30 Sep

PC Makers Hit Speed Bumps; Being Faster May Not Matter

NYT:

"But computers have reached a point where for the most common home purposes – Web surfing, e-mail and word processing – they are already more than fast enough to suit a typical home user’s needs. […] Computer and chip manufacturers have long used advances in speed as a central point to sell new computers. To be sure, such marketing will still appeal to people who edit video or process complex photographic images, for example, or make calculations with large masses of data, or play video games on the PC. They still see big benefits when they upgrade to faster chips for their processor-intensive tasks."

We just need more software to drive hardware upgrades. I’m currently editing some footage with Adobe Premiere. Why do I need to manually type what’s being said to get a written transcript of the video or add subtitles? This should be done automatically during the acquisition/logging process. Software is still too oblivious to the data it manipulates. Why do I need to tell Winamp about the beat in the tracks it plays back? Come on Winamp, can’t you hear the beat and tap your feet[*]? Even basic stuff such as multi-tasking can improve: Premiere stops playing back video if it’s not the foreground app, say when I switch back to Word to type the text I’m listening to.
This industry should celebrate that we don’t need to keep upgrading and changing our PCs incessantly anymore just to do the most basic things. It took two decades, but now the typewriter doesn’t fall apart while you type. Good news, your product is less and less a synonym with painful hassle. It’s time to move on to new applications, and convince more people to use them. It took a while to turn people into TV couch potatoes; getting the masses to actually produce content is not going to happen overnight either. How many people draw, play musical instruments or practice a sport assiduously? The "digital revolution" will be behavioral as much as technical or won’t happen at all.
And these new apps belong on the PC. Using the XBox as a counter example is as ludicrous as saying that laptops would kill desktops (as Toshiba claimed a decade ago.) The XBox is just a stripped-down PC proprietary subset that ships without some of the traditional devices and peripherals. Anyway, if current PCs have CPU power to spare, it’s probably because they don’t empower users enough. A powerful engine a sports car doesn’t make. You need to transfer that energy to the wheels and keep the vehicle drivable.
[*] Update: some software such as AtomixMP3 does beat recognition, though what I just tested didn’t work so well (the beat it reported kept changing, though the real tempo didn’t.) Anyway my point is that we have too much hand-holding to do with software even to get menial tasks done.

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