Monday, October 3, 2011

The Challenging Road To Convergence: The Future Has Finally Arrived


The Challenging Road To Convergence
The Missing Piece of the Convergence Puzzle Has Finally Been Delivered
by Jake Ehrlich

We live in a fascinating time in history, where many traditional ways of doing things are quickly becoming obsolete. Worlds are colliding and converging very quickly. We see this with smart phones you can watch TV and movies on, read a book, play games, search the web or keep up with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

When one technology overcomes and supplants another, it is referred to as an inflection point. Trains replaced a horse and buggy or stagecoach, and airplanes replaced trains.

First we replaced paper encyclopedias and dictionaries with CD and DVD-Roms, and now we have replaced them with crowd-sourced versions like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary. iPads are quickly replacing and supplanting newspapers and magazines.


Convergence Defined

A quarter-century ago, the high-tech world began contemplating the notion of convergence. A decade and a half-ago, in the mid 1990s, one of the hottest topics in tech was “Convergence” also known as "Interactive Television" or, "Interactive TV."

Actually, the very first truly Interactive TV was invented in 1968 by Ralph Bear, when he invented the game Pong, which was played on a TV. Here is a video from 1969 of Ralph Bear and Bill Harrison playing Ping-Pong on TV, which was the very first Video Game in history:


Everybody was taking about convergence, and the great question, was whether or not we would end-up watching TV on our computers, or Computing on our TVs? That question was answered, and today we watch TV, movies and experience all sorts of “Multimedia” on our computers.

The best example of this would be things like watching You Tube, Hulu or Netflix, and mainstream TV programming on your computer screen. The challenge is that TVs and Computers converged into Computers, but the way we control this experience has not.

Ironically, it was Bill Gates that was one of the early proponents of convergence, and he perhaps better articulated the idea of convergence in a 1999 Forbes magazine story when he said:

"Amazingly, it's been more than 20 years since the concept of 'convergence' entered the high-tech lexicon. For most of that time, convergence has meant two things: the coming together of the computer, consumer electronics, and telecommunications industries and the merging of gadgets such as the PC, TV and telephone.

But as the 21st century approaches, sophisticated digital technologies and the promise of exploding bandwidth are combining to create a third kind of convergence that will change our lives more dramatically than anything we've seen so far. It will deliver the power of the information age into the hands of everyone, anytime, anywhere.

...A lot still needs to be done to make this a reality. First, in the same way that people must speak the same language if they are to understand each other and collaborate, smart devices also need to speak a common language to communicate effectively."

Six years later, in 2004, Bill Gates said:

"Convergence doesn't happen until you have everything in a digital form the consumer can easily use on all the different devices...There's one thing missing: You have to sit down at the keyboard to work with it. You need a remote control interface at a distance, and you need to be able to project on to different screens."


The Promise Of Convergence

The promise of convergence is immense, and science-fiction movies like The Minority Report have given us a glimpse of what it might look like. The great question is how realistic are user-interfaces like the one Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report?


I argue that it is not realistic in the same way and that reality is and will continue to be even better and more realistic than science fiction. If there is any question in your mind, compare the devices on the original Star Trek with a modern iPhone. Reality it turns out is more innovative than fiction. So let's separate the fact from the fiction by looking at the real world options.


Option 1: Set Top Box

Many set-top boxes like a Tivo, DVR, Google TV and Apple TV, have tried and failed to deliver on the promise of convergence. The world has gotten 80% of the way across the river with convergence, but nobody has ever figured out the last 20%. Using an infrared remote control to type text, which uses a 5-way rocker-switch to type has to be one of the most archaic, inaccurate and frustrating experiences.
You know what I am talking about! Remember misspelling something, then having to toggle up to the delete key to erase characters, then you over shoot the mark!?! Trying to type or search on a set top box with a hand-held remote control is like trying to nail jello to the wall. Tivo came up with an even better remote with a built-in sliding keyboard, but who wants to type an email with a tiny/awkward keyboard.


Even Google and Logitech failed by partnering on the Logitech Revue set-top-box (as seen above) that ran Google TV. As a matter of fact, Logitech lost more than $100 Million and the CEO had to step-down because Logitech had more returns that actual sales. It doesn't take much to realize how bizarro unergonomic the Logitech Revue Google TV is with the trackpad located in the upper right hand corner.


Option 2: Mac Mini or HTPC
Computer On A TV

Mac Mini Media Centers and PC Home Theaters (HTPCs) are beginning to become very popular. Essentially, a Home Theater PC or Mac Mini Media Center is a very small computer that bypasses a set-top boxes and hooks up a very small dedicated media computer to a large flat screen LCD TV.

Home media centers typically benefit from having a full-size wireless keyboard and mouse. The idea is you can sit on a couch or in your favorite chair, by yourself, or with friends and family, and not only watch TV, but surf the web and do most of the things you do on a laptop computer. This includes enjoying video content on YouTube, Hulu, Netflix or iTunes.

You have probably noticed over the past several years, you are watching more and more TV programming on ABC.com, NBC.com, and CBS.com as well as Fox.com and even on HBO.com. If you are reading this article, you probably are watching more and more YouTube videos and snippets. In an increasingly "on-demand-world" this trend will not only continue, but at some point probably replace cable TV as we know it.

The tremendous challenge today, is with a wireless keyboard and mouse, you are 80% of the way to achieving convergence nirvana. The bottleneck is the keyboard and mouse are extremely difficult to use from a coffee table, and even more difficult to use on your lap or on a couch, recliner of big-comfy chair.


Even if you have a wireless Apple keyboard and Magic Trackpad, it’s still very difficult to use on your coffee table or lap. If you try to use it on a coffee table it places you in a very uncomfortable position where you have to lean forward every time you want to use it. On your lap, the trackpad often ends up falling off your lap or between the cushions, or even worse, on the floor.

If two or more people are are sitting in a family room, living room or den, and they want to take turns controlling the Mac Mini Media Center or HTPC, forget about it. You can't comfortably pass a keyboard and mouse or trackpad to somebody.


Option 3: Stay On The Desktop

The BulletTrain eXpress is extremely popular as a desktop keyboard and mouse replacement. Many eXpress users are used to using a MacBook or PC Laptop with a trackpad, and when they move to the desktop they get really frustrated with a conventional keyboard and mouse.

With the advent of OS X Lion, MacBook users are becoming accustomed to the extreme efficiency of using gestures, which makes moving back and forth between a MacBook and a standard desktop frustrating. Many people who even use an Apple wireless keyboard and Magic Trackpad report that it feels awkward. They say moving their hand back and forth between a mouse or trackpad is uncomfortable and stressful.


Putting the Cart Behind The Horse &
Putting the Trackpad Behind the Keyboard

BulletTrain provides the PERFECT solution to ALL the challenges described above. The BulletTrain Express not only completely overcomes all three challenges, but on the desktop, it also delivers a better than perfect experience.

This is because the surface area on Apples Magic Trackpad is 88% larger than on any other MacBook, and compared to PC Trackpads, the Magic Trackpad is up to 350% larger. This translates into much more effortless and friction-free gestures, swipes and scrolling.


The BulletTrain eXpress is as at-home on your lap as it is on your desktop. The typically disjointed experience of using a computer on a desktop or laptop has now been truly unified in one simple, easy to use, friction-free ergonomic platform.


Switching between a MacBook keyboard and any other keyboard and mouse or trackpad on the desktop, is like going from driving a Mercedes, to a driving a horse and buggy. Going from an Apple MacBook to a BulletTrain eXpress is like going from a 10 years old Mercedes to a top-of-the-line, fully-loaded, electric 2014 Mercedes. In doing so, you achieve better than perfect laptop/desktop convergence.


Convergence Delivered

What about the set top boxes and Mac Mini Media Centers or HTPCs? As mentioned, trying to juggle a keyboard and mouse on a coffee table or on a couch or chair is a nightmare. Enter, the BulletTrain eXpress.

The BulletTrain eXpress essentially turns your Mac Mini Media Center or HTPC into a wireless giant-screen laptop. All of a sudden, you can do EVERYTHING well on your large screen LCD TV that you can do well on your laptop or desktop computer .

You can not only watch standard TV, DVR or On-demand content, but you can surf the web in your favorite browser, identically to the way you do on your desktop or laptop, or you can use your favorite Twitter client or Facebook or IM.

If you are in your family room or living room or den, family and friends can easily pass the BulletTrain eXpress Keyboard Platform back and forth to each other with just one hand. This takes sharing and collaborating to a whole new level. Even a couple, can hang out in bed, in a bedroom with an HTPC and pass the BulletTrain eXpress back and forth to each other, just like a remote control.

You can also enjoy all video content, including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, You Tube and Vimeo. You can also enjoy your photo collection directly from iPhoto, Aperture or Adobe Lightroom. You can use Final Cut Pro or iMovie to edit video directly on your large Flat screen TV.


You can even use Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, or any CAD software. You can look-up or add a contact to your address book. If a Friend calls on the phone you can look at your calendar and add a date.

You can even book a trip to Tahiti if you want. Let’s say you are watching The Godfather II, and a character uses a word you are not familiar with, you can look it up in the dictionary app or on Wikipedia. You can look-up information about your favorite new character in a great TV show that just came out. You can play video games including Angry Birds...You get the idea!!!



The BulletTrain eXpress not only gives you unlimited options, but it truly sets you free to explore your world, wherever and whenever you want. The worlds first truly convergent on-demand experience just arrived. Welcome On-Board the BulletTrain eXpress. And remember, always stay on the fast-track!!!


The Future Of BulletTrain

At BulletTrain our mission is simple. We believe there are still many uncompleted and half-baked parts of the computing puzzle, and thus, a tremendous amount of room for improvement. In the day, months, and years to come, we plan to role out many, many more highly innovative tools and products that will allow mankind to completely unlock all the potential that exists in the ever increasing world of convergence.


Steve Jobs' Integrated TV

I originally published the above story on October 3, 2011. Steve Jobs died two days later on October 5, 2011. A few weeks later, it came out that Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, quote Steve Jobs in his new book as saying:

"I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."


I am obviously fascinated to see and explore Steve Jobs' vision for the Integrated TV. My best guess is that Apple will update the $99 Apple TV with the A5 chip found in the 4S iPhone, and iPad 2. This would allow you to speak to your Apple TV through your iPhone or iPod Touch using Siri voice commands. Apple may also introduce and actual TV set like a 50, 60 or 70 inch TV, with Apple TV functionality built into it, which would be cool.

It also crosses my mind Steve Jobs may have been referring to iOS 5's Airplay Mirroring on the iPhone or iPad?

In my opinion, no matter how great the above mentioned Steve Jobs potential solutions may or may not be, it will not be nearly as good as having a Mac Mini hooked up to a 60LCD TV, with a BulletTrain eXpress Keyboard Platform to control it.

I say this because this solution gives the user a completely integrated TV experience that is identical to that of a MacBook. With my idea of the ultimate interactive TV it provides the user with ZERO additional learning curve, by offering a complete consistent experience.

Time as they say will tell, and it will be very interesting to see what happens.

BTW, in this next video, you get to see and hear Steve Jobs opinion on convergence from 1998. The video quality is not great, but the audio is:

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