Monday, March 16, 2009

Feature feature

This is my Andy Rooney post for the year, where I complain about some newfangled technology.

Lots of folks have been chattering about the new iPod Shuffle, pointing out the great strides they've made applying Moore's law to DRM authentication chips.  What they haven't mentioned, at least not loudly enough for me to notice, was Apple's brilliant decision to leverage cooler-than-cool voice menu technology, apparently licensed at a discount from Visa Fraud Prevention Services.  “I believe you said Barry Manilow.  Is that correct?  Hold on, I'll connect you.”  Cutting edge stuff, there.  I'm not saying it's not useful, just that it's not an innovation (1st generation iPods had it) and, more to the point, it's kinda boring.

In other lame lock-in technology news, Opera, my favorite browser, is really losing my confidence.  Their two biggest recent features, Opera Link and Opera Turbo fall kinda short of the groundbreaking standard they set with mouse gestures, speed dial, the intellegent address bar, etc.  The former is a bright idea — a way to synchronize your browser preferences all over the web — that I'd probably like better as flexible, open format rather than as a razor for a My Opera account.  The latter idea was short-sighted when Google, AOL, and Netscape introduced it back in '04 or '05: a proxy server that will pre-fetch, compress, and prioritize web traffic to your browser.  It was a smart technology for Opera to apply to mobile devices, but adapting it for the desktop, where broadband speeds are (reluctantly but steadily) increasing, seems like a waste of resources that could be focused on real innovation.  Maybe useful for cellular broadband users?

They're making cool strides on the back end; Opera 10 will support web fonts, SVG fonts, cool opacity stuff... they already have a tech preview release of their next, next rendering engine.  Also, they've brought Jon Hicks in to work on the UI, which suggests it'll be more than just a re-skin.  The latest alpha preview just didn't whelm me, I guess.

It's like that scene in William Gibson's Count Zero, where they quantify the research output of a scientist, and extrapolate the graph of his future breakthroughs.  I'm projecting a plateau. 

3 comments:

Anne Edison-Albright said...

The idea of a creativity plateau at this point in history is interesting--I wonder if there are more examples. It makes me think of an English prof I had who gave very low grades in hope of inspiring frustrated, angry brilliance. The actual response was fear, uncertainty, apathy, fatalism ... few improved and most just gave up. The global economic crisis might show, too, that anxiety isn't a great motivator for innovation and personal industry, regardless of our national myths (Horatio Alger ... I'm looking at you. Stop it; you're making us all look bad.)

On the other hand ... do you think moving the volume control to the headphones will elminate the problem of accidently destroying my eardrums when I bump into things? Because that's a pretty useful innovation.

novelgazer said...

This is a well-reasoned and nuanced response to my post of technology whining. It will have to be deleted.

I think you're right, though, the tech sector thrives on irrational exuberance, and Mountain Dew. It's not unreasonable for the economic situation to be a factor in it, beyond the usual ebb and flow of these things.

Now you only need to worry about your volume control getting tangled in your hair. Not as big an issue for me, but I'll still hold out until they perfect this interface.

Anne Edison-Albright said...

OK ... that's on the Christmas list!