Monday, December 24, 2012

Tech Year in Review 2012

When I began this blog earlier this year, I had obviously hoped to be a bit more regular in my postings, and in the future maybe that will happen. For the time being however, I'll need to be content with a bit less content here. However, I didn't want to end the year without doing a quick tech year in review.

2012 was a very interesting year for technology, and I can say with confidence that I've dubbed this year, "The Year of the Tablet". No single consumer technology has taken the world by storm this past 12 months as the tablet.

Although tablets have been around in some shape or fashion for many years, it was when Apple released the iPad in 2010 that things really started to change. Suddenly you had a tremendously usable tablet interface on top of pretty good hardware. It took a couple years for competitors to finally get in to the game seriously, but in 2012 everything exploded. This was helped tremendously by the introduction of the Nexus 7 by Google, opening up the mini-tablet space in a way that Apple hadn't been willing to do before. Apple quickly answered with the iPad Mini, and Google brought out their Nexus 10. Finally, toss in the surprise of the Microsoft Surface tablet, and 2012 was truly a good year to jump to handheld computing in a way that we've never done before.

I believe the appeal of this new form of computing has it's roots in two reasons. First, the capabilities of these new devices. Never before have we been able to hold such technological power in our hands like we can with today's current crop of tablets. Additionally, companies such as Apple and Google finally nailed how to do a tablet user interface. Pervious tablet incarnations have always relied on transplanting a desktop interface onto a different shape, often with little success (think "stylus"... *shudder*...)

However, I don't believe that this revolution would have been as successful based just on hardware and UI. The really big key came in how we actually use computers, namely the advent of cloud computing in a big way. Cloud computing is both the second reason that tablets have been able to be successful, and my second pick for a major technology trend of 2012. In regards to tablets, cloud computing has allowed people to be even more mobile in their activities, but yet still have access to all their data. The fact that people can now author full novel manuscripts on a tablet, without ever having to worry that their entire work is at risk on a portable device is a testament to how far cloud computing has come. Most basic tablet word processing apps are fully functional enough for robust content creation that can then be tweaked in a larger app on a full computer. Tablets aren't just confined to text either, many people are making music and movies on their devices, with the help of cloud computing resources.

Cloud computing has truly changed the face of the internet, and in many ways has released the internet to it's fullest potential. The dream of the internet was the ability to have an always-on, interconnected set of computers that would unleash communication and collaboration in new and powerful ways. The creation of tools such as Google Docs have brought that dream to fruition. I can't count the number of times that I've started up a Google Doc with a friend to collaborate on a work or personal project. It's truly released a new level of collaboration on the masses. From picture sharing, document creation, even collaborative music recording, cloud computing is here to stay, and a major breakthrough in 2012.

There is one trend from 2012 that I don't think is quite where it needs to be yet though. That's in the area of digital video entertainment. Services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have started to get a foothold, but I don't think enough progress was made in 2012 to really declare victory. Most of the technological challenges have been met, infrastructure engineers know how to scale out distribution. From a consumer standpoint there are dozens of boxes and TV sets that allow you to bring content to your home screen.

Yet, what's really been holding this trend back is the copyright and distribution issues that have plagued digital media for years. Content providers are stuck trying to maintain an old profit model that is becoming increasingly hard to prop up. Some have had success transitioning to a new model, but many others are struggling with learning to adapt to a new style of customer demands. I'm hopeful that 2013 brings in a whole new set of changes to this area, and we get a much richer set of options in the future for our TV entertainment.

So those are some of the big trends in 2012 that caught my eye. I'm hopeful for a fruitful year in 2013 of more blogging, and much more technology to ramble about from a liberal arts geek.

 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Quick Review: Google Maps for iOS

iPhone users rejoice! Google Maps is back! Today you can download a new standalone app for Google Maps for your iPhone. To top it off, it's a better offering than the old Google Maps you could get!

First and foremost, it's a vector based mapping system. The one feature I've LOVED on Apple Maps is the vector based nature of it. It means no more sitting around waiting for 'tiles' to load, the maps are drawn based on geometry and not images. Overall, one of the best things to come to mapping software in a long time.

The new Google Maps app also has nice tilt zoom features, with 3D renderings of buildings, and free rotation of your view. Everything else is as you'd expect it from Google Maps, with much more information than other mapping products. Only two criticisms:


  1. I want to be able to turn off the tilt zoom and rotation. I'd like that the be a preference.
  2. I want a full iPad app (coming soon apparently)


Otherwise, it's a great app, and worth the download!