|Where's my teeny computer?
||[Nov. 13th, 2008|02:53 pm]
I've noticed something missing in the tech offerings of late. It's 2008, where's my tiny, lightweight, nearly-effortless-to-use computer? I'm talking about that killer device that we read and heard about in the mid 90s. You know, the one we'd laugh at when predicted by cyberpunk authors and industry talking heads (but secretly would've given our left gonad to own if it were real)? The super small, super light, computer with an interactive interface that you could use on the go? Your little electronic friend, auxilliary brain, personal assistant, social organizer and trivia researcher all built into one sexy package?Clearly we aren't there yet, but we seem to be frustratingly close. I see two contenders:
1--Palmtops: There are many products out there that claim to be palmtop computers. They range from PDAs to glorified electronic organizers. The functionality of these is more-or-less satisfying depending on your criteria, but I think anyone would agree they are hampered in size, battery life and computing power. There have been a few pretty nifty handheld computers from ASUS and Sony but they didn't seem to catch on and are pretty expensive. A new trend that I like (but doesn't fulfill my idea of a palmtop computer) are the new, super small laptops (netbooks or laptots seem to be the nicknames du jour). The eee and Dell's Mini models each have something to recommend them but they still need a lap or a desk. I'll discuss the requirements for a true palmtop later.
2 Wearables: I was thinking the solution might be wearable computers a la Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End . I remember seeing a homebrew wearable with split keyboard and goggle display in the mid-to-late 90s. (similiar to this: http://wearcam.org/steve5.htm) There have been tech advances which SHOULD bring this closer to a viable consumer product (flexible keyboards and displays, pointing devices that follow eye movement, miniaturized powerful processors, solid state hard drives, wide-area wireless/cellular access). Unfortunately, it's likely some of these will not be brought within retail price range for quite a few more years.
So, what are the parameters of this killer device, anyway? I came up with a few, maybe others have better. It should be easily carryable in one hand (or better yet, fastenable to some part of your body). It should be keyboardless (onscreen touch keyboard counts but I'd prefer to see alternate interfaces). It should have full internet access* in most public places (right now that means cellular data). It should be powerful enough to fulfill PDA and entertainment functions. It should have a battery that lasts for at least 8 hours of periodic use (which includes being on standby so that there is no time spent waiting for it to wake up). Essentially, it's a computer that you can actively use while walking around unimpaired.
*Part of this is software related, as most or all websites would need to be formatted to appear properly on this device. This pretty much requires a device with enough market saturation that website coders will be moved to ensure compatibility. Either that or the maker of the device will use a gateway and massage all the sites to look pretty on the device, and that's no good really because there's too much content and it changes too quickly.
It might seem that we are pretty close (in fact that is why I love my iPhone). However I feel that the devices available so far lack a clearly readable screen size (or appropriate alternate display) and the input choices are limited and impair locomotion. Also, internet access still has some kinks (high price for cellular data, limited wifi availability) and battery life is still an issue for pretty much any device I've heard of. I'd love to hear comments on this. Am I the only one who cares? What are the other must haves for a truly kickass palmtop? How far away are we?