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Brett Nordquist (Customer Experience Engineer)

The Digital Ecosystem

Written on January 23, 2013 by Brett Nordquist

For many years my computing universe orbited around my Windows PC. For instance, the first time I searched Google, updated my status on Facebook or replied to an email I was using a PC.

But that's not the case for many kids today where their first interaction with a computer is an iPod Touch, tablet or smartphone. Their computing universe resides on a small touch screen, and is dominated by apps. My world recently clashed with that of my 11-year old daughter when I asked for her email address and she replied that nobody emails anymore.

Of course people still email, but they are just as likely to use a tablet or smartphone as a PC today.

I've been thinking about how my PC fits into this new world full of devices of all shapes and sizes. Certainly I don't rely on my PC as the only device to access the internet anymore, but it's without a doubt the primary device I turn to when I need to create something that's not going on Twitter or Facebook.  But I also enjoy working on my tablet and my smartphone is with me all the time, filling in as my portable PC when I'm out and about.

A number of products and services have made it easy to jump between any of our devices, and I'd like to share a few of my favorites. 

Dropbox - I have already written about my fondness for Dropbox. In short, it syncs files among multiple devices making it easy to access any document anytime and anywhere. It's the first product I download to a new PC, tablet or smartphone.

Google Docs - There are other Microsoft Office alternatives out there, but this is the one that's integrated with GMail and my Calendar. The sharing features alone are enough to keep me from looking elsewhere.

Air Video - Is a client server app that allows every phone, tablet and iPod in our home to access video that's stored on my Windows 8 PC. Totally simple to configure too. Just point it at the directory of videos you wan to share and you're done.

Spotify - It's hard to imagine music before Spotify. For $10/month Spotify gives you access to a huge library of over 20 million songs from all major music labels. After using Spotify for a week, the idea of managing a local music collection sounds laborious.

Instapaper - Ever browse across an article you want to read, but don't have time? Instapaper will save the article so you can read it later on the web, iOS device or Amazon Kindle. You'll always have something to read, when and where you want. It even optimizes the text and format based on the device you're using.

At Puget Systems, we understand that the PCs that we provide are increasingly part of a greater digital ecosystem in the home and office.  We are working to understand how we can provide a product that better integrates and enhances your experiences with your other devices. 

What programs or services or apps have you found that increase the integration among all these devices?

Tags: Windows, Dropbox, iPad, iOS, Google Docs, Air Video, Spotify, Instapaper

I use Evernote (http://evernote.com) for keeping notes and lists across devices.  I can take notes on my phone during meetings, and have them all ready to go on my PC when I get back to my desk.

Posted on 2013-01-24 02:25:14
Peter Trevor

My wonderful Serenity PC is still the
centre of my electronic universe, but for iPad integration I use AV Player HD
(allows me to copy an AVI or MP4 to my iPad and play it when I’m on the road
(otherwise I use Air Video)) and St@sh (which allows me to organise my pics and
pdfs into separate projects, each with its own directory structure).  However, I’m about to replace the iPad with
an MS Surface Pro ... which will have somewhat different integration issues and

Meanwhile just as ‘Air Video’ allows me to
stream movies to my iPad, ‘PS3 Media Server’ (and my PlayStation3) allows me to
stream movies to the big TV in my living room.

Posted on 2013-01-24 04:09:49

Peter, I haven't heard of AV Player HD till you mentioned it, but I'm going to try it. Being able to store a video now and then on my iPad would be very helpful. Thank you for the recommendation! 

Posted on 2013-01-24 17:47:12

Evernote, Dropbox, Orchestra, Pocket and my Synology NAS boxes (can be Timemachine backups, iTunes servers, Air Play servers, Windows 8 backups, cloud storage, Surveillance camera DVRs, etc.) We are a Windows 8, iPad/iPhone, Xbox house now and it all works pretty well together.

Posted on 2013-01-24 06:44:08

Aaron, I thought Orchestra was a competitor to Evernote. How do they differ and how do you use each of them?

Posted on 2013-01-24 17:49:05

The guidance I have given over my career to partners in the hardware space is that, as PC functionality became commoditized, the only way to sustain and grow the PC business was to focus on making the hero scenarios that traditionally only PC enthusiasts can do, more accessible to the mainstream.  Evolve or die. 

A painfully obvious step was to do more to combine home construction and remodeling with technology, in ways that are typically seen as reserved for the ultra rich or ultra geeky, like Bill Gates.  Every home started to be equipped with CAT5 cabling, but they should have taken the next step that every home was equipped with a NAS or a media distribution server.  LCD panels embedded behind mirrors to grab the news or answer a call while you were brushing your teeth.  Projectors displaying recipes and household scheduling information on every surface in the kitchen.  Along with your house keys, you would get a USB key with the software needed to immediately pair all of your computers with the central storage in the house (a cost which incidentally could be amortized in with the rest of your mortgage, just like refrigerators, garbage disposals, and dishwashers). 

One of the next, obvious scenarios was multi-mon.  Multi-mon is still something that the average PC user has not seen, much less grown to depend upon for productivity or entertainment in the home, yet it remains an almost exclusively commercial scenario despite the improved affordability of additional screens.  (and gross normalization of all screens to 1080p).  Oddly enough, multi-mon is one of the few scenarios that none of the smaller devices can do well as it requires harmony between an operating system, hardware, and applications to understand the paradigm. 

Another area was home automation.  Having an intelligent brain at the center of the digital home, hosting content and services to power smaller devices on the network is still the stuff of science fiction to most homeowners.  Why?  It's so easy to build, but we have not made it easy or affordable enough to become pervasive.  Yet, it's just another perfect role for the old PC that we have failed to exploit.

Yet another untapped resource is local cloud or distributed grid computing.  The notion that adding one compute-capable device after another to your network created a living fabric of interconnected computing power, to grow the experiences which software was able to deliver beyond what a single box could ever achieve. 

These are just 3 simple examples of roles that none of the next generation of devices is very well suited to fill compared to the PC.  It's a poor argument that people don't know how these things work or that there are no workloads to exploit them.  We did not, as an industry, make a concerted enough effort to move people towards the sci-fi visions of the future filled with panels of high resolution, touch screen monitors covering walls, appliances, and textiles - powered wirelessly - and wrapping our lives in a beautiful, customized, digitized environment. 

We made excuses that these were not mainstream scenarios, yet broad consensus and reaction to Hollywood style visions of technology in the home was "when we will have that?"  We moved too slow, too cheap, too greedily, and too lazily in the wrong direction.  We could have made a world where these lightweight devices played the roles they do now, but became infinitely more powerful when docked with the digital home.  Maybe it's not too late, but I fear we are breeding a generation of technodummies who won't appreciate or care at all for what could have been.

Posted on 2013-01-24 08:49:29
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