Saturday, May 03, 2008

State of the handhelds

1) Why I am interested in it?

A new wave of computer innovation is coming, and handheld is a key component.

More specifically, handheld devices have reached to the power that they are more powerful than a PC when PC took off. GPS, mobile email and calendar, phone, camera, instant messaging, mobile web, mobile office productivity -- you think and get feedback and write down anytime and anywhere -- your brain is always active and more importantly, at peak level. Soon voice , handwriting, and imaging processing will enhancing them, then, we will have the equivalent of "office" for "general site automation".

To maintain a wide perspective, we should keep it in mind that there is an academic field, HCI (human computer interface), for handheld development. Also, there is a few high tech fields related to handheld: "put viewing devices on glasses",
"multi-touch screen", "voice, handwriting, and imaging processing", "natural language processing".

2) In general, there are two technologies: one is touch screen (palm, apple), one is physical keyboard (blackberry).

Note that perhaps we should talk about human needs first. However, from HCI point of view, human needs and technologies are a hen-egg relations. You may say that needs are the mother of all innovations. However, do no forget human body and behaviors are themselves "build-in technology systems"!

We put technologies first here, for a simple "shallow" reason: because there are only two of them for now, it is easier to introduce them, and we can use the concepts in the discussion of human needs.

3) There are many levels of input need. Depending on the technologies, you can have different separations. For easier thinking and comparison, we always try to force a "canonical" level system.

Note that we only talk about the "write" side; the "read" side is easy from HCI design perspective.

A. No-hand (driving on local streets): voice processing is the key here.

B. One-hand (driving in highway, walking in familiar area; this can further divided into left hand and right hand): I am very surprised that it seems that very few people think about this explicitly. This is a very important category; it should be buried in category C (below) or category A.

C. Two-hands but in constraint space or other environmental resources, by thumb typing, and handwriting. Note that thumb typing can do a lot – actually the draft of this blog was written by thumb typing. However, handwriting can do even more – it is almost a shame that after more than 30 years large scale use of computers, the main input method is still typewriter technology – the keyboard. It is possible that handwriting and voice processing will make breakthrough via handheld.

Note that this seems to be the major focus for blackberry. You can make a sub-division by slide-keyboard. For iPhone, it is between B and C.

D. Two-hands optimal. In this category, flexible or folding keyboard is the way to go.


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