Smaller, lighter, smaller, lighter — the constant mantra of the computer industry, driven by consumer demand for less bulk and less weight.
Laptops get thinner (even at the expense of no built-in DVD drive). Small form-factor desktops get tinier. Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing) units pack a full computer into a four-inch-square by two-inch-high box with room for a hard drive, multiple video and USB ports, Bluetooth and built-in networking.
They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, as they do require some degree of hobbyist skills; and they’re not really cheap, but they make great add-ons to TVs for video gaming and media centers, or dedicated workstations.
But this all pales with the latest and greatest innovation (due out in late May) from Intel: the Compute Stick.
The Compute Stick is 4-inch x 1.5-inch x 1/2-inch thick and weighs less than 2 ounces. It plugs into the HDMI port on your monitor or TV. It has 2 gigabytes (GB) of RAM, 32GB of flash memory, built-in graphics and sound, a USB port, a slot for a microSD memory card, built-in wireless and Bluetooth capability, and — most importantly — Windows 8.1.
And it costs $150. We’re talking impulse buy here.
If you’re still convinced that Linux will someday conquer the evil world of Microsoft Systems, you can get a slightly lower-powered version with built-in Ubuntu Linux for $110.
What Does It Do?
So how is this different from the streaming media players, such as Amazon’s Fire Stick, which goes for $39 with remote included? Or Google Chromecast or Roku?
Well, it’s an actual computer. With a wireless Bluetooth or USB keyboard and mouse, you can do pretty much anything you do on your laptop. And this includes streaming content directly from web sites, rather than being limited to the services and games that have been negotiated by Amazon, et al., for their sticks.
The main processor, let’s face it, is not going to have anything like the power of a good laptop. But reviews note that the graphics are consistently good and videos don’t stutter, which are both important for consumer satisfaction.
For extra storage, there are the microSD cards (less than $23 for 64GB, on sale), or plug a flash drive in the USB port. And you can access DropBox or Microsoft’s OneDrive for cloud storage using the wireless network.
I can’t wait to get one. I expect a bunch of even better ideas of what to do with them will emerge once they are available and people’s creativity kicks in. At $150, you certainly can play with this without regret.
Gone, Hopefully Forgotten
So, have you seen Google Glass lately? They were cool and everywhere in tech intensive areas, like Silicone Valley, in 2012, but have largely disappeared. I only saw one in Columbia, at a tech breakfast meeting. So what happened?
First off, they looked ridiculous. You had a little screen hanging in front of one eye, marking you as geek supreme. The new toys resulted in the term “Glasshole” being coined. However, it was more social pressure that killed them.
They immediately told you that the person wearing them could tune you out instantly and may already have done so. Talk about distractions. But more importantly, you never could tell if the wearer was recording your conversation. Some people in the industry refused to talk with anyone wearing one, lest a private conversation be streamed out to the web immediately. They were barred in bars, movie theaters and casinos.
With all the revelations of smartphones tracking our movements and NSA reading our e-mails, it probably was the last straw. There were even incidents of people having their glasses ripped off their faces and shattered. Even geeks respond to that kind of abuse.
So, is Glass dead? Probably not, as new patents on eye-tracking features have recently been issued to Google. But I doubt if anyone will be spending $1,500, as they once did, to become “Google Pioneers.”
Speaking of Useless
Amazon has come out with Amazon Dash buttons. These are small, wireless-enabled sticks, about the size of a thumb drive, that are tied to a particular product. You get, for instance, a Tide button that you can stick on your washing machine. Push it, and it orders Tide from Amazon, for Prime members.
They look like Hell, covered with product logos, and invite visitors and small children to push it again and again to see if it actually dispenses Tide (it does not).
This could possibly be the greatest example of technology without a purpose that has been invented. Do you never go to a store? Do you never change which kind of Tide you use or perhaps try a different brand? Is writing a shopping list just too much time and effort?
About a year ago, Amazon experimented with a hand-held wand that read product bar codes and added items to their shopping service that was in testing in Seattle and San Francisco. Apparently that fizzled.
We can only hope that “Dash” buttons get dashed as well.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing and does PC troubleshooting, network setups and data retrieval, when not wondering what next useless technology will emerge. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Older columns are available at http://feldwick.com.