Entelligence: Thirty three screens and a cloud

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

There are some devices that are universally loved or reviled -- I don't know anyone who doesn't think HTC EVO 4G is awesome, or anyone who doesn't think the WikiReader was awful. Then there are some that seem to be quite polarizing, and these are the ones that I'm usually most interested in -- just listen to Joshua Topolsky and me debate Kin on the Engadget Podcast, for example. The latest of these polarizing devices is the Sony Dash. The Dash is hard to categorize. It's a connected screen, based in part on the venerable Chumby. Nilay Patel was somewhat lukewarm about it. Ross Rubin likes it and the Wall Street Journal was somewhat ambivalent about it. Here's what I've learned from a few days living with one on my nightstand.

1. The vision is fundamentally correct. There's a lot that needs to improve about the Dash, both from a marketing and implementation perspective, but the core idea is sound. Microsoft likes to talk about "three screens and a cloud" and I agree with that vision -- my phone number is 408-3-SCREEN -- but it's really a statement about consumption, creation and communication. Count the number of PCs, TVs, phones, game devices, media players and navigation devices you have around the house and interact with -- it's more like 33 screens. The idea that there's going to be multiple connected screens that consumers interact with is real.

2. Paradigms shift. One of the arguments against Dash is that consumers won't pay $199 for a device that doesn't fit into the three screen model. Perhaps. But there's a lot of evidence that's contrary to this. When the iPod was first introduced, a lot of pundits said it was doomed to failure. Why one earth would someone spend $500 on a gadget that was fundamentally the same as a $50 CD player? Of course, that analysis was as wrong as possible. Consumers will pay where they see value. I'm not sure the current iteration of Dash has met that threshold, but I don't think it's a product that's meant for the mass market right now. Longer term, Sony needs to think less about adding functionality, and more about how to constrain it. When it comes to consumer electronics, less is often more.

3. Glanceable information is key. I love the idea of glanceable content. Microsoft attempted to do much of what is key to Dash with its SPOT initiative (although with a very different approach). Information should be easily accessible and viewable. I don't even need to make an argument here, really -- glanceable devices are all around us. Look at that watch on your wrist or your clock radio. Both are designed to quickly convey one bit of information: the time of day. The dashboard on your car conveys key information such as speed and fuel consumption. At the moment, no one's quite gotten how to extend richer views of information to those glanceable screens, but the Dash begins to do this. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I want to know the time as well as the weather.

Using Dash for a while I can see just why the product is as polarizing as it is in current incarnation. Sony will address current issues or not but I expect that connected screens are going to be a core part of our lives going forward.