Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Does This Look Familiar?

Just confirmed by Barnes & Noble: the Nook -- seen here to the left -- their competitor to Amazon's Kindle. A black & white -- well, gray on white -- electronic paper display that is readable like a book in bright sunlight, with a color touchscreen on the bottom for flexible controls. It runs on Android 1.6, so that color screen most likely will show a touch keyboard.

Hey wait a minute. Where have I seen that before?

Oh yeah...

My friend Mike and I kinda came up with that device style -- mock-up to the right -- when we looked at the Kindle 2 and didn't like it all that much.

B&N STOLE OUR IDEA! Well, no, not really, I bet; multiple designers will look at the same problem and come up with the same solutions since we all live in the same world. (But if they did, send us free ones and we'll call it even!)

Well, what is next?

I remember when I started work in 1999 for Nokia on the WAP toolkit for making Mobile Internet Sites that we would all see these concepts of where phones were going in the bright and glorious future. Mostly, large color screens, front and back cameras, video calling, and strange egg-like shapes. Pretty much everything has come to pass except for the egg-like shapes. Sure, Nokia tried a bit, got good reviews for the software and bad reviews for the crazy hardware, and we are now all back to slightly curved rectangles, with or without keypads popping out. This is why pretty much all smartphones are boring me these days: box box box box box. Even the iPhone is too boxy with all that black.

Yet the concepts out there for personal communications are about armbands, curves, shapes that bend to the body for carrying but straighten out for viewing. You can't see a video or publicity still for a new display technology without some person in it trying to bend it, twist it, show how thin it is. Foldable screens are a way to deal with the issue that we want a device to be big when we are looking to interact, but tiny when we just want to carry it on our person.

So I am ready to say that this is where the future will go for electronic ink and for phones, media players, portable game machines: they will be full color, high resolution, and fold out, bend, clasp around your wrist or disappear into your pocket. Many will flirt with being wearable, but not everyone will want that (my wrists sweat too much for a watch to be comfortable, for example). They will have adjustable font sizes as an increasing amount of the population grows older, and they will upload and download everything without wires or memory cards. And when they are widely available, you can ask me what come after that then.