Back to: Trick Question | Forward to: Polite Note

Gadget patrol: Bigger is better?

An infrequent series of gadget blogging posts ...

(Moderator update: Welcome to everyone who's come here from HN or Daring Fireball or wherever. Please refer to the moderation policy before posting a comment. Also note that we're having a storm of spam from "anonymous" at present — not the /b/ folks, but spambots who aren't polite enough to use a name. If you leave your name blank or use "anonymous" as a handle your comment may be deleted.)

There's an argument going on on the internet right now about the merits of larger screen sizes on smartphones. Proponents argue that gizmos like the new Samsung Galaxy S II (with a 109.22mm screen diagonal) are somehow better than the iPhone 4S (with its wearyingly 2009-vintage 88.9mm screen) purely because of the bigger screen.

Interestingly, the food fight has moved on from absolute number of pixels on screen — with 800 x 480 pixels on the Galaxy SII versus the iPhone's eye-bleeding 960 x 640, most adults can't see any sign of the jaggies when holding their phone at arm's length.

Rather, this fight is all about ergonomics ... and the iPhone boosters are wrong this time.

The proponents of the iPhone size screen point out that, holding the phone in one hand, with a 3.5 inch/90mm screen you can reach all the icons on the screen with your thumb; whereas around 40-50% of the screen real estate is out of reach on the larger phones. The larger screen actually makes the phone more cumbersome and less useful as a phone. Bigger screens, they argue, are like tail fins on 50's automobiles, and if the vendors want to make them functional they need to invest design chops in a user interface that allows one-handed use.

The pushers proponents of the bigger screens point out (rightly) that the iPhone's 90mm screen is visually cramped and a 110mm screen is nicer to look at.

I'm going to side with the big screen folks this time; while those who accuse them of being badly designed for one-handed use are absolutely correct, they're wrong about the shape of the overall argument.

They're wrong because a smartphone is not a dumb phone.

The use case for a dumb phone goes back to the old rotary dial land line phone; you have a control dial to input the number you're calling, then a handset with a microphone and speaker that you hold to your head while you talk. Let me emphasize that: while you talk. Phones were all about talking.

Then we got dumb cellphones and could talk without the wire. So the functionality of the base station (bells and dials and switches) was merged into the bit you held to talk into. They acquired numeric keypads.

Circa the early 1990s, GSM phones began to turn up. They included some neat features — wireless data, and the ability to send control messages up to 160 characters long (originally developed for pagers, now generalized to all over the air systems). People rapidly began to use text messages for their own purposes.

Fast forward a few years, through the early smartphones (yes, I owned a Treo 600) to the modern touchscreen smartphones.

Our current generation of smartphones are not optimized for talking to people. You can use them as a dumb cellphone, but frankly, the call quality is usually horrible because what they're really designed around is communications. This may involve SMS messaging, or its multimedia sibling MMS, or voice calls over the telephone network, but it probably involves internet usage: email, instant messaging, web, IP telephony via Skype or similar, stuff like Apple's Facetime — internet video telephony.

(In the past month I've made maybe half a dozen voice calls. In that time, I've sent many tens of text messages, and sent and received numerous emails, on my iPhone.)

You do not cram a videophone against the side of your ear. Ditto an email terminal. You hold it in front of your face. Probably in both hands, because thumb-typing with two thumbs is faster than thumb-typing with one hand.

That's the first argument for larger screens on smartphones; they're text terminals and text input works best with two hands (at least, unless Siri exceeds expectations — which I don't expect it to in the short term, because as I understand it it needs to be internet connected all the time in order to work, and our current networks aren't fit for purpose[1]).

The second argument is based on eyeballs.

Most of our global civilization has, or is about to, undergo a phenomenon called the demographic transition. A side-effect of the DT is that the age profile of the population skews towards the elderly. From early middle age on, your eyeballs lose acuity and in particular the lenses in your eyes become less able to focus on nearby objects — presbyopia (or "long-sightedness") cuts in. In most of Western Europe the average age is now around 35-40; in Japan it's higher. This is the age profile of the 21st century.

Anecdote time: I had a little accident on my flight to the 100 Year Starship conference. It was a long-haul, and I took my glasses off to get some sleep for a couple of hours. I woke up needing the rest room as one does on a 9 hour flight, stood up ... and managed to rip the arm off my varifocals (which were partially nested in a niche on the back of the chair in front). So I was forced to resort to my emergency spare glasses[2], ones adapted to the vision of a 40 year old.[3]

I have an iPhone 4 and am generally happy with it. But during my couple of weeks without decent visual correction, I have found myself holding the iPhone at arm's length in order to focus on it — at which distance it's not emitting quite enough light to be easy to read. The ultra sharp display hovers just slightly out of comfortable focusing distance. Web browsing became unaccountably fatiguing. And I got a brutal reminder as to why I still carry a Kindle ebook reader when I fired up the Kindle app on the iPhone[4].

It is no fun to have to take your glasses off whenever you want to look at your iPhone, or to squint at it from arm's reach. This, for me, is one of the key weaknesses of the iPhone/iPod Touch form factor. The user interface is very pretty, but it has been designed for twenty-somethings, or for adults with high quality visual correction. If your visual correction is just slightly off, or you have other eye trouble, the small smartphone form factor is a disaster waiting to happen — especially if it's your main computing device (as it probably will be, in years to come).

I mentioned earlier that the smartphone is a text terminal. This isn't necessarily true for all users or all time — it's just my personal bias. I found Facetime surprisingly useful for keeping in touch with my wife on my long trip in July/August; as higher data rate networks like LTE roll out, I expect multi-way video calling to really take off. There are other high bandwidth visual things folks do with these devices. Things for which having a large, clear screen will be more important than the ability to reach all the controls one-handed. Like, oh, reading ebooks or watching movies comfortably.

The iPhone 4S looks nice, but when I bought my current phone I planned to wait until it was at least 24 months old before replacing it, and I've seen nothing to change my mind so far. The one feature that Apple could add that would cause me to whip out my wallet right now would be a 110mm (or larger) screen with the same pixel count as the current 90mm screen, and ideally a keyboard optimized for two-thumb typing (like the one iOS 5 is set to bring to the iPad later this week).

TL;DR: it's not about one-handed phone use; folks who think in terms of smartphones as a one-handed device are still stuck in the telephone age). The real bone of contention is what to do about ageing eyeballs in the era of visual media. While the market for one-handed talk-to-me gadgets is declining, the number of folks with sub-optimal eyesight is only going to grow with time. It doesn't matter how much more convenient it is to use a gadget one-handed, if you can't see the screen. And we're trying to display so much information via smartphones that something has to give: my money is on the screen diagonal.

There is a wild card in all this, and that wild card is Siri — intelligent voice-controlled navigation. If it can really be made to work, we may be about to see the smartphone market fission completely — into screenless intelligent assistants that clip to your ear like a bluetooth headset, and compact tablets for those of us who want to thumb-type with both hands. But we're still in the early days of cloud-mediated conversational AI assistants ...




[1] Both in terms of data service availability and in terms of what happens the first time you get off a plane in a foreign country and get sideswiped by $9.50/megabyte international roaming charges.

[2] If you wear glasses or contacts all the time, you should always pack an emergency spare set in your luggage when you travel. Even if it's just the old pair you replaced in daily use a couple of years ago; partial visual correction is still way better than none at all. Ditto any essential medication: trying to find an emergency doctor in a country where you don't speak the language really sucks.

[3] I turn 47 next week. It's downhill all the way ...

[4] You can have readable text on screen but have to turn pages every ten seconds, or you can have a pages' worth of text on screen and need a magnifying glass to read it. Or you can use an e-reader with a 150mm screen diagonal.

200 Comments

1:

I guess it's all in how you want to use it.

Yeah, I use a lot of the shiny smartphone features. I didn't actually expect to use an iPhone as an eBook reader, but it works better than I expected. Fortunately, I don't have to deal with your vision issues.

I really like the thumb argument, because I use the iPhone that way because sometimes I really only have one hand to work with. But my argument for keeping mobiles to around the iPhone size is that I want a mobile I can shove in a pocket and not something that harks back to the days of mobiles the size of a house brick.

2:

I have the Galaxy SII and I love it, especially for its abilities as an online terminal, my gateway to my own personal external storage (the Internet), Facebook, Twitter, G+, Reader and everything else.

I'm not saying that an iPhone is a worse device or a better one but I do have to question the constant chasing of smaller and smaller dot pitches. At least the ridiculous laptop screens of 130-150dpi of a few years ago have given way to a decidedly chunky 100dpi, thanks to the ubiquity of TV-spec LCD panels. I'm not sure it helps greatly to be unable to see the pixels unless the UI is optimised for a super fine display.

The biggest Achilles' heel for the Galaxy SII is battery life. That big screen (and monster processor) really eat the battery. There is a big bonus in being able to change the battery but really, couldn't they have made the phone a bit thicker and give a decent battery as standard?

That said, the larger screen makes it very very relaxing to use for internet access and the Kindle Reader app on there is pretty good, especially in light-on-dark configuration.

What I'd really like is for computer UIs to be device-independent; not making assumptions about dpi so that icons are not designed to be 32px×32px, for instance. Scalability is required before invisible dpis become useful.

3:

I usually recommend watching Star Trek on this topic. People there weren't concerned with availability or price or even making their props work - why should they? They could focus making it possible to pretend those things are comfortable.

And what they ended up with and almost all cases is significantly larger than a 3.5" smartphone and usually smaller than a 7" tablet. Most of their props are also far from being display-only-devices. They are wasting space on bezels or even just covering the lower third or so in plastic, for people to comfortably hold those things.

A design that I would like would have a comfortably large screen (13-18cm diagonal), a detachable handset on one side of the screen to double as a grip for your hand when not using your "phone" to do phoney things and be a bit thicker than wafer-thin, because the optimal thickness for things you want to hold in your hand for a long time is not eight millimeters.

Most controllers for 1990ies video game consoles were about 20 millimeters thick and they didn't get thinner despite technology that would have allowed for significant reductions. Instead, they became more ergonomic and thicker.

4:

Since I got my iPad a month ago (on my 47th birthday :) ). I find that my mobile email/surfing/etc happens on it and my iPhone has been relegated to phone calls and texts. I have the same issues that with reading the iPhone without my glasses (which as I only need them for reading, I don't carry all the time). I tried to read a kindle book on it at the gym the other day (forgot my earphones and treadmill too boring without some distraction :) ) and even on the highest font it was just blurry.

So I am conflicted, I agree that having my iPhone in my pocket is way easier than carrying an iPad size device around, but the size is not conducive. Maybe there needs to be an iOS setting that defaults zoom out to 50% bigger than the screen size?

5:

Laser eye surgery is interesting in that it seems the first mainstream use of fully automated surgery, as far as I know the machine does 90% of the procedure? I may be wrong.

Anyway, it might allow the demographic bulge to hang onto it's visual acuity a little longer.

6:

Don't take this the wrong way Charlie, but it does occur to me that most of your views on what does and does not work in the gadget area is heavily skewed by your own physical boundary conditions. Granted, I'm only just entering middle age, but since I had corrective surgery I've certainly been able to tell the difference between low and high resolution phone displays. Combine this with my freakish long thumbs and it seems that I'm exactly the kind of customer who would be unlikely according to your analysis if I read it correctly. So thank, the principles for diversity!

Re [1]: for $70 I got a month's worth of data and communications last time I crossed the pond. It should be plenty for your exocortex needs.

7:

i must admit, the arguments about single handed use of the Galaxy SII made me laugh. I have quite small hands, but I have no problem using my Galaxy one handed if the need arises.

But I agree with Charlie - most of the time I use my 'phone' two handed, as most of my usage is data oriented, not voice, so the problem of single thumb usage is moot.

Of course the screen size problem would go away if someone would hurry up and make an affordable/usable HUD for use with bluetooth/wi-fi devices. I know though that a certain percentage of people wouldn't be able to use them, due to not being able to focus close enough, so they may have to wait until a direct feed into the optic nerve can be achieved safely and affordably!

8:

Well, printers and scanners seem to have settled on 600dpi as the normal resolution, and I can't see any reason why the screen would be any different. Of course, as you write, that means making things scalable, not fixed 32x32 pixels.

600dpi screen probably would look really pretty, if it was used wisely rather than to cram more and more things on the screen.

9:

Don't take this the wrong way Charlie, but it does occur to me that most of your views on what does and does not work in the gadget area is heavily skewed by your own physical boundary conditions.

Well, yes.

But my point is -- lots of folks have these boundary conditions!

The CE industry as a whole is rather ageist in orientation; fashion-driven, aimed at milking young adults for every spare penny (given that they don't have mortgages or car loans or education loans to shoulder, the under-18s are a prime consumer demographic). They seem to pay scant attention to the sort of folks who don't turn up in the marketing meetings where design briefs are prepared.

(Consider, for example, the gaming biz's focus on teen-age males, given that repeated surveys have found that the average gamer is in their mid-30s and 40-45% likely to be female.)

When asked to produce a mobile phone for the elderly, the typical phone OEM response is to build a giant handset with huge numeric buttons and no screen or functionality. Not something like an iPhone only 30% bigger and with audio feedback. It is, frankly, insulting -- the young stereotyping the old as being too stupid to bother with technology.

10:

If you think presbyopia is frustrating, try it with near-sightedness and a side order of pronounced astigmatism. Without correction nothing is clear at any distance. Absent glasses I can simply forget about reading anything at all. Or navigate an unfamiliar place, notice other pedestrians or approaching traffic, or recognize friends or family when they're not moving about or talking.

That said, I doubt voice recognition of any kind will become the dominant input mode. Imagine a typical office of, oh, 5-8 people or so. Imagine the vague irritation whenever one of your colleagues is taking a call; you hear bits and pieces of one side of a conversation, and you keep getting distracted as your brain tries to make sense of the fragmentary speech. Now, imagine the same office with everybody constantly talking in much the same incomplete manner.

11:

I do a lot of reading on my iPhone, both of downloaded ebooks and technical papers (PDFs from arxiv especially) and of websites with fairly dense text (computer science and programming, mathematics, and physics primarily, meaning I have to be able to read sub- and superscripts easily). I'm 65, and have the same sort of eye issues as Charlie, so the screen size and resolution are important1. But I'm usually holding the phone in one hand with the other poised over it, index finger extended, to either scroll or select text for dictionary lookup or google search. So a form factor that makes holding the phone with one hand is important.

1. One reason why I think high dpi is necessary is that fine detail on type makes it easier to read for any given font size. And on a small screen, Charlie's right, you want to use the smallest type you can read easily.

12:
we may be about to see the smartphone market fission completely — into screenless intelligent assistants that clip to your ear like a bluetooth headset, and compact tablets for those of us who want to thumb-type with both hands.

Even if voice control becomes near perfect, most users are going to want some sort of visual display, even if it's not a touch screen, because:

  • a) Vision has a higher bandwidth and lower latency for the transfer of information to the human brain than speech does.

  • b) A display has an inherent memory: you can keep a screenful of information in front of you for long periods of time, while you have to remember what the voice output has told you

  • c) The kinds of information that a screen can show you are different. For instance, I use the map application a lot and except for turn by turn navigation, speech just can't do that.
  • 13:

    Janne, my presbyopia is a recent addition. It stacks on top of: myopia, astigmatism, peripheral retinopathy (down to 50% of visual field) in right eye, and focal distortion left over from surgery for a detached retina in the left eye.

    My myopia is probably not as bad as yours -- I can read at arm's length with my right eye (but lose track of text that isn't in narrow columns due to the dormant retinopathy) -- but I'm still pretty much used to grabbing my glasses as soon as I wake up and not taking them off until I'm ready to turn the bedroom lights out.

    (Can't wear contact lenses. Surgical scars on left eyeball ...)

    14:

    We've discussed laser eye surgery here before - my opinion is that it's still not a good long-term solution. Anecdotes: I know a young woman who is now functionally blind because of a botched operation. I know many senior physicists in the field of laser optics who wear glasses and who wouldn't consider having the op (e.g presidents of the OSA).

    Many people who have had treatments report problems including permanent damage to corneal nerves, incomplete healing and weakening of cornea, reduced effetiveness of later cataract surgery, reduced treatment options after surgery, loss of night vision, inability to cope with glare. Relevant to this discussion, later untreatable presbyopia seems to be an outcome.

    Websites I've looked at seem divided between industry pages that say it's all fine in all cases, and pages that claim it's always horrible. I uspect that neither kind is accurate, and that the true risk is serious for about 20% of patients (which is unaceptable to me), but that many people experience a real improvement. But it's far too early to tell.

    15:

    I'm not sure I buy the argument about one handed usage meaning I'm trapped in the telephone age. What I usually am is trapped in the midst of something else, be it a train journey that involves standing, a bus ride, holding my son, eating breakfast or typing on my laptop with my other hand.

    My iphone is quintessentially a multitasking device. I use it to communicate while I'm doing other things, so being able to touch almost all of the screen with the thumb of my left hand is intensely useful. If I'm lounging around with enough space and time to use both hands, I either have my laptop or iPad out.

    16:

    (Consider, for example, the gaming biz's focus on teen-age males, given that repeated surveys have found that the average gamer is in their mid-30s and 40-45% likely to be female.)

    [Sidetrack: Oh good, they've done the market research already. For a while there, I thought they were just ignoring us elderly and/or female gamers because they were unaware we existed at all. There's something so reassuring about discovering the actual reason is pig-headed incompetence! Means there's the possibility of some bright spark realising that hey, there's actually a whole 'nother market out there to be exploited, if we can just play our cards right!

    (I realise this is probably a sign of extreme cynicism on my part... but anything beats trying to make myself feel positive about browsing past yet another round of combat simulation FPS games on the "New!" racks when I'm an RPG and JRPG junkie from way back).]

    When asked to produce a mobile phone for the elderly, the typical phone OEM response is to build a giant handset with huge numeric buttons and no screen or functionality. Not something like an iPhone only 30% bigger and with audio feedback. It is, frankly, insulting -- the young stereotyping the old as being too stupid to bother with technology.

    Well, that's what my parents would be looking for in a mobile phone. They're both 70.

    Me? I'm officially middle-aged (hit 40 this year). I'm looking to replace my little pre-paid mobile phone some time in the next 6 - 12 months, and what I'd ideally like is something which could replace my ancient Palm M515 (which still functions, but has lost so much battery life that it now only serves as an alarm clock, from the cradle in my bedroom) as far as applications go, but has a much more robust text entry system. If it could make phone calls and send SMS as well, all the better! The Nokia I have at present could theoretically do all that, but really, the input system is just so clunky and awkward it's not worth the time or effort to bother.

    I really miss my Palm - it was an excellent prosthetic memory while the battery lasted.

    17:

    I have high hopes for Siri, not because of what it can do but hopefully because of what it represents as the future of (wo)man-machine interface. I remember in the summer talking to a friend who expressed an opinion that he can't conceive of the next revolution in phones. I remember saying "I heard of this Siri thing a few years ago that acts like a voice command mixed with a concierge", (imagine my surprise when I saw the new iPhone will apparently have it?)

    Hopefully software like Siri will lead us into a situation where cheap, off-the-shelf intelligent voice-recognition is able to be bolted on to most consumer items. Combine that with cloud computing and an internet of things and the future seems full of crazy people who frequently talk to their everyday surroundings (compared to the crazy people of today who seem to speak plastic boxes in their hand).

    18:

    To me, my iPhone is less a communication device (and even less a phone) and more a way of interacting with the informational 'layer' of the world around me. For this, one-handed operation and absolute pocketability (I always want to have a smartphone on me and never be inconvenienced by it) are incredibly important.

    If the only tradeoff to consider were to be portability versus ease/richness of interaction, I would like to have 5 screens:

    1. Something watch sized for quick verification of information/status updates with limited scope for input (always worn).

    2. Something pocketbook sized for interaction on the go (i.e. effectively while in motion), which is always on me and I can access at a moment's notice.

    3. Something A4/Legal pad sized for casual work and entertainment (and more involved interaction with the physical world's information) outside of my 1-2 places most optimised for productivity.

    4. Something 25"-30" for serious work and play over extended periods of time.

    5. Something 100"+ (think whiteboard) for working with people.

    I think the iPhone and iPad cover (2) and (3) pretty nicely.

    19:

    Large screens aren't just for old timers. I'm a young guy with 20/20 vision, and I love my 4.3 inch HTC desire hd. The screen size was the reason I got it over the iPhone. If you add not having a portion of the browser screen taken up by the menu and back buttons, the difference in screen real estate is massive.

    Eats batteries for breakfast tho.

    Ps, this comment box disappears off screen in landscape mode for some reason.

    20:

    I think this issue is transient and will be resolved in a few years with the advent of flexible screens.

    Form factors are important too. Ideally the device should be both small and have a large screen, say about the size of a ppb/Kindle/iPad. A device that has a screen that can be unfolded/unrolled would be very nice for reading and viewing video.

    21:

    Here's my take on the ergonomics of the current iPhone.

    Simply put, bigger is great, but not marginally bigger. The iPad is a good example of bigger being better.

    As for the iPhone...

    A little while back, I remember tweeting that the iPhone 5 wasn’t going to have a larger screen, but that it was going to have a slightly smaller body. Evidently I was wrong, there is no iPhone 5 and it’s certainly not smaller; nonetheless, I wanted to explore this thought further. I sat down and began to imagine how the iPhone might look if I were to simplify the form. What I’ve come up with, is a concept that maintains the exact same screen size, but reduces the collateral structure. I see this as an advantage in many ways.

    See mockup I created: http://sefsar.com/post/11295749699/a-little-while-back-i-remember-tweeting-that-the

    Despite having large hands, I often find reaching for extreme opposite corners quite a stretch. In fact, it becomes tiresome during longer sittings; it feels a lot like repetitive strain injury. Additionally, I find that I have to pivot the phone in my hand while simultaneously reaching for the corner with my thumb. This pivot momentarily turns the screen away from view, at time when I need to be certain of what I’m about to action. These issues are further compounded when you consider that it has become an iOS UI convention to place almost all primary actions in the upper corners.

    I believe that a slightly narrower body (~10mm reduction) could improve this painful part of the iPhone experience.

    22:

    Charlie, I have to disagree with you on this one.

    I mean, I totally, 100% agree that an iPhone with a larger screen would be more suitable for you, but I think in the general case, it's not so.

    As a professional writer with a stack of eyesight issues, you're clearly going to assign a lot of weight to a larger screen and text input advantages. The majority of your working life is spent at your desk, and even on your regular travels, from your descriptions, the bulk of the time seems to be spent waiting in an airport (or driving to/from, but I hope you're not trying to text while doing that ;-) ), or seated on a plane: environments where you have both hands free and relatively few "urgent" distractions (by which I mean dodging moving obstacles, for example).

    The solution to the issues you state is one you already have: an iPad :)

    As an iPhone developer, I give one-handed use serious thought in application design. One-handed use is not about being stuck in the telephone age (I barely used a mobile phone before the iPhone came out, I rarely use it for voice calls). Chris nails it: it's about the realities of urban life for many people. They are not holding on to their phone with both hands -- because one of their hands is clinging to the pole of a bus or tube train. Or holding a bag of shopping, or purse, or umbrella. It's holding on to the hand of a child while crossing the road. It's swiping their oyster card, or holds a cigarette or a mug of coffee. Two handed use means letting go of something important. And not in the metaphorical sense, but actually releasing physical grip on it! :)

    23:

    I use my iPhone 4 one-handed all the time -- for example when sipping a hot cup of coffee and trying to catch up with the news. I also regularly type one handed on the iPhone. It's a little slower but if I'm just typing a quick text message that doesn't matter so much.

    I do believe that Apple have tried to perfect the iPhone as a device that can be operated with one hand. In particular, the way in which buttons are laid out on screen. Potentially the only feature I have come across that doesn't work one-handed is zooming out in the Maps app.

    Interestingly the iPhone seems to be optimized for right handed operation. On screens where buttons are displayed in the top left and top right corners, usually the button in the top right is the most important of the two.

    I'm not totally convinced that a 4-inch phone is impossible to use one-handed. Surely it depends on the size of the user's hands?

    24:

    I'm a bit older than you, I think. And my presbyopia is at the point at which I need my glasses even to comfortably read my iPad. So making my iPhone a few percent larger wouldn't do a bit of good for me, and I don't think catering to people with early presbyopia would help sales all that much. Also, I do thumb browse quite a bit, because I may be doing something else with my other hand. I could see stretching the screen out to the edge, however, as long as the case itself doesn't get any larger. My thumbs are long enough to reach edge to edge, and I have pretty small hands.

    25:

    I think Mr Stross has something here.

    I'm about a year younger. I have merat conus in my left eye, severe astigmatism, myopia AND presbyopia.

    I had to abandon my 7" Asus EEE as too small a screen, unless it's hooked up to a monitor it's no use.

    My HTC desire is too small unless I squint from very close

    Thank God for ereaders and my Sony 505 on larger print.

    The iPad (I wish I had had the patience to wait for the Asus transform) is my mobile gadget of web browsing and quick emails now, not my phone, not my EEE

    THOUGH the Galaxy might change that next upgrade time

    26:

    I think Mr Stross has something here.

    I'm about a year younger. I have keratoconus in my left eye, severe astigmatism, myopia AND presbyopia.

    I had to abandon my 7" Asus EEE as too small a screen, unless it's hooked up to a monitor it's no use.

    My HTC desire is too small unless I squint from very close

    Thank God for ereaders and my Sony 505 on larger print.

    The iPad (I wish I had had the patience to wait for the Asus transform) is my mobile gadget of web browsing and quick emails now, not my phone, not my EEE

    THOUGH the Galaxy might change that next upgrade time

    27:

    interesting you have allowed comments on your site, the originator of this argument never allowed anyone the discussion

    http://dcurt.is/2011/10/03/3-point-5-inches/


    Also, is this down to the size of someomes hands, and fingers?

    28:

    Smartphones are weird creatures. For me even the iPhone is too large to comfortably act as a mobile phone while not even the Galaxy is large enough to comfortably act as a computing/communication interface.

    I think that for a device that combines the pocketability of the last generation of phones with a comfortable and clear display I will have to wait for flexible screens.

    29:

    I have been wondering about the "thumb-sweep" argument in favor of smaller screens myself, simply because there's not that much I do with my phone by sweeping my thumb over it—swipe to unlock, launch an app, maybe tap a bottom-row tab. If the interface had been optimized for one-thumb use (using radial menus, for example), then there might be something to it.

    Obviously there are other reasons for choosing a given form factor: the iPhone fits in my front pocket pretty well; a phone with a larger screen would fit less well. I've read from time to time people wishing there were a smaller iPhone that would be better suited to strapping onto their bodies for workouts. Which I can understand, but don't expect to see.

    The story goes that when the Palm Pilot was being developed, the designers made wooden blocks the size and shape of the device, and walked around with those in their pockets to get a feel for it, literally. Since they were mostly ex-Apple people, they were no doubt motivated not to repeat the mistakes of the Newton. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple went through a similar process to come up with the size of the iPhone.

    30:

    I took my new HTC Wildfire S ('cos it was the least sucky option 3UK would give me without a 30% uplift to my monthly committed bill - although I do things like £110 transatlantic roaming bills) to the NHS sit-in on Westminster Bridge, and one thing that strikes me about a really tiny screen device is that it's a bit un-tactical.

    Every time I wanted to check in on Twitter I had to peer down at it and use one hand to steady it and the other to tap.

    31:

    A phone is in your pocket most of the time, therefore it should be smaller and not bigger.

    Also, next time you break your glasses, you should not wait a few weeks to fix them, that makes no sense.

    32:

    Actually, you noted the weakness of the Star Trek argument yourself. "They could focus making it possible to pretend those things are comfortable."

    That's the series were the security officer had to stay all day, because that looks actionably and dramatic, right?

    And were people didn't carry one PDA, when they were given a couple of papers and task, but a handful. Because nothing says "lots of work" like balancing 5 to 10 plastic devices. Which then get carried down to engineering. In uniforms with no pockets.

    Star Trek sure looks fine and probably had some inspired ideas about design, but in general, I wouldn't really look there for good design, as I wouldn't look there for good politics, economics or linguistics.

    33:

    There really is a better solution to this dilemma.

    I want my digital access point to reside in my reading glasses. Two 1080p screens about 1 1/2" diagonal affording desktop pixel real-estate, privacy, much lower power drain, true 3D, optimum protection from screen wash-out with the sun at my back, hands-free, integrated twin cameras with the glasses as stereo monitor, cameras become remote controlled black boxes with 3rd party software support, reduction in power from small screens frees battery capacity to drive belt mounted MacBook Air motherboard, iOS running as virtual machine to obsolete "Widgets".

    If you think it through, this form factor could completely replace, iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, Apple TV, not to mention the home theater.

    34:

    Personally I find the iPhone 4 to be horrible when used as a phone. It's just too uncomfortable on my ear. But hey, I almost never have to use it for that fortunately, and it look pretty too.
    I also found out the other week that while my vison in my left eye (and therefore all the time I have both eyes open), I now have trouble focusing up close with my right eye.
    :(
    I'm not even 31 yet, bum.

    35:

    There are examples of the CE industry acknowledging an older audience, as you have requested in your article. Amusingly, the best example that I can think of is actually from the gaming industry. Contrary to your - correct - observation that they tend to target the young.

    Consider the Nintendo DSi XL. It appears to have been a direct response to the explosion of interest in the DS platform by older users thanks to the "Brain Age" games.

    36:

    My daughter has informed me more than once not to talk to her on the phone - "That's really rude, Dad!"

    According to her the younger folk do all their business stuff like what movie to see, where to meet, whose car to take etc. by texting. Talking is still allowed, of course. But it's strictly for intimates and mostly for hour-long gabfests and gossiping. Is this the usage pattern of the 21st Century?

    37:

    I have impeccable eye sight. I've sampled many smart phones. I haven't been a part of this argument, but it seems to have escalated since the 4S intro. That said:

    I prefer the smaller screen, because I don't see how an extra half inch would make a dramatic difference when using the keyboard, and a smaller device is more comfortable in the hand as well as pocket. If you hold the bigger screen device a few inches away, or the smaller device a few inches closer, there's no difference in size. I'd rather adjust the distance of the phone from my head than be stuck with a larger form factor. I don't see how you can claim anyone is wrong. The physical size of the device is static. Everything around the device can be adjusted to compensate. I prefer less weight, clutter, and bulk. I think Apple nailed it.

    38:

    The only viable argument for a smaller screen is pocketability. It is, however, the single most important argument for a mobile phone. In my opinion the iPhone is on the large side, but smaller size is very difficult to use. Since it is so useful, I accept the size of the iPhone. I don't know but a larger phone might me so much better to use that I would buy trousers with bigger pockets willingly, but I doubt it (On the other hand I doubted the whole smart phone thing from the start, so I might be wrong this time too).

    39:

    I think Chris and Canis have the right of it here - I use my iPhone for hours every day, browsing teh interwebs and reading ebooks, and its all done 1 handed because the other hand is busy. Its bad enough with the iPhone, when virtually all the ebook readers inexplicably want you to use the left and right edges of the screen to page forward and back, which means having to be able to reach across the whole width of the screen with your thumb. Make the screen wider and will be essentially unusable for reading one handed.

    There's also the pocket test. A phone lives in the trouser pocket, where its convenient if you've taken your jacket off, and hard to steal. Unless its got a 5 inch diagonal, in which case its too large. And is therefore useless.

    On tablets, screen ratio is also an issue. I wouldn't touch an android tablet, with their silly widescreen format, so useful for viewing widescreen movies, so incovenient for almost every single other application you could think of (I was so looking forward to the touchpad - finally an affordable alternative to the iPad with a sensible screen format. Damn you HP! But I digress). On phones, though, I suspect this would not be such an big deal, and perhaps even useful for ebooks.

    I would also imagine there's a significant developer advantage in not having to worry about zillions of different screen sizes. Any android/iphone developers care to comment on that?

    Its interesting to recall that one of the arguments I heard being used against the iPhone when it was first introduced was how ridiculously large it was and how people would feel absurd holding a plank like that up to their head to talk. Funny how things change, isn't it?

    40:

    They are just props, but remember the phone or "communicator" was shrunk so much it ended up on the torso of the individual... That is the phone, small and convenient.

    Now the padds used where for information, And not for communication and just understand it's a freaking TV show.

    Small is better, if a individual wants something bulkier or larger that can purchase a device thar was made for that kind of use.... Let's say the iPad.

    41:

    *shrug* I use my smart phone with one hand constantly, for browsing, app usage, etc. Always one-handed while on the loo, for instance. ;)

    42:

    What a wonderful post! Ever since that famous green-semicircles graphic popped up on the web I've been waiting for an intelligent conversation on the subject. As another visually compromised middle-ager, I think you've illuminated a key consideration in this conversation, one which is much more relevant and universal than thumb reach. Unlike aging eyes, those thumb semicircles are totally subjective. As a quite tall human being, my generously proportioned digits have no trouble reaching the far corners of my 4.3" device, and my personal green semicircle would fully engulf the entire phone, not just the screen, while my small wife's thumb reach would not begin to cover even an iPhone's 3.5" screen. And yet, we both manage to use touch screen devices of various sizes with no complaint. No, I think the thumbs argument is a wrong turn down a cul de sac in the device-size debate.

    To me, the best argument in favor of a smaller screen is really an argument for a smaller device overall, and that is the comfortable stowing of the phone in a pants pocket. From this standpoint, even the iPhone seems unpleasantly cumbersome to me. On the other hand, since I have those middle-aged eyes and I do use my phone as a daily e-reader, I prefer a larger display. After experimenting with various form factors, I found my own personal bounds: the largest device which was not pocket-obtrusive was a Palm Pre, but its 3.1" screen was simply too small; at the other end of the spectrum, a 4.3" screened Android phone felt substantially the same in my pocket as an iPhone, which is to say that it borders on being too large for comfort without quite crossing that line. So, for now, I carry a large-screened Android device, despite its many shortcomings (I personally prefer the iOS experience).

    Eventually, I suspect the solution will be a screen which can be folded or otherwise mutilated to make a more pocket-friendly package, while still delivering a largish display. I have no doubt that when this happens the debate over thumb-reach will entirely disappear (unless one platform or another somehow secures a legal lock on the technology, in which case the Android/Apple dick-wagging may keep this bogus argument alive).

    One other note: Siri looks very impressive indeed, and will be wonderful while driving/biking/running, but I cannot imagine using such an interface in a social setting. To me, this technology seems to be an interesting and useful addition to the mobile communications device, but it is not a replacement for the screen. I certainly hope we don't soon see a world where every bus and cafe clamors with the sounds of patrons browsing the web out loud.

    43:

    Eno, you are right that a new screen size would create a development nightmare for both Apple and iOS devs: http://blog.erikphansen.com/the-iphone-isnt-getting-a-bigger-screen-ever

    44:

    I'm holding out for an implantable unit in the brain that projects information on the visual field by direct neural connections to the optic nerve, and a similar auditory connection.

    At my age - 67 - I'm not very hopeful.

    Condolences on getting older. As I tell everybody, the only thing worse than getting old is not getting old...

    45:

    This reminds me of the various arguments about "retina display", "16:9 vs 4:3" and "pentile matrix" technologies that were largely confined to one side of the Android vs iOS camps.

    Obviously, many fanboys are starting from assumption that their team is correct and looking for reasons to support this view rather than an honest or objective review of the facts.

    What I've found useful in thinking about these things is to actually list usages and see whether the various things help or hinder each usage. It's then up to the user to decide what is most important to him. e.g. pentile at certain dot pitches annoys some people for text and therefore reading, but is entirely appropriate for video or photos.

    In this case, how many uses actually need you to be able to single handedly reach the whole screen? Games, Youtube, movies, photo slideshows, taking photos, talking, video chatting, web browsing, getting info from widgets, checking twitter, facebook.

    A bunch of these things don't even happen in portrait, so using one handed and reaching the far side of the screen is right out the window. Others require specific grips like steadying for taking photos, or capturing yourself on video chat. Others require no interaction at all, like watching movies.

    If you go through the list again and ask how many gain from a larger screen (basically all of them, except making phone calls) and I think it's easy to see that Android phones win this one. While the iPhone side wins because of the consistency of physical size (and pixel format) that it's had since the beginning which aids creating polished app UIs to compensate.

    46:

    Also, next time you break your glasses, you should not wait a few weeks to fix them, that makes no sense.

    You know nothing of my circumstances: why do you think to issue prescriptive advice?

    (Hint: I was on the outbound leg of a trans-Atlantic trip. One that was just too short to look for a spectacle repair shop, unfortunately. Then on getting back and over the jet lag, I discovered that my previous optician had closed down. So it took time to look for advice on the best new local opthalmologist to sign up with and schedule a full eye exam and consultation -- my last check-up was over a year ago, and I was reluctant to risk spend a wad repairing a set of glasses after my prescription had changed. Anyway: eye exam carried out and new, whizzy varifocal lenses ordered.)

    47:

    Aside from any "look all I want is a telephone" arguments, I loves my hi-res and lots of real visual estate. I have thick stumpy fingers, and find my Mum's new ultra-compact cell's buttons too small; my old Razr's are a decent size, and I'd need similar size buttons/icons to make a "smart" phone decently usable.

    48:

    One thing that seems to have been forgotten, probably because of the central place of the iphone in this conversation so far, is that one-handed text entry is actually pretty easy. On an Android phone with Swype. Swype, widgets and true multi-tasking are what sold this Mac user on Android and I haven't regretted it.

    Back on topic, I almost always use my phone (a Samsung Fascinate with a 4" screen) one-handed, whether I'm browsing, using Tweetdeck, texting, or playing Words With Friends. Even when I switch to the regular keyboard (for entering things I don't want remembered, like passwords) I have yet to have any difficulty doing it one-handed. For those with smaller hands, I suppose it could be a problem, but I just can't see it being enough to keep one from appreciating a more readable screen. So while I'm only mostly on the board with how he got there, I'm in agreement with Charlie's conclusion. I just think, thanks to experience with an alternative input method, that using a smartphone one-handed is not only doable, but easy for men with average-sized hands (and possibly women, I haven't talked to any about this before but now I would like to know).

    The one problem with a screen much larger than my current one, which kept me from seriously considering the Droid X last year, is the difficulty of keeping it in and getting it in and out of a typical jeans pocket, let alone making it through the day without having something impact it disastrously. I see 4 inches or thereabouts as around the largest practical size, although sales numbers for a lot of the newer phones seem to put me in the minority.

    49:

    Except for pinch-to-zoom, I never use two hands with my iPhone. My right thumb is much better at hitting targets than my left thumb or index finger (not least because is much more anchored to the phone than any free-floating left-hand finger).
    Moreover, I often find myself trying to perform even pinch-to-zoom with one hand (which is pretty difficult) because I only have one hand available.

    I think this whole debate conflates three questions:
    - Is 4" overall (ie, for the majority) the better size?
    - Is 4" the better size for a significant user section, eg, 20 to 30%
    - Should Apple offer multiple sizes?

    50:

    I agree, Charlie. I am a bit above your usual demo in age (65), but I have been considering my first smart phone lately. I know it will be an iPhone, but I also want to know just what I will use it for.

    My first thought is not video because I already suffered through small screen TV when it was first invented. So, emergency video - yeah, but not for entertainment. My vision is around 20/1300 and is not correctable w/laser surgery; so I need tools that I can work with given this limitation (of course, I wear glasses, rarely contacts).

    Secondly, I consider the iPhone primarily as a mobile cell phone device because I want instant communication. I like that there is a keyboard, however small because I refuse to text on my motorola.

    Lastly, ebooks - I like them for travel, but I think I'll invest in the iPad for that use, giving up my nook, which works perfectly well.

    And, since I"m a woman, I don't stuff crap in pockets; I carry a bag where my hubby stuffs crap! So, I can see that I will have two devices with me for the future.

    51:

    My phone is never in my pocket, because I learned long ago how much damage coins and keys can do to a phone, and how hard it is to get one out of your pocket when you have something else there.

    52:

    I see 4 inches or thereabouts as around the largest practical size

    Never met a Nokia 9000i, have you?


    It's not a smartphone if you can't club a dumb mugger to death with it!

    NB: this is my idea of the perfect form factor for a talkie-phone:

    (And you can still buy them!)

    53:

    In some ways Apple agrees with you - the iPad is the arms-length, two hands, presbyopia friendly screen, the iPhone the wrist-length, one-hand, myopia friendly screen. Pretending there is no possible middle ground is an obviously dogmatic position.

    That said, I have been surprised how much I use my 854x480 94mm Droid2 for reading lots of text; the high pixel density matters, and is something I miss on lower rez devices like iPad or Galaxy 10.1 (1280x800 256mm).

    I expect the next few iterations to have more pixels in smaller space, providing useable intermediate sizes. A 120mm 720p tablet or 180mm 1080p device seem like good spots to me, given a few more display tech iterations.

    54:
    I don't know but a larger phone might me so much better to use that I would buy trousers with bigger pockets willingly, but I doubt it (On the other hand I doubted the whole smart phone thing from the start, so I might be wrong this time too).

    In the future, not only will women have three breasts, only will we drive standing up, but our pockets will be bigger as well. Who'd a thunk cargo pants would come back?

    55:

    I have just spent more than the price of an entry level (unlocked) iPhone 4S on some whizzy new varifocals ... to help me see my iPhone 4 screen more clearly. Oh, and a few other things.

    It depends where your priorities lie.

    What are other examples of changes in must-have daily handfillers affecting clothing fashion? Watch-pockets in jeans, handkerchief pockets in lounge suit jackets, anything else ...?

    56:

    53 years old, severe presbyopia, heavy smartphone user. As far as pocket devices go, I'd far rather have one I can operate one-handed with my thumb than one with a larger screen.

    57:

    Size queen!

    58:

    Ha! I remember when I was in middle school my stepmother had one of the huge, bag-like car phones that stayed permanently parked in the middle of the front seat (she was an occupational therapist who spent all day driving around to people's homes). My parents insisted that I get a mobile when I started driving and though much smaller, it to stayed permanently in my car, partly because it would have taken up so much of my pocket space.

    59:

    I hate the smartphone my employer makes me carry. I don't care if it's an Android or an Iphone, I just don't want one. The internet is slow, the damn phone loads apps I don't want loaded, the screen isn't big enough (at either 90 or 110 mm,) I fight with the damn thing all the time, and battery life is crap.

    I do want a dumbphone with 3G/4G. I want the dumbphone to tether with a really good pad running Ubuntu Linux, and I want the pad to have a nice stand available as an accessory, along with multiple USB connections. I want the pad to have really amazing graphics. I want Ubuntu Linux because I want all the Open Source stack available, particularly Ruby, Apache, and Postgres so I can work on my side project when I'm not at home. I also don't give a crap about the Android/Iphone market.

    Ideally the whole thing backs up transparently to my home PC.

    60:

    Some day, I swear, these will stop being vapourware...

    61:

    Woman here. iPhone works great for me. The bigger android phones don't work for me. Way toooooo biiiiiig!. Don't forget women.. we're part of the market too.

    62:

    If I want dumb phone functionality, a smaller screen is fine, but if I wanted to use a phone for internet and other activities, I would want a larger screen. I also think big pockets are useful. What is the point of smaller ones other than some fickle sense of fashion?

    I'm 25. Obviously the market for larger screens isn't just for older people with non correctable eyesight problems.

    63:

    I remember when the Newton first came out, one of the marketing chaps at Apple UK tried on all the jackets in M&S until he found one with a big enough inner pocket to put the Newton in, so he could claim it fit in your pocket...
    Apple designing the iPod Nano so it fit in the odd vestigial pocket-in-a-pocket that Levi Jeans have is a counter example?

    64:

    I like larger screens, too, though I don't have age-related eyesight problems yet. I'm pretty near-sighted, though, so it's glasses for me for most of the time. As said in some comments, I consider the risks for laser eye surgery too big at the moment.

    On the phone being more than just a talking device, that holds for me. I also have the uncommon requirement of a hardware keyboard as I feel the on-screen virtual keyboards just take up too much of the screen real estate when I need to write and see the screen at the same time.

    Of course, I'm an outlier as I use mostly IRC and text messages on the phone for communicating. Text messages could be doable on a virtual keyboard but as my preferred IRC method is an irssi instance running in a screen on a server and then connecting using a terminal emulator and ssh, a virtual keyboard just covers up most of the conversation without really providing much.

    Of course, I probably have to change to a bigger font on the xterm on the phone in a few years. Even then I'll probably want a hardware keyboard though it makes the phone a bit bigger.

    65:

    Hmmm...your varifocals evidently work a lot better than mine. I have a smallish usable reading space and the transition area is very warped.

    But I do agree. I'd also like a larger screen since I'm often watching movies on my iPhone or showing pictures/movies of the kids to folks.

    66:

    The fight won't be over until someone invents resizable screens.

    67:

    I'm very fond of my battered old Panasonic GD-55 - probably not the smallest phone in the world, but it might have been when it came out.

    It's pretty far from smart - it's a real pain sending texts, I've never used the WAP browser (does WAP still exist?), but it's perfect for calls like "Hello mate, where are you ... fine I'll be there in half an hour. Bye". I don't give my number out to many people because I can't stand being on the phone for more than about 30 seconds, and because I quite like being unreachable.

    It's great in situations such as a mountain trek where weight is critical. And it's never annoyed me like my HTC Wizard, which I ended up deliberately stamping on.

    For a smartphone, I'd prefer a larger screen to fill the gap between phone (which I use only for calls), and laptop.

    And btw, I can't stand touch screen layouts that ignore the difficulties of left-handed users - right handed scrollbars mean that my hand obscures the screen, for example.

    68:

    Smartphones and tablets are too useful for their various non-voice services to want to tie one's up by holding it to the side of one's head for a voice conversation, especially all the times one wants to look something up or make a calendar entry during a conversation, so I suspect there may be more movement toward bluetooth Borg ears for legacy voice conversations. This in turn may make it practical to carry a larger tablet than you'd feel comfortable holding to the side of your head, and size may become defined more by what can be comfortably carried around all day.

    69:

    "A phone is in your pocket most of the time, therefore it should be smaller and not bigger."

    Michel, cars are in parking spots most of the time... but the primary design concern determining the size of a car is not the typical size of a parking spot, because parking is not the primary function of a car.

    The same applies for phones; pocketability is important, but only in that it imposes an upper bound on size and weight because phones need to be used and not just carried. Smaller is not always better in this case. Legibility, battery life, responsiveness, signal reception, durability... all these can dictate a larger size than the old candy bar form factor.

    So all hail variety in the phone market, because one size does not fit all.

    (Myself, I don't carry a smartphone and instead I go with a 7" tablet for my mobile data needs because I just don't like reading a lot of text from tiny screens. If pocketable 4.5"-5.2" screens take off I may reconsider, but until then I prefer the extra real estate.)

    -- Steve

    70:

    I'm not an anti-big-displays-on-phones person at all. Had Apple shipped a larger iPhone 4S, I certainly would have bought it.

    However, your assumption that one-hand-holding is some relic of the past, primarily for voice calling makes absolutely no sense at all, to the point that I was unsure of whether or not this piece was a satire. There are literally tens of thousands of scenarios one might want to use their smartphone for "smart" things with only one hand. Just to name a few: cooking from an online recipe, comparing product specs online with the back of a product box, setting an alarm while you're running through the airport with a briefcase. I could go on and on all day only being limited by how much time you have.

    The other reason this is flat-out silly is that voice calling is probably the LAST thing I would mention as a reason for a smaller phone. First, most people who actually do make a lot of calls (I make dozens a day on my iPhone), are probably using a headset, not hand-holding. Second, for casual, non-headset calls, you're not usually interacting with the phone while talking since you're holding the phone to your ear — as long as it's small enough to fit in your hand you're fine.

    If you follow your argument to the extreme: that bigger is always better and that voice calls are a thing of the past, then it sounds to me like you need an iPad, not an iPhone. Seriously, six calls a month? Do you even need a phone? Quit handing AT&T or Verizon your money and start using Skype, my man.

    Look, I want a bigger iPhone, but I don't think people with your bizarre phone usage habits should dictate Apple's design goals. There are millions of iPhone users and Apple needs to stick to design goals that will benefit the majority of users.

    Finally, I very seriously doubt Apple is in some way against a larger iPhone. There's one and probably only one reason the 4S doesn't have a large display option: battery life. Apple will NOT ship an iPhone that has less battery life than it's predecessor. So until they figure out how to power a large display without compromising the battery life, I suggest you learn to squint.

    71:

    The author has confused personal preference with what constitutes good design choices for the majority of users. iPhone users aren't "wrong" just because the device doesn't happen to be tailored to one individual's particular needs.

    That said, if there are a lot of people who share this view, perhaps at some point Apple could/should introduce a larger iPhone with the same number of pixels — i.e. lower pixel density. (That's the only realistic way to do it, and it'll still look great, since the ppi of the Retina display is already beyond the normal standard for high quality print.)

    72:

    I find that for voice calling only, a smaller phone is more use to me, and size is the main criteria I use when choosing a voice-only phone.

    I can't get on with headsets. I seem to break them too quickly (I've already got through about half a dozen headphones for my mp3 player).

    I too make about half a dozen calls a month, mostly 30 seconds or less. With my British network deal, I top up a fiver every so often, probably spend about £30 a year or less. A lot of my friends have similar calling habits, so I don't think Charlie's phone usage habits are "bizarre".

    I don't think you can get a Verizon or AT%T deal here, even if you wanted to, and I don't use Skype - which would eat into my separate 3G dongle allowance, which I use for, uh, data.

    73:

    Inside breast pockets in suit jackets to provide a pick-pocket-proof (or at least pick-pocket-resistant) place to put a billfold.

    74:

    Perhaps an obvious answer to most of this is the iPad-device that will fit in your pocket.
    The current smart phones are clearly a compromise between portability and functionality. Yes, they should be smaller to fit in pockets. Yes, they should be larger to be more usable.

    So we either need a small pocket device that can unfold into a seamless large screen (This is possible and difficult - perhaps it needs to be paper-thin and disposable), or a different approach to the display (HUD perhaps).

    There are a whole set of simpler issues around having the UI work consistently for differently sized and scaled screens. They seem mostly straightforward (but critically important).

    I realize that none of this is particularly useful for someone looking to buy something now. But I've been around to see Osbourne 1 portables and Ipads already....

    75:

    You spend a large amount of time complaining about how it's difficult to read an electronic screen when your vision is not properly corrected. I'm not exactly sure what that has to do with the size of the screen. Especially considering the fact that larger screens are by and large not used for displaying on-screen elements in a larger size. The main gripe about the iPhone's "small" screen is that there isn't enough information and the information that is there is too cluttered. If you take a larger screen and make everything on it bigger, you have the iPhone's problem all over again.

    You need to choose a side. Do you want larger screens for a larger UI or do you want a larger screen so you can fit more UI elements on it. You can't have it both ways.

    Keep in mind, that the higher DPI of the iPhone screen actually makes it *easier* on the eyes than its lower DPI competitors because the text and elements are sharper and have fewer jagged edges.

    76:

    I see some people making comments about varifocals and smartglasses, and a few threads back there was some discussion about the next killer app.

    Well . . . if you have a high enough resolution, it's possible to make smartglasses that really are smart glasses, that is, you can just program in your prescription and you get instant visual correction. You can even have zoom functions built in.[1] If that's the case then these form factor discussions might look just a bit quaint in retrospect.


    [1]I'm not a big fan of sf on TV, but I did watch an occasional episode of Farscape, just because I'm a Jim Henson fan and I liked the Muppets. In one episode our tip-top physical Earthican specimen is humiliated by aliens yet again when all of his crewmates casually demonstrate their superior occular powers, something like 20/2 by our standards.

    77:

    Someone else has mentioned a larger screen with the same pixel count.

    Yet another solution might be to go with an ultahigh count of pixels (always considering battery life, of course) and then do the retro thing ala Brazil and use a magnifer. They can be quite thin and flexible; maybe you shake your phone and the "screen" snaps open like an umbrella or a convertible top. When you're done you push it closed until you hear (and feel) the snick of a mechanical catch.

    78:

    I have used a monocle about the size of a pack of chewing gum that sat just over one eye. It projected a full size screen seemingly about a metre in front of me. That was 20 years ago.

    79:

    Quit handing AT&T or Verizon your money

    Those are American phone companies, aren't they?

    (You may wish to adjust your snark dial upwards; this is a British blog.)

    80:

    Jason, this is a blog. Kindly address me by name, not as the cat's mother.

    (This is your yellow card warning: see the moderation policy.)

    81:

    I think the easiest solution is to carry a magnifying lens. There are the type that are large and used for books. Perhaps a smaller one (or one cut down to size) might fit the bill. The plastic, fresnel lens types are light, flexible and very cheap (I think I even have swag one). It can be carried with the phone and deployed when reading the screen.

    82:

    Now we're into two or three handed territory!

    83:

    I seem to have a focus issue on my Nexus One phone primarily after say a tennis match when I need to update the USTA website with match results. After a physical workout the characters are blurry and not all apps allow pinch zoom. I've also noticed that effect with certain prescription drugs. Usually I can spend about 15 minutes covering each eye and practicing near/far focus until the screen is sharp again. Sometimes it takes longer than 15 minutes....

    My S.O. got her a Samsung Infuse with a massive display compared to mine, it's screen is a thing of beauty. Sadly its 'infused' with bloatware and apps that keep re-installing themselves so I'm holding off for the Nexus Prime unskinned.
    I also hold mine in an external belt holster not jeans...

    I strongly come down on the side of bigger is better... as I sit here surrounded by 4 30" LED monitors (2560x1600), massive real-estate no HD 1080p crap for me :p

    84:

    As someone who suffers from "aging eyes" (I'll be 46 soon), I understand how difficult it is to read small illuminated displays at arms length. Unlike many other manufacturers, however, Apple has received accolades and recommendations from the visually impaired community. Before knocking Siri or iOS as a whole for not providing a huge screen, try visiting Settings -> General -> Accessibilty and see which options will help in a pinch when your glasses are misplaced. I opt for three-finger zoom when I require it. Large font mode also helps.

    85:

    I can relate the the presbyopia/myopia combination problem. I just spent a week testing bifocal contact lenses, the kind with concentric reading and far sight correction rings, where the reading strength was much too weak although the far correction was fine. My iPhone was impossible to focus at less than arms length where it was unreadable.

    However I think this is a case of mileage varying. Since the proper reading strength makes it usable again the most important thing to me is still carrying it unobtrusively in a pocket and operating one handed, which I do the majority of the time. Not having actually tried to use a 4+ inch screen one handed I don't know how difficult it would be for me but I have relatively large hands. I can easily see how people with smaller hands than I couldn't use a larger touchscreen phone one handed.

    The iPhone's form factor isn't case of smaller is better. But that hits the sweetest spot amongst the various tradeoffs for the large majority of people. Most of whom need one handed operation and better pocketability over a slightly larger screen due to poor close up vision or large fingers. Many people think an iPhone is too large! And that's whey they don't have a smartphone at all.

    Apple is going to sell 100 million iPhone 4S's at 3.5". How many would gain more functionality than they would lose in tradeoffs with a 4" screen. 2%? 10%?

    Apple doesn't try to make multiple versions so they get one that's perfect for everyone because that's impossible to do well.

    Apple has identified 2 sweet spots in the portable vs. readable spectrum, 3.5" and 9.7", and they are currently focused on making the greatest products they can in those two sizes.

    86:

    Datum point - I probably have BETTER sight than Charlie, and I've just found it worthwhile to go from an elderly pocket computer with a 6" letterbox screen (640x240) to a recent-ish netbook with a 7" screen (800x480), at least in part because the netbook is MUCH more readable, and (more importantly) can show more than four or five lines of text below all the navigation etc. a browser uses.

    I can't speak for phone use because my phone gets used 3-4 times a year, usually to call the AA when my motorbike breaks down, and is a phone only, but it's my impression that most of them are sods to use compared to a good laptop or netbook, largely because the screen is so restricted. As Charlie says, size matters.

    87:

    I'd like to see screens disappear alltogether. Something like a super-tough water-proof (pocket-proof) tube of metal like LaCie's XtremKey attached to a mini-projector and kinnect-like micro-lens. Alas, powering that would be a pain.

    ps. Still waiting on SAFE cell-phone watches like AT&T promised us.

    88:

    Scheez, I remember getting cranky when calling someone with a lot of 9s in their phone number due to the time spent waiting for the rotary phone dial to re-set...

    Smartphones are still in their infancy, and I wonder how they'll intersect with tablets when one gets bigger and the other grows smaller. Me?

    I'd prefer a SMS-equipped dumbphone and a nice tablet...

    89:

    There's something in the thumb argument. For some tasks, you might use the machine one-handed, and for that, you need to take thumb reach into account when you use the UI.

    So, the big mistake might be in using the whole screen space for the buttons and icons. It's a little like expecting a desktop screen to be the same proportions as a keyboard. I wonder why we still tend to have menu bars running across the screen, when the typical wide-screen display on a modern computer would give a good window on a "page" while having the controls in a side bar.

    It would be a rather radical UI change, which is itself difficult. Not a leap into the dark, but an obstacle for many. My own experience, a company did this sort of leap in UI design, and forgot to take into account the readability of the screen. Brown on brown is not a colour combination which is easy to read. Ignoring user choices in colour scheme, set at OS level, makes your software seem defective. And these are things which matter, as Charlie has explained.

    So, a bigger screen is good. Using the whole screen for control buttons/icons may be a mistake. And which way do people hold their smartphone, portrait or landscape? Some poeple are left-handed, some right-handed.

    We can't throw away the past, but touch screens are different, and we shouldn't expect them to be used in the same way.

    90:

    I'd prefer a SMS-equipped dumbphone and a nice tablet...

    Been there, done that, circa 2005; what you're looking for is a Nokia 6310i and a Palm Tungsten TX. You can still get that kit on eBay and have change from £150 ... alas, technology has moved on.

    91:

    Here I sit with my iPhone held about 18" in front of my nose and my 42" plasma at about 3.5 metres distance on the other side of the room. In my vision they are about the same size, so I'm not really sure the small screen video comment is valid (provide one can focus)

    92:

    There's a place near me sells Bakelite handsets retrofitted with Bluetooth...

    93:

    I too have keratoconus, which cause blurriness no matter what screen size, but I will stick with the iPhone for many reasons (not least of which being the timely upgrades to 3 year old phones)

    My keratoconus is bad enough in my right eye that (left eye closed) I can't use any screen size at any distance

    Also, as my keratoconus progresses further I don't believe anyone is doing as much as apple to help with features like Voicover, rotor, zoom having been very carefully crafted to allow us to enjoy the same features as everyone else
    http://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision.html

    To sum up
    Could the iPhone screen be bigger - yes
    Should the iPhone get bigger to support it - no
    Will apple ever create an iPhone with a different resolution that is not a multiple of an existing resolution - no
    Could the iPhone interface be improved to allow non screen areas of the phone to be sensitive to touch and allow us to scroll or move objects on the screen without our thumbs getting in the way - yes
    Is it likely that apple will solve this argument in some other way - yes

    As Steve Jobs said (and has been proved many times in arguments over physical keyboards, tablet demand and more)

    "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

    "It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

    94:

    I'm the same age as you. I'd be happy just to have reasonably sized VR style eyeglasses. The only such glasses I've seen look like they would break my nose in an hour.

    The large screen on my ATT HTC Desire is adequate. I can read comfortably on it. With fairly arthritic fingers, no small screen would allow me one handed access. In addition to the VR type glasses, a full size virtual keyboard would be great.

    95:

    I must be fortunate in the fact that my pants have two pockets at the front and one or two more in the rear

    My front right pocket always and only gets used for my iPhone (screen facing out) while wallet keys and, rarely, loose change live in the left

    96:

    I'm sure while you are sitting in a plane seat, with low lighting, that you can manage your iPhone with one hand and a screen in the other. Or maybe you can get a magnifier with folding legs and use the iPhone on the drop down table.

    Sure it isn't great, but if you need a larger screen and the horizontal view isn't working for you, you should adapt. The cost and weight for this simple "prosthetic" is so low that it it might well be worth carrying it for your trips. (And it won't set off the security alarms).

    Where it won't work, without some jury-rigging is where you do need to use the iPhone one handed. It's a compromise, much like the one's you make for travel (car/train).

    I'm older than you, my eyesight is better, but getting worse. I just think Yankee pragmatism/inventiveness is more immediately useful in this case ;)

    [Maybe someone has already recognized this problem and offers an iPhone case with integrated magnifier?]

    97:

    I've got a Nexus S, an Ideos X5 and a 4th gen iPod Touch. On Friday I'll have an iPhone 4S. I'm 55 and don't use reading glasses (yet) thanks to Lasik correcting my short-sightedness ten years ago.

    The Ideos screen (90mm) is nothing special but the phone itself is noticeably bulky for carrying comfortably in my pocket. The Nexus S' 100mm screen is much better (as is the phone overall) but it's even worse when it comes to bulk because of the larger screen size. I always feel lopsided when I carry it, there's not much room left for keys, credit cards and suchlike.

    The iPod Touch is perfect in the pocket, even with a leather slider pouch. It's just the right size to use when I'm out, crystal clear screen (noticeably better than the Nexus) that I have no problem using to read Mr Stross' latest, web browsing, email, etc. (the Ideos and Nexus make usable if bulky wifi basestations, with pitiful battery life alas, and reasonable voice phones. Needles to say though I'm looking forward to only having to carry one small and compact device come Friday).

    I simply shudder at the thought of carrying the newer larger-screen Android monsters now appearing. At 110mm+, you aren't talking a phone any longer. For God's sake buy a fscking tablet if you need a larger screen. Oh that's right, no one buys Android tablets... Maybe if we call it a phone they won't notice?

    Of course when the future comes we'll have super-lightweight foldable/rollable/adjustable screens we can set to the most convenient size for where we are and so forth, but for now you either make a choice of phone models with various screen sizes or try to pick the one that suits the majority of your users most of the time. Fortunately they do both.

    P.S. There's this concept called rounding people might like to try, particularly when you find yourself dealing in fractions of a millimetre outside an engineering lab. In the real human world the S II has a 110mm screen and the iPhone/touch has a 90mm screen.

    98:

    This is EXACTLY what I am thinking. 37 btw and generally good vision. Just would be nicer with a bigger screen. 4" minimum for me to whip out the credit card right now.

    99:

    I'll lay good odds that Siri:
    1) can handle most, or a significant fraction of, its current "interpretation" (parsing -> tokenization / concept library) locally, barring slight speed issues
    2) doesn't, cause they want to keep growing it for now (stats on most frequent requests Siri isn't handling, teams of thankless, mostly manual scripters - plus some actual tech, pushing genetic algorithm-driven interpretation into local iPhone interpretation code over time) - this is probably why they kept the servers up til launch. Regular e.g.quarterly, faster? vocab & concept updates: New in Beta 2: Siri now understands "every time", "when", "always" and "except"! *
    3) at some future point, let users start "building" their own definitions:
    - "Siri, when I say "watch movie X", first search my iCloud library, if it's not there try Netflix, otherwise lookup rental and purchase prices on iTunes and Amazon." Programming, for regular folk, once the control words are there.
    - "when I google x, all results links when clicked should open in a new tab in the background" and trickier stuff may require a "proper" scripting lang
    - but surely "open these (tap, tap, tap) links in background" should be a go soonish?

    This would at least explain Apple's prohibition on any scriptability whatsoever: they wanted to do it first, and do it right.

    Somewhere in there, they'll let app builders put in hooks, obviously.

    I think this "personal agent" aspect is the big deal: it doesn't even need AI, it's just a) something that really makes your device personal and b) saves a thousand programmer-wrists RSI from creating the next million "Don't ask me this again" checkboxes at the bottom of confirmation dialogs and their required code. That *always* should have been my personal valet's job.

    * SIRIusly, not a single journalist asked it to open the pod bay doors?

    100:

    Actually, I'm quite happy with my 4.3" S2, thanks, even if it's too big for you. It may have a larger screen, but it actually feels almost not there compared to a colleague's iPhone.

    Oh, and I do have an Android tablet too: an Eee Pad Transformer, which has the stupidest name going, but is otherwise a sweet little beastie.

    101:

    One big argument for a bigger screen is allowing you to have a keyboard and more than one line of text. Trying to make a vaguely coherent remark when you can only see the last 40-odd characters that you typed is hard.

    There are also UI issues that have not been sorted yet (on my Galaxy SL). This website, for instance, sucks bigtime on my phone because the box I'm typing into now doesn't fit the design requirements of the phone monkeys. Specifically, the browser likes to scroll to the bottom of the edit box but the text remains stubbornly at the top - I can either see what I've written, or add to it.

    I would much rather than a 15mm thick ebook reader that's 50% battery by volume and supports a bluetooth headset for calls. Ideally also docks that headset to recharge it (a nearly 200x150x8mm battery would have ~30WH capacity). That thickness would also allow a flip-down or slide keyboard and LCD screen at the bottom, similar to the early Kindles, which would make the thing a super-smartphone. And about the size of a paperback book, albeit the weight of a hardback.

    102:

    And *please* Siri, for Cthulu's sake, if I say "whoops" or "shit" within 0.7s of clicking a link, don't go.

    103:

    Totally fascinated by this discussion -- it's made me consider priorities that I wouldn't face otherwise, and I spend a fair bit of time thinking of things like mobile accessibility.

    While we are all sharing data points: I use my iPhone one-handed virtually all of the time. Walking, cooking, holding a bus pole, holding luggage (I use it a LOT in airports) and so on. But I'm also using it one-handed right now, when I could easily use it with two hands.

    I just tried typing with two hands instead, and it felt weird.

    I may be an outlier but I can type almost exactly as fast with my left thumb only as I can with both thumbs. It is much, much faster than I can type on my work Blackberry with its physical keyboard -- I only use that for business phone calls.

    Also, I use the phone in my left hand, but am right-handed -- I wonder how many of the other one-handers do this.

    Last note: I can hold the smaller iPhone in one hand, with my elbow at my side, at a lovely visual distance (for me) pretty much indefinitely. It's quite normal for me to read whole books or watch whole movies this way. If it did not fit my hand so well, I could not do these things...

    104:

    Screw bigger screens! Bring on visionary Gilliam's future: the Fresnel lens:

    www.mactonnies.com/brazil.jpg

    (alternately, construct a glasses-frame mount, plop in two iPod Touch 4s, strap on that old Nintendo glove, and Enter True 3D Augmented Reality!)

    105:

    Facial recognition seems to be fairly trivial, my old Corby-not-quite-a-smartphone could do it for that smile activated photographing trick, and I've recently seen ipads with 3d enabled using the face tracking as reference for the user's eye position.

    So set it up for automated zooming/font size based on how far it knows your face is? Voila, no need for glasses anymore.

    106:

    Honestly, I can't see the screen size being anything more than a minor feature of smartphones. The main problem is nothing to do with screens and everything to do with power - the amount of things a smartphone does, means that they're very useful, which means you wind up using it as the one device you carry around -- and which means you use it more often, draining more power. There aren't many smartphones out there that will give you more than a day's usage when you're using everything the smartphone can do, and using network functions.

    The newer gel and membrane battery technologies are the next big hardware thing for these devices (but they're years away right now). Forget 4G and LTE, because they're giving excellent over-the-air data speeds... straight to the cell towers, which don't have matching data speeds because of decades of not investing in infrastructure. Forget screen resolution - the display in the iPhone is about as good as it gets (any more resolution and you'll need excellent visual acuity to perceive any difference anyway), and the hardware for that will be on every new device soon enough. Processing power will go up, yes, but that's not the main power drain for the moment, radio communications (in whatever form) is. Until we can get the same kind of battery life for smartphones running at full tilt that we get from ordinary mobile phones, we're not going to see the full effect of these natty little things.

    So personally, I think we're going to hit a slightly stagnant period for a little while, with only minor improvements rather than the enormous changes the last few years have brought in.

    I think that when we do see anything major, it's likely to be in how we deal with convergence. I blogged about the difference between the old mobile phone and the modern communications device a while ago, and specifically about convergence - the way that the modern smartphones are taking multiple forms of communication (be it voice, video, SMS, IM, email, etc) and presents it in a unified manner. Finding a better way to do that seems more likely to be the source of any major change than voice control, which I really can't see anyone using in public if I'm honest. Great for hands-free control of a phone if it works reliably (and a great trigger for road rage when it fails in a frustrating way), but would you try to control an email reader or call someone using voice control while sitting on a bus or would you push a button to do so?

    107:

    "a) Vision has a higher bandwidth and lower latency for the transfer of information to the human brain than speech does.

    b) A display has an inherent memory: you can keep a screenful of information in front of you for long periods of time, while you have to remember what the voice output has told you

    c) The kinds of information that a screen can show you are different. For instance, I use the map application a lot and except for turn by turn navigation, speech just can't do that."

    Yes, that's why I see an AI such as Siri being used mostly as a companion to a screen, regardless of the device on which it might be placed. I look forward to having a guy (or better yet a girl) with a bow tie pop up on the little screen on the side of my future Black and Decker trimmer and I hope the screen will be big enough so that he can show me the plants I should not cut. I'm referring to the bow tie guy in the Knowledge Navigator:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WdS4TscWH8

    The entire uncut 12 minute video is fun but less germane to the future of Siri.

    108:

    The 'pocketability' test is an important one - will your desired purchase sit in the back pocket of your jeans/trousers without poking out the top? This is how I made the determination of my latest phone upgrade - 4.3" was just too big for the pocket, once you took into account the inevitable protective case.

    Opportunity methinks to engineer the whole damn system.

    Similarly, in the tablet domain, is the need for 'coat pocketability'. If it gets so big you need a folio or briefcase - why not just bring a laptop?

    The differentiation between iOS and Android seems to be one of creationism vs evolution. On the apple side we have the intelligent design specified by 'god' - and then it's static and unchanging. On the other is the 'win or die' evolution of Android - where virtually everything gets tried out and the winners survive.

    That is what is pulling us to the 4" and a bit screensize for smartphones, and the 7-8" for tablets. In the former you can see enough and access all parts of the screen (unless you're weird) whilst still carrying it in a pocket. In the later you have two thumb typing in landscape, or paperback book size in portrait - again with the practicality.

    Apple has the problem that evolution is winning out. Even their 'sorry its not an iphone 5' sop, Siri is getting a "so what, we've had Vlingo for years" response in Androidworld. While apple designers might be good (and they can afford to buy lots of them), there is still groupthink going on and an unwillingness to change in response to what evolution is producing.

    I will agree with Charlie on the 'no screen, no keyboard, Star Trek communicator' hole in the market though - which should help with the next indignity nature will heap on Charlie - hearing loss.

    109:

    Please stay away from that particular discussion; those issues are not related to display size.

    If you want to discuss particular features of each platform as they relate to usability, please feel free to do so, but do not turn it into a platform war.

    110:

    Charlie,
    We just got back from 2 weeks in Cambodia. I also broke the frame on my glasses in the plane on the way over. Fortunately, Cambodia is one of those places where a 3 hr wait and $40 gets you a new pair of single-vision glasses. Good thing it was only my sunnies, not my multifocals.

    If it had been my multifocals, even the iPad would have been hard to use, let alone a slightly larger iPhone. Without glasses I read the iPhone by holding it a couple of inches from my right eye. I guess what I'm saying is that the niche where a bigger phone screen aids readability is fairly limited.

    Sorry Charlie, a bigger screen only buys you another year at most.

    On another topic entirely - Reading 'The Wind-up Girl' on the flight home from SE Asia enhances both the book and the trip.

    111:

    Not on post but, like the guy said http://www.feedbooks.com/books/top?category=FBFIC028000&range=week is great. Lots of old stuff, some so old they did not call things SF.

    112:

    "It's not about one-handed phone use; folks who think in terms of smartphones as a one-handed device are still stuck in the telephone age."

    I assume that you do not routinely commute by bus or train with a smartphone in one hand and coffee mug in the other -- not to mention messenger bag, reusable grocery bag, and/or transit pass in the mix somewhere. In a comfy chair at a desk, big screens are great. iPad all the way. On the move, most folks really need something one-handed.

    113:

    Even if it was about one-hand-use the argument that the article going its round through the net makes is that people have all the same thumb and hands the author of the opinion piece has - which isn't the case. I would have loved the option of an iPhone with a 4" display. I can easily reach all the edges of my nwe Samsung Galaxy S II (no 4"+ screen means no iPhone for me) with its 4.3" inch display - I would probably even reach it on a 5" display.

    The bigger keyboard is worth the bigger screen alone - less errors made, faster typing, more happiness.
    Eye sight is also a point for me - bigger screen means bigger fonts while still displaying the same amount of information a smaller screen does.

    As long as the phone fits into a shirt pocket it is small enough for me.

    People are different, a one-size-fits-all approach isn't really state of the art any more.

    114:

    Err, Sean, I believe that the 'creationism vs evolution' dichotomy is pretty central to the different emphasis on screen size, resolution, etc. It's not so much platform as it is fundamental approach to how the delivered product changes to meet real customer need.

    It also plays into the IP debate; of course companies are learning from one another - that's how it's supposed to happen.

    115:

    @Doug: Well, try to read 8 point text on your 42" plasma and you see how they are not the same. Different devices with different sizes for different purposes. Same as watching a movie on your 3,5-4,7" smartphone screen isn't really more than a compromise, even if they "appear the same size" used this way.

    116:

    I will agree with Charlie on the 'no screen, no keyboard, Star Trek communicator' hole in the market though...

    It seems to me that you're describing a bluetooth headset here. We'll probably see a phone in that form factor pretty soon, and voice recognition could replace most buttons in use:

    *taps ear* "Call Fred." /beep/

    117:

    I swapped from a 3gs to a galaxy SII a few weeks ago. This is the first I've heard that it's impossible to use one hand to work the new one! I can see the advantages of both screen sizes/definitions/brightnesses, I'm sure Samsung will boost their definition at some point - they're not the sort of company to let that one go.

    Galaxy SII is much faster than the old 3GS, but clearly the 4S has the same processor in dual core configuration so the basic engines are equivalent. In fact most of the headline 4S announcements seem to be bringing the spec up to parity with Siri looking like the big new news.

    Battery life seems pretty equivalent, lasting a couple of days at the moment with 'power save' mode switched on. Not switched off 3G yet which made all the difference on the 3GS (1-2 days v's 3-5).

    Big potential feature missing on the IPhone? UMA - the ability to use simple wi-fi to do the job of a femtocell. Could be a big one for people with poor coverage at home or work.

    The way I see it - apple may be 'thought leaders' in the high end smart phone market but they do have strong competition and they are definitely not perfect (3gs was the first phone I've ever owned that broke in some way due to part defect and that issue combined very poorly with a design defect, very glad to see the back of it!). Said competition has lots of experience making phones and that shouldn't be discounted. I'd say this is good for us, the consumers. Let apple work for their huge profit margins, we'll get better toys as a result.

    As for 'the next big thing' - well my 2c worth - what can you do with a 100Mbps data 'true' 4G network. Siri and current cloud based stuff is only the start. It will be very interesting to see where that one goes.

    118:

    My hands aren't big enough to span an iPhone screen with my thumb. I think that instead of trying to figure out the "perfect screen size for one-handed use", which is doomed to fail since humans don't have the same hand size, it would be much better to design apps for one handed use (right and left).

    I'm currently using Android, and all the book readers I use have the option to page forward by pressing the bottom half of the screen rather than the left half. This is a deal breaker for me when I choose a book reader, and also means that I can read comfortably on any device I can hold in one hand.

    119:

    Further to #14.

    My big cousin is a qualified etc optician (US Opthalmologist) as is her husband. They both report that laser correction of eyesight can cause problems with the operability of cataracts in later life.

    120:

    Mark: Great for hands-free control of a phone if it works reliably ... but would you try to control an email reader or call someone using voice control while sitting on a bus or would you push a button to do so?

    Well, that raises an interesting point: we already live in a world where there are multiple competing modalities for interacting with computers -- voice activation isn't going to replace multitouch on handhelds, it's going to live alongside it.

    Consider the humble personal computer (broadest sense of the word, not an intel box running Microsoft OS). You can generally interact with one using a command line, using character-terminal command-key driven interactive apps (think emacs or Lotus 1-2-3), or a mouse-driven icon-based interface. The latter has fragmented in recent years to include traditional WIMP, but also search driven (Spotlight on the Mac, that search thingummy on Windows: start typing a file or command name and the OS will offer you a menu of matching options). We now have multi-touch icon-based interfaces on iOS and Android, and now intelligent voice activation as well -- rather than the extremely limited vocabulary mapping of commands to menu items of earlier attempts.

    (This is before we broaden the horizon to include batch and transaction processing systems and other UIs not primarily designed for convenient interaction with normal humans.)

    The reason that, on the desktop, scripting systems and command lines continue to exist alongside GUIs is that they're good for different purposes. GUIs make the deep functionality of applications transparent to users (no arcane commands to memorize) but are lousy for task automation; command line systems tilt the other way (great for automation, not so good for users who can't memorize lists of programs and arguments to use with them).

    So I suspect voice-activated assistants and multi-touch to coexist for a long time, simply because they are useful in different circumstances.

    NB: If Siri delivers, it is really going to put the cat among the pigeons the first time someone is prosecuted for texting while driving and can demonstrate that their phone was in the glove compartment at the time.

    121:

    My mothers laser correction of eyesight messed up one eye. And she, like most still needs glasses. Funny nobody told her it makes things worse for about 5%. Don't have one unless you must.

    122:

    Charlie: "So I suspect voice-activated assistants and multi-touch to coexist for a long time, simply because they are useful in different circumstances."

    Not the least of which being that there are (and hopefully will remain!) many situations where voice input is socially unacceptable...


    123:

    Isn't this a non issue? Why would they not produce in multiple screen sizes if the market supports it? Like with iPods and Macs.

    124:

    In case you guys are interested, we actually did some research with regards to the whole one hand vs two hand usage: http://www.slideshare.net/HugoMNL/hands-per-device-hpd

    Personally, I'll have to side with the iPhone boosters on this one. IMHO, the two-handed method for inputting text is actually the result of bad interaction design - an issue that certain solutions, such as Swype and Siri are trying to address. (We're also developing our own, which should be out by 2012.)

    Increasing screen real estate to justify the qwerty approach is, IMHO, not the direction we should be headed for.

    125:

    I'm still kind of amazed no-one's just put one physical button- a joystick - on their hardware and used Dasher as the text input...

    126:

    The history of computing is littered with failed attempts to produce faster and/or more ergonomic text input devices than the QWERTYboard; just what makes you think that you've come up with something actually better?

    When answering, bear in mind that using a numeric keypad in the way that handsets do is a force majeure answer to providing text input when you only have about 12 keys to supply the 70 (ignoring shifted alphabetics) different characters a QWERTYboard offers.

    127:

    While an iPhone-sized screen is undeniably on the small side for a practical display, it's actually bigger than some laptop trackpads, so it's perfectly capable of serving as an input device for a larger display. Combine this with a retina projection device like the Brother AirScouter, and you seem to have the Best of Both Worlds…

    I'm sure Jonathon Ive and his team could come up with a headset design that would improve on the Borg (or Brother) aesthetic and ergonomics.

    This would seem to be a decent solution for silent (not to mention private) interaction.

    128:

    I used something like the Brother AirScouter 20 years ago

    129:
    we already live in a world where there are multiple competing modalities for interacting with computers

    There are definitely competing styles within modes, that's a given - but I don't think we really do live in a world where we have competing modalities at all. To take your PC example, GUIs compete (well, the competition is all but over in many markets) with CLIs - but both GUI and CLI are the same modality. Both use vision for feedback (whether through graphics or text) and touch for input (whether through keyboard or mouse).

    I mean, you look around any modern open-plan office and count how many people you see who are using speech interfaces or touch readers (leaving aside anyone using one because of a specific disability, as braille readers aren't really used by those who have a choice of interface) - there just aren't any. And our workspaces are set up with that in mind. If speech interfaces were the norm, open-plan and cubicle farm office designs just wouldn't work, they'd be nightmares of noise and you could more or less forget about intellectual property security.

    You also don't talk to your lights - you use a lightswitch. You don't talk to your hifi or media center or htpc, you use a remote or a switch on the front panel. At most, you might have a clapper switch for lights, and those are uncommon enough to be the subject of humour (though no longer rare enough to be the subject of curiosity).

    About the only speech interfaces I can think of that are in common use - at least in Ireland and the UK today - are GPS systems and hands-free telephone systems, both of which are designed for use in cars where using vision and touch are severely restricted both by safety concerns and by law. And of course automated telephone helplines, where you don't have a choice of modality because the user is already bound into a modality because they're on the phone before they hit the "application".

    (Oh, and the court case with a voice-dictated text while driving is an interesting one to wait for, but I'm waiting for the case where someone obeyed an obviously wrong spoken direction from their polite yet firm GPS unit and caused a fatal RTA, and then claims the Milgram experiment as a defence...)

    Besides all of which is the point that we have social pressures which select against using a voice interface unless you're on your own or are in an environment you control completely - for example, if you're on the bus on a friday night in a bad part of Edinburgh (or in Dublin, which is pretty much identical bar for the accents in this respect), do you *really* want to draw attention to your brand new shiny, easy-to-transport and easy-to-sell-even-off-the-back-of-a-lorry iPhone 4S by talking to Siri in a nice, loud, hey-mister-recession-hit-mugger voice? Would you really want to set a reminder alarm for yourself during a lecture using Siri (even if you were the lecturer)? Would you ever add a note to your shopping list to pick up contraceptives, suppositories, or any other such socially embarressing product using a voice interface anywhere where anyone was within earshot, or want the list read back to you?

    130:

    So, my own presbyopia is still ramping up (I'm not *technically* in my mid-40s *quite* yet), but I do have to hold things farther and farther away from my face to read fine print, and I do have to wear reading glasses sometimes. But even so, I can't imagine wanting a phone with a larger control surface (and therefore, in this context, larger display).

    With my lifestyle, I'm in far too many situations where if I cannot use the device one-handed, I cannot use it at all. I will give up the display entirely before I'll give up one-handed use.

    (To elaborate on that: I have some blind co-workers, and one of them pointed out to me that iOS gets a lot of accessibility very very right. All sorts of applications work surprisingly well with "Universal Access" turned on, and if you've got this set up and you're wearing an earpiece, you can operate the phone one-handed without even taking it out of your pocket. And that's pre-Siri.)

    I live in an urban neighborhood in the US, and I have never learned to drive.

    I commute to my day job via public transit. Very often, the bus is too crowded for me to sit. So, I stand, holding on to a pole or strap. Heck, for years (since the PalmOS days), I've preferred software ebook readers over paperbacks for this reason -- a paperback is just too large for me to comfortably use one-handed while commuting. When I switched to MobiPocket Reader for PalmOS back in the day, the amount of reading I could get done on the bus skyrocketed.

    Similarly, when I'm running local errands (my neighborhood has multiple grocery stores, green grocers, electronic shops, et cetera -- it's a quite nice mix of commercial and residential stuff all together), I usually need one hand to manage my "stuff", so I only have one hand free to read or look things up or take pictures while I'm out and about.

    Regardless of what I'm doing (posting to a forum, responding to email, reading a novel), the "one-handed" attribute is often absolutely critical to my use.

    Basically, whenever I'm in a situation where I could afford the space and limbs to use two hands with my phone, I could just take out my iPad instead.

    One might say that voice control changes everything, as zero-handed use becomes considerably more practical, but around here, there are some rules and a lot of social conventions related to talking on one's cell phone on public transit. (Hint: it's strongly discouraged.) I imagine the same will apply to voice-control for the foreseeable future -- on the bus, I'm going to need to operate my phone silently, and one-handed, and I think that'll likely be true for at least another five years.

    (There are other options, but I'm not sure anyone's really working on them. For example, with the accelerometers and gyroscopes and stuff, gesturing *with* rather than *on* the phone could be useful. I've played with apps that let you scroll content by tilting, and right now my experience is that they're primitive and frustrating, but that could easily change if the right people attack the problem.)

    Now, I have to admit it's certainly possible that my opinion may change as my vision further deteriorates, but at this time I don't think that'll be the case. I think I'll instead start using the "Universal Access" features if necessary (either that, or I'll splurge on bifocal reading glasses).

    Further, I don't think multiple screen sizes for the iPhone would actually accomplish what you want anyway. Apple is pretty darned careful to *not* scale the UI, intentionally, because it's a control surface and UI scaling actually changes the button layout. A given UI element like a button is supposed to be the same number of "inches" wide and in the same position relative to other components regardless of screen size (which is why iPhone apps on the iPad default to 1x magnification, not 2x).

    131:

    @Graham
    Big potential feature missing on the IPhone? UMA - the ability to use simple wi-fi to do the job of a femtocell. Could be a big one for people with poor coverage at home or work.

    If you mean creating an Access Point with your phone for other devices to connect via Wifi to, that's no problem with the SGS II:
    Menu-Button->Settings->Wireless and Networks->Wifi-Tethering (menu names might be slightly different, my phone is German). Yeah, it isn't really very well placed or easy to find if you don't know where to look.

    132:

    As it turns out, Android has had a smaller version of Siri available for more than a year, under the name of Google Voice Actions.

    http://www.google.com/mobile/voice-actions/

    I use it infrequently, but when I do it's quite nice.

    While it is occasionally a replacement for the keyboard, it is not a replacement for a bigger screen. And why do I want a bigger screen? Because the majority of time that I'm actively using my Droid is as an ebook reader, that's why. High pixel count is necessary for nice smooth characters, and a larger screen means that there is a larger sweet spot for focus and thus I can use it in a wider variety of arm positions.

    Some days I consider rigging a mount to my bed's headboard so I could fall asleep reading...

    133:

    That feature is a standard part of iOS 4.x. Assuming your carrier (AT&T are a prime culprit) haven't disabled it.

    134:

    Isn't this a non issue? Why would they not produce in multiple screen sizes if the market supports it? Like with iPods and Macs.

    One way Apple is able to print so much money is by limiting the choices offered in their products. This greatly reduces their costs. They work hard at deciding what product options will cover most of the bases and then stop. Unlike many manufacturers who offer dozens of options on everything.

    And while I personally like choices I totally understand Apple's point of view. And most consumers are definitely OK with it. Many geeks, not so much. But geeks are not the majority of the market (anymore) and their influence on many things like smart phone recommendations are diminishing.

    135:

    If we're talking about tethering, AT&T and Verizon haven't disabled it. Well not exactly. Over here it costs extra. If you turn it on for the first time you get asked if you want to pay the extra charges.

    I have no idea what Sprint's policy on this will be.

    136:

    Slight aside: I saw LTE in action at work today: 45mb/s download speed. That's absolutely amazing. Game changing.

    *Wireless* 3x faster than my ADSL2+ connection. If you have shares in copper-based telcos, sell, sell, sell, assuming you haven't already.

    (LTE is not very widespread yet here in Australia http://www.telstra.com.au/mobile/networks/coverage/broadband.html look for dark blue. Try sydney, postcode 2000)

    137:

    "The history of computing is littered with failed attempts to produce faster and/or more ergonomic text input devices than the QWERTYboard; just what makes you think that you've come up with something actually better?"

    QWERTY was designed for long inputs and was, for two hands, fairly good as far as ergonomics are concerned (good enough to be the standard).

    However, on a device that's just roughly larger than the size of a playing card? It's a different story altogether. The use of the device as well as the ergonomics are vastly different, which is why I find that trying to shoehorn an input solution designed before 1900 AD into a modern touch-screen device isn't the right direction.

    After all, we have so many tools at our disposal now: context-based behaviors, multi-finger inputs, slide, swipe, tap, etc.

    "When answering, bear in mind that using a numeric keypad in the way that handsets do is a force majeure answer to providing text input when you only have about 12 keys to supply the 70 (ignoring shifted alphabetics) different characters a QWERTYboard offers."

    As I said above: we have so many options at our disposal. Why does it have to be just "tap"?

    138:

    No i mean 'Unlicenced Mobile Access' which is missing from the IPhones so far. It's gradually working it's way into handsets and allows you to use a wi-fi hotspot as 'normal' phone signal. Pretty much the same idea as a femtocell (in the UK vodaphone have these as 'sure signal' your own personal mobile phone base station and no-one yet has 'open' ones for any operator) but with the significantly added benefit of there being so many wi-fi hotspots around. Only supported on Orange (as signal boost) so far in the UK and ONLY on orange branded phones (not say a phone on an orange contract for a 3rd party, unless a firmware upgrade to orange firmware fixes the issue).

    Might sound like a niggle - but poor reception at home (or work) is one of (if not the) biggest reasons for switching phone operators. I noticed in the 4S presentation that apple quoted a '70% retention rate' - 70% of Iphone owners next phone is an IPhone - which they said is very good (and i agree). But that still means 30% switch for whatever reason and better reception at home is just another reason.

    139:

    Thanks; as I suspected, you're falling into the same trap as all these other failed devices, and assuming that people are prepared to learn to use your vision for a better text input device.

    Some people, OGH is one of them and I know several more, do use palm-tops for what you describe as "extended text input".

    140:

    Minor correction. On PalmOS I nearly hit a sweet spot; the combination of Documents to Go for editing Word documents, with the FITALY alternate pen-keyboard, worked for me. However FITALY's primary developer died a couple of years ago, and I'm pretty sure it's a dead platform these days. (Which is annoying.)

    I'm not quite crazy enough to buy a second-hand TX and the necessities to keep using it as a pure pocket word-processing environment -- DTG on PalmOS never got quite as far as supporting DropBox or other cloud services, so I'd be relying on the SD-card shuffle, and to use >2Gb SD cards with a TX required a funky Russian-written shareware system extension. Damn it. (Currently waiting for iOS 5 and the Lion update to support iCloud to show up so I can start synching Pages '11 documents betwixt iPad and desktop ...)

    141:

    "Oh good, they've done the market research already. For a while there, I thought they were just ignoring us elderly and/or female gamers because they were unaware we existed at all. There's something so reassuring about discovering the actual reason is pig-headed incompetence!"

    Probably more ageism*sexism; nothing so innocent as mere incompetance.

    142:

    Ok, correction accepted. You agree the base point though, that based on what Andrei has said, he's trying to re-invent a wheel that several people have tried to reinvent before, only to be crushed under the dead mass of market forces not agreeing that their device is worth the effort of learning to use it?

    143:

    Yes, with reservations ... even if your market is only 1% of the smartphone customer base, 1% of a couple of hundred million is a big market niche!

    144:

    I missed Megpie's original quote, but I'm another "older" (as in 49) male gamer.

    145:

    I have one word for you: contention.

    The technology may be very good with clear signal and nobody sharing it, but I don't fancy it as a replacement for wired channels.

    146:

    Another data point - 58 year-old male, had lasik about 12 years ago, wearing mild prescription glasses for distance, need no correction for reading. I wear bifocals, but only for the convenience of not removing/replacing my glasses to read near text. Had varifocals, hated them -- size of correct field too damned small, and was constantly bothered by the focus changes at the transitions.

    I used an original Motorola droid, about two years old at this point. Carrier is Verizon. I have no choice about carriers; Verizon is the only reliable service at our house.

    Resolution and display: I'm very surprised at how well the droid works as a book reader, disappointed in it as a web browser. As a phone it's great, as a music player it's never tempted me away from my ipod. It's acceptable as a GPS. Thanks to some features from a third-party SMS tool, it replaces the pager I used to carry.

    Now that the iphone is available on Verizon, I'm strongly considering converting. If I can get the same pager-replacement features, it'll be a no-brainer because I'll drop my aging, getting-flakey ipod. That means over the last two years I've gone from carrying pager/phone/pod to one.

    147:

    I have to point some things regarding the original diagrams from Dustin (can't do it there, as he does not allow commenting):

    1. I myself am an iPhone (2G) user with an average-sized hand, and my thumb easily sticks out almost 1'' from the right side when the finger is horizontal (and of course when holding it with the left hand, like in Dustin's diagrams).

    2. nobody is able to rotate his thumb 180 degrees. the drawing should have had a 45 degrees (at most) influence zone.

    3. why are the two green zones on the two phones different? the one for the iPhone has a **bigger** radius than the one of the Galaxy.

    148:

    When / where did I even mention extended text input? Or mention that I expected wide-spread market adoption? Or even assume as much? However, above all else, I'm genuinely amused at the speed you shot down an approach that you haven't even seen, much less tried.

    Anyway, it doesn't matter. I didn't come here to discuss a future product. You're welcome to assume as much as you want though, 12 keys and all. :)

    149:
    However, on a device that's just roughly larger than the size of a playing card? It's a different story altogether. The use of the device as well as the ergonomics are vastly different, which is why I find that trying to shoehorn an input solution designed before 1900 AD into a modern touch-screen device isn't the right direction.

    If you think you've got a solution, by all means go for it. But bear in mind this is one of those problems that people have been trying to solve for, well, literally a hundred years. My guess is that unless you've got access to much better consumer tech than we have now, you're not going to crack this one. Iow, given the length of time trying to come up with a better way, this doesn't appear to be hacked with just a technological upgrade.

    150:

    I think there is misunderstanding here. Unlike what paws4thot falsely claimed, we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. Although I can't get into it too much, what we're looking into is an approach that takes advantage of currently available input technologies.

    151:

    QWERTY was designed for long inputs and was, for two hands, fairly good as far as ergonomics are concerned (good enough to be the standard)

    It was actually designed after several layouts to prevent jamming of the metal throws and keys. Early fast typists would jam up the other arrangement tried. If you're over fifty you might remember how typewriters other than IBM Selectrics used to work.

    152:

    Look at your nearest QWERTY keyboard.

    See the word you can spell out on the top row, QWERTYUIOP?

    T-Y-P-E-W-R-I-T-E-R.

    It probably helped sales no end that salesmen could be easily trained to type that one word (to demonstrate how "easy" the keyboard was to use).

    153:

    There was an issue of Byte magazine from the 70s that had an interesting puck for input. Home built of course. You made it so your hand would fit over it. The 4 main fingers rested over switches that the finger tips could throw "out" or "in" and the thumb had a button with a few more degrees of freedom. It was sort of like playing a piano with the thumb being a multipurpose shift key. People who built them and used them got to be much faster than they were at typing. (But this was a fairly selective group.) I've wanted to build one for years but never gotten the required "roundtoits".

    With thins like Arduino these days I might give it a go.

    The biggest plus was you didn't need to move anything but your fingers. AND you could put it where ever it made you comfortable. On your desk, leg, chair arm, or even just hold it in your hand if designed correctly.

    154:

    Hm. LTE. 45Mb/s. Yup... from your phone to the base station. And then you run smack into the line from the base station to the rest of the internet, which in quite a very large number of cases is nowhere near 45Mb/s in capacity. It's one of the most well-known problems in the mobile sector at the moment, and it's why LTE isn't a solution so much as it is an exacerbation of the actual problem, and why the telcos are having trouble making money off mobile data - several telcos over here are known to be deliberately and conciously pricing themselves out of the market to reduce network demand.

    155:

    If you're a marketing type, and you're letting your prejudices interfere with the sacred task of getting people to want to give your employers money, I'd argue that's pretty incompetent, wouldn't you?

    156:

    Another problem with small screens is that they're nearly all capacitive these days, and there is still no decent pointy-stylus solution for accurately tapping a tiny spot on the screen (Jot Pro is getting there, but a proper point would be better).

    My phone is a 7" Galaxy tab (with bluetooth headset for talking), because I am all about the screen size. Also, I'm a woman, and getting very tired of the idea that there are women's phones and men's phones. Sure, most of my clothes have crappy pockets, if any. That's not a choice I've made, but simply what the market has made available to me.

    157:

    Steve, have you tried browsers beyond the stock Android one? I particularly like Dolphin HD with its gesture-based input but Opera is also quite good.

    158:

    What I'm wondering is why you didn't just go with the classic nerd fix and slap your glasses back together with electrical tape?

    159:

    There *is* a console (and games) for 40somethings of whatever gender, it's called the wii. And, unsurprisingly enough, it outsold the designed-for-teen-aged-males consoles so hard it's not funny.

    As for RPGs, Monolith just released the first one done right for people like us. It features such things as:
    - you can teleport pretty much everywhere you've already been to. There are teleport points all over the place, you can use them at no cost as soon as you have reached them once. No walking for a long time through already known places unless you feel like it
    - you can't lose. If you die you're teleported back to the latest teleport point encoutered with full life back and no downsides
    - you can flee fights without real consequences either
    - you can save anywhere anytime you're not in a fight (and you can throw a fight without real problems, see previous)
    - all monsters are visible, and they don't attack you if they're not aggressive (lots of them) or if you're too powerful for them (so no spending your time in random useless fights, unless you want to)
    - there are enough things to OCD on if you feel like it (sidequests, relationship management, crystal alchemy, objects collections, achievements, ...) which give you some advantages when you do them but you can survive very well without.

    The combat system has a number of complexities (they seem to try for a MMO feel in a single-person game) but since losing a fight is not an issue, you can take your time to learn and have fun experimenting.

    All in all, an excellent game for the casual-by-necessity gamer, which is a category where past a certain age we tend to all end up in. Oh, it's Xenoblade Chronicles, if you want to have a look. It's very, very heartening to see a game done right for once.

    OG.

    PS: The english voices are all english too. It's surprising but rather nice to hear english accents for once

    160:
    puck for input
    The description reminds me a bit of the Datahand, even if it's not exactly the same idea. Or Engelbarts mouse and chording keyboard design.
    161:

    My eyesight's too poor for that kind of fine-focus detail work.

    162:

    Yes, but the other problem with capacitative touchscreens is that they don't seem to like fingernails much. So unless you keep yours bitten to the quick, typing on the onscreen keyboard is awkward and fiddly.

    163:

    This is essentially the same idea as the Microwriter.

    It's apparently available as the CyKey. It looks to be effectively an IR wireless keyboard.

    It's aimed at PC/Mac users, rather than tablets/smartphones, but on the site's "future developments" page there is some dicussion of the issues. It doesn't work well on a touch-screen emulation, but a Bluetooth version is in the works.

    Is it as good as people say? I can see how it might be worth trying for some people.

    164:

    Oh goodness, that takes me back. I had to learn one of those to test the QuinKey on the Beeb. I won't say I ever got fast on it, but if I'd ever had the practice, I dare say I'd have got the hang of it.

    What was really missing on that initial release was the wealth of shift/control/alt/function key combos that your full size keyboard has these days.

    165:

    Sorry Olivier, but the idea of not being able to lose a fight is not exactly a new one; being teleported back to the latest checkpoint is commonplace in certain genres.

    I can't be doing with it myself, because it is rarely implemented in a way that makes sense in the setting or story; when playing a game with this mechanic (Bioshock and Psychonauts come to mind) I usually end up reloading an earlier save anyway just because it annoys me. As a 37-year-old female and a gamer since my dad bought a ZX81, I demand more challenging fare.

    166:

    I respectfully disagree with your link between difficulty and checkpoints. Or, at least, *real* difficulty. I tend to consider having to redo things you've already completed artificial difficulty. While I completely agree that difficulty has drastically being reduced in the latest years, I consider having to reload from an earlier save just wasting my precious free time.

    From that point of view, XC I think has done better than checkpoints, which are nothing more than automated saves. And as any non-user-controlled save points they're half the time in the wrong place. Frankly, when it's the fifth time you see the cute-half-naked-girl-you-picked-on-the-way killed by the friend-from-your-child-days-turned-evil, or any combination thereof, in a stilted badly dubbed quarter hour long cutscene because you're trying to find the correct strategy in the following boos fight, the story can be seen curled whimpering in a corner ;-)

    XC otoh would drop you just a little further before space-wise and allow you to try again without going through the gruelling cutscene again. Simply because it's just a teleport away, not a save reload, so you won't have to redo things you've already done.

    You can't imagine the freedom of exploration you feel when you know you can look around without risking having to spend an hour re-doing things just because. And the wife's grumbling that checkpoints are too far apart in her favorite FPSs makes me think I'm not the only one with that point of view :-)

    OG.

    167:

    Regarding these new input technologies:

    I think there is misunderstanding here. Unlike what paws4thot falsely claimed, we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. Although I can't get into it too much, what we're looking into is an approach that takes advantage of currently available input technologies.

    How is it different from the chording keyboard concept?

    And:

    There was an issue of Byte magazine from the 70s that had an interesting puck for input. Home built of course. You made it so your hand would fit over it. The 4 main fingers rested over switches that the finger tips could throw "out" or "in" and the thumb had a button with a few more degrees of freedom. It was sort of like playing a piano with the thumb being a multipurpose shift key.

    What you seem to be describing is yet another variant of the chording keyboard.[1] They've been around for a long time yet never seem to get generally adopted, let alone supplant the traditional data input methods. A lot of enthusiasts (like the enthusiasts for the Dvorak key setup) make a series of arguments that essentially boil down to path dependency (incidentally, one big advantage that Microsoft and the PC had over the Mac which nearly killed Apple thirty years ago and which seems to be forgotten by a lot of people who Weren't There.) I'd like to buy this argument because I really like the concept, but even to me it rings false. Especially given the extravagant claims for it.

    People who built them and used them got to be much faster than they were at typing. (But this was a fairly selective group.)

    Is there a word that describes the sort of projects that a lot of big labs pursue that are also within the technical capability of a garage inventor (too bad we no longer have Vonnegut with us - I manage to slip foma, wampeters, and granfalloons into my casual conversations at least once a year, and in a way that makes the most sense given the other vocab available suitable to the point at hand. If anyone could think up an appropriate-sounding word, he would have been the one.)? Because building a practical chording keyboard surely fits the bill; even I've tried to do this one with the modest toolkit I have available. And this one seems a lot well, not harder, really, but, er, trickier than it looks. Timing is a big issue if you want to go at all fast.

    That's a long-winded way of saying that I routinely hear claims of the great speeds attained by alternate input methods . . . but somehow actual timed trials with people of only moderate skill with QWERTY never seem to hold up.

    I've wanted to build one for years but never gotten the required "roundtoits".

    As I recall, you do a fair bit mechanicing and mending about the house yourself - maybe you should give it a try! Some stuff I did, to help you avoid the false starts: because of what I had available, I just used an old keyboard (actually a ruined Logitech I bought for my wife several years back, and incidentally, didn't help with her typing either) with the ASDF/JKL keys activated. I then constructed a Huffman coding (I could have looked it up, but it's trivial to do) for the usuable characters. The hard part, the fiddly part, was trying to map the code appropriately to the keys. That's because if you want to enter 'e' as a single or double keystroke, you don't want it to be the far left or far right pinky keys.

    I never got any farther than that. I wanted to find something more ergonomic, like what you see in the article I linked to, say some sort of game controller but I could never get the keystroke configuration and timing down to my liking for the keyboard test bed itself.[2] Maybe this was just a case of switching too often to get good at any one particular key encoding. But in any event, I found (after trying two other keyboards) that what you really want are good "clicky" keys. For, me, a sharp tactile bump as well as a nice clicky sound (at one point, I also the keys coded for 'Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do', but I think a simple right/left click would have been better - but beyond my programming skills, alas) seemed to really help as far as feedback and error detection when misentering keystrokes Hope that helps if you decide to pursue this.

    Looking back, I see this is a bit longer post than I intended. My apologies; this is yet another hobby horse of mine to add to the stable. Along with pneumatic tube deliveries to every house, DC rather than AC current, "atomic power", . . . :-)


    [1]Some quotes from the article:

    • In 1874, the five-bit Baudot telegraph code and a matching 5-key chord keyboard was designed to be used with the operator forming the codes manually. The code is optimized for speed and low wear: chords were chosen so that the most common characters used the simplest chords. But telegraph operators were already using typewriters with QWERTY keyboards to "copy" received messages, and at the time it made more sense to build a typewriter that could generate the codes automatically, rather than making them learn to use a new input device.
    • Engelbart uses the keyset with his left hand and the mouse with his right. He uses the keyset to type both text and specific commands. To type a command Engelbart presses one of the three buttons of the mouse.

    Users in Engelbart's Augmentation Research Center at SRI became proficient with the mouse and keyset. In the 1970s the funding Engelbart's group received from the Advance Research Project Agency (ARPA) was cut and many key members of Engelbart's team went to work for Xerox PARC where they continued to experiment with the mouse and keyset. Keychord sets were used at Xerox PARC in the early 1980s, along with mice, GUIs, on the Xerox Star and Alto workstations. A one button version of the mouse was incorporated into the Apple Macintosh but Steve Jobs decided against incorporating the chorded keyset.

    • One solution made use of a grid of hexagonal keys with symbols inscribed into dimples in the keys that were either in the center of a key, across the boundary of two keys, or at the joining of three keys. Pressing down on one of the dimples would cause either one, two or three of the hexagonal buttons to be depressed at the same time, forming a chord that would be unique to that symbol. With this arrangement, a nine button keyboard with three rows of three hexagonal buttons could be fitted onto a telephone and could produce up to 33 different symbols. By choosing widely separated keys, one could employ one dimple as a 'shift' key to allow both letters and numbers to be produced. With eleven keys in a 3/4/4 arrangement, 43 symbols could be arranged allowing for lowercase text, numbers and a modest number of punctuation symbols to be represented along with a 'shift' function for accessing uppercase letters.
    • A minimal chordic keyboard is the half qwerty where, to produce the letters of the missing half, you just press simultaneously the space bar. It has been academically proven by Mathias and alii that people who can touch type can quickly recover 50 to 70% of their two hands operation. The loss is a solid contribution to the speed discussion above. It is implemented on two popular mobile phones, each provided with software disambiguation, which allows users to avoid using the space-bar.


    [2]

    • After World War II, with the arrival of electronics for reading chords and looking in tables of "codes", the postal sorting offices started to research chordic solutions to be able to employ people other than trained and expensive typists. In 1954, an important concept was discovered: chordic production is easier to master when the production is done at the release of the keys instead of when they are pressed.

    168:

    Saying an iPhone 4,27" screen wouldn´t be ergonomical is stupid. The width of the new iOS5 split keyboard for iPad thumbs says it all. People who argue that you can´t reach all corners of a 4,27" screen while also claiming that that´s the reason Apple sticked with the 3,5" screen, will have to admit that they also can´t use Apple iOS5 split keyboard for iPad thumbs.

    The complete 4,27" screen, like the one on Samsungs Galaxy S2, can be easily reached with your thumb; especially when you keep the phone not in the palm of your hand but let it lie 50% in your palm and 50% on the base of your fingers

    169:

    I agree with various commenters: pocket size is a key feature and they have it right.

    95+% of most users time there are zero hands on the phone because it is in a pocket.

    I have not yet taken my first dose of the $1000 a year smart-phone drug, but very likely will this year and the iphone is way out ahead because it seems to be the smallest available. I went into a store to look at some droid models a year or so ago (in the US, so the selection was rather more limited than some of you are used to) and immediately rejected all of them on size. Sure they would fit in a pants pocket... but not very comfortably... and I'm 6'3" and male so my pants pockets are relatively roomy. Women's clothing tends to have significantly smaller and fewer pockets.

    I've had a mobile phone for twelve years or so now. The first one was "yea... you could put that in your jacket pocket" (lucky me I was a backpack carrier in those days), the next was "yea, you can put it in a pants pocket, but a jacket pocket is better" (lucky me I lived in Seattle so virtually always wore a jacket), then the one I bought four years ago or so easily fits in a pants pocket (yes, I normally wear pants). The iphone is bigger, but not up to the size of that second phone I had. Every other smartphone I have seen is at least as big as my second phone but more square in shape meaning it will fit worse in the pocket.

    As for keeping the thing from being damaged in your pocket by keys and coins: most pants have two front pockets. Put the keys and coins in one and the phone in the other. I'm a pocket minimalist which helps. Three cards wrapped with cash, keys, and coins in one front pocket. Phone in the other.

    I could see an eventual split into a small model (current size) and a bigger model with the same screen resolution for people who prefer it (and those with accessibility reasons may have a very strong preference). Smaller models (barring a technological solution) are, perhaps, too much of a niche.


    One handed operation seems like a pretty silly argument to me, however. I don't think these differences would even be a deciding factor with that. It would be much more about how the UI works than if it is 90 or 100mm corner to corner.

    170:

    "they seem to try for a MMO feel in a single-person game"

    I suspect that is exactly what they are doing. Almost all the design elements you list are modern MMO standards. I actually thought you were talking about an MMO for a while!

    171:

    Pre-getting contact lenses, it was a great source of frustration having to pick out new spectacle frames.

    My vision is so bad that I couldn't see how potential new frames (with no lenses in) looked on my face. Trusting one's parental units when they were more concerned about price than aesthetics didn't work out so well.

    172:

    I've wanted to build one for years but never gotten the required "roundtoits".

    As I recall, you do a fair bit mechanicing and mending about the house yourself - maybe you should give it a try!

    I discovered decades ago that I'm much better with framing and 12 gauge wiring than cabinet making and IC soldering. Which is why I may start playing around with the Arduino. Programming customer low level bits paid the bills for a long time.

    direct current to the house

    We're a long way from that. If ever.

    173:

    #150 Unlike what paws4thot falsely claimed, we aren't trying to reinvent the wheel.
    Sorry, but I didn't make a claim as you aledged. I stated what I believed to be the case, based on your earlier statements. If that belief is incorrect, then it's because your statements are inadequately detailed for me to form a correct understanding of your "new" input method.

    174:

    I can see both viewpoints; most of the time "no penalty" respawns annoy me, but occasionally you hit "need to play for an hour to reach $tricky_boss_battle" designs and I tend to lose interest a bit after failing to simultaneously keep the NPC alive and stop "baddies escaping with the McGuffin" 10 times over.

    175:

    A sign that your opthalmologist is "with it" and "hep to that new fangled stuff" is when they haul out an iPad 2, pan it around you wearing the frames you're interested in, then let you watch the movie (with your working glasses on) and email it to your SO for approval.

    A sign that you may have gone too far is when you find yourself using your iPad as a mirror so you can see the back of your head while you're shaving it.

    176:
    direct current to the house
    We're a long way from that. If ever.

    Well, there's no reason we can't switch the grid over piecemeal, the price chips being what they are. But I'll cop to having imprinted on some of those old tropes about the way the future was. Three-wheeled cars, pneumatic tubes, etc . . . there really are good, sensible reasons to have these sorts of things (which is why once upon a time they were The Future, after all). But mainly I keep stumping for them because that's the sf of my youth, whacky illustrations out of 10-cent magazines and all. That's probably also why I like spaceships, space opera, and space travel :-)

    More seriously, it looks like you're making a path dependence argument. But the 21st century is precisely about breaking away from those old ways. The 21st century is all about - in one pithy phrase - good infrastructure. Do it right, and once the capital costs are absorbed you've got some pretty nifty stuff to play around with for relatively little cost. And it's not like we don't have lots of people who'd be very willing to work on these massive national (and international) projects :-) Cost is not an object. Nor should it be.

    177:
    A sign that your opthalmologist is "with it" and "hep to that new fangled stuff" is when they haul out an iPad 2, pan it around you wearing the frames you're interested in, then let you watch the movie (with your working glasses on) and email it to your SO for approval.

    When you think about it, the art of corrective optics is really quite crude (though the manufacturing techniques have advanced considerably, of course). Maybe it's like a lot of other stuff that's going to happen Real Soon Now, if not Any Day, stuff that seems plausible but never makes it to market after the initial sensationalism, but actively adaptive optics just seems to be a natural "of course it will happen" to me. There's all sorts of technologies, for example, this:

    The dynamic glasses change focus using a 5-micron-thick layer of nematic liquid crystal, sandwiched between two pieces of glass. Molecules of the liquid crystal reorient themselves when exposed to an electric field and the researchers used this to create a type of dynamic Fresnel lens.
    In a normal Fresnel lens, concentric rings are carved into a piece of glass causing light to become focused in a similar way to a conventional lens. Dynamic glasses mimic the Fresnel effect using concentric circles of clear electrodes on the pieces of glass containing the crystal. Activating these electrodes causes the liquid crystal to align into rings and focus light passing through the lens.
    The first commercial dynamic glasses will only be able to switch between a person's normal vision and their "reading" prescription. However, by applying different voltages and by changing the number of current-carrying rings within each lens it should be possible to produce different magnifications using the same lens, researchers say.
    Peyghambarian is now working on glasses that can dynamically refocus on whatever the wearer is looking at. These will most probably use an infrared laser built into the bridge of the glasses to determine how far away an object is. "The idea is to put the focusing power found in the lens of a camera on your face all the time," Peyghambarian told New Scientist.

    New Scientist, I know, but this sort of stuff keeps bumping up regularly. And the physics is very well understood; you don't even need the Fresnel lens. In fact, if you had a sufficiently fine-grained pixel display you could have an instantly-configurable instant-prescription pair of glasses for whatever the situation required. And controlled just by your eyeballs and head movements! You want to read that exit number on the road sign a mile ahead so you have plenty of time to change lanes? No problem. Just look and squint. Want to use the same pair of glasses to look at itty-bitty watch components from a distance of two feet. No problem. Just look and squint.

    When someone mentioned smartglasses as a possible next big thing from Apple, my thought was that if anyone could have pulled off the integration of available components and design, it would have been Jobs.

    178:

    And the physics is very well understood;

    The problem is with the end users. We're incredibly hard on our glasses. Double that for contacts.

    I drop my glasses regularly. They slide off the bed a lot. I tuck them into my shirt pocket when I need them out of the way so they can rub up with my pen, pencil, or cell phone for luck. I clean them with the softest thing in arms reach. Etc...

    Contacts. Most folks follow the rules for car. Well sort of. Kind of. Maybe. And currently they don't deal with fine dust nearly as well as your eyes. I quit wearing contacts due to dust issues when doing chores.

    I also have a half dozen or so cases safely tucked away in a drawer so they will not get damaged. :)

    My point is that there are lots of designs for glasses that are much butter than the current crop in the mass market. But they tend to be very fragile. Too fragile for real world use by non obsessive users. And making something that costs $1000 or more and is easily breakable and many users can't function without is a bug marketing problem.

    179:

    direct current to the house
    We're a long way from that. If ever.
    Well, there's no reason we can't switch the grid over piecemeal, the price chips being what they are. But I'll cop to having imprinted on some of those old tropes about the way the future was.

    Are you thinking using direct current in houses or converting back to AC at the "pole"?

    As someone who understand electricity more than the average citizen but who is not a power engineer I see DC as having about the same pluses and minuses as AC. And to displace the AC grid it needs to have a huge advantage to stand a chance.

    If you convert back to AC at the pole you have a lot of costs applied to every meter location. If not you have to wholesale replace 99% of the electric devices in a home to convert. 99% by current draw, not device count. Or more.

    And even if the plan is to convert back to AC at the pole as a temporary thing you still have the huge inertia of the later conversion.

    I don't see it. Seems sort of like fusion for consumer power use. 10 to 20 years away forever.

    180:

    Wouldn't it be simpler to swing off those liquid-filled lenses someone invented as a cheap solution for desperately poor African countries? The correction can be adjusted with a syringe. A bit clunky, but you could theoretically have a couple of tiny servo pumps...

    181:

    Those specs aren't very good. In particular, I don't think they can adjust for four different visual impairments simultaneously ...

    182:
    The problem is with the end users. We're incredibly hard on our glasses. Double that for contacts.

    Well that's always the generic big stumbling block, 'innit?[1] "Our initial product offering did not survive first contact with the consumer." I'm guessing something like this would take several iterations to work the kinks out enough to be both affordable and worth buying for the general public. But fortunately you don't have to get there in one go; there's lots of intermediaries who could support ongoing research.

    Though as I think I've said many times already, it's a pity Jobs didn't live five or twenty more years. This is exactly the sort of thing that guys like him are good at. Yes, we would have had the equivalent of iPods, iPhones and iPads without Jobs eventually and for varying values of eventually. But we quite possibly wouldn't have the toys from five years ago even now, and might not even have had them five years into our current future. And I like my toys.

    That's a much understated gift in the technical arts - introducing a viable commercial product that up to that point was "before it's time". In fact, I don't think it would be too far out of line to think of Jobs as a sort of real-life Arcot, Wade, and Morey team (who seemed to go from observation of inexplicable physical phenomenon to full-blown theory to lab prototypes made possible by the new theory to product rollout in something like five days. Maybe a week, tops.)

    [1]In fact, that's one of the big problems of advanced battery or advanced solar cell tech. Sure, it's easy to demonstrate some impressive (by current standards) energy density in the lab. But you have to scale up nano-assemblies into a device that gives a decent amount of amps at a standard voltage. If it's for powering a car it also has to be rugged enough to withstand extremes of temperature and moisture as well as all sorts of weird and sometimes extreme physical jolts, it has to have nonspectacular failure modes . . . and on top of all that your super-duper battery has to be replicated and fabricated millions of times over, so it has to both be made from readily available materials and cheap to manufacture. That's quite a hurdle to jump, and one a lot of people seem to gloss over - call them the "We'll just eat shrimp in space!" crowd. Or the "We'll just design clothes for our fabs that don't have to be sewn" crowd.

    Ditto for solar voltaics and the like of course.

    That incidentally is why you get these breathless reports with depressing regularity about the next big breakthrough in solar power and the like. Coming up with a possible solution in the lab is actually not all that difficult. Coming up with a realistic, workable solution that can be implemented in the real world is hard.

    You already know this, I'm sure, but you pressed one of my buttons, which seem to get pushed a lot in these types of discussions. I'm a techno-optimist in the broad outlines and generalities, a techno-pessimist in the details and particulars ;-)

    183:

    People have been kicking around the smartglasses concept for a while. It's appeared as a background feature in an anime series where the audience is assumed to be able to figure it out without exposition being necessary. When technology catches up with our aspirations we'll see them; I have to admit I'd like to see them sooner rather than later.

    184:

    I'm a techno-optimist in the broad outlines and generalities, a techno-pessimist in the details and particulars ;-)

    Ditto. But I tend to look at the details more as that's what I got paid to do for such a long time. I learned the hard way not to show off prototypes too soon to the wrong people. Or they'd go sell it the next day to 1000 people.

    Back in the 80s I think Israel started using drones. Basically vastly improved RC airplanes. The US saw them and jumped all over it. Then a year or two later Congress hauled up a few Generals and wanted to know why we didn't have 10,000 of them deployed around the world YET?

    The answer was something along the lines of:

    We want these to be flow by tech sergeants. Israel was having theirs built and flow by PHDs in aeronautical and CS engineering. And we didn't have enough PHD sergeants to go around.

    185:

    I have a simple reason to wear glasses. I'm near sighted. And now that I'm way past 40 my close up vision is trending to the normal end of the range.

    Glasses just for me need to mimic the eyeball in how it focuses. They need to change as I look at near and far objects. Like a good auto focus lens system on a camera. They need to realize when I'm looking through glass at distant objects. And if I'm looking at a tree line decide if I'm looking at the trees, the open meadow between me and the trees, or a bird flying a few feet away.

    That's the hard part. But computers get smaller every day. So we're getting there. > 3 years out.

    186:
    Glasses just for me need to mimic the eyeball in how it focuses. They need to change as I look at near and far objects. Like a good auto focus lens system on a camera. They need to realize when I'm looking through glass at distant objects. And if I'm looking at a tree line decide if I'm looking at the trees, the open meadow between me and the trees, or a bird flying a few feet away.
    That's the hard part. But computers get smaller every day. So we're getting there. > 3 years out.

    Since visual acuity is almost entirely a function of the imaging ability of the human eye (at least for most people, and for people younger than 60 or thereabouts), it's quite possible to have better than 20/20 adjusted vision over wide range of depth with these new technologies (or so the ad copy claims). For the first time in history, those who wear glasses will have better vision than the unprostheticized.

    Charlie, how would like to see at five or ten or twenty feet with perfect visual acuity what you now see at two feet? Since I've been rather drastically visually impaired in one way or another for most of my life myself, this sounds like a dream come true. A very, very good dream come true, even better than the one where the head cheerleader asks science boy out and then goes all the way on the first date :-)

    And which incidentally would make most of the original discussion about the "best" size for a smartphone screen moot - what do you care if the screen size is 110 mm or "only" 90 mm, you're corrected vision is 20/10! With this sort of correction routinely and affordably available, you could conceivably get a situation where eventually most everybody wears glasses as a matter of course (making them look like our department of math geeks, but with a better wardrobe). The first-order sociological effects of such a switchover are obvious, like glasses being part of your regular dress ensemble and various frame designs, materials, and color schemes becoming social status indicators. The second, third and fourth order effects?

    I'll leave that sort of thing to Charlie.

    187:

    That was somewhat what I implied about my eyesight. Until about 10 to 15 years ago I could see way better than "standard" eyes for close up work. I could usually nail the 4th digit on the left end of a good slide rule. :)

    Now though I'm mostly just normal in terms of eyesight within 18".

    188:

    Charlie, how would like to see at five or ten or twenty feet with perfect visual acuity what you now see at two feet?

    I'd pay the price of a new car for glasses that gave me that capability. (Luckily nobody's selling, because this is not the point in the economic cycle to double down on debt.)

    Mind you, my appointment with the opthalmology geek the other day was rather more high tech than I was expecting. Among other things he used a motion capture rig to work out precisely how the layers in the lenses should be aligned within the frame I'm buying so that the reference point is precisely in front of my pupils (and the focal plane aligned with my wonky left-to-right scan). (Varifocals, especially with prisms for astigmatism, are a hard problem: if you glance sideways, you run into increasing distortion and blur: and if they aren't positioned so that the reference point is right in front of your pupil when you're looking straight ahead, you're SOL.) Then he zapped the parameters over the internet straight to the factory, to be queued up for production on a robot assembly line. It's like the age of mass customization has finally arrived, at least for sufficiently expensive eyewear.

    (We discussed PixelOptics lenses; his recommendation was to wait, as the current iteration isn't up to handling my close-in requirements -- at least, as of this generation. I live in hope of having glasses with tap-to-focus within the next couple of years, however.)

    189:

    Let me just run down my eyesight issues:

    * Myopia: I have different degrees of short-sightedness in each eye. (Mild-to-medium in the right, medium-to-bad in the left.)

    * Astigmatism: mild in both eyes.

    * Presbyopia: getting worse rapidly, in both eyes.

    * Peripheral retinopathy: I only have about 50% of the peripheral visual field in my right eye. (This is dormant; dunno where it came from, it's been there for the past 25-30 years.)

    * Detached retina: a bad detachment in my left eye 20+ years ago left me with surgical scars in my left eyeball and a fovea that's held in place with blu-tac and duct tape. It works, and I've got full peripheral vision, but anything I look directly at is warped and distorted because my fovea isn't flat.

    * Wonky muscles: possibly as a result of the surgery for the detachment[*] the muscles that elevate or depress my left eyeball are a bit weaker than those in my right eye socket, so I get double vision easily (vertically displaced).

    I am not blind, or even legally sight-impaired. But I can't watch modern movies (the fashion for motion blur assumes you can synthesize a full visual field rapidly; I can't) and my spectacle prescription is a complex horror.

    [*] Yes, laser treatment for detachments was available in those days; but this was a severe one, that required four hours of microsurgery under deep anaesthesia to re-attach. There are few things more disconcerting than waking up with stitches in one of your eyeballs ...

    190:

    I know I'm on the easy end of the bad eyes curve.

    My point was that real time adaptive lenses aren't yet ready for even my eyes unless I want to pay and arm and two legs and make a major change to my life style.

    And the thought of someone stitching up my eyes. They have to be in really bad shape or headed that way before that becomes an option.

    I first got glasses at about age 10 or 11. On the drive home I said out loud something like "Hey, you can see the leaves on the trees." My mother almost had a wreak. She had no idea what my world was like. Till then trees over 20' away were big green blurs.

    That may also be why I tried to catch that line drive just before I got glasses with my eye. That hurt for a very long time. (Baseball for folks not in the USA. A line drive is a ball hit hard enough that it doesn't have any appreciable curve in the flight.)

    191:

    Trust me, if presented with a choice between permanently losing the sight in one eye, and having to put up with a week in hospital and a sensation like having a dead fly under your eyelid for the next week, I strongly suspect you'd do what I did and take the hospital and the dead fly. (Especially if you only had half the vision in your other eye to start with -- we're talking white stick territory here.)

    192:

    Interesting. I was talking only about the combat system, but I should have guessed they'd have taken the best of MMOs for the rest too.

    Actually, given the cutthroat inter-MMO fighting and the fast economic feedback, it's not at all surprising that they've had to learn how not to be annoying fast.

    OG.

    193:

    Hey Charlie, I'm just busy going through a binge of reading your books, have read almost all except the merchant princes by now.

    OT: I have an SGII and I'm happy with it; nice big screen, very flexible OS, and as someone who has a day job adminning Mac users, it's thankfully not from Apple (I like Apple's stuff, but boy, can their avid fans be tiring at times). Google Voice is not as good as Siri, but Google actually have a setting for South African English! Mad props!

    However, I keep my old Sony Ericsson C902 charged up and loaded with a second SIM card as occasionally I get tired of smartphones being too smart to make simple phone calls. It feels pretty good then to be able to just type in a number by feeling.

    I'm the same age as you (go '64) and I hope for both of us that by the time we're 57, aka in 10 years or so, BCI will be advanced enough that we won't actually need to have the phones in our hands and that the things will just understand when we need things and go ahead and do them.

    194:

    There's some work been done on making corrective lenses using volume holograms, which have several nice optical properties, including that in form factor they're just flat pieces of glass or plastic with the same thickness and flatness no matter what the correction. It should also be possible to create the hologram using interference between a reference beam of light and one sent through the lens of the eye and reflected back off the retina, which means the prescription is no longer dependent on the subjective responses of the patient to different corrections. The research problems there involve guaranteeing that the system is sensitive enough that it can work with the low reflectivity of the retina without using enough power to cook the eye.

    195:

    Sometimes, I think the designers just completely miss the obvious point.

    I've just bought the new model Kindle Wireless. That's the basic e-reader without the alphanumeric keyboard. Big screen, light weight, it's all very nice. And I paid about half the list price, because of an accumulation of discount vouchers from Tesco.

    But there are five buttons on the front, one a multi-way controller. They're all the same dull grey as the case. And the other four bear icons in black. Black on grey, and not very big. And, when you get the initial instructions on power-up, you get tiny copies of these symbols, not words.

    It feels silly to be examining my Kindle screen with a magnifying glass, so as to discover which button I need to press.

    Jeff Bezos is no Steve Jobs.

    196:

    @Dave And yet, the B&N Nook Touch (my current eReader) has the same screen, same approximate size and weight as the Kindle, and most of the same hardware inside, but a touch-screen interface. It's no iPhone/Android/tablet PC, but for reading a book, it's all you need and more, and it means that the buttons you do find on the outside are all single-function ones (there's two page forward and two page back buttons, one set on either side of the frame because you have lefties and righties in the world, a power button on the back and a general-purpose button on the front where an iPad/iPhone's general purpose button would be). And the same is true of the Sony PRS950 I got my wife (lovely eReader, but monumentally expensive).

    As to the kindle keyboard... I mean, I love me a physical keyboard, haptic feedback and all - it's why I don't like iPhones and iPads - but an eReader isn't an eWriter. I don't need a keyboard. I'm one of those people who was raised to regard scribbling in the margins of a book with the same distaste that you'd reserve for someone urinating in the aisles of the library. So why the heck a good 20% or more of the kindle was taken up with a keyboard you'd almost never use is beyond me. It makes as much sense as a chocolate fireguard.

    197:

    The Galaxy Nexus looks interesting. 1280 x 720 screen, on a phone. Yes, that's a 720p HD screen, with a 4.65" diagonal.

    I'm wondering whether it's going to be sensible to go higher resolution than that.

    (Also at Google.)

    Other nice features - panoramic pictures by dint of panning the phone while taking the picture. Unlock it by smiling at it. And that screen - it's not flat any more, it's very slightly curved to better fit the face as a phone.

    198:

    I realize it's probably a little late to mention this, but some of the readers that want a phone that has a large display (5.3") with good resolution (1280*800) that still fits your pants back pocket might want to take a look at the Galaxy Note.

    199:

    And if that's too small a screen, you've got the Galaxy Tab 7", though you're beginning to need a poacher's coat for one of those.

    200:

    ;-) So true. (Man) purse almost required.

    Specials

    Merchandise

    About this Entry

    This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 11, 2011 11:10 AM.

    Trick Question was the previous entry in this blog.

    Polite Note is the next entry in this blog.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

    Search this blog

    Propaganda