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Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered a method of converting magnetic data into optical data for free, without external electricity. This is a very big step towards flexible, cheap, throwaway plastic computers, which are gaining in popularity due to society’s recent shift towards mobile computing and “quantified self” activity monitors.
Plastic computers are fundamentally very similar to normal, metal computers — but instead of being fabricated out of wafers of silicon, plastic computers consist of organic semiconductors (polymers) that are laid down on a flexible, plastic substrate, creating organic field-effect transistors (OFETs). These OFETs don’t have the same performance characteristics as silicon, but they’re good enough for ultra-low-power mobile and wearable computing. (These are the same kind of organic semiconductors used in OLED displays, incidentally.)
While we mostly have the logic and computation side of plastic computers worked out, there are still big question marks hanging over the storage and power consumption parts of the equation. OFETs aren’t all that efficient, and current transistor densities are much too low to build usable amounts of RAM or non-volatile NAND flash on a plastic substrate. It is theoretically possible to use a thin magnetic foil that stores high-density data, much like a hard drive platter, but reading that magnetic data with organic semiconductors is hard and consumes a lot of power. Until now!
David Cardinal: Tablets are the future
Tablets are cool. They’re fun, portable, have long-lived batteries, and are increasingly useful. The immediacy of a touchscreen you can hold in your hand, coupled with a screen large enough to read a magazine make them the most exciting development in computers since the laptop. Currently the iPad is all the rage for tablets, even among those who already own an iPhone. Alan Kay — inventor of the Dynabook, the iPad’s 1968 virtual ancestor — explained why when he commented to Steve Jobs about the iPhone, “Make the screen at least 5″ x 8″ and you will rule the world.”
Smartphones, with their small screens, aren’t going to replace the trillion pages of books, notebooks, newspapers and magazines that the world has been consuming for the last 500 years. The tablet will. Already kids are feeling shortchanged when their books don’t come to life the way their electronic devices do.
For all their appeal, tablets have one life-threatening drawback. It is just plain hard to create content on them. They do have a huge advantage over smartphones, with the larger screens making possible a facsimile of a true keyboard — and more than one published author has written a book entirely on a tablet — but compared to a full-size keyboard they fall way short, if you are a touch typist at least. It is no wonder Apple plowed a few hundred million into Siri.
One of the seemingly hottest wearables from one of the biggest names in the business, the Nike Fuelband, isn’t as hot as it might have seemed. Reports claim that Nike is ceasing production of the device, and has fired most of the Fuelband’s staff. Has Nike discovered something about wearables that competitors have yet to realize?
Wearable computing is in purgatory at the moment. Despite Samsung’s big push into smartwatches, you don’t see anyone wearing them on the street, at the grocery store, or even the gym — where they, in theory, are the most useful since they would replace the cumbersome armband phone-straps. Google’s face-based wearable, Glass, is currently struggling with asking a staggering entry fee for a device that doesn’t yet do much, but also makes you look very silly (though the company is attempting to rectify this issue). Fitness bands are perhaps the most prevalent wearable, but they’re generally nothing more than a glorified pedometer, though Razer’s Nabu and Samsung’s Gear Fit attempt advanced (messages, for instance) smartphone integration.
After years of rumors, leaks, and false starts, it seems the stars will finally swing into alignment this fall: Apple is will unveil an iWatch smartwatch alongside a new large-screen iPhone 6 at an event on September 9, according to the latest reports. Presumably the iWatch will also be released to the public alongside the iPhone 6 a week or two later. Previous rumors had pointed to an October unveil for the iWatch, but it seems Apple has moved it forward — possibly in response to the Samsung Gear S, LG G Watch R, and the Moto 360, all of which will be released over the next month or two. Just as the iPhone and iPad popularized the smartphone and tablet, will the arrival of the iWatch signal the beginning of the wearable computing revolution?
Over the last couple of months, Apple’s (AAPL) stock price has been buoyed by Wall Street’s belief that, at long last, a new segment-defining device was on its way. Last week Apple’s stock price finally rose back above its September 2012 peak. It would seem that, after a couple of years of uncertainty — the echo of Steve Jobs’ death, essentially — the stock market finally thinks that Apple is ready to do more than just squeeze its iPhone cash cow for billions of dollars in profits every quarter.
Apple gave us “one more thing” at its product announcement earlier this week, and just as expected, it was a smartwatch. The Apple Watch unveiling comes a few months afterAndroid Wear devices started hitting the market, and that might have contributed to the state of the presentation — the Apple Watch isn’t done yet. It won’t be on sale until next year, but Apple apparently felt it had to show us how it was approaching wrist computing, and it’s much different than Android Wear. Is either approach any better, though?
Both Google and Apple agree that smartwatches are not phones and should not be treated as such. However, they can take over from your phone in a few important ways. Probably the most common use for watches is as a notification center for your wrist. Apple Watch and Android Wear are able to automatically display the notifications that appear on your phone, which saves you from pulling the phone out of your pocket.
Every CES has at least theme — a dominant technology that vendors and technology companies are talking about, even if it doesn’t take center stage at anyone’s keynote. At CES 2015, one of the most prominent themes has been the Internet of Things, and Intel’s keynote, in which CEO Brian Krzanich plucked a tiny microprocessor off his lapel, couldn’t have captured that trend more adroitly. This new chip, codenamed Curie, is the kind of product Intel is hoping will give it a leg up in thecritical Internet of Things market over the long term.
If you haven’t seen IOT-related topics burning up the headlines at ExtremeTech or other websites, there’s a simple reason why — no one, despite a great deal of collective contemplation, has figured out how to make the concept of a web-connected toaster sing quite a like a new video card or even a major automotive push. Nonetheless, vendors large and small are pushing forward with the idea that various microcontroller-equipped devices will be integral parts of our personal lives in the not-too-distant future.
Intel has delivered its keynote at CES 2014, and rather refreshingly the presentation focused almost entirely on wearable and perceptual computing. After years of struggling with the ultrabook moniker and trying to squeeze its way into the smartphone market, it seems Intel is finally ready to lead from the front and create new markets, rather than milk existing markets dry. It’s far from confirmed, but we would not be surprised if this was the end of Intel’s smartphone aspirations. With Intel’s launch of Dual OS devices that run Android and Windows on the same chip, it hasn’t given up on mobile entirely — but there’s still a very long road ahead of Intel if it wants to break into the tablet market in a significant way.
Wearables, wearables, wearables
Back in September 2013, Intel surprised us by showing off Quark — a small, low-power core that’s designed to be produced cheaply at foundries like TSMC, much like an ARM core. At CES 2014, Intel is now showing off a range of gadgets and wearable devices — reference designs, not final products — that appear to be powered by the same Quark processor.