Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Missing Accessory: Screens

All smartphone makers are exploring how their smartphone operating system works on a larger screen. Hobbyists themselves are having a good time installing Google's Android on cheap Netbooks, just because they can, and to see what happens, with the verdict mostly being that it is neat, but because it doesn't use the added screen real-estate very well, it is of limited utility. The current wishful-thinking rumor is that Apple is investigating its own iPhone environment on some 9" or 11" media tablet, so as to capture the Quick Computing Companion space without compromising their brand by making something 'cheap' like a netbook.

Really, the limitation on small devices is the screen. A generation of T9-wielding thumboarders on 12-key or QWERTY-keypads, currently plonking down hundreds of dollars and getting locked down in contracts happily for years for the privilege of typing on tiny squares on unyielding glass are proving that the people are far nore willing to deal with horrible keyboards than computer-magazine reviewers panning subnotebooks for years think. "Oh I couldn't touch type on it, let's award it only 1 star" is just not a realistic evaluation once the price drops under $500. Sure, if your job depends on being able to crank out a report of 12 marketing pages in 30 minutes, you want a full keyboard, but how many people actually do that? What I see most people do today is browse, enter text fields, read, compose a small message, draw something, adjust some pixels, type a little again, etc. And then watch a movie.

In the small-scale snack-wise computing arena you can buy all kinds of external keyboards, fold-up, roll-up, wired or wireless connected (if the small computer allows it). You can augment your netbook or smartphone or tablet if you really do need to write that marketing report in the hotelroom or plane. What I am not seeing is the other end: portable flat monitors.

We do fine without real keyboards, and are happy to watch movies on tiny screens when on the move, but when you come to the destination, the desk, the table where real work has to be done, when you need the real-estate and can unpack your bags, there's no product to help out. How much more useful would a MacBook Air, A Sony VAIO P, a standard Acer netbook be, if, when at the site, you could unpack the large LCD and plug it in? It doesn't need to be battery powered, it doesn't need to drain the main computer, you only use it while at the destination, so you can plug it in. It's big and bright and very flat, and the metal or carbon protective cover flips back into a stand, and you can do quick presentations on it.

At least one traditional smartphone maker is wondering how to enable its phones to take over the TV in your hotel room when you arrive so that you can do more general computing with your pocket device, but seriously, who wants to write that 12 pager with a fold-out external keyboard and hotel room TV? So road warriors keep getting saddled with large notebooks because they need the keyboard, and most of all, the screen. Instead of having a small machine to browse and play and watch and listen and message and maybe adjust that report or add a paragraph while on the move with, while walking around, while in a cramped seat. And with that small capable machine, a fold-up keyboard and good screen in their checked-in luggage, or in the weekend bag, packed tightly against their shirts to keep them flat and wrinkle free, both items ready to go for the big work on arrival.

Why has this not been made? Is this where we might be going? Or are mini projectors supposed to save the day?