Charlie's Diary

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Tue, 16 Mar 2004

One gadget I'd like to buy

Having just finished another novel, I scratched my head over how my working methodology has changed in the past year.

A year ago I was mostly working on an Apple Powerbook G4, 15" screen, 1GHz processor and 1Gb of RAM. Those machines are the bee's knees ... if what you want is a transportable desktop machine with the performance and screen size that implies. As a laptop something that big is a little bit vulnerable. I dented mine. Not good.

I decided to downgrade to an iBook G4. It was nearly as powerful as the Powerbook, but half the price (Only 640Mb of RAM instead of 1Gb, but if you're just writing a book and web surfing, what's the difference?) The iBook is a great little laptop and it beats the pants off trying to wrestle Linux onto any Intel laptop, which is why I'm now almost an obligate Mac-head -- I switched to Linux from Apple, and now I've switched back again as Apple added the UNIX infrastructure I wanted.

But the laptop is still kind of cumbersome. Mostly it sits on an iCurve stand on my desk, with a bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and acts like an ersatz desktop machine -- except when I take it away in a big padded backpack. It's not, in other words, my permanent companion.

Palm PDAs are a hell of a lot better at portability, but not quite there yet as a companion machine. The Tungsten T3 I'm currently using is tooth-grindingly close but it's hampered by an operating system out of the stone age (or the late 1980's), and being just slightly too small. Something closer in size to the original Apple Newton -- the Messagepad 100 -- would be better. The MP100 was unfashionably large by modern PDA standards, being pitched at the size of a reporter's notepad. I'm pretty sure you could cram a PalmOS machine into that size, with a 640x480 colour screen and WiFi and Bluetooth and multiple expansion slots, and still have plenty of room for batteries (please, Palmsource, go back to using disposable over-the-counter cells!) and a decent-sized stylus.

But on the other hand ...

... I have lately found myself day-dreaming about a tablet iBook.

In my dream, the tablet iBook would be exactly the same size as a current-model 12" iBook, except maybe a couple of millimetres thinner. Instead of a traditional clamshell laptop body, with a keyboard/trackpad on the bottom half and a screen built into the lid, there'd simply be a screen with a toughened glass or plastic front on top, like the Tablet PC form machines from the likes of HP and Compaq (but without the whizzy bolt-on keyboards). It would have a pen, instead of a mouse, and Bluetooth; a keyboard would be an optional extra, connecting via Bluetooth or USB. There'd probably be no internal CD/DVD drive at all, but support for an external USB drive. The space freed up by the optical drive would both lighten the machine and make for a spare battery bay, giving a 10-hour road life. For handwriting input, let it use Graffiti; if it was easy enough for a million businessmen to learn it on their PDAs, it'll work well on a tablet iBook today.

One important note: stick to iBook components. Make it the same size as a 12" iBook. Use the same motherboard, the same batteries, if possible the same screen elements (with the addition of the digitizer). Let's not see a whole new range of expensively customized hardware. By keeping to standardized components, Apple could commoditize this particular unit, keep it cheap ... and sell one to every desktop Mac owner as a mobile companion.

I see a tablet iBook being used exactly as Microsoft tried to get people to use the tablet PC -- with a big difference. Microsoft screwed their Tablet PC by pitching it at corporate sales forces and managers, and targeting it at the £1600/$2500 price point. This is just plain wrong. Mobile sales staff need a full-size laptop (but it better be cheap!), while their bosses need a PDA and a desktop. Trying to combine all of that in one machine at a premium price left people scratching their heads and asking, "why should I pay $3000 for a tablet PC when I can pay $1000 for a desktop and $500 for a PDA?"

In contrast, the Mac user base is skewed heavily towards creative and media types. I'd love to have a machine I could stick in a desk stand and type text onto with a keyboard, then pick up and take away and edit the text on with a pen. And I bet that with Photoshop and Illustrator on board, a tablet iBook would be a big hit with graphic professionals looking for a quick, easy tool for doodling and developing ideas. Scribble on it on the move, then transfer the concepts to the main desktop system back at the design shop. PDAs are woefully underpowered when it comes to this sort of task -- the existing drawing tools are just toys. A tablet iBook, in contrast, could work with the same suite of design tools as a full-blown desktop Mac, but make it easier to take the design suite on the road to see clients.

The one thing a tablet iBook would have to be is cheap. But iBooks are already cheap entry level laptops, and the tablet model could be cut-down even further -- no hinge, no trackpad, no keyboard, no optical drive, a display element embedded inside the sealed lucite lid casing. The only extra hardware would be a stylus and the digitizer -- which is not the priciest component of any PDA by a long way. The main changes would lie under the hood, in software support for a Graffiti-like pen input system, a digitizer, and ensuring that the OS could be driven (at a pinch) without a keyboard. It should be possible to retail a machine like that for around £500 or US $750.

If Apple ever get round to it, I'll be in like a shot, because I don't like having to sit at a desk in front of a computer to edit text -- the desk is for writing. Editing a manuscript is something you do with a pen, sitting on the sofa or in bed with the material on your lap or spread around you. Likewise, the graphics workstation is for production work. Generating ideas is something that happens on the move, while visiting clients, in the local cafe, or anywhere. Think of the tablet iBook as a machine for helping people to think different in different places.

[Discuss toys]

posted at: 18:05 | path: /toys | permanent link to this entry


At 93,300 words.

I can't believe I wrote the last 10,000 words in one day. (Well, I can -- I mean, I saw myself doing it. And I can even guess why: climax to fast-moving novel, fully plotted-out in detailed outline, reluctant to get up for toilet breaks, etcetera etcetera.) But oww, my hands ache!

Tomorrow: go to dentist, spell-check novel, email novel to agent. Then gibber quietly and spend the rest of the week in the pub.

[Discuss writing]

posted at: 00:41 | 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

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Missile Gap
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The Jennifer Morgue
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The Clan Corporate
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The Hidden Family
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Iron Sunrise
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The Atrocity Archives
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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)

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