I have viewed the rise of the computer from before the PC (Personal Computer) was widely available. I probably used a computer for the first time in about 1981. Many times since, I have wondered about the rise of the computer, and specifically about how the PC and media such as music, film and TV etc.. would end up being integrated (as they are starting to be now with the latest devices). In those first days, the internet was really only for proper geeks – who knew where we were headed..?
I still watch progress with interest and have looked at devices such as Raspberry Pi, wondering if they might be the thing that finally displaces the PC, but I guess Android is probably the thing that genuinely comes closest – having said that, it really is still a seething mess of a melting pot and there is no single device truly available that brings everything together.
So, having stated my position, my interest was grabbed today by a headline questioning the arrival of the next big computing break-through. A versatile new device which is like a PC squashed into a tablet: SOLU – read about it on the BBC news site. The article is fairly clear in its criticism that SOLU actually falls very short of being the next big thing, nevertheless it is pioneering projects like these that spawn other projects which may eventually revolutionise the PC. In particular, the SOLU addresses the idea of files in folders, and is built with project team co-operation in mind – the emphasis is on cloud storage and file-sharing.
I have always thought that TV and PC should end up in a single entertainment system, the introduction of the internet-ready TV has filled in some of those gaps, but really only seeks to gather a single aspect of the PC under its skirts. Of course the PC is better positioned take over from the TV in terms of processing power (and in many households already has), yet the idea of relaxing in front of the TV as a family is directly opposed to each of us frantically typing, skyping or gaming in front of our own chosen device.
Having always been keen on music, I have always been interested in music reproduction, and how this might be incorporated into the new-fangled devices. I remember having to write a college essay on new technology and I opted for the compact disk (circa 1984). My original stance was fairly sceptical of the idea that CDs would take over from vinyl records, but when I researched the topic and realised how widely the CD could be used, I became convinced that the CD would dominate. Don’t forget that a CD holds 700MB of data, and we were still using 1.44MB floppy disks…! I could not have ever imagined in those days, that the world would eventually opt for a far poorer audio substitute in the form of MP3, and that would really bring about the demise of ‘Hi-Fi’. It is astonishing how the MP3 has taken over from quality audio, but I guess not so surprising when you factor in the rise of the mobile device with its tinny speakers and cheap headphones. In my day, people were striving for perfect reproduction from high fidelity components and bulky speakers – this trend has almost completely been turned on its head, apart from an elite group of ardent audiophiles. Although I would never claim to be one of those who spent a months income on a single Hi-Fi component, I have to admit that at the time of writing I am actually listening to The White Album by The Beatles on vinyl…but in my defence it is because I am transferring it to CD so I can listen to it in the car… I remain hopeful that computers of the future will be built with high quality music in mind.