Thursday, March 16, 2006

Unfolding, or just born to fold?

Origami, the word floating around the tech, and news communities for the past few weeks has finally been revealed; and what a disappointing unveiling it has been indeed.

The viral marketing campaign that MS had tossed out there, quite successfully I might add, was leaking out images, and video of a product that looked quite promising. Unfortunately for MS or any company that hypes it's products in such a way, they have to deliver on the expected promises, or the backlash is unbelievable, (see the "Fun" product launch by Apple at the end of last month). 

I had very high hopes that this would be a fantastic product, and I wanted to see:

-Bluetooth (for A2DP, BT headsets, mice, and keyboards)
-7" 16:9 screen @ 1280x720 (for 720p HD content like WMVHD)
-CDMA/GSM (EV-DO/GPRS), for data connections off of wifi networks, as well as phone calls
-GPS for the cell phone (911) and for navigation
-5 hrs (minimum) battery live, USER REPLACEABLE, and "hot-swappable" akin to my powerbook. I  put it in sleep mode, and have about 5 or so seconds to insert a charged battery. In this way I never have to shut down what I'm working on.
-control buttons on the grills of the "wing-like" flat panel speakers, rather than a stupid bezel
-built-in VPN tunneling (even through a point-to-point connection program) to WinXP (not just MCE) machines, or a media base station for RDC/media streaming, including TV (a la my slingbox!!!, or locationfreeTV)
-3-5 Mpxl camera
-SD/CF card slots
-PCIe card slot
-<2 lbs in weight
-under 3/4" thick
-Digital broadcast tuner
-100GB HD
-biometrics: ideally a thumbprint scanner that only turns on when you press with your thumb (to conserve battery life)
-$500-$600 CAD ($300-$400USD)

What I found lacking (just for now hopefully):
-Decent resolution screens: 800x480 really just doesn't cut it for surfing the web anymore
-Cellular capabilities (without an additional card, or BT connection to a cellphone)*Connected everywhere my ass*
-Battery life (2.5-3hrs, my portable DVD player gets better than that just watching DVDs, it cost less than 180 bucks, and I can swap the battery
-2-3lbs or so
-no built in biometrics
-no PCIe slot (PCMCIA will do for now PCIe is pretty new)
-only 40GB HD
-digital tuner will likely be europe/asia only
-a webcam on the ASUS is a good start, but why aren't these OEMs not learning from cellphone manufacturers.

These are the things that I wanted to see, and figured that would make this new class of product even remotely viable, and this coming from a person who feels that bleeding-edge is barely new enough for me.

I've had a PDA since the venerable PalmPilot Pro, and have waffled back and forth between WinCE/PPC/Windows Mobile, and the Palm OS, but was kind of hoping that I could have had a device to transcend them both with a full blown OS without the REALLY tiny size of the OQO.

Even though the ASUS model that was shown @ CeBIT was the only one the looked like a product that I would want to carry around, it's still too bulky. These devices are another case of an "almost-there" product being released too early, just to launch at a major trade show. And with all the hype that MS created around this launch, only to have their thunder stolen by Intel just a few days before launch, it almost looks like this was thrown together last minute to counter the possible launch of a rumor-only video iPod.

At least SlingMedia had a player already for the new devices, (but still no Mac version yet), and the interface that has been built for UMPC is fairly slick. The DialKeys seems to be good, and would be great if it is resizable for those of us with large hands, or smaller ones. I also hope that MS has some kind of custom task-switcher that you can operate with just a touch, rather than keys.

Frankly what it comes down to is timing. I'm just not sure why MS decided now was the time to unveil this initiative; I mean why not launch this as a first-gen Vista device, which would have made them more attractive for those who would like to get a new mobile device, but already have a brand new, or at least a perfectly serviceable laptop/tablet that already runs XP. Especially when the price is the same as a new full size notebook/tablet.

As I said before, I want one of these, but can't justify getting one until a few... OK, more than a few... refinements are made to the available platforms. Oh well. I guess Apple could always give it a go, but no "MacNewton Pro"!!! I mean the industrial design of the device could certainly use a little slick Cupertino flair, or that of the XBOX360 design team for that matter, ASUS is close, but not quite there yet.

Bill if you're listening... I don't want something that looks good on a desk, or that I can comfortably rest in my lap. I want something that can be held for an entire movie on the train, put into my (slightly) oversized jacket pocket when I'm done the show to listen to my music with an A2DP BT headset, which also allows me to take a call when it comes in. [By the way saying that I could just use BT to connect to my cellphone and connect that way, is a cop-out, and means that I still need to carry around another device, and means that I'll stick with my Treo]

Then when I get home, it auto syncs with my PC via WiFi until I get to my desk, where I drop it into it's dock. While charging in the I/O dock, automatically the display switches to the monitor attached to the dock, or even better, the networked PC that I'm syncing with, so I don't have to change any configuration.

When it's time to head out for the night, slip it into the dashboard dock of the car for the GPS navigation, with dynamic downloads of local features over cellular, or eventually WiMax, hands-free calls, and music already on my UMPC. When filling up at the service station, my passenger could order the movie tickets ahead of time, and check the reservations, all before getting to the destination.

If you want to make a lifestyle device, then you have to build the device around the lifestyle. Not just a tiny Tablet-PC. As with cell phones, they didn't gain widespread usage, or even acceptance until they truly became "pocket-sized" handhelds.


P.S. Yes, I do get that it's still a first-gen device. But that's no excuse for half measures.