A Printer In Every Kiosk?
Peripherals In The Year 1999
Kathy Yakal, Editorial Assistant
Is it compatible with my computer? Will I need to buy extra cables? What if I decide to buy a different computer a year from now—can I still use the same modem? The issues of standardization and compatibility are likely to change in the next decade. What's more, new technologies are continually appearing in each new generation of peripherals.
Purchasing the right peripherals for your computer can be complicated. The buyer must make some complex technical choices: IEEE-488. Hayes-compatible. RS-232. Requires 80-column card. Requires special cables (available separately). IBM-compatible.
A Package Deal
One possible response to the compatibility problem is to avoid third-party hardware manufacturers and buy everything for your system from the company which made your computer.
Coleco encourages this with their new Adam system. "The reason we're offering a package concept is that we perceived a great deal of confusion in the home,market," says Barbara Wruck, director of corporate communications at Coleco. "Many consumers were buying inexpensive CPU's, only to find out that that's all they had—a CPU.
"It's important to give the new computer owner every piece of equipment that lets them do it immediately, a system that is useful, easy to operate, and affordable." As an Adam owner grows in knowledge and needs new equipment, says Wruck, Coleco will continue to produce "carefully selected peripherals" to expand the power of the system.
Is this the answer to peripheral problems? "I think the consumer is saying that it is," says Wruck. "We believe this is the correct approach."
Like Buying A Stereo
Others disagree with this approach. "I think there will continue to be a niche for people who want to buy things separately and put together a system themselves," says Dan Baker, research manager for disk manufacturer Percom Data. "It might be the way component stereos are," he says. "You have different performance criteria for each piece to fit your needs.
"However, the move toward portable computers is something of a package concept, where you have built-in peripherals. This isn't necessarily a trend—it just shows that you can include storage in the main package."
Buying any computer, disk drive, printer, and modem and having them work together at once might seem like high-tech heaven, but it's not likely to happen. "I have thoughts in both directions," says Robert Pearce, director of marketing for Comrex, a subsidiary of Epson.
"As technology advances, that will wipe out any standardization that existed before," he says. "New technologies generally don't conform to the standards of the previous one. There could be standardization for a while, but then a new technology comes along and requires a whole new set of standards.
"If some uniform compatibility code does emerge, it will be because the masses force it. That may have to happen in order for computers to have the mass appeal that they lack now. If nothing else, at least in packaging, like Coleco and IBM have done."
Interfacing Your Computer And A Stereo
In 1999, it may be that electronic equipment which we don't now consider computer peripherals will act as such. Home entertainment equipment is an example.
To a degree, you can do some interfacing now. By hooking up a couple of cables, you can play Missile Command on your Atari 800 and hear the sound through your stereo.
For more sophisticated kinds of interfacing, special cables or cards may be necessary. Digital Controls, Inc. has a line of interface cards that turn videodisc players into microcomputer peripherals. An Apple II interface card is available for $500, and a generic RS-232 interface for $865.
A Different Approach
Telecommunications will most likely be a part of everyone's life by 1999. Presently, a home computer owner has a wide choice of modem, but there is an equally wide variation in compatibility. Some modems are completely compatible with one computer, but require special cables and interfaces for another computer.
B. F. Kessler, president of modem manufacturer Novation, Inc., feels that the answer to compatibility lies not in hardware, but in software. He points out that technology is changing so rapidly that modem makers are having a difficult time designing one generation of products that is compatible with the next.
"The fact that all modems should be compatible is obvious," he says. "But with an industry still in its infancy, it would seem stifling to set hardware standards that could become obsolete overnight."
Kessler believes that a good programmer is well equipped to solve compatibility problems. The emphasis should be on getting programmers to include software commands for expansion and compatibility with all popular protocols.
"Personal communication via microprocessors is gaining momentum at an amazingly rapid rate," says Kessler. "Next year more modems will be manufactured than have been built to date. Inevitably, new designs and technology will be introduced. And the marketplace will continue to respond positively to appropriate innovations.
"It will be far easier for software programmers to keep up with state-of-the-art than it would be to shackle hardware manufacturers with compatibility standards that undoubtedly would hinder rather than help the growth of the modem marketplace."
Remember the scene in the movie Blade Runner when Harrison Ford needs to zoom in on a small area of a photograph and make a reproduction of it? There's nothing resembling an Apple IIe in his apartment, and no keyboard is visible anywhere. He sits down in front of some kind of electronic console, talks to it and tells it what he wants, and he ends up with a blowup of a tiny corner of the original that was barely visible to the naked eye. In seconds. Without touching anything.
High science fiction, certainly. Yet voice recognition is possible now. You can buy a Lang Systems, Inc., unit called the Videoslide 35 that will let you photograph the images on your computer screen and turn them into slides in less than an hour.
"The equipment is already here to accomplish many of the things that won't necessarily be commonplace for many years," says Comrex's Pearce. "We have high-speed modems that can transmit data from urban area to urban area, but it will be a while before we can give that kind of service to rural communities. Whether we continue to use the phone lines or switch to something like satellite communications, we'll still be using something like the modems we're using today."
A printer in every kiosk? "That's already happening to a certain extent, at places like automatic teller machines," says Pearce.
"I suppose you might find printers in places like phone booths, say to print out time and charges after a call," he says. "But I think it makes more sense to have a credit card number and get a printed bill at the end of the month instead of carrying around all those little slips of paper."
People, Not Peripherals
Emphasis on consumer education will help people deal with compatibility and sophisticated peripherals, Pearce believes. "I would like to see more education of the masses. I'd like to see dealers really taking care of customers.
"The computer is a sophisticated piece of equipment. Consumer confusion is partly the manufacturer's fault. He says, 'Here, just touch this screen, press this button. It's easy to use!' That only frustrates people when they find out it's not.
"I don't think we're going to see the trend of packaged systems go very far. I've always liked the concept of components—they give the consumer limited flexibility. There will always be a peripheral market."