I’ve always thought about what my perfect gadget would be, and I think we’re getting closer and closer to it, simply because I have several devices now which approach the ideal.
So here are the things needed for a perfect gadget:
1. Always-on connectivity
2. Sustainable power (preferably self-powering through solar-panels or a built in hand-crank like the OLPC)
4. Easy input.
Right now, my iPhone is the closest thing to the perfect gadget that I’ve always wanted, because it performs a variety of functions easily, it’s always connected, and, because I’m usually near a computer or a power plug where I can juice up, it’s nearly always charged. It fakes number 2 because my habits allow it to, but I know many people complain about the iPhone’s battery life, so I cannot really give it that. It comes close to #4, but unfortunately, more often than not, I find myself pulling out my laptop to do things like write this blog post (although the iPhone will work in a pinch). Also, despite the iTunes WiFi Music Store widget that allows me to download music directly to the iPhone, the device is still dependent on having another device (computer with iTunes) for syncing and for being fully functional. Ideally, the perfect gadget should be able to interface with computers, programs, and other devices, but it should not be dependent on them. The best thing about the iPhone for me is that it gives me the chance to do things in all those moments when I would just be standing in line doing nothing. I regularly get through all of my RSS feeds now that I have the iPhone and Google Reader. Before I grabbed the iPhone, the day to day rush of working at Mahalo and living my life was preventing me from getting to all those feeds that I used to have time for. The iPhone helped me find that time, because it is small enough to not be an inconvenience to pull out and read while I’m doing other things, it is always connected so I can access my feeds anywhere, and I can use it in short bursts of time easily.
My Sony Portable Reader is another one of those nigh perfect gadgets, because it does one thing *extremely* well. It is a great epaper device for reading any text or PDF files I decide to throw on it, whether they are store-bought via Sony’s ebook store or a PDF or txt file. Because of the way epaper works, the battery life is insane on the Reader. #2, again, is faked simply by how well the battery performs. #1 (always-on connectivity) is completely absent, but that’s part of the reason that the illusion of #2 (sustainable power) works so magically. It’s very portable and b/c it is a singularly-purposed device there is no need for input. Because there is no input and because it is made to simply be a book replacement, it nicely achieves the flexibility requirement, because it is clearly the most open and flexible epaper-based reader on the market. I can put any text I create or can grab in a digital form on it. More importantly, I can cram it full of hundreds of bits of text to take with me and read anywhere.
After reading a huge amount of the feedback out there on Amazon’s [[[Kindle]]] and reading a lot of the [[[Amazon Kindle Reviews]]], I can tell that it’s going to be one of these nigh-perfect gadgets for some people (although not for me). The always-on [[[Amazon Whispernet]]] is a very cool feature of this device. Unfortunately, I’m sure that that connectivity will undercut the sustainable power illusion that is maintained by the Sony Reader. Amazon has created a service more than a device and has decided to charge everyone for nearly every type of text one would want to put on the Kindle, thereby robbing the device of flexibility (and somewhat of easy input, although it does come with a keyboard and text entry). Also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Kindle is decidedly ugly.
Someday, I’d like to see an epaper-based, solar-powered, always connected to the Internet, web-browsing and ebook reading device with a keyboard that I could blog from. I’d like it to be small and portable, and well-designed. I’d like there to be a switch that I could flip to turn it into power-hungry, full-color, full-motion display mode, so I could watch a few YouTube videos or a movie from time to time. We’re getting closer to that device. I think both the Sony Reader and the iPhone are steps towards that device. I’d like to say that the Amazon Kindle is too, but because of the way Amazon has crippled the device to be so very dependent upon them, I actually feel like it’s more of a step backwards. A movement away from the ebook device of the future. There’s a reason that Sony released the Libre a few years before the Reader, watched it fail and then came out with a Reader that was more focused on just the reading experience. The technology isn’t quite there yet for making such a device magical. Amazon should have watched that development space more closely and learned from it for the Kindle.
I hope that by the time Kindle 2.0 comes out, it will be less expensive, work with WiFi, be less ugly, and have its vision be more in line with where the technology and the consumer already are.
An aside: Prediction: the first epaper device that works in full color and automatically can subscribe to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited will be the best-selling epaper device of all time.