The Innevitable March of Technology – Surface 2Posted: September 23, 2013
This morning I was reading the live blog stream of the Surface 2 launch by Microsoft. It should be a well known fact that I work for Microsoft. I am obviously a supporter of the company, but I don’t consider myself to be an apologist.
At any rate, as I was watching the launch, reading the specs, thinking about what it all means, I had the following experience.
The have an instance of the Surface RT. Just to give you some perspective as to how pragmatic I am, the only real complaint I have about it is the kick stand does not stay in place so that you can reverse the angle and read it while it’s sitting on the counter top, and you’re standing up looking down at it. Other than that, whether it has 10, 10,000, or 100,000 apps available doesn’t really matter to me. I use it to browse the internet, and to play that bubble breaking game. I occasionally use it to take pictures around the house, so it’s sync’d with SkyDrive, so that I can easily get the pictures from my desktop machine.
In our house, having just moved recently, there are literally 10s of devices which have varying forms of compute capabilities. We have everything from simple microcontrollers, to high end laptops, and “server” machines. What I’ve come to realize is that they all serve some purpose, and we no longer live in a world of scarce compute resources. You can literally purchase single purpose devices for almost all of your electronics needs.
My phone gets the most usage. Email/Calendar is the number one ‘app’, with web browsing in a relatively distant 3rd, unless we’re out shopping. Texting would be a very distant 4th, and bringing up the rear would be actually making phone calls. Photographing falls in there somewhere depending on whether we’re on vacation.
The Surface RT gets used for web browsing, particularly when I’m idling around the living room not using the TV.
The wife has an iPad, and it’s #1 usage is youtube video watching. An extremely distant second would be taking some pictures around the house. It never travels with us.
We have an appleTV (for airPlay from the iPad), and a roku 3 attached to the living room “tv”. 99.8% of our video watching comes through the roku box. Recently I added a digital antenna so my mom could watch football, so that’s the other 0.2%. We only have cable to get the internet. We do not have any standard cable channels.
There is a wifi client access point connected to the tv because it has an ethernet port on the back, but I prefer not to string ethernet cables. So, that’s another dedicated device. The access point is essentially the same as a tp-link mini router.
My home office has the “big iron”. Lenovo X1 Carbon. This is my Microsoft work machine. I no longer use a desktop machine at work because laptops are good enough in terms of compiling power, and it’s way more portable.
Then there’s this MacBook Pro. I write iOS, MacOS, Linux, and Windows software, so this one laptop gives me all three OSs in one tidy little box.
The noisy beast under the desk is a machine I built about 3 years ago. Intel quad core something or other. I actually rarely turn it on these days. Any storage purpose it was serving is now taken up by the Synology 1512+ sitting quietly on the shelf.
One interesting thread over the past couple of years has been following the tracks of hardkernel and their Odroid machines. I started with the Odroid-X, then X2, U2, and most recently the XU. The XU is really cool with quad A15/A7 chip. Great for trying out Android code, and for fiddling with various Linux distros as well.
So, with all this, what about the new Surface 2? I want to get one of those, and am willing to pay my own money for it. Why? My wife has the iPad, and that suits her youTube needs. I have need for a fairly robust and transportable compute platform that I can use in my garage shop. I don’t want a ‘laptop’, because given their combination of permanently attached keyboard, and relatively limited mounting/viewing options, they’re not practical. Neither is a fixed ‘desktop’ machine.
I’ll use it in the shop for a couple of things. In the past, I’ve had a laptop attached to my various 3D printers and automated router. Now that I have USB capabilities, because I use tinyG for my automation controller, I can use the Surface 2 as the controlling device. I can’t use the iPad, because it doesn’t do USB.
They’re not quite cheap enough to have one per automated device, but it is cheap enough to have a couple of them.
What else? I can see attaching a couple of them to the wall in the shop to do simple controls like powering on sections of the shop, the filtration system, etc. And lastly, of course I’ll be mounting a projector in there, and it will likely be powered by a roku box. But, I’ll use the Surface 2 as the controller of that AV system. It will be much better than having a remote because it will present big buttons on a grime cleanable screen, which is perfect for a shop.
As for the new surface pro, I honestly don’t know how I would use that particular device, and that’s fine by me. I’ve already got the work laptop, so I would not be using it to compile for work. I could use it as my dedicated home “PC” because for the moment I use the desktop machine to run TurboTax, and it would be nice to get that app off that particular machine.
Bottom line for me, there’s some interesting things to be had from these new devices, so I’m going to invest a bit to get a couple. We no longer live in a time where this is a super huge life changing “we better save up for years and justify it for the whole family” sort of decision. These devices will serve a purpose in the short term, and in the future, something else will be developed which will serve another purpose.
One thing I will note though. On the Surface 2, probably the most impressive feature to me as a tech head is the multi-sensor keyboard. It has 1,100 sensors on it! It’s essentially a giant touch pad, that has some tactile keys on its surface. I think that might have some interesting possibilities. Also, the low light camera seems really useful. I’m not one for video calling, and I’d prefer the back camera had this ability, but it is one feature I look for, even for a regular camera.
And so it goes.