Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Disparity in Broadband

The Great Divide

It's semi-well publicized that there's a decently large disconnect between the speed of the Internet in America versus many other countries. No one ever talks about why this is though. After all, the average speed here is 5.2 Mbps - the problem is that it can get up to 16.7 Mbps in Japan. Some people ask why something like that matters. After all, do we really do anything online that really takes advantage of speeds that fast? Do we need it? The answer is: yes! We do need it! We're in a global economy where the U.S. is increasingly becoming known as a service economy, so be able to provide services online is a big win for us. How can we stay competitive with Japan though when its citizens can access the Internet at more than triple our speeds? Granted, checking e-mail doesn't require speeds that fast, but rich content does - like TV shows and movies. Let's face it, people are getting tired of bowing down to their cable television providers and going to the movie rental store - they'd much rather curl up on their couch with loved ones after a hard day of work and enjoy their multimedia without having to pay through the nose for it. I'm disappointed by the amount of HD content legally available on the Web, and part of the problem is that there's no point distributing media no one can reasonable consume on their Internet speeds. Also, when it comes to moving applications to the clouds so we can have lighter computers, the tradeoff will come in the bandwidth these sites require.

However, some people spit out numbers on how we're behind without qualifying it. You may see 20 Mbps in some European countries not because they've really got it together (though they aren't doing a bad job), but because these are in densely populated areas. Given how big the U.S. is and how far spread out our urban centers are, we can't take advantage of geographical size like to build great infrastructure for cheap. I still argue that the telcos are hording money, but to their credit it's just not as easy here as it is in like South Korea where a lot of people live in crowded apartment complexes. And they lie less than in other countries where Internet providers sometimes put usage caps in fine print and overstate average speeds that are really the max speeds (which can be a fairly sizable difference, at times).

It's just good to put all this stuff in perspective. The point is that we'll never know what we can do with everyone on super fast broadband if we don't strive for it, but we shouldn't be discouraged by reports that we're lagging behind the world. It's easier said than done, but we do need to work towards it and annoy our telcos into building up the infrastructure we so direly need to stay competitive.

The New Shuffle

There was a skit on SNL a long time ago mocking how each iPod gets smaller and smaller, and I can't believe that it predicted correctly the ridiculous race to have the smallest mp3 player. Presenting the iPod Shuffle 3G:

In choosing between the pill and the new Shuffle, you may be better off with the former. I was actually very fascinated in it at first, but the more I read about it the more I thought it was totally useless. It's cool that it has playlists now and it announces songs so that you don't have to guess anymore, but not having any buttons on it is kind of ridiculous to me. How do you control it without buttons? You have to use their crufty earbuds with the 3-button controller on the cord. So you have to memorize how to press keys in certain combinations to do things - although it is fairly easy to change the volume. What astounds me though is that this is a product that a lot of people use for working out, and it's totally un-usable for that purpose now. Using earbuds while you're jogging or upside down would probably be aggravating, and even worse would be the awkwardness of controlling it by reaching to your cord rather than a quick press on your arm. Supposedly, there will be an adapter for other headphones later on, but it should come with that in the box, to be honest. Also, I question how sturdy that clip is since it's smaller and probably more easy now to lose/break.

I'll give them credit for keeping it cheap though: $80 for 4GB isn't too shabby and it would make it ideal for listening to audio books or podcasts on the go right from your pocket - which probably has a bunch of other stuff in it because of how small this thing is. Still, I'm not really impressed.

Let me jump into two other Apple stories real quick. They've ordered 10-inch touchscreens for a mysterious product that some speculate will be announced this week. I don't like commenting on these Apple rumors, but this is fairly reliable and it could indicate a netbook, a tablet (very long rumored), a Kindle competitor (unlikely, in my opinion), or just simple a mobile Internet-enabled multimedia device focused on video since the iPhone screen is a bit small. Also interesting is their patent for a magic wand to interact with Apple TV almost the way you would use a Wiimote. I actually really would be interested in seeing something like this because I was just thinking recently about how antiquated our current remotes are and incapable for effectively typing on-screen or interacting with pictures and such.

Windows Lessons and IE's Final Release

Infoworld has an article up I really liked about lesson that Microsoft learned from Vista in creating Windows 7. The main lessons learned were that they were building for hardware that was too advanced, they didn't have enough support from hardware manufacturers for drivers early enough, the feature set changed multiple times in the product cycle, and it was released before its ready. It's already apparent that almost all of these things, and more, have been corrected for in creating Windows 7.

One thing I like that they're adding in Windows 7 is the ability to disable Media Center, Media Player, Search, and several other things. Being able to pare down your system to what you need is a great feature and something I think Vista could've benefited from.

There are strong rumors that IE8 will be the last iteration of Internet Explorer, at least the last iteration based on its current engine. Some are saying that Microsoft will be moving on to Webkit and others say Microsoft will move to a brand new engine. I'm guessing (and kind of hoping for) the latter. I think Microsoft has seen IE decay for a while and knows it needs a better approach. Webkit doesn't seem their style, I think they have an ace in the hole. I would definitely not be surprised though to hear an official announcement that IE8 will be the last IE.

The Rest

To be brutally honest, I'm exhausted (I was on call last week through this terrible morning) and I've been talking to friend about personal stuff so I'm going to have to run through these last items quickly so I can get at least 6 hours of sleep in tonight.

CNet has a really good roundup of alternatives to paying your cable bill, like a Roku box or an Xbox 360. It's pretty evenhanded and a great read. Of course, I'm going to support the TiVo, but they're all actually pretty decent options, depending on what's most important to you.

Jon Stewart has done an awesome job of going at the throats of CNBC for not being more proactive in helping Americans understand handling their finances and AppleInsider has an excellent article about it (including the uncut source videos) and Cramer's potentially illegal market manipulation when it comes to Apple stock. It's pretty shocking stuff and I'd say a must-read/see.

Sirius XM is planning to stream to the iPhone. The company is still in dire straights, but it's pretty much the last thing they can try to save themselves.

Palm is selling stock to try to raise funds so they can squeeze out the release of the Pre - a Hail Mary play in their prolonged fall from the top. Those investors will either be really lucky or get screwed if the Pre flops - it ought to be a pretty risky investment.

I'm really sorry that I couldn't talk more about Joel Spolsky's amazing article about what Program Managers do. I think it's a fantastic explanation of why they're important and what they're responsible for. Having worked with a great TPM at Amazon, I fully agree with what he says and how important they are.

Circuit City is done. They really shouldn't have swapped out their good sales people for minimum wage high school students. I don't have a whole lot of sympathy for them because they simply didn't offer a good customer experience.

Facebook has gotten yet another facelift, and people are getting peeved, per usual with Facebook changes. I don't understand why they don't give users the option to choose the layout they want - if they designed it properly they would've had that in mind from day one of creating a major facelift.

If you wonder what cameras will focus on now that the megapixel race is largely moot, Ars Technica has a pretty good explanation of the features you'll want to pay more attention to now.

How did Jimmy Fallon get The Roots to be his house band? Anyway, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht were on last week, and I'm interested to see how Fallon's attempt to bring technology and video games into late night will pan out. He's basically try to take what G4 does and bring it to national television, and I think that'll be a pretty big challenge.

These are some super cool bus ads.

If you're wondering what's getting the most viewership on Hulu, check this out. It's funny how much better Dr. Horrible did than established television franchises.

Have a good week, everyone! If you're in Seattle: stay dry! It looks like it'll be a wet week, I'm afraid.


Vicki said...

when I got the email from Apple about their new Shuffles, I took a look at it and was floored by the size, but I agree- I really don't like that all the controls are on the headphones line, because that would DEFINITELY lead to me yanking out my headphone buds from my ears ALL the time while I run.

I own two 1gig shuffles [the generation right before this one, with the metallic colors], and I LOVE running with them.

love your tech savvy blogs Elton :)

Elton said...

I had the 1st gen Shuffle and only liked it because it was my first mp3 player ever (aside from the Diamond Rio, which was my brother's and sucked). The Shuffle irritated me because the armband sucked so it broke pretty easily, but the second one seemed to be better and less crashy (assuming the clip is sturdy), so I totally think think this is a step backward from the 2nd gen.

Glad I have some people still reading regularly/semi-regularly :) Thanks for stopping by!