Charlie's Diary

[ Site Index] [ Feedback ]

Sat, 24 Jan 2004

The year of portability?

(This has been a pretty bad week for me -- not quite the grade-A gold-plated kind of shit that goes with, say, being diagnosed with cancer or having a loved one die, but bad enough. Luckily things seem to have come back under control, so I'm free-associating and goofing off and generally distracting myself in an effort to lighten up before I get back to work.)

I've had a long-term obsession with finding the ultimate portable writing gadget. (Cries of "use a pen!" fall on deaf ears, at best warranting the response "do you enjoy copy-typing?") And something tells me that this is the year it becomes possible.

In a nutshell: what I want is a word-processing platform that folds up until it's no larger than a filofax, has a full-sized keyboard and a screen I can read, a text editing environment as good as I'm used to on my desktop, has a decent battery life, and costs no more than half as much as a cheap laptop. Right now, in January 2004, there is No Such Thing: I predict that by January 2005 there will be.

Let's take it from the top. No larger than a filofax: there is a reason people carry those things around. They're information-dense, but they're also small enough to be portable. A filofax will go in a jacket pocket (at a pinch) or in any bag. You can clip it to your belt without too much trouble. Anything bigger, the square-cube law kicks in. Say you've got a widget that approximates to a cube -- like any vaguely brick-shaped item, emphasis on approximate. If you double the length of the edges on a cube you square its surface area but cube its volume, and its weight is proportional to its volume. Quite a small change -- say, increase the length of its edges by 40% -- results in a huge increase in weight -- in this case, tripling it. I'm going to assume that it's intuitively obvious that you don't want the portable writing platform to weigh more than a kilogram; anything heavier and either it's a pain to carry or you need a servant to follow you around with it on a silver platter.

We also have the intersecting issues of decent battery life and a screen I can read with costs no more than ... The screen is the most expensive component of a PDA, and is likely to remain so as long as we're stuck on LCD technology. The screen cost scales as the square of its diagonal size. Moreover, so does its power consumption -- and again, the screen is the most power-hungry component of a PDA -- because it's presumably backlit, and the backlight consumes power in proportion to the surface area to be illuminated. Now, I can read really tiny typefaces, but I like them to be clear; thus, for me, resolution is a higher priority than area. I'm used to writing on a word processor where, as with the typewritten page, I can see textual context above what I'm adding -- I'm a child of the 80's 80x25 green screen text-only display. To do 80x25 with reasonable clarity demands a resolution of at least 320x240 pixels (ancient mono CGA) but preferably more. In practice, the graphical screen crap word processors inflict on us -- toolbars and status bars and menus, oh my -- eat up a third of the screen, to the point where the 320x320 pixels of a Palm Tungsten C are not quite enough. for me. (The 512x160 of the Alphasmart Dana is more than adequate width-wise, but slightly irritating height-wise.)

The ideal would be VGA resolution, 640x480; currently this is available in a PDA if you're willing to import a Sharp Zaurus from Japan, mess with the software, and put up with a two-hour battery life. Currently the best option is a Palm Tungsten T3 (480x320 display) which is, indeed, very clear and sharp; but I suspect a pixel-count war is about to break out in the world of PalmOS and it'd be very rash to buy a T3 at this point in its product life cycle (it's been on the market for almost four months) unless you can find one that's been heavily discounted.

The keyboard issue is, frankly, a done deal. Think Outside announced recently that a bluetooth-enabled version of their XP folding keyboard would be coming out around March. The big problem with earlier versions of this otherwise-wonderful gadget was the edge connector between keyboard and palmtop -- a bluetooth version basically solves the problem completely.

Software is a headache, but the state of the art on PalmOS is moving on. Previously, about the best word processor for the Palm seemed to be WordSmith from Bluenomad, but Documents to Go has been making a lot of headway on features lately, and TextMaker, when it arrives on PalmOS, looks likely to provide full 1995-grade desktop world processing functionality on the newer PalmOS machines that can run it. PalmOS 6 is likely to be a necessity for this sort of application, however (adding in multi-threading and better ARM processor support). My guess is that PalmOS office suites, which were rudimentary accessories in 1999, are going to overtake the desktop state of the art circa 1994 by the end of 2004.

Anyway, I'm guessing that in another two to three months you could pick up a portable office consisting of a discounted Tungsten T3, a bluetooth folding keyboard, and a copy of TextMaker with change from £300. By the end of the year, the PDA specification will have expanded to include a better battery life, a 640x480 resolution screen, and possibly WiFi (currently an extra restricted to the expensive Tungsten C) or telephony features as well as bluetooth. We will, for the first time, have something that you can stick in your pocket and carry round with about the same screen resolution, processor performance, storage capacity, and application quality as a 1995 PC or Mac. Which should tell you why I'm not buying a new PDA in the next few months.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 15:05 | path: /writing | permanent link to this entry


Is SF About to Go Blind? -- Popular Science article by Greg Mone
Unwirer -- an experiment in weblog mediated collaborative fiction
Inside the MIT Media Lab -- what it's like to spend a a day wandering around the Media Lab
"Nothing like this will be built again" -- inside a nuclear reactor complex

Quick links:

RSS Feed (Moved!)

Who am I?

Contact me

Buy my books: (FAQ)

Missile Gap
Via Subterranean Press (US HC -- due Jan, 2007)

The Jennifer Morgue
Via Golden Gryphon (US HC -- due Nov, 2006)

Via (US HC -- due June 30, 2006)

The Clan Corporate
Via (US HC -- out now)

Via (US HC)
Via (US PB -- due June 27, 2006)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)
Free download

The Hidden Family
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

The Family Trade
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)

Iron Sunrise
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)

The Atrocity Archives
Via (Trade PB)
Via (Trade PB)
Via Golden Gryphon (HC)
Via (HC)
Via (HC)

Singularity Sky
Via (US HC)
Via (US PB)
Via (US ebook)
Via (UK HC)
Via (UK PB)


Some webby stuff I'm reading:

Engadget ]
Gizmodo ]
The Memory Hole ]
Boing!Boing! ]
Futurismic ]
Walter Jon Williams ]
Making Light (TNH) ]
Crooked Timber ]
Junius (Chris Bertram) ]
Baghdad Burning (Riverbend) ]
Bruce Sterling ]
Ian McDonald ]
Amygdala (Gary Farber) ]
Cyborg Democracy ]
Body and Soul (Jeanne d'Arc)  ]
Atrios ]
The Sideshow (Avedon Carol) ]
This Modern World (Tom Tomorrow) ]
Jesus's General ]
Mick Farren ]
Early days of a Better Nation (Ken MacLeod) ]
Respectful of Otters (Rivka) ]
Tangent Online ]
Grouse Today ]
Hacktivismo ]
Terra Nova ]
Whatever (John Scalzi) ]
Justine Larbalestier ]
Yankee Fog ]
The Law west of Ealing Broadway ]
Cough the Lot ]
The Yorkshire Ranter ]
Newshog ]
Kung Fu Monkey ]
S1ngularity ]
Pagan Prattle ]
Gwyneth Jones ]
Calpundit ]
Lenin's Tomb ]
Progressive Gold ]
Kathryn Cramer ]
Halfway down the Danube ]
Fistful of Euros ]
Orcinus ]
Shrillblog ]
Steve Gilliard ]
Frankenstein Journal (Chris Lawson) ]
The Panda's Thumb ]
Martin Wisse ]
Kuro5hin ]
Advogato ]
Talking Points Memo ]
The Register ]
Cryptome ]
Juan Cole: Informed comment ]
Global Guerillas (John Robb) ]
Shadow of the Hegemon (Demosthenes) ]
Simon Bisson's Journal ]
Max Sawicky's weblog ]
Guy Kewney's mobile campaign ]
Hitherby Dragons ]
Counterspin Central ]
MetaFilter ]
NTKnow ]
Encyclopaedia Astronautica ]
Fafblog ]
BBC News (Scotland) ]
Pravda ]
Meerkat open wire service ]
Warren Ellis ]
Brad DeLong ]
Hullabaloo (Digby) ]
Jeff Vail ]
The Whiskey Bar (Billmon) ]
Groupthink Central (Yuval Rubinstein) ]
Unmedia (Aziz Poonawalla) ]
Rebecca's Pocket (Rebecca Blood) ]

Older stuff:

June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
(I screwed the pooch in respect of the blosxom entry datestamps on March 28th, 2002, so everything before then shows up as being from the same time)

[ Site Index] [ Feedback ]

Powered by Blosxom!