if not a bit ahead). A lot of people are used to sealed boxes now and the new box takes advantage of that. And as far as desktops go the design is pretty wild, enough to have a teaser ad for it:

Which on a side note, is reminiscent of…

Anyway the changes should make it more appealing to normals these days. It’s a compact (less) unobtrusive little desk machine with massive power, and looks pretty cool. It’s only at this point the price becomes a factor, it doesn’t matter until they actually want the thing.

So what’s the possible pricing logic to take into account here? This involves some random business theory first: basically something can be priced up to what the customer values it at, and a price below that gives them buyer surplus (extra value for the price point). Of course that involves the economy and disposable incomes too, just because the value and price is right doesn’t mean everyone will be able to afford them.

Anyway with that out of the way, a little current Mac data from Apple’s SEC filings:6

Mac ASP 2009-2013
ASP vs Price
Mac prices organized by lowest price per model line…and man, Numbers has some horrible looking font rendering sometimes.

The average selling price of a Mac is currently around $1,300, while the Mac lineup ranges from $599 to $3,799 for default configurations. My questionable quick analysis of this says most desktops are around the low end iMac range with higher end sales being balanced by the lower end, and really high end outliers, the $2,000+ machines, aren’t too significant…but ASP did spike in the Winter and Spring quarters with new machines (approaching $1,400) so there’s likely still a decent market in the upper range.

I single out $2,000 because that’s the highest end iMac configuration. Apple has been fairly good product positioning wise about the simple concept of paying more to get more, whether it be better specs and/or bigger screens. There’s some tiny overlap here and there but not much. So basically I don’t expect the Mac Pro to go below that $1,999 mark (or if they do not by much), and by the same token I’d expect a clear spec boost over the iMacs (i.e. six core versus four core CPU).

Beyond that little logic for the lower bound, who knows. The separation between the various Mac mini and iMac desktops is $200-300, until you get to the Mac Pro where it’s a $500 jump. If they maintain a difference, hopefully they’d at least reduce it to be in line, like $2,299 rather than $2,499.

So basically my point is that people have money, but regardless of price they have to want what you’re selling in the first place. The new Mac Pro appears to be aiming for wider appeal, if it succeeds in that aspect it should sell better even at the same price, and if they lower the price on top of that it opens up the accessibility further. It’ll go from a high end niche product to just a high end product that happens to also address the niche. Essentially a machine equivalent of the Final Cut Pro to Final Cut X change. Just because something is “pro” friendly doesn’t mean it can’t be accessible to anyone else.




…I’d write about the iPhone here too but this ended up pretty damn long as is, maybe next time.

  1. And iPads. And MacBook Pros. And iMacs. And Mac minis.
  2. Or just $449 to slot right into the existing iPhone 4 price.
  3. Or simply a truck as in Steve Jobs’ analogy about the PC market in general.
  4. Having driven a few scissor lifts and fork lifts, I will say heavy machinery is pretty cool though. Not that the Mac Pro is like that, it’s more Dodge Sprinter than Caterpillar.
  5. Insides have been modified of course, but the exterior is largely the same as well as the general concept of the interior.
  6. 4Q 2013 estimated as an average of the rest of 2013, not accurate but ok for a rough estimate.

Yet More Watch Thoughts

Thought about this crap a bit more. Again.

Display
I’m pretty adamant about the persistent display, but there’s one big issue: dark environments. Light emitting displays (backlit LCDs, LEDs, etc) would either have to dim significantly or perhaps just shut off below a certain ambient light level to be acceptable in something like a movie theater.

Then on the other hand they still have to be bright enough to be easily visible in sunlight. Backlit LCDs are a bit weak at this, while reflective types (including transflective) are great, albeit not without issues image quality wise.

Another issue is display size, which affects other usability aspects. One thing I had in the back of my head was the possibility of a device meant to be able to be used on and off the wrist. I was thinking of the camera at the time (take it off and hold like a traditional camera), but there’s more possibilities beyond that. Apple has some funky slap wrist band patent, and flexible screens have been at trade shows for years. Combine the two and you can have a larger display without compromising too much on form factor. Then once you have a larger display…

Keyboard
…typing on it may become usable. Use text snippets on your arm as quick replies, or take it off and type as usual. It’d still might have to be a fairly substantial chunk of device on your arm though, so I have doubts. Then again some people like them big ass watches that are already out there.

Everything else (again)
And a bigger screen opens up the options and usability for whatever else out there. Increased visible display space, and increased physical touch space. It’d still have to be small by design, but when you’re going to be dealing with a tiny space to begin with, any decent increase in size is a huge deal.

Smartwatches

And now the fun topic: wrist wearable tech in general. I think there’s some basic keys to get down before anything else:

Persistent display
It’ll be pointless without this, any purported convenience factor goes out the window if you can’t just glance at it at any time. There could be tricks to get around it (based on movement1, or face tracking), but I can’t think of anything consistent enough. E-paper seems to be the current method of choice for other products due to the efficiency, but its limitations make it far from ideal.

Battery life
Related to the above, it’s got to last at least a day with the display always on, ideally it’d be good enough for multiple days. Something that would also help is a convenient charge method, like inductive charging or a simple dock, just take it off and place it down. A little something to reduce friction in common tasks goes a long way.

Persistent connection
If this is going to be used in conjunction with another device, the data all has to be up to date to be useful. Something like periodic coalesced updating might work to reduce battery usage while appearing close enough to live.

Comfortable and unobtrusive
A pretty basic one, but hugely important considering it’ll be on your wrist the whole day.

Usable screen
This can be at odds with the whole comfort thing above without getting creative. Nike’s trick was limiting the displayed data to just a few letters and numbers at a time and scrolling between them, allowing them to use a tiny display.

Affordable
If something is going to be a peripheral device there’s going to be some practical limit on pricing due to that.

A lot of that seems to be in conflict, with almost everything revolving around battery life. The comfort factor restricts how much battery can be stuffed in there, and that battery will restrict the display and connection possibilities, albeit the latter should hopefully be addressed with Bluetooth 4.0.

Looking back at the FuelBand for a second, it hits on the battery life, comfort, usable screen, and affordability, but that’s because of how limited it is. A smart watch probably wouldn’t able to get away with the same compromises simply because they’ll be expected to do more…how much more is a big wide open question. The obvious minimum stuff:

Time – The historical wrist worn device feature.
Notifications – Mostly because we normals can’t think of anything better.
Data display – …basically just another form of notifications in a sense, more persistent live data rather than periodic alerts.

Of course that’s as a peripheral device to a smartphone. Ideally it’d be more than just an external remote display for your phone, and if one were to act as a standalone phone it’d obviously require more.

Phone
The most obvious one for a phone. The form factor would make it a bit awkward for traditional phone use (hold device up to head), but doable if necessary. Luckily there’s some existing workarounds: speakerphone or Bluetooth headsets2.

Text communications (messages, email, social crap)
One hard part is composing text on a tiny wrist device. Voice recognition is the obvious answer (particularly with Siri and Google Now and whatnot), but that completely negates the aurally covert nature of messaging. Precomposed text clips are another, if temporary, silent workaround. There’s a few possibilities for fancy new smart keyboard designs, like one of those smarter autocompleting concepts floating around a while back.

And I’m just thinking of how to type stuff up. The display part is relatively simple for a single message, but texting and email and whatever else involves more than looking at a single message at a time. And when it comes to typing, along with whatever key interface, you also need to be able to see what you’re typing. It’ll be interesting to see how companies tackle this stuff, if at all.3

Media playback
A catchall category, but obviously there’s many factors within. Music should be the easiest one considering music players have been miniaturized for years, including to wristwatch size already. Viewing photos and videos should be fine, if just not ideal due to the likely small screen size…but the idea of having a tiny streaming source on your wrist is kind of cool. Hit a little button on your wrist, boom! Streaming music/video to your stereo/TV!

Camera
People use their phones take pictures. A lot. A wrist based camera could both increase the use, and decrease general quality of pics taken (both objective and subjective) more than ever. The arm might be good for stability (versus holding something out with your fingers), but the viewfinder will be small, and camera quality may be limited due to the comfort factor limiting housing size.

Everything else?
I’d put the internet as its own category, but the web is cramped enough on a phone as it is, even with mobile sites. I can’t imagine the web will be pushed as a feature, albeit I expect some random devs to come out with browsers if possible.

And those devs can be a big key since they’ll come up with random cool stuff that no one else will. There may or may not be a killer app, but each one will add value to the platform. The quality of the developer tools and accessible hardware could be a bigger deal than it is on the existing smartphone platforms, just because things will be so much more functionally limited out of the box.

Some other useful stuff:

GPS
Will a watch battery be enough to power GPS on top of everything else? If so it might be able to power a really convenient GPS implementation (…barring map/direction quality). Input a destination with your voice, simple screen and speakers guide you on your way. Same as anything else, but always being out on your wrist you can just quickly glance down for reference.

Fitness
Like the FuelBand, but more! Good smartwatches with good enough fitness tracking implementations could do to FuelBand (and others) what smartphones did to dedicated music players.


So will smartwatches be the next big thing? I’m not sure what to think. There’s a lot of basic technical hurdles for now, those are only temporary. It’s the implementation questions that are a bigger concern…and for some features the best implementation might just be omitting the feature entirely.

The whole thing could be a practice of working within limitations, obviously some companies are better at that than others. The question then becomes whether people want whatever limited product, which is why I’m not sure about them as standalone devices.4 As peripherals the limitations would be more understandable, they’re not meant to do everything so they won’t be expected to do everything.

And there’s a different angle I completely forgot about: the general watch and fashion market. I imagine this is substantial enough on its own to merit attention, even if the ubiquity of phones has likely hurt watches a bit. But it plays nicely into the limited peripheral role as above, as people would be getting it as an accessory rather than as the primary device.

  1. Supposedly Samsung’s will use motion detection “to switch it on when it is moved up towards the eye.” Again I have my doubts on how well relying on something like that will work, due to false positives and the user likely wanting to look at the watch (i.e. it’ll already be visible at times) without moving their arm up.
  2. Well there’s the possibility of wired headsets too but I imagine that’d be too inconvenient to rely on as the main method of voice communications.
  3. You know someone will make a Bluetooth keyboard or some other external peripheral.
  4. Extremely unlikely alternative wacky view: smartwatches become the new dumbphones, but with connectivity to other smart devices like iPads and iPods.