Special Glass

Posted: 03.30.08

Actually this entry should be named Special Plastic, because we don’t really use glass in our displays anymore do we? But we do specialize because one size doesn’t fit all (needs.) I have eight screens that I use.

  • I watch TV on my 32-inch LG LCD.TV.
  • I watch movies with either my PS3 for HD, or my Xbox360 for regular DVDs, or on my eight-foot projector screen.
  • I watch YouTube videos, do email and other office things on my 17-inch laptop
  • I play games on my Skulltrail PC with a Dell 30-inch display.
  • I read books on my six-inch E-ink Kindle.
  • I play portable games, and watch an occasional video on my 4.3-inch PSP
  • I have an iPod that downloads movies and podcasts and occasionally I watch them
  • And I take videos, and photos with my Nokia 5MP N95, but I don’t play games on it, don’t watch videos on it, and don’t look at TV on it, although it can do all those things.

Kathleen also has a 3.7-inch Creative Zen and she watches videos on it on long flights and the occasional bus ride. She also has a 2.5-inch iPhone and watches music videos on it.

If I get rid of the N95 (which could happen any minute I’m so disgusted with its performance and battery life) and get an iPhone, I might watch videos, but if I got an iPhone I’d have to carry a pocket camera again. I love the iPhone’s big screen but its processor is too underpowered to drive games and its 2 Mpixel camera is too low res for most of my picture taking requirements.

So while I wait for the next generation iPhone or equivalent, something with a big screen, and good image sensor and lens, a workable TV tuner, and enough CPU/GPU power to make game playing fun, I sit in the lotus position and ponder the Zen-like question, if they build it will I use it? The short answer is maybe.

I have been trapped on long bus rides where the light is weak and the noise too annoying to allow for comfortable reading (even with a Kindle because it doesn’t have a backlight.) I’m too weight conscious to carry the PSP and power supply with all the other gear I have, and that’s partially because even though it has a great screen, game play on it, for an old fart like me, isn’t much fun – I never could master a game controller, can’t remember which button does what and by the time I figure it out, zap, I’m dead.

So everything has its compromises, whether it’s screen size, bandwidth, content, interactivity, battery life, GPU power and memory, or price. And we consumers adapt to those tradeoffs and willingly support the suppliers of these specialized or compromised machines.

Specialization has its benefits, albeit with a certain degree of redundancy in terms of its apparent similarities to other machines. After all, an iPhone does look a little like a Zen player, and a PSP. And a 17-inch laptop does look like a full-fledged game PC, and a 32-inch TV does look a little like a wall sized projector; so it’s natural to imagine one machine could serve the same purposes as others — a kinda Swiss Army video-GPS-eBook-TV-game-camera MP3 thingie.

But as alluring as a universal device might be, we’re still humans and we have physical limitations and needs, and for our unlimited entertainment, information, and work pattern choices, we physically need different sizes at different times in different environments. Even the beam-me-up-Star-Trek-communicator only did audio.

I don't want to watch the Bourne Idenity on my ipod, or even my PSP, I want to watch it on the projector. And I don't want to use Office apps on the projector, or the PSP, and cetainly not my phone — so the content and apps really deterime what size scereen and which machine we should use.

So that’s why we have, and will continue to have special glass (or plastic as it were.) I’m OK with that, in fact I kinda like it.