Rohan Jayasekera's thoughts on the evolving use of computers -- and the resulting effects

Occasional thoughts by Rohan Jayasekera of Toronto, Canada.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

What Palm's announcement did not contain

Palm’s January 8th announcement of the Palm Pre and its webOS operating system was extremely exciting for me. Palm’s products have been at my side continuously since 1997, beginning with a PalmPilot Professional and continuing through my current Treo 650. I haven’t been totally thrilled by any of the competing smartphones, not even the iPhone nor the various BlackBerrys, all of which are missing what I consider essential features that are present even in my four-year-old Treo. For instance, I want a touchscreen and a physical keyboard, and I’m astonished that not every smartphone has a switch to silence the speaker. And as for the iPhone’s lack of copy-and-paste, um, well. The new Pre looks great to me and I look forward to its availability in Canada at some point.

The Pre does however lack something that all my Palm devices have had: a desktop application (Windows or Mac OS), together with hardware and software to synchronize with the device. The Pre will not have that. Why not?

Because Palm is moving online. If I’m looking for someone’s phone number on my smartphone and I hadn’t entered it there, I’m not likely to have entered it on my laptop either, so synchronization won’t help. That phone number may however be on Facebook — and the Pre will get it from there. It might cache a copy so that it doesn’t need to fetch it again (well, not until enough time has passed that the number should be re-fetched in case it’s been changed). For a more detailed exploration of this, see this article published today by Ars Technica.

The Palm Pre seems to be a true online device, going even further than the iPhone does when it’s used with MobileMe. Bravo, Palm!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Computers continue to become more like phones

As readers of this blog know, I have long contended that personal computers as we know them today are an instance of temporary insanity. For the vast majority of people, the future is the same as the past, when people used “terminals” to access, via some kind of network, computing resources located elsewhere.

Phones have always been like this, both landline and mobile: a phone has never been of any use as a standalone device. I’ve recently written about how personal computers should behave more like phones, and now they’re being sold more like them too. Mobile carriers frequently offer subsidized phones (“sign a 2-year contract and get this expensive phone for only $X!”), and lately carriers in some countries have had similar offers with netbooks (“sign a data-plan contract and get this expensive netbook for only $X!”). This is now happening in the USA.