Connected-only devices

I write this on a Google Chromebook while flying to San Francisco on Virgin America.
I am happy that the Google is trying out this concept, but it is on the wrong side of technology and its not what I want.

  • Storage is cheap, communications are not
  • Storage is low power, communications are not
  • Local storage always works, communications does not
  • My use of local storage is private, in the cloud there are watchers
  • Local operations have predictable performance, remote does not

The key issue is that storage is really inexpensive and getting more so.  My three year old phone has 16GB os space. My iPad has 64GB.  The Macbook Air I covet has, well, who knows?  Removing the storage from the device solves a non-problem by introducing serious new problems.  I don’t get it.
My laptop (yes, a Macbook Pro) has a 500 GB drive. When I am disconnected, I can write, I can read, I can watch the movie backlog, I can program. I can learn. I can tag photos. I can do quite a  lot. I have pretty much my entire working set with me.  There are a couple of terabytes of other stuff laying around at home, but I don’t need that very often.
The pressing problem with mobile devices is power, not storage.  Why replace a low power storage device, that has predictable and good performance, with a slow, unreliable, communications channel that has a variable cost structure?
There are important roles for cloud storage:  backup, search, bulk processing, but it doesn’t make sense to move active storage to the other side of a high latency low bandwidth channel.  Let’s imagine that the communications is actually reliable and has zero variable costs for a moment.  But it still has, say 40 millisecond latency and a megabit or so bandwidth.  This is going to work file for email, chat, and so forth. But it cannot be a good video editor, or image browser.  I’ve had the experience of using Aperture to browse a few thousand photos on a local SSD. It is a surreal experience – the closest we’ve yet come to Minority Report.
The chromebook is a decent effort. I like the keyboard. The screen is nice, the weight is nice, the battery life is nice, but the lack of storage and a real local filesystem is just silly.

2 thoughts on “Connected-only devices”

  1. Larry,
    Excellent post. I type this from my first Virgin Airlines flight. I tried the Chrome notebook at the gate, but passed on the free offer to use it on the flight as I simply value saving things (PDF reports, etc.) to locally for fast retrieval later…Paul

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