Tip of the Quill: A Journal
Life in the Future.

This is one of my favorite times of the year – the two-week period that contains both the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and MacWorld. As a future-loving son of a gun, I’ve been restlessly refreshing the newsfeeds at Electronista, Gizmodo and Engadget to stay on top of all the new announcements. So far, here are my favorite picks:

  • The PS3 is rapidly going from zero to hero (Hercules!) and Sony’s long-term household media system strategy is beginning to coalesce into something potentially brilliant. Stuff magazine is reporting a rumored PS3-compatible AIBO robot dog, Sony is apparently bringing Skype to the PS3, and given Warner Bros.’ recent Blu-Ray switch, things may finally be turning around for the beleaguered PS3 (especially if New Line’s Blu-Ray commitment means Lord of the Rings in HD).
  • Two words: Stargate Worlds. Assuming Cheyenne Mountain doesn’t drop the ball on this one, an SG-1/Atlantis MMO might be something I could really get behind.
  • From the what’s-next-in-your-cellphone department: apparently 3M’s mobile mini-projector is finally ready for prime time. Half an inch thick, able to project a 40-inch or larger image at VGA resolution… My main concern would be the power draw on something like this, but the option of whipping out my iPhone and projecting a movie onto the nearest wall is pretty thrilling.
  • Ever since first seeing frogdesign’s redesigned concept Mac for Macworld magazine back in the 90s, I’ve been fascinated by concept machines – and Fujitsu is apparently showing off one of my new favorites. Imagine a “soft, pliable” fabric laptop. Also of note, an electronic card viewer, a salesclerk browser, and a customer browser. All of these are pretty dang sharp.
  • People are slowly coming around to the thing that I’ve been harping on for years: the LG watch phone is just a prototype for now, but it’s a sign that hopefully the wrist-bound interface for calls is finally becoming more widespread. Couple this with improved, more ubiquitous wireless headphones and my proposed personal communications network (PCN) is almost here…

On the Mac side of things, the rumors are flying fast and furious now, with just enough actual news included in the froth to keep things interesting:

  • Erector, of all people, seems to be gunning for the LEGO Mindstorms market (kinda) with their Spykee Skype-enabled robots. Three new models include iPod and iPhone docks in their crotches, which is a little pervy but still an awesome idea. Imagine programming a ‘bot to bring your phone to you when it rings…
  • ShowTime’s demonstration of video recording on the iPhone demonstrates that this functionality is at least possible, if somewhat suboptimal; 6FPS is a long, long way from broadcast quality. Still, as a proof of concept it’s encouraging that this might be one of the features Apple could unlock on the iPhone with a firmware upgrade.
  • One of the perks of being an Apple aficionado is the collective Photoshop prowess of the tribe – every year before Steve Jobs’ big talk teh Intarwebs are flooded with mockups of possible new devices, and this year’s no different – behold the shoulda-woulda-coulda wündercomps of the Apple MacBook Touch. There’s all kinds of these rumors going around now, largely based off of recently-unveiled Apple patents for an iMac-like laptop dock and a dynamically-lit keyboard. The keyboard sounds an awful lot like Art. Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus keyboard, although what has me really excited is Lebedev’s Tactus concept. While 2008 might not be the year of the touchscreen, is sure looks like 2009 or 2010 will be.
  • If there’s one thing that looks like a sure thing for the Stevenote, it’s the addition of video rentals to the iTunes store. This has been in the wings for a while now, but a barrage of recent reports on the rumor sites sure seems to suggest that where there’s smoke, there’s fire: Variety says so, The New York Times says so, even The Financial Times says so.
  • This leads me to what I myself am personally hoping for, although I don’t know if it’ll happen: HD-quality video downloads from the Apple store. There’s been talk that the Apple TV will be getting a shot in the arm at Macworld, and I’d say this would be the easiest way to do it – the Apple TV can support 720p playback but the Apple Store currently only offers videos at NTSC TV resolution, which is 640×480 or lower. 1080p would be ideal, but the files required for that sort of thing would be mammoth, so I suspect 720p will be the way to go. If Apple does rentals without the inclusion of HD, I suspect they’ll be just as poorly received as the Apple TV has been so far because of an astonishingly uncharacteristic oversight on Apple’s part – the massive chunk of the Venn diagram between Apple TV owners and HDTV owners. SD content looks like crap on an HDTV and the early-adopters who are the target market for devices like the Apple TV have said so loudly and repeatedly. Jobs previously referred to the Apple TV as a “hobby” for the company rather than an actual product line, which also didn’t do the device any favors, but like my folks always taught me, anything worth doing is worth doing right. I suspect the Apple TV line will either get an upgrade to HD at Macworld or get dropped altogether in favor of something else, but I could be wrong.
  • New towers are also probably going to make an appearance, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they were accompanied by the long-overdue Cinema Displays with built-in iSight cameras. The standalone iSight was discontinued, what, a year and a half ago? For some reason the new displays with that included still haven’t appeared, which I suspect may have to do with the company’s reluctance to offer new displays without the HDCP required for eventual HD movie playback – and HDCP inclusion would require (I think) new hardware on the tower side as well, so I suspect we’ll see this whole package show up at the Stevenote. And, I suspect, that will include a Blu-Ray drive as a BTO option, especially given the Warner defection. Yeah, yeah, I know – it sure looks like I backed the wrong horse on that race. Oh, well – mea culpa.
  • The two big buzzwords at CES this year are wireless and GPS, so I’m hoping we’ll see similar trends at Macworld as well. Wireless TruHD speaker systems! Improved wireless headphones! True GPS functionality in the iPhone! Bring it on!

There have been a large number of times during my stint at MIT when I’ve found myself grinning from ear to ear and remarking at how much I love living in the future. It’s true. The future is awesome. It’s exceptionally gratifying to see things that I’d hoped for two or three years ago finally come to market, which means that if my predictions and mental sketches continue to stay accurate, the next 5-10-20 years are going to be amazing. Let’s hope we don’t wind up getting thrown into another Dark Age by war or climate collapse before we can get there, okay?