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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Wednesday November 08 2006

Laptop-stroke-mobile-stroke-handheld computer design has always exasperated me.  Either the screens are far too big, along with the whole gizmo, or else the keyboards are far too small.  And despite headlong progress by all other definitions, the world seems no nearer to the truly mobile computer (that really is a computer) than it was twenty years ago.

I can’t be doing with a keyboard you must peck at with one finger or with a plastic coffee stirrer.  I want to be able to thrash in deathless prose with all ten fingers.  My keyboard skills long predate one-handed texting.  So I hate these tiny keyboards they have on mobile phones.  But, I don’t at all mind a small screen so long as I’m close to it, and the text on it is readable.

My first computer was an Osborne!

image

Proper keyboard, tiny but close screen.  I adored it.  Computer-wise, my first love.

This was luggable, rather than mobile, but that helped me then, because I didn’t have a regular desk or a settled life.  Every few hours or days, I had to move this thing.  And I could!

Later, I owned an Amstrad luggable, which was rather more luggable but still only luggable, with a big clunky keyboard, and a little flip-up green mono screen.  Again, good for a non-settled life, such as I still had.  I still have this contraption, which long ago stopped working.

image

But then I moved into a proper home, and at that point mere luggability (as opposed to true mobility) stopped being an issue.  It didn’t make enough difference to be worth bothering with.  If a computer is to be better than my fixed home set-up, it has to be truly mobile.  I want to be able to carry it around with lots of other stuff, the way I can now carry around my digital camera.  If it’s too unwieldy for that, then forget it.

Pocketability is especially good.  Stuff you can fit into a pocket is far less likely to get left around or stolen.

So, since that Amstrad, I have waited and waited for a truly mobile computer, big enough to be a real computer and to type on properly, but small enough to carry around easily.

A while ago I stupidly bought a cheap handheld thingy, with an add-on folding keyboard.  But the screen was too small, and the whole thing was just too fiddly and generally ridiculous.  The screen, given that it was vertical rather than horizontal and given that it was basically a crap screen, was too small even for me.  The keyboard had four bits to it rather than two, which was just too much bother to unfold every time.  Plus the serious computer power was behind the screen rather than under the keyboard, which meant that it was top-heavy.  Above all, the whole thing was just too small to be a real computer.  To live my life properly, I need all my computer stuff in one place, all my eggs in one basket.  You don’t want to be choosing all the time which computer you’ll be doing each particular bit of work on.  You just want one typing machine for it all, either genuinely mobile and pocketable, or if genuinely mobile and pocketable is not possible, then: not mobile at all.

So, what with all that, I very much like the look of the very recently announced Samsung SPH-P9000:

image

I like the look of this device not in the sense that I think it looks pretty (to look at it is a cross between my Amstrad and that handheld abomination), but in the sense that it looks small enough to carry around in a big pocket, yet at the same time it seems to big enough to type on, and to be, if not now then some time Real Soon Now, a real computer.

The key to this design seems to be the way the screen twiddles right round, in the manner of the best digital camera screens.  This enables it to be permanently attached to the right hand part of the keyboard instead of having to be plugged in every time.  Open it up, twiddle, and go.  Like with the old Amstrad, the serious business is done under the keyboard, i.e. on the table rather than in the air and wobbling and falling about.  Presumably when you get home, you can attach it to a big screen.

I really hope that this configuration catches on and eventually becomes a standard, the way that the giant Christmas card laptop, with its enormous screen and acres of pointless space below and above the keyboard is a standard now.  Or like the double decker bus plus huge screen plus huge keyboard is for domestic use.  Or, like the mobile phone.

We’ll only know they’re serious about us all buying something like this when they give one of them a proper name, rather than a mere string of letters and numbers.

That was going to be The End, but one other things occurs to me, which is that maybe the poor countries will help out on this.  If they continue to spurn laptops but to enthuse about truly mobile phones, as seems to be the pattern now, then maybe a truly mobile computer like this one - as opposed to the only semi-mobile and completely unpocketable and ridiculously nickable laptop - will catch on among the poor folks.  And then, having built it for the poor folks, the capitalists will say, well, we might as well sell it to the rich folks too.