We are so close.
I have decided it is time for me to talk about my vision of portable or handheld devices. But first, a little history.
I came that reluctantly to the computer world. My father was an electrical engineer and computer scientist, and I was a political scientist. I read paper books, listened to music, and generally avoided all things digital. Of course, that was easy to do in the early 1980s. But then I got a TI 99/4a. I started becoming a user. The power user. The networking kind of guy. I went from the TI, to the commodore Amiga 1000, and then it was windows-where I am still today, along with linux and the Mac. Along the way I owned and Apple Newton, Handspring Visors, and have used a few tablet-pc’s.
This brings me to my point: we are so close to the dream I had when I first held my Apple Newton, and it is amazing to think that we have come this far in only 20 years.
My vision was at the time (and remains) for a device about the size of a sheet of paper and a no thicker than a pencil. Of course, I wanted to treat it like paper, and be able to write on it, have it recognize my handwriting, have a color display, and full connectivity to the world. I wanted a pad like they had in Star Trek.
The Newton came the closest at first with handwriting recognition, the ability to add a modem, and the ability to create applications. Unfortunately, the Newton was large, heavy, and expensive. [1 The Newton was introduced in 1993, but development began over 20 years ago, in 1989.]. Next came the Palm and Visor PDAs. These devices made carrying your information far more convenient. The Palm and Visor screens were too small, not connected and not in color. And most importantly, they left behind the “natural language” handwriting recognition pioneered by Apple with their Newton. But at least the Palm and the Newton started us down the road of having personal handheld devices.
The Handspring Visor was the first to have a cell-phone and wireless capability with the Visor-Phone (adding email to your pocket–quite the innovation in 2001!) This later morphed into the Treo and the smartphone market was born! I was one of the early adopters here, as well, having been one of the lucky few to get my purchase order in with the first wave! [2 The supplier “ran out” of the units within the first hour of making the item available for sale through Sprint. Apparently they failed to consider appropriate qualitative forecasting techniques such as analogy when predicting demand–but that’s another story, for another blog (the supply chain one!)] When the Treo 300 was released, we now had a PDA with all our information in it, connected to a cellphone data network, and it was in color! The screen was small, and the device rather large/clunky with the clamshell design, but hey–we were CONNECTED!
The iPhone came late to the party, arriving in mid-2007, but brought several new innovations, not the least of which was the touch-screen interface on the solid glass face. Alas, the screen is too small for my tastes, but the iPhone is in color and fully connected with a “real” browsing experience on the web. Oh, and it has apps.
Concurrent with the advent of the iPhone was the introduction of the “NetBook” in 2007 providing limited computing capability for those “on the go.” [3 2007 wasn’t the first time we saw portable micro-notebooks. I had seen some from Toshiba in the mid-1990s. But this was first time they cost far LESS than notebooks rather than far MORE.] This was a step beyond a smart phone–it was a whole computer. Of course, this didn’t slide easily into your pocket, and wouldn’t make a very nice phone, but it brought to the table the notion that we can have some serious computing power available to us in a highly portable device. And the computing power embedded in these devices has continued to both grow in power and shrink in size–in just 3 years since it’s introduction!
Not soon after the iPhone introduction we saw the Kindle pushed to market. This truly was the “next great thing” building on the success of earlier eReaders such as the Sony PRS505. A great device that lets one read books and other “written documents” on a portable device, with a larger screen and a much longer battery life. While the Kindle isn’t in color, it is thin, has some network connectivity, and with the introduction of the DX has a larger display. Competition to the Kindle is emerging in the narrow “eReader” niche, and innovation is beginning to rear it’s head here.
So we come full circle to my dream. we have large displays. We have touch interfaces. We have powerful portable CPUs.
When will someone pull it all together? When will we have the ultra-thin, color device that enables written input, while fully connected, all on a device the size of a sheet of paper? Perhaps this month. Could this be the game changer that Apple is going to introduce?
Let’s set the bar this high. If it isn’t the size of a sheet of paper, and if it is thicker than a pencil, then alas, we have once again missed the mark.
But, if it achieves all this, and more, then all I can say is… “I’m in!”