May 14, 2011

Small Devices

iPhones, iPads, iPods, BlackBerries, Netbooks, etc.

There is a lot of buzz around "the next big thing" in small devices. The more technology we get and absorb, the more we seem to crave. There is no doubt that the industrial age has given way to the information age and that has given way to the “global ant colony age”1. We have ever more tiny and capable personal technology continuously connected through the global Internet to the network of our friends, acquaintances, strangers with common interests, and potentially anyone and everyone. We use the term “social networking” to describe this explosion of interaction. This commentary is not focused on the social networking experience, but rather on my personal collection of technology that support it.

Karen and I have a pretty awesome collection of small devices (see Technologysection under my Personal Interests). Here is a partial list, as of this writing, of some of those not-yet-discarded devices:

  • Pocket Media Players
    • Apple iPod Video Gen 5, 30 GB
      I have been using the iPod Video since it first came out for teaching purposes. I have quite a number of video clips, most just a few minutes in duration, to make a point, introduce a well-known face, examine a case study, or open with some flair. I happen to have our iTunes music library loaded on it, as well, but I hardly ever listen to music on it. I also have photos of the family and of our vacations on it, and likewise, I hardly ever show these with the iPod. And I rarely carry it around, except for class.
    • Apple iPod Shuffle Video, 4 GB
      Karen uses the iPod shuffle to play tunes in her office. Orginally, it was docked in an iHome dock at home, but that has been moved to her office at work because she just plays directly from her computer wirelessly through her huge JBL sepakers.
    • Apple iPod Nano
      Karen uses the iPod Nano very frequently to listen to music as she exercises. The Nano cannot hold the entire iTunes library, so she keeps an iTunes folder for syncing with the Nano. I believe that she really loves the device, but she is uncomfortable with the ear buds.
  • Phones
    • Apple iPhone 3G, 8 GB
      I used the iPhone only when I am away from home — I used the Panasonic phone system at home using Comcast VoIP. I miss most calls to my iPhone, and prefer to make calls on it when I need to do so. I also use it to check calendar details when I am out and about. I have some photos and music on it, but I have never listened to or shown the music/photos on the iPhone. I use my “cell phone” strictly as a convenience when I am not at home.
    • BlackBerry Bold
      Karen uses her BlackBerry extensively. She has to be in touch with work for all kinds of emergencies and other reasons, and she keeps very up to date on emails and messages. She is in the car a lot driving between her office to any of the many MLHS locations, and she is on the BlackBerry a lot to remain in touch and be productive.
  • Tablets/Pads
    • Apple iPad
      You know the ubiquitous iPad. I use it to read books, particularly recent novels... Grisham, Connelly, and so on. It is a great platform, in my opinion, and extremely well finished. I believe that Apple's Steve Jobs has infused his design/build organization with the mantra of "form over function". Just as Americans bought into the Japanese and European cars of the 1970s and 1980s largely because of fit, finish, tightness, and smallness without loss of room, consumers worldwide have bought into the elegant integration of multiple functions into very small, highly finished, intuitive and inviting packaging that is the hallmark of Apple's consumer electronics productss. I, for one, love them and I believe that they have changed the industry for the better.
    • BlackBerry PlayBook
      The PlayBook is a relatively new entry in the "tablet" wars. It has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 1 GB of memory, 16 GB of SDRAM for storage (with options to 64 GB), and a micro USB port. It is 7.5" x 5.1" x .4",and weighs just .9 lb. with a 7" display. The PlayBook has an accelerometer, gyroscope, digital compass (magnetometer), and a GPS. It has both a 3 MP front and a 5 MP rear-facing camera, and the screen has 1024 x 600 pixel resolution. I has Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.1 g/n WiFi.
      The PlayBook runs Research in Motion’s (RIM) QNS operating system with a great touch-screen interface. It supports HTML 5, Adobe Flash 10.1, and more. It comes loaded with apps, including Facebook, Email, calendar, address book, task list, and Documents To Go. It is designed to wirelessly link to the BlackBerry Bold (or other BlackBerry phones) for continuous connection.
  • Netbooks
    • Toshiba NB305-N410BL, 2 GB/250GB (Win 7)
      I use the Toshiba when I travel for business and also when I give talks and I am not sure of what media projection interfaces will be available. For example, I taught a course on entrepeneurship at PJM, the power grid company for much of the northeast, and in their seminar room (a very well-done facility), the expected interface was for a laptop with VGA and min-jacks. So, my iPod was not appropriate and I used the Toshiba. I really like this netbook: it has capacity, is as fully functional as a laptop, but is light, small, and sturdy. It is designed for wireless connectivity and makes that easy. I have loaded MS Office and other useful software to make this a laptop replacement. And netbooks cost well under $400 fully configured.
    • HP Mini 110, 1GB/160GB (Win XP)
      Karen uses the HP Mini as her laptop, much as I use mine. Her primary computer at work is a deskside, as is her home office computer. But when she travels from place to place, she needs the netbook.

These are, of course, in addition to the four Windows 7 systems (one with Linux & XP alternate boot choices), and two Apple Macs in our house. We run an 802.11g/n wireless network and a gigabit wired LAN, all fed from the outside world via a 22 megabit/second Comcast Internet connection. We also run a 5.8 GHz wireless phone system, and X10 network, and other sundry stuff. Our home entertainment systems are Internet connected and have streaming HD capability, as well as connectivity to our entire home network for media sharing.

So, what do we use them for?

  • Music — Strangely, I rarely listen to music on the iPods. Karen does, however. She wears an iPod Nano to exercise (spinning, running, elliptical, or bike). She uses the iPod Shuffle seated in an iHome dock in her office at work for some occasional background music. When we listen to music in our home offices, we simply have iTunes on our computers. Karen's home office computer is wirelessly connected to two gigantic 20" JBL speakers, so she can flood the area with music. We also use iTunes in our entertainment center, or we can use the Home Theater system's LAN conncetion to our server to serve up the same iTunes library. All the iTunes in the house, whether played in any Apple product or non-Apple product, are shared.

  • Video — We rarely use stored video other than Comcast On Demand. Once in a great while we will bring home a BluRay or DVD of something. We generally use the computer media players to watch YouTube or other clips. We are spoiled by the content availability via Comcast, so we don't join Netflicks or any of the genre.

    A big exception to this is that I use a number of clips in my courses.

  • Communication — eMail, Facebook, ... as described above. While the whole world has shifted to and accepts the notion of ubiquitous connection and contact, I personally have not. I don’t want to be in constant contact and continuously available, so I am not. Sorry. I guess I am a Luddite in that regard.

  • Teaching — videos, slides, ... I really rely on the iPod Video for this stuff. I prepare slides using Microsoft PowerPoint on my Office PC, then I save them as jpegs, and on my Mac I import them into the Photo library and when I sync the iPod, Bingo! I have slides. I also sync my video clips from a wide spectrum

1 The “global ant colony age” is my own term for the phenomena.

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