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The Miracle of the Internet

We’ve only begun to tap the potential of the internet. This is something I have been saying for almost a decade. In that time I’ve only come to believe it more strongly, and it’s pretty damn exciting.

We’ve heard a little about smart electric grids that monitor and adjust usage and household environmental systems that monitor and adjust according to current conditions. I can easily imagine (easily, because I’m pretty sure the technology already exists for this) a household computer system with a web interface that is always on the internet, that would allow a homeowner to log on to a website and both see and control all of the major household systems. Whether you are sitting on the couch watching a movie and want to adjust the thermostat slightly, or if you’re on Lufthansa at 30,000 feet and want to check to see if you closed the garage door before you left, you will be able to log on to a web site and do all of this though the internet. Incoming message: your coffee is ready.

I have been impatiently awaiting a slick and inexpensive solution to the TV/media center most of us have (and though we’ve just switched to HD broadcasting channels, I think TV will be delivered exclusively over the internet someday). I want my TV set to be connected to the internet so that I can stream video directly to it. I want my TV to have a hard drive to which I can save kids videos, our movies, any games, Tivo-ed programming, etc. And I want all of this to also be available on all my other mobile devices.

Out with all the crappy, bulky VHS taps (yes, we still have them), and out with all the scratched up, skipping, messy kids DVDs. I long for the day when they are all on a hard drive, backed up safely on server farms, and accessible on the TV and/or on any computer in our network. I did recently read about a device available now (the Slingbox- thanks, Julius) that can take any programming from your home (i.e. TV broadcasts, Tivo, even a DVD in the tray), and allow you to watch it over the internet while you are travelling. We’re getting pieces of it, it just isn’t all being integrated yet.

Mobile devices are the other front in an internet connected life. Many of us already have these amazing and powerful hand held computers. iPhones, Blackberries, and Palm Treos have become indispensible tools that allow users a dizzying level of connectedness. But I think that devices such as these are still in their infancy, and I’m looking for a more grown up, crossover device.

This morning I got a message from my sister-in-law about a touch screen Recipe Reader for the kitchen that comes loaded with 250 recipes and allows a user to store as many as 2500 more. It can be synced to the Key Ingredient website with a USB cord to a PC. And aye, there’s the rub. One of two actually.  

First, in the age of the internet and ubiquitous wireless access, this Recipe Reader should (and will in the near future, I am certain) be internet enabled. A user will be able to search the internet right there between your KitchenAid and your Viking stove. Maybe you’ll be able to scan in your grocery store receipt (scan a paper receipt? Maybe you’ll just wirelessly sync your mobile device to the store’s checkout counter and no paper receipt will be printed) and your Recipe Reader will automatically generate a list of dishes that are in keeping with the kinds of dishes you typically cook and the ingredients you have in the pantry. Wow.

And second, why do we need a redundant electronic internet device? We already have internet connected computers. Of course, you don’t want your laptop to get dusted with flour and spilled with oil[1], I understand that, but there still has to be a middle way.

This is the same argument I have against the new e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. I really want one of these, but I’m holding out because I just don’t think they are ready yet. Though these e-readers are internet connected at all times, I just think my laptop computer (or my smart phone) should be able to do everything an e-reader does. And so I’m waiting.

I haven’t submitted to the siren song of a smart phone yet either. I know that when I do, it will be a constant companion like my keys or my wallet. I’ll never leave home without it. I know it will be powerful and useful and change the way I do things, but I already have a very portable and very powerful (though somewhat bulky) laptop that I carry much of the time.

My brother (and father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and other brother-in-law) has an iPhone, and I am sufficiently impressed and completely jealous. One of the factors that has kept me from acquiring one of my own has been the fact that I already have a laptop, and I don’t want to carry both it and a smart phone. It is an inconvenient and expensive redundancy. I want a device that is the integration of both the laptop and the smartphone. One device, a constant companion, that would allow the user to do everything that can be done on either device. I wonder if Apple is getting there, but more on that in a second.

In the (near) future, the PC style computer tower will be considered a dinosaur, relics of an embarrassingly rudimentary era of computers like those early machines that took up an entire room. They will be replaced by mobile devices that will be our phone, our computer, our GPS, our camera, our notebook, our e-reader, our everything.

Imagine a 10” iPhone that has all of the capacity and ability of the most robust laptop, that also doubles as an e-reader and (among other things) a Recipe Reader. It would be the ultimate smart phone with movies, music, TV, your user generate content like pictures and home movies, all documents, checkbook, internet browser, email, organizer, and the list goes on. It would be the ultimate couch surfer[2]. This is what I am hoping the new Apple tablet will be. Whether or not the new Apple tablet is all of these things in it's first draft, it is certain to be so freakin' cool. You gotta check this thing out.

At home and at the office, perhaps you will have a large screen or a projector and a keyboard where you can dock your mobile device, but your mobile device will be as large or larger (in the hard drive department) and as or more powerful than any desktop computer we currently enjoy.

Come on, future.

[1] I had a dream recently that Sarah somehow spilled a copious amount of cooking oil on my new laptop computer. I immediately grabbed it and turned it upside down to let all of the oil drain from the keyboard, but as I held it there, upside down, and watched the viscous oil drain slowly and run down the length of the keyboard, I knew my efforts were futile and this computer was toast. And then I began the inner debate: can I really afford another new computer? Can I really resolve to just be without one, go computer-less after coming to depend on one to completely and continuously? It was a real nightmare.

[2] Do you do this? The majority of my and Stephanie’s idle evening TV watching time is accompanied by the internet. We can look up everything from the name of an actress and what other movies she’s been in to the layout and photos of the West Wing residence. We can Google anything, it’s the ultimate information finder, and argument resolver, and I don’t know what we’d do without it. Now if we could only get it to turn the heat up a little bit. 

Posted on Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 02:03PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

I still find it necessary to have a laptop in addition to my iPhone for multiple reasons. First, I gotta admit, this keyboard SUCKS (I am typing this on my iPhone). It takes twice as long to type on here as on a full keyboard. So blogging, long emails, papers, etc...are not fun to type of iPhone. Second, photo storage and viewing. I only have 8GB so there is not enough space to store all those photos (I have them on laptop,but also back up). And viewing is great on iPhone, but sometimes you just want things a little bigger. Third, even connected to a wifi, the laptop is still faster than iPhone. And it is easier to see a whole page and find what you are looking for.

Now, don't get me wrong...I don't think I could live without my iPhone now!!! It is by far, the coolest, most innovative phone I have ever had. (and I loved my blackberry)
November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMel
All of Mel's point are also mine. However, with the built in camera, internet access (Edge, 3G or wifi when available), GPS, phone, sound recorder, iPod, and other goodies, I think that the need to take a laptop everywhere is not as urgent, except on longer trips.

Laptop is definitely needed when you need to upload pictures and do more srious computing work. For iPhone, last month I downloaded PhotoShop mobile, so I can even do some photo editing. But as it is you don't need to carry a camera, iPod, GPS, (and laptop) and phone separately for daily use.
November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad
BTW, the video boradcaster over the internet is called SlingBox.
November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad
Oh, yeah...and iPhone needs to add flash and zoom as standard on it! :)
November 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMel
Right, but both of you are talking about that iPhone you have in your pocket, which is nothing but OLD technology. I'm imagining a future fourth generation tablet that is faster, more powerful, and with more storage space than my laptop, with an 8x10 hi res. screen. The only point I'll sorta concede is regarding the keyboard, which would be bigger on a bigger screen, but yes you would want to pair it with a blue tooth keyboard when entering more than a little text.
November 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterBrian Rozell
While I do have a blackberry that has changed the way I do things somewhat, we don't surf the internet while watching tv. although aobut 5 times this week, I've wanted to google one of the bands on Noggin to see if they sell their CDs..Lori Berkner band?. Our desktop (gasp, relic of relics) is in a different room than the TV, maybe this has something to do with it. By the time I get there, get it booted up, I forget what I went to search for. Move went well. E. and A are now sharing a bedroom!
November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarissa

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