There was an announcement last week that I think is far bigger than folks realize: Nvidia announced a free Netflix-like streaming gaming service for its Shield products. I think this is a precursor to an event that is similar to what cable did to TVs years ago, and that it will change not only how we use these devices, but also what we use them for.
In a way, this may be the biggest step to something we used to call “thin client” computing, and eventually, it will expand vastly what we can do with products we currently use more for consumption than creation.
I’ll close with my product of the week: the new limited red edition of the BlackBerry Passport, one of the devices that eventually could benefit from the new mobile world Nvidia is jumpstarting.
Nvidia Announced its Grid online gaming service, which will use a Netflix-like model to supply PC-level games for free to all buyers of its Shield tablets. This means every Shield tablet (and Shied game system) owner will have a subscription to a variety of PC games they can play on their tablets streamed from Amazon’s Web Services.
These are full games, and they are running at PC performance levels in the cloud and then rendered on the tablets, which in turn can be connected to monitors or TVs for a larger-screen experience.
With the same level of bandwidth needed for a good HD stream, you will get an experience that will rival and often exceed what you typically would get out of a game system or PC.
Thin Clients Are Back
If you can meet the performance needs of a PC gamer, where latency and resolution are big factors, you can even more easily meet the needs of productivity workers. While this announcement doesn’t include productivity software, it showcases what services like this could provide. You could get a full Office, Photoshop, or even engineering workstation experience with a tablet connected to a service like this.
This is like a concept called “thin client computing.” Created in the late 1990s, it didn’t fly because the clients often cost more than PCs, and lousy network speeds, high latency, and a lack of commonalty among vendors kept the market from stepping to this new model. Thin Clients mostly went where terminals had been hard to replace, and general users found them so annoying that broad adoption never took off.
A lot has changed over the last decade and a half, though. Latency has dropped, and bandwidth has increased dramatically, largely driven by HDTV streaming needs. You now can do relatively cheaply what you couldn’t even do well at massive cost in the 1990s, and Nvidia’s offering showcases how far we have come. However, I think there is far more coming.
One of the coolest parts of the Sun Ray One — the thin client computing system that Sun Microelectronics brought to market — was the ability to save state. The demonstration showed how you could log in with your ID card, and then wherever you plugged in the card, your stuff would come up instantly in the same state you left it.
The dream was that you’d only need to travel with the credit card-sized card, and everything else you needed would be where you were going.
That didn’t work, because folks didn’t want to fund Sun thin clients for everyplace you’d want to go. However, you are carrying your tablet or phone anyway, and if you could get that same experience simply by plugging in your tablet to a 4K TV or monitor, you’d be there without the massive cost of having to put thin clients in every location where you might need one. The same ability to remember state is possible with any cloud solution like this.
Granted, given network limitations, doing this on a plane will remain problematic for some time to come, but you wouldn’t need to carry much performance with you anyplace else. You’d just need a smartphone or tablet and a good network connection, and you’d have the potential for a full PC experience.
Granted, some of us may shift to larger-screen tablets or decide to carry a portable flat screen display, projectors, or virtual reality headsets (if we ever get comfortable with them) in order to ensure a large- screen experience, but the limitations we generally have attributed to small wireless devices will be a thing of the past.
Wrapping Up: The Future Is Here
Back in the 1990s, we expected the future to be defined by computers that were more like TVs than the computers of the time. Actually, what we envisioned was a lot more like terminals that were largely solid state, and far easier to carry and keep running than the complex things we had at the time.
Nvidia has just taken a big step to giving us that future with this new service, and I think it is the first truly big step into getting us to think differently about what we can do with a connected device and tablets aren’t that much different than phones.
Rather than carrying three devices as we move to bigger phones and smaller tablets that can be used as phones, I can see a time in our short-term future when we will need to carry only one device, and that device will do everything better than the three devices we are now used to carrying did.
Better battery life, lower cost, less aggravation, and improved convenience will be features of the coming age — and with this announcement, that age starts now.
One final thought: Given this service is being provided by Amazon, how long before Amazon takes something similar to all mobile devices?
Product of the Week: BlackBerry Passport Red Edition
The BlackBerry Passport is so popular, it currently is sold out most places worldwide. For folks who have to type a lot on their phones and want a big screen, it is the only game on the planet — and it doesn’t hurt that the BlackBerry platform is also the most secure in market.
In time for Christmas, BlackBerry is creating a special edition red version that likely will be even harder to get because it is a limited run.
BlackBerry phones always have been more about work than play, and the Passport is no exception. This was demonstrated last week, when BlackBerry announced its new conferencing service, which treats mobile devices the same as PCs rather than penalizing them with limitations like most competing services do.
In a world where it seems most everyone is trying to copy Apple — a practice that nearly killed BlackBerry and still hurts most of the other phone makers — it is great to see a company find its roots and build a unique product.
The fact BlackBerry’s Passports are selling out is testament to its strategy, and its red version is an even more exclusive product you can show off.
Years ago, I had a pair of red shoes that I wore just to be different, until I was called into my boss’s office at IBM and asked if I was looking to get promoted out of the company. I had to admit that red shoes on an auditor likely wasn’t a good judgment call.
Still, I’ve never been a “one size fits all” guy, and thus the red BlackBerry Passport — partly because it reminded me of those old red shoes — is my product of the week. Sometimes it is fun to relish the differences and recognize we really aren’t all the same.