My ideal handheld device

I’ve been thinking lately of what would make the most ideal portable computing device for me. I’ve been unhappy with the ones I’ve used over the years. I started with a Sharp Wizard, then a HP WindowsCE (320LX? I can’t recall.), a Handspring Visor then a Prism and the last one being a Sony CliĆ©. All of them were rarely used. The one I probably used most was the Visor.

Here are my requirements:

  • Lightweight.
  • Able to play audio (and store lots of it).
  • Able to run a variety of applications.
  • Can play video; DVDs would be ideal.
  • Built-in WiFi.
  • A readable, color screen with decent resolution.
  • Phone service (audio, perhaps even video).
  • Touch sensitive.
  • A keyboard.

Yes, a keyboard is a requirement for me. I know, that doesn’t fit with most people’s concept of a futuristic handheld device. I mean, there are no QWERTY devices on Star Trek, right? Nope, but you also don’t see them doing stuff with pens. They’re usually talking to their computers and they respond, being endowed with futuristic AI. We don’t have the AI to make speech-driven UI a reality. And even if we did, I want to be able to code with this device, which means writing lots of things with complex punctuation. I can’t imagine speaking code could ever be faster than typing it.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that I already have the 70% or more of device I want. It’s my 12” PowerBook. It’s a great device… not perfect though.

More lightweight. For one, I bet Apple could make it lighter. And it should have a longer battery life. A fuel cell perhaps? They can lose the modem. This is a safe bet since it’s been disappearing from their latest product line.

iPoddish. The ability to play your music with it shut and sleeping would be awesome. The processor and OS wouldn’t be active for this; it would be driven from another subsystem that would just access your iTunes library. That should allow you to play music for at least as long as an iPod would. Sort of a cross between an iPod shuffle and a hard-drive based iPod. I want to ditch my iPod shuffle entirely during my commute. A small Bluetooth remote and Bluetooth earbuds (HiFi-quality mind you) would be keen. Wireless, in the ear headphones are so necessary. I’m tired of the dangling white headphones.

Touch-sensitive. I have mixed feelings on this. Touch screens are problematic. A stylus or fingers can’t get the pixel-precision of a mouse or trackpad. Also, touch screens are constantly dirty and covered with scratches. But I’d love the power of a multi-point touch-screen interface. Or touch-surface. So maybe it isn’t the screen. I’ve grown to love the keys on my PowerBook’s keyboard. It’s almost more natural to me now than the Pro keyboard or other 100+ key keyboards. But, I think it would be very interesting if the whole surface area currently used by the keyboard were touch-sensitive. There would be some kind of toggle mechanism that would switch it from a keyboard function to a huge trackpad, one that is tracking multiple points simultaneously. That ability would be necessary to pull of the various kinds of shift sequences you use on a keyboard. In keyboard mode, this area would have a backlight that would reveal the key layout. It might even be possible to use pressure to raise a slight ridge in keyboard mode to let your fingers know the boundaries of the keys.

Phone service. Some form of communication would be necessary, at least through WiFi/VOIP. This is possible today of course. And you can do video chats with iChat today over WiFi. Bonus points for being able to accept/send calls with the computer shut and stowed. I’d settle for WiFi-driven communication alone… I think WiFi will eventually be available everywhere, eventually eclipsing coverage by cellphone carriers. Again, through your wireless earbuds. Did I mention they would double as a stereo microphone? And with the built-in camera going into the new MacBooks and iMacs, I think Apple is going to really drive video chatting forward.

Swivel and shut? Is it possible for the screen to be capable of swiveling around and shutting on top of the keyboard (leaving the screen outward facing) for modes like watching movies, video chatting or reading an e-book? That would indeed by jaw-dropping. I can’t imagine how it would work while retaining the slimline styling the PowerBook is famous for, but I bet Apple engineers could.

I can’t wait to see this thing! Apparently, if you blog about something, your wish will come true.


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Nate Aune said:

Have you seen the new Nokia E70? It has a fold-out qwerty keyboard, 3G, WiFi with VoIP, audio playback, camera w/ video, 352x416 screen. There's a nice review of it here:

Have you tried the Qtek 9100? I have been using one of these for a month now, and they are quite handy. They include a slide out keyboard, wifi, a touchscreen, a mini SD slot, video capabilities, 1.3 megapixel camera, GSM/GPRS (quad band), bluetooth and some more stuff.

The only drawback is the somewhat underpowered processor sometimes (or perhaps badly optimized software).


This article was published on March 4, 2006 9:23 PM.

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