Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Portable devices -- innovation and form factors

In discussing mobile and portable connectivity, we talked about competing device form factors and innovation. We have also discussed new devices which may influence future form factors and user interfaces: the One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) laptop, the Apple iPhone, and, most recently, Amazon's Kindle.

Each has hardware and user interface innovations that may become standard fare on future portable devices. For example, the Kindle and OLPC laptop have low power displays that are legible in daylight, and the iPhone has an elegant touch screen interface and can be programmed to automatically switch between displaying documents in landscape or portrait mode if it is rotated. The OLPC laptop automatically forms a mesh network with nearby machines; the Kindle is directly connected to Amazon via Sprint's cellular network; and the iPhone can move between WiFi and AT&T's cellular network. The list goes on.

They each deliver different functions. The Kindle is a book reader, period. The iPhone a phone, Internet browser, email client, camera, etc., and it is now open to third party developers. The OLPC laptop is a PC running Linux. It comes preloaded with applications and there are tools for what I hope will become a vibrant developer community. It was conceived of as a computer for school children in developing nations, but in many ways it is more attractive than a "serious" compact laptop like a Sony Vaio for a business traveler.

Each is physically different:

 iPhoneKindleOLPC
Height (in)4.57.59.5
Width (in)2.45.39
Depth (in).46.71.25
Weight (oz)4.810.351
Pixels/inch183167200
Resolution 420x320  600x800  1200x900
Screen diag (in)3.567.5

The iPhone is a smart phone with a bright and large enough screen to browse the Web and read email fairly comfortably. The Kindle is designed for easy reading, and the OLPC laptop's high resolution display may be even better.

Which form factor do you favor? Are you willing to carry around a 3 pound OLPC laptop? Is the iPhone screen large enough for your portable applications? Would you rather carry a Kindle or a paperback book and a magazine when you board a plane?