The piece of computer hardware that I would most like to buy right now is a 30″ touch screen computer monitor. I find it difficult to use the mouse while walking on a treadmill desk. Lifting up a hand to press a link on the screen would work well, I think, and I believe that Windows 7 already includes support for a touch screen. I’ve grown accustomed to the Dell 30″ monitor on my desktop. It cost about $1300 back in 2006. Surely an innovative industry would have the same thing now, for about the same price, but with touch sensitivity. A quick look at the Dell site reveals that thanks to four years of innovation by engineers, hard work by Americans to boost the value of our currency, and the manufacturing learning curve… a slightly improved version of my monitor is selling for $1700. It is not touch-sensitive.
How come I can’t buy at least a 24″ touch-sensitive monitor to plug into a standard PC? The technology has been around since the 1960s (Wikipedia) and was widely available in the 1980s.
Separately, Apple has announced its latest contribution to the touch-screen world. I’m more enthusiastic about the iPad than I was about the iPhone (my ideal phone would be a flip-phone with a real keyboard). If they deliver on the 10-hour battery life it could be a nice electronic book reader, though not a perfect substitute for a Kindle, which can be taken on a one-week trip without a charger. An on-screen keyboard should work reasonably well on the iPad’s 9″ screen. The fact that Apple is mass-producing the iPad should make it a good value.
Things that I like about the iPad:
- reasonably large screen size; computers have gotten orders of magnitude more powerful since 1976 when I started programming, but the screens have not grown much
- dedicated volume up/down buttons; I have never liked the traditional iPods because it is possible to get them into a user interface state from which it requires numerous twists and clicks to get back to a state in which it is possible to adjust the volume
- presumably fairly rugged (the iPhones seem to survive a lot of abuse anyway)
How would a family use it? Maybe park it on a bookshelf as a digital photo frame and for charging. Take it out of the stand for use as a book or magazine reader. Use it to adjust a Sonos music system (though for most people, probably the iPad will be the music system, docked into a stand that includes speakers). Hand it to a child who wants to watch a TV program that nobody else wants to watch. Take it into the car for back seat entertainment.
I haven’t quite figured out why the iPad is useful for business. Most people with desk jobs already have a laptop computer with full keyboard. The iPad is a little too big to be carried around by people who actually work for a living (i.e., it can’t replace the handheld computers used by UPS drivers and its screen would become unreadable if used by a mechanic with greasy hands).
When you see a product like this you realize why the car industry is in so much trouble. I am considering becoming a recidivist minivan owner. I priced a Toyota Sienna the other day, the only minivan that comes with AWD for our hellish driveway and which has been supposedly completely redesigned for “2011”. One might have expected the kind of radical re-thinking of the dashboard that Tata did for the Nano (on track to sell 100,000 cars by March), but no. The tachometer is right in front of the driver, hogging real estate. When was the last time a minivan driver wondered whether the engine was turning 1800 rpm or 2500 rpm? The navigation screen is way off to the right and lower, necessitating a much longer diversion of the driver’s eyes from the road.
Since electronics have gotten ridiculously cheap, did Toyota throw them all in as standard? Let’s consider what we’re talking about here: a Bluetooth speakerphone ($50?), a GPS ($100), and a back seat DVD player ($150). In fact, none of these are standard. You can buy these $300 of electronics in a bundle for $6000 (which will really sting a few years down the road when DVDs have gone extinct in favor of digital files and Blu-Ray). Does the car offer a “keep my dog cool” mode that runs the existing fans when parked? No. Does the car offer a “call me if I’ve left a baby in the car” mode that uses the existing microphones, alarm, and temperature sensors to detect that someone is in a parked car while the temperature is climbing? No. [This article explains that the nanny state required parents to move kids to the back seat to save them from the big bad airbag (a previous mandate from the government). Due to consumers not exhibiting the perfect memories that government bureaucrats depended on, now “vehicle-related heat deaths far outnumber fatalities caused by airbag injuries” (car ride tends to put baby to sleep; parent forgets that out-of-sight baby is in the car).]
My neighbor sold an older Chrysler minivan in perfect condition for $2000. Someone who bought his minivan could buy a Motorola Droid phone ($2000 over three years, including service), a car dock ($30), and enjoy a far superior GPS experience from Google Maps (which includes free traffic information; with the Toyota system you have to pay for a subscription). Then he could add two Apple iPads for the kids to use in the back ($1000). He wouldn’t need the bluetooth speakerphone because the Droid already is a speakerphone. So… for the price of just the basic electronics options in the Toyota, a consumer could have a minivan, free phone service, and $1000 left over.
Is it any wonder that car sales in the U.S. are stagnant?