Also inside: Facebook skins Android with its Home extension, and PC manufacturers face an uphill battle thanks to tablets
With the premiere of the third season of Game of Thrones under our belts, and the first episode of season six of Mad Men this weekend, I’ve found myself spending time rehashing both series’ previous seasons over the last few weeks.
Part of the appeal of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is that it is wildly unpredictable. Like any good fantasy series, the author exploits archetypes and conventions, and keeps viewers (and readers) constantly off guard, largely by killing off characters you would never expect to die.
Mad Men is an interesting and equally successful counterpoint. Deliberate, measured, and logical, it provides plot twists that are often unexpected, but feel like inevitabilities; the kind of moments that, when they occur, make you think “holy crap!”
But when you think about or talk about these things later, you find yourself thinking, “Oh, of course that happened.”
(SPOILER ALERT: Mad Men and Downtown Abbey fans beware.)
At the end of last season, Mad Men had a great plot twist that, in retrospect, was a fairly obvious surprise. When the nice-but-flawed British character Lane Pryce hung himself after Don Draper fired him for embezzling, it felt shocking and perhaps even overly harsh. But, in retrospect, you could see this one coming all the way from the beginning of the fifth season.
Another example: Downton Abbey, which got a little blood-thirsty this past season. I won’t name names here, but in season three, people die. Not surprisingly, the characters who die are played by actors who had announced they were leaving the series.
If you knew ahead of time which actors weren’t coming back to the series, you probably knew who was going to die. It didn’t make the manner of their death any less shocking, but ultimately, their deaths were no surprise at all.
This week, we saw a few obvious surprises in the world of tablets and technology—a few moments that made me think, “Why didn’t I see that coming?”
The first was the flood of rumors early in the week that BlackBerry was working on not one, but two phablet-type devices powered by the companies new BB10 operating system. Total no-brainer, right? When I read the news, I mentally kicked myself. How did I not think of this?
Well, it turned out that the rumors around these Blackberries were an elaborate April Fool’s joke, which created an interesting twist on the development. However, if it turns out that BlackBerry truly isn’t working on tablet-phone hybrids for their new OS, I’ll be shocked.
Given Samsung’s success with the Galaxy Note, the phablet is a perfectly logical evolution for the company formerly known as RIM, and a perfect way to get back into the game.
I guarantee you this: If BlackBerry wasn’t planning on this direction, it is strongly considering it now. There’s no better way for the company to reactivate its base of followers than this.
Apple’s tablet hybrid
Later in the week, another surprising-but-not-really rumor emerged, this time around Apple working a convertible tablet/laptop hybrid device. Technically, the story was about a patent for a wireless power-transmitting magnetic hinge that Apple applied for in the context of such a product.
There’s no guarantee Apple will ever make or release such a device, but the hybrid iPad laptop is a complete no-brainer when you think about it.
The Wintel faction of PC manufacturers is doggedly pursuing touch notebook computing. It’s only a matter of time before Apple responds by integrating touch into its MacBook product line, or by introducing an iPad with a built-in keyboard.
Facebook goes home
One development this week that was not obvious in retrospect was Facebook’s announcement of its Home mobile extension. Everyone expected some kind of Facebook-powered phone. What we got was essentially an app that functions as an OS skin/overlay.
I can appreciate the intent of Facebook Home; for many people, their smartphone is an inherently social device, so an interface that acknowledges this is a logical extension. This said, I’m not sure Facebook is going to be able to fulfill a need that isn’t otherwise being filled by the Android OS.
And while Facebook hinted that Facebook Home would be “a great experience on tablets,” the tablet angle is even less clear than the smartphone angle.
Left unsaid here is that it is not likely at all that Facebook Home will ever appear on iOS devices.
This week’s loser: PC makers
It is rapidly becoming the worst of time for PC manufacturers. In keeping with this week’s theme, you could easily argue that Gartner’s report that tablets and smartphones will squeeze out desktop and laptop computers is a pretty obvious development—particularly if you’re a TabTimes reader.
It doesn’t make Gartner’s predictions any less shocking. It’s clear that a big shakeout is coming over the next three to four years. The PC makers that survive will be the ones that are rapidly embracing mobile computing.
This week’s winner: Google Reader users
If you were one of the many RSS fans who were devastated when Google pulled the plug on Google Reader, you’ll be thrilled to discover Reeder, an iPad app that will continue its life after Google Reader passes away this summer.