Cybernaut 

The (near) future

While the old marketing adage about not rolling out new products in the summer may have some truth to it, there's nothing saying that you can't at least use the time to announce big things.

Apple held its annual Worldwide Developer Conference this week, and as expected the big announcements were updates to its operating system (OSX Lion), its core software (iWork, iLife), its iOS system for tablets and phones and some new hardware as well. They also used the opportunity to launch iCloud, which will back up and share information between devices over the Internet (free if you buy Lion, $25 a year otherwise), as well as allow people to remotely access their music collections.

Microsoft, not to be outdone, recently showed off Windows 8, the follow-up to its popular, successful and incredibly stable Windows 7 operating system. While there will be all kinds of tweaks and upgrades, the key difference is that Windows 8 will have an optional interface for tablets and phones that basically runs on Java and HTML 5, making it easy to develop apps and Web 2.0 software for the devices. It looks pretty good, but if you're not into the design you can revert to the more traditional Windows menus and Taskbar.

Yes, Microsoft is a little late to the game but in the long run I doubt it will matter. More than 90 per cent of computer users are using some version of Windows, and most people prefer to own devices that sync seamlessly with their other devices.

Microsoft is also, finally, releasing their answer to the iTunes App Store, which is a long time coming and might help the company to gain some market share in devices. I can testify that iTunes for Windows is a miserable program and total memory hog, and if there were any sensible alternative that let me both purchase and organize content then I would already be using it.

This week was also annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (also called E3), where Microsoft made so many of its announcements (except for Windows 8, which they first teased in a five-minute video last week).

E3 is predominantly about video games, and all the big companies in gaming were there.

The Xbox announcements were fairly significant - a lot of new Kinect games, Kinect control over media content and a bunch of new ways to watch television using your 360. They also announced a reboot of the Halo franchise, with new titles expected in 2012.

Nintendo announced their follow-up to the Wii, called Wii U for some reason. It's a more powerful Wii, but the interesting element is a large controller with a built-in touch-screen and cameras. There are lots of possibilities for this technology, but one that attracted a lot of attention was one that lets you fire virtual arrows at others in the room, and then use your own controller as a shield.

The consensus was that Nintendo has done it again - recreated game control while unleashing a whole new set of possibilities that will leave Sony and Microsoft scrambling to match. The new system will launch in 2012.

Sony was expected to announce some big things. Under fire after a massive theft of personal data from the Playstation Network and Sony Online Entertainment (proving once again that you should never, ever bait hackers), the feeling was that Sony would be eager to move forward with price cuts to the PS3 and a tease of the next generation PS4. Instead they announced some new games, and another game changer in terms of control.

Ever played a co-op or multiplayer game using a split screen - squinting to see what was going on while trying not to be distracted by what was taking place on the other screen? Well, Sony has gotten rid of the need for split screens completely - new technology will allow two players to view the same screen and, using different 3D glasses, to see completely different things.

Sony also showed off their PSP successor. It's being called PS Vita and it looks amazing with a high-resolution touch screen, games on memory sticks, dual-analog joysticks, accelerometers, an incredible screen and more. Turns out, people are less impressed with the Nintendo 3DS than the company had hoped, amid concerns about launch titles, the high price, weak battery life and eye strain from the 3D screen, all of which created a real opening for Sony.

A lot of minor players have also made announcement recently. As expected, Research In Motion will release a 10-inch version of its PlayBook tablet - which is really far better than the early reviews would suggest (who needs Apps when you have complete, unfettered access to the web for email, calendar, games, etc.?) The next PlayBook could be available in late 2011, with built-in 4G capability.

There are a lot of places you can go for updates on these announcements, including blogs like Engadget (www.engadget.com), Gizmodo (www.gizmodo.com), Cnet (www.cnet.com), IGN (www.ign.com), TechRadar (www.techradar.com) and Ars Technica (www.arstechnica.com).

 

 

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