UPCOMING PRODUCT

The Best Gadgets You Can Buy In This Year

Talk about cool gadgets for people to use

I’ve never understood why people don’t use the best gadgets. I’m in awe of people who can use an ordinary office chair for years without upgrading to the Aeron. And I’m always surprised that more people aren’t using the best software that money can buy. It’s not just because good software and gadgets are more fun to use that I want to spread them; it’s also because they’re faster. On average, programmers are smart, but we’re not that smart. Time spent using a first-class tool is time you don’t have to spend cursing your tools. So if you’re not using the best tools you can afford, you’re wasting your time, and that’s true no matter how good you are. It’s like trying to play basketball wearing diving boots–you might be able to do it, but why bother? Tools for making money are different from other tools: if you can afford better ones, there may not be any reason not to get them. But how expensive can a piece of software be? If it makes you twice as productive, and if your time is worth at least $50/hour, then spending $250 on a copy of Mathematica is a bargain. But it’s hard for most people to understand.

They are comfortable and contribute to a better lifestyle

If you are the sort of person who is interested in smartphones, you probably already know what a smartphone is. If not, you will be glad to learn that it is one of the most versatile home appliances ever invented. Not only can it play music and video, but also it can access the Internet and send and receive email messages. Although an older, less advanced generation might have called these toys, the fact is that smartphones are very useful tools. You can use them to connect with friends, family members and business colleagues. Describing everything a smartphone can do would take many paragraphs of small print. As a result, I will focus on just one feature: their cameras. Smartphones cameras are so good that they have made traditional point-and-shoot cameras obsolete. They’re great for taking snapshots, but they’re also good enough for high-quality photography such as photographing landscapes or pets. Smartphones cameras give users a lot of options. The user can choose from several different lenses or filters. The phone’s flash can be turned on or off depending upon whether the user wants natural light or artificial light for the photo, which may depend upon whether she wants to take an indoor shot or an outdoor shot in sunlight, for example.

They are affordable to everyone

Gadgets are important because they solve real problems and are fun. But so are buildings, and they’re much more expensive. So I don’t think of gadgets as a separate class of things from the rest of architecture. The question is not What would a gadget be like if it were an architecture? but What would architecture be like if it were more like a gadget? I recently had a chance to find out. Over the last year and a half, my colleagues Trevor Blackwell, Sarah Harlin, Jessica Livingston, and Robert Morris and I have been trying to see what happens when you make something that really is as cheap as a computer. Our aim was to see whether we could create technology that was as cheap as possible without sacrificing reliability or ease of use. Along the way we had some ideas that I think will be important in the future of computers beyond gadgets, too. Our constraints were not just economic but psychological: we wanted something people would want to use. And we were lucky enough to discover a domain where those two seemingly conflicting constraints actually help each other: the world of programming tools for kids.

New cell phones can do more than just make calls

New cell phones can do more than just make calls. In fact, they can do almost everything computers can. Smart phones are personal computers that fit in your pocket. You can use them to send e-mail, surf the Web, and download apps that let you do all sorts of interesting things: play games, take pictures, navigate with GPS, listen to music, watch videos, read books. From the beginning, cell phones have been designed as all-in-one devices. The original ones could make calls and handle text messaging. Then came cameras and music players. Finally there were apps for all sorts of specialized uses: taking notes in class (Evernote), helping you choose a restaurant (Open Table), tracking your workouts (FitBit). Even though they’re powerful little computers, smart phones are full of constraints that help keep the price down and the size small. That’s the biggest difference between a phone and a computer: size. A phone has to be small enough to put in your pocket or purse; it has to have a battery that can last for hours; it has to have an antenna that doesn’t break when you turn it over; it has to be able to send signals up through the air without drawing too much power.

Learn what people in the future might have in their homes

Gadgets were invented to make people’s lives easier. It is easy to take this for granted, but it is actually quite a remarkable idea. To invent something that someone would not be able to do without, and that would improve their lives, must have seemed at times like a very risky thing to do. The world was full of things that people needed or wanted, but no one had thought to make them before because there didn’t seem any point. Deriving useful things from useless ones (such as gold from base metals) had always been a sort of magic. Now it was becoming science. But it still seemed more like alchemy than ordinary engineering. The first steam engines exploded, the first elevators dropped people; the first telegraphs transmitted gibberish. As these examples show, early gadgets often worked in ways that were counter-intuitive or just plain unintuitive; the telegraph key and the elevator brake are still enough to confuse anyone who has never seen them before. This is because they were designed by engineers rather than writers of user manuals: they were not intended to be easy to use but rather easy to build using the materials and methods then available. A writing desk is easier to understand than an airplane.

 

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