When Less Isn’t More – We Need Better Batteries

April 28th, 2010 |
More, more, more. In the tech world, who doesn’t want more megahertz in their CPUs? Faster and more powerful GPUs for the increasing demand of high definition video from 1080p. Moore’s Law states that every two years the number of transistors on a circuit board can be doubled. Thus, this is the reason why the iPhones or BlackBerry’s in our pocket are nearly as powerful as a computer I purchased ten years ago. The silicon is shrinking and the hardware is getting stronger.

There’s only one problem – the battery. Batteries haven’t improved as fast as the rest of the computing world. In fact, why the hell are we still using Duracells and Energizers? AA batteries should be obsolete by now. There shouldn’t be a single digital camera on the market that has a battery that can’t last through a days worth of picture taking. No buts. End of story. It’s two-oh-freaking-ten. Designers, get with the times, please!

When Apple revealed their iPhone back in 2007 sporting an internal non-replaceable battery, the world cried foul. Then look what happened. Oh right, no one is whining about it anymore (except for all those Nokia fanboys). The rate at which our gadgets are used to their fullest potential and then disposed is so rapid today that it doesn’t matter. I don’t know a single person who owns an iPhone and has used it to its max for two years and has needed to get the battery replaced – they are still holding charges and bobbing along.

Asutek (Asus) struck on something interesting back when it introduced the first eeePC and practically opened the floodgates to the Netbook category. Their batteries, at the time, sucked. The original 7″ eeePC ran a variant of the open source OS, Linux, and while it was supposed to be the stepping stone to the future, the OS never caught on. Unlike Windows XP, Linux is so un-bloated that a 3-cell battery lasted quite a long time back in the day. We all know what happened to Linux. Consumers demanded Windows XP, and they got it for another couple years until Microsoft shipped Windows 7. Once everyone made the jump to Windows again on their little Netbooks, people demanded more battery. The 3-cell could no longer cut it. We needed 6, 9, and even 12-cell batteries. As the batteries expanded, the slimness of Netbooks became chunky. The Netbook of today is hardly what you would consider ultraportable. At best, a good Netbook is expected to be able to handle a day’s worth of web browsing, because let’s face it, no one wants to be lugging around an AC adapter at all. Lesson: If you’re going to do Linux, make it a competitor to Windows. I’m willing to bet Google’s extremely feather light Chrome OS will be able to jump start what Asus, HP, and many other companies have failed at.

If you asked me which Atom processor is the best for a Netbook, I’d probably have to spend a bit of time on Google. I’ve lost track of all the Intel Atom versions (now there’s dual core Atoms?). The most important thing when considering any mobile device is now, of course, the battery.

With almost every Android phone packing a 1Ghz Snapdragon processsor or iPads with their A4’s and Netbooks with their Atoms, the processor is no longer the cherry on top. Finding a computer that fits your needs, looks good, and has incredible battery life is no easy feat.
One of the companies that have been innovating and putting a larger chunk of R&D into getting more juice out of the old Lithium is none other than Cupertino’s Apple, Inc. Apple may get a lot of attention for their shiny new gadgets from their iPods, iPads, and iPhones, but no one can complain that the batteries that power Apple’s latest gadgets are anything but spectacular. Read the rest of this entry »
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Raymond Wong

The Invasion of Social/Casual Gaming

March 15th, 2010 |

Prior to 2006, video games were for the hardcore. Xboxes, PlayStations, and Gamecubes separated the boys from the men. If you didn’t invest in learning button control schemes and combos, you couldn’t rumble with the best players in Soul Calibur II, Halo, or even Mario.

When the Wii launched in fall 2006, Nintendo redefined the definition of video games, shifting it from being a dominantly hardcore subculture to one that is for the true masses. Games that weren’t “games” in the traditional sense such as Nintendogs and Brain Training proved that casual gaming was on the rise. Since last year, Nintendogs has sold 21.67 million copies worldwide and Brain Age has sold 17.41 million copies worldwide. Those aren’t small figures. It used to be that only Mario or Sonic could reach those numbers, but now casual games can, too – because there is demand.

Our lives are becoming increasingly connected to technology, and leisure time is spent almost entirely on the computer browsing the web for the next funny YouTube video. Who has time for video games anymore? Especially to invest 40+ hours in a JRPG? Not many. People today have short attention spans, no doubt thanks to the Internet. We get our information from Twitter in 140 characters or less, from our friends on Facebook, and from tabloid-style newspapers such as the Metro that are given out free but offer no more than a paragraph or two on any given news report. This is the world we live in, and that is the world for which what game engineers need to develop.

A virtual meal in Restaurant City

Take FarmVille, a farm simulation game created by Zynga, on Facebook. Launched in June 2009, FarmVille seems to be unstoppable, boasting a community of over 82.7 million active users since of last February, smashing through every available person’s free time. It’s impossible to be on Facebook and not know at least one person who isn’t harvesting some kind of crop, earning virtual coins, purchasing animals, and expanding their farm plot. Facebook users aren’t playing FarmVille for hours on end. Gaming is often broken down in chunks. Water this, plant that, then come and check on how it’s going in a few minutes or hours. Read the rest of this entry »

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Raymond Wong

No One Cares If You’re a Mac or a PC (and the Ads Must Die)

March 2nd, 2010 |

No one cares if you’re a Mac or a PC. There is no such thing as being a Mac or being a PC, and anyone who says otherwise is a complete fanboy who needs to grow up and realize that we live in a world where the work that we do is more important than what we do that work on. Computers are computers, whether it has a glowing Apple on its back or not. No one cares, just like an idiot is still an idiot whether they’re rich or poor.

Yes, I’m typing this out on a Mac, but that’s because it’s my primary computer at the moment. However, I could just as easily get a PC and do the same thing.

Owning a “premium” computer that costs nearly double that of a PC will not make you produce better content. I’ve been using my MacBook for almost three years and after switching to Mac, I was convinced that I did better work on Apple’s computers. For the last few years, I’ve deluded myself into thinking, because of my affiliation with the Mac, that I was superior to all my friends who were banging out on their ugly Dells and HPs. How wrong I have been and I am glad that I’ve realized it before it’s too late. My work flow may have improved significantly because of OS X’s more manageable interface, but it doesn’t mean I’ve produced better material.

Some people will say that a beautiful piece of hardware inspires them to create wonderful content and, for a short bit of time, I bought that bullshit too. I was so high from drinking Apple’s Kool-Aid that I completely forgot that I once wrote great articles on a PC (a lousy one at that, a Windows ME).

Apple’s “Get a Mac” commercials with their infamous “Hello, I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC” slogan, starring Justin Long and John Hodgman, would like you to think otherwise. Their iconic commercials have been airing since 2006 and have done nothing but fan the flames between Mac and PC users. Often witty and humorous, Cupertino’s ad agency has really created a cult following through these commercials. It’s not pretty. Read the rest of this entry »

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Raymond Wong