Friday, March 10, 2006

First Newton, Then Rocketbook, Then Clie, Now...Q1?

The output of Microsoft's Origami project to develop an all-purpose media handheld made its debut in the form of two devices from Samsung and Asus running the new Ultra-Mobile PC version of Windows XP. According to Engadget, that's about the end of the current story: there's little new functionality, just ways to use the tablet functionality of XP in a keyboardless interface that bears a striking resemblance the old eBook readers such as Rocketbook or a slightly plump version of Apple's pioneering Newton handheld PDA. There's something to be said for this almost-one-hand-but-not-really form factor for content electronics, yet most everything built to this size seems too fat and awkward to succeed as a content appliance. Microsoft stands a better chance than most to succeed with a unit this size, given its universally present operating system and a wealth of content and gaming experiences that can make their way onto this gizmo. But at the end of the day, so I really need another buggy PC for my content? And in this era of DRM gone wild, will I be able to stock up easily on premium titles on one machine that can make their way easily onto this mobile device?

It's time for people thinking about mobile content to get away from PC processors as the heart of display units and to start separating displays from processing and storage whenever possible. In a perfect world I should have one gizmo with processing and storage that sits on my person or in a nearby pocket that can communicate with a number of display devices on or near my person via a Bluetooth-like wireless communications capability that will allow designers to place the emphasis on true handheld convenience. If I want to read an eBook, I can pull out my eInk display and when I need to work on my spreadsheet I pull out my keyboard-display combination to communicate with the same central processor, perhaps with a cable to increase performance when needed. Allow these displays to cache my latest reading interest with a minimum of local functionality to keep me happy and keep the rest in that little out-of-the-way box. The display gizmo could also be used to download content from my newsstand as I walk by, which could be held temporarily in my display device and then downloaded to the processor-storage unit for further use on any number of display devices.

There. The future of display electronics is solved. Next...?
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