New devices should focus less on memory, more on experience

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    In a March 3 column on Engadget, Joshua Topolsky wrote, “It won’t be a debate about displays, memory, wireless options — it will be a debate about the quality of the experience…It’s not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it becomes purely about the experience of using the device.”

    The new decade brought with it the term “Post-PC devices.” What are Post-PC devices? Most experts point at mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.

    Looking at just the past four years, it’s amazing to see the jump that portable devices have taken. A phone is no longer a device that only lets you place calls, send text messages and perform a few other actions. Now, you can pull out your phone and access the entire Internet, listen to music, watch movies and run a number of powerful, high quality applications like UrbanSpoon, Shazam, iMovie and Angry Birds.

    Consumers are no longer looking for just a brand — like BlackBerry — or just a phone with a checklist of hardware features. Increasingly, the hardware specifications are becoming less important to consumers. Consumers want an experience, not just a device. We want our devices to come with the ability to perform a wide variety of actions and provide us with access to a wide variety of services.

    This is a trend that Apple appears to have accurately predicted and acted to take advantage of and is something Apple’s competitors are slowly realizing. As Topolsky wrote in his column, “What that means is that while Motorola and Verizon will spend millions of dollars advertising the Xoom’s 4G upgrade options, CPU speed and high-resolution cameras, Apple need only delight consumers and tell them that specs and speed are the domain of a dinosaur called the PC.”

    In a recent advertisement for the iPad 2, the narrator says, “This is what we believe — technology alone is not enough. Faster, thinner, lighter — those are all good things. But when technology gets out of the way, everything becomes more delightful, even magical. That’s when you leap forward. That’s when you end up with something like this.”

    And it’s not just tablets and smartphones that are leaving behind the necessity to compete solely on the basis of hardware features. The soon-to-be-completed Blue Waters supercomputer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign isn’t trying to be the fastest supercomputer out there, according to an April 3 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. What matters more is the ability to perform complex simulations and solve difficult problems faster.

    This has raised a problem for researchers, because supercomputers that don’t make the Top 500 ranking in terms of speed alone are being given less attention and thus are likely to receive less funding for their construction and operation as providing money to a “ranked” project is much more prestigious for donors.

    As Jeffrey Young writes in The Chronicle article, “Like [lead developer of Blue Waters] Mr. [Thom] Dunning, some leaders now argue that a single test of top computing speed often doesn’t reward clever software designs — and that software is increasingly the bottleneck that slows simulations that might otherwise lead to scientific breakthroughs, such as understanding that tornado or the intricacies of a biological cell, which are two of the tasks that the new machine here, called Blue Waters, will undertake.”

    As the world moves toward devices that do more work rather than boast a greater hardware capability, this problem will need to be addressed, and consumers will see a new breed of devices that are less of a device and more of an experience.

    Varun Pramanik is a sophomore strategic communication major from Mumbai, India.