I had some free time following the NVIDIA GPU Technology conference and wandered up to the Valley Fair mall in San Jose. I took a quick look at the Apple store, there was really nothing for me to see in terms of new product but it has a kind of "bees round a honeypot" appeal.
Next I went along to the Sony Style store, another strong brand you might think:
Clearly this is a social story as well as a technical story but it is significant.
The Sony store was actually more interesting to me since the PlayStation 3 Move was on display and I had not had an opportunity to try it before. A helpful assistant gave me a demo; we were going to play 2-player table tennis but there was a technical issue with one of the controllers so I ended up playing solo. In conjunction with the huge screen in the Sony store it was a very passable imitation of the real thing. Although it is well done it does not feel like a revolution in the way the Wii did when it first appeared – you may recall that the pre-release Wii was code-named "Revolution".
Adding Move to your PS3 setup is somewhat expensive – you will probably want two controllers as well as the Eye camera – and there are not yet many games which support it, but I reckon it will be a lot of fun. Playing Table Tennis one of the best aspects was the ability to rush forward for a forehand slam.
The Sony guy admitted to being curious about the Microsoft Xbox Kinect which is coming out in a couple of months, and does away with the controller completely. He said Microsoft is opening a store in San Francisco and plans to go up to take a look in due course.
A question: which of the above two pictures will the new Microsoft store most resemble?
Sony is removing the ability to install an alternative operating system such as Linux on the Playstation 3. In a blog post, Sony’s Charlotte Panther says:
PS3 Firmware 3.21 will be available this Thursday. It will disable the “Install Other OS” feature that was available on the PS3 systems prior to the current slimmer models, launched in September 2009. This feature enabled users to install an operating system, but due to security concerns, we’re now removing this feature.
Panther suggests not upgrading the firmware as a workaround, but observes that this will block access to the PlayStation Network.
It is a move that will matter little to most PS3 owners, but a great deal to the few who were doing interesting work with the cell processor that runs Sony’s games console.
The wider picture is that we are seeing a rise in locked-down devices across the industry. Games consoles are generally like this – the Xbox 360 is the same – as are most mobile phones. Apple is now extending the iPhone model, where users have limited access to the device, to the larger iPad. As I understand it, Google intends that ChromeOS devices will also be locked down, though it is too early to say whether installing alternative operating systems on these will be possible. Sony mentions security, and certainly having a protected operating system that can only be updated by the vendor is an excellent security feature.
The downside is that it gives greater power to the vendor, to control what you can do with the device, stifle creativity, and potentially to charge more for applications and extensions than is possible with an open system.
There is a good explanation of how this works in Daniel Lyons’ recent piece on the Apple iPad.