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Device Interconnectivity

August 11, 2004

There have been a couple new product announcements (note: not releases) for the Flipstart and OQO, both of which are “palmtop” machines running Windows XP (presumably able to run a variation of Linux also).

As much fun as these devices may seem, I fail to see them being very useful, given today’s technologies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the single device as your cellphone, desktop computer, camera, PDA, credit card, GPS, biometrics monitor, and whatever else can be crammed in there- but size matters. Once these things get too big to throw in your pocket, you just lost 95% of your market. (And if you’re going to carry the device in a shoulder bag, why not just get a *real* laptop with more power that costs less?) Both these palmtops are too big for anyone but the Ubergeek’s belt, but are too small (power, screen, etc) for general use.

I was an early-ish adopter of the Treo 600, which IMO has come the closest to nailing the all-in-one device on the utility vs size scale. And now that these previously seperated “utilities” have been well-integrated, we’re starting to see some really cool applications that leverage each other, such as streaming Shoutcast over your data connection while you poke around your server via an SSH client and send and recieve voice calls all at the same time. Things are starting to get interesting…

Meanwhile, as Moore’s Law gets pushed beyond its limits, we’re stuck with big batteries, low res screens, poor wireless signals, etc etc. To build a device that does everything well would mean one massive, clunky beast. Even the Treo has been a bit large on occasion- I’ve had to swap for a smaller Nokia phone that would fit in my under-seat cycling bag more than once. (I’d rather keep the spair tube that the low res cameraphone, thank you. Taking a picture of my flat tire isn’t going to do much good.)

Here’s what I would like to see happen- Bluetooth on Steroids.
Every device should be able to speak to any other device wirelessly, in a universal language. That way things can be modular, and you only buy/bring the pieces you need with you. Today, I’m headed to the office- I’ll bring the display module, PDA module and the phone module. Tomorrow I’m going hiking, I’ll bring the display module, the phone module, the GPS module, and the camera module. Tomorrow I’m going cycling- the bike computer module already strapped to the bike will transmit average speed, trip distance, etc. to the brain in my jersey pocket…

Once the technologies have been developed to pull all these modules into one device while maintaining the size break-point, perhaps the the modules can be combined to share one wireless connection and power source and get the size down even more.

Now that each of these modules knows how to speak to each other, leveragability increases many fold. Now you can forward all voice calls not from immediate family to voicemail when your calendar says you’re on vacation, or your GPS says you’re driving.

And now thanks to the universal language (XML?), all data is instantly accessible and limitlessly mungable. Who knows what could come from mining this information. GPS coordinates in the EXIF data of every photo you take, average heart rates during training relative to the number of deadlines on your calendar that week…

Interconnectivity is key. Free the data!

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