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)
3. Portability.
4. Easy input.
5. Flexibility

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.

3 thoughts on “On portability: thinking about the perfect gadget

  1. CK – I get where you’re coming from and generally agree with you. On the Sony Reader vs. Kindle thing we disagree but that’s OK – we have before and I still love you man ;^)

    Having used both now, I can say w/o equivocation that the Kindle is a decided evolutionary step forward from the Sony which suffers from a terrible software experience much like everything they make – my opinion, your mileage may vary.

    The always-on connection can be quickly and easily turned off (oxymoronic perhaps) when long life is the goal and left on when power is easily accessed and real-time input of content is more important.

    I think complaints about Kindle’s attractiveness (or lack thereof) from a physical perspective are more than offset by the utility of the device. Of course, I have an iPhone and other “pretty” gadgets to wave in front of people so I can afford to be generous here. In all seriousness, all of the “real” people – that is non-techies – I’ve shown my Kindle to this week have ooh’ed and aah’ed over it – not a single one has said “that’s ugly!”.

    Thanks god there’s vanilla and chocolate in this world.

  2. Marc, you could very well be right. I haven’t used the Kindle yet, but I also don’t plan on buying one, and there’s the rub. Sure they sold out quickly after the Kindle went live to all the gadget lusting people out there, but now it’s sitting on their site with a rating of 2 and a half stars and priced over $400. I’m not convinced this iteration will continue to sell based on those two numbers.

    As for the Sony software problems, the great thing I’ve noticed about the Reader (as a Mac user) is that I don’t have to ever touch the software. I can simply pile a bunch of PDFs and RTFs onto a SD-memory card and shove it in the Reader. That’s the killer feature that the Kindle is missing, imho.

    Benjamin also thinks it’s fugly: http://www.technologyevangelist.com/2007/11/my_first_12_hours_wi.html

    Agreed re: vanilla and chocolate, but with just two flavors of ebook, I guess my point is that I just wish there was some Neapolitan somewhere out there..

  3. It’s official. I do not want one. Not now. Not in this version. Not in this life. So, you’ll just have to find another present for my birthday, and I just officially erased it from my Christmas wish list.
    Let’s be honest. Why would someone want it? If you are looking for a nice shiny tool to make you stand out, think again. In the first days alone more than a million other bonobos will have the same exclusive phone, and there are a gazillion more on the waiting list.
    Further more, it’s way too slow for me, as it is not packed with 3G, and I am dead scared with the fact that it has one horrible irreplaceable battery: I have a nasty phone bill to prove that a 5 hours talk time in a shiny Apple design will not get high into my charts. My first iPod ended locked to the power charger @ all times, but for a phone that would be unhandy.

    A 2 mega-pixel camera was extremely cool in 2005, but now the cook of the driver of the gardener of my neighbour’s security guard simply refuses to be seen with anything below 3 to 4 mega-pixel. Moreover, video capturing seems not to be on the application list. Duh. I think Steve needs to slap some sloppy guy. Same guy by the way that found it not necessary to add a memory extension slot. That is like French fries without mayonnaise. Not good.
    And could someone explain to me why this so-called phone of the future comes with a stripped down version of Bluetooth capability? So my sturdy German car equipped with a French Bluetooth system, is set up to receive wirelessly the thousands of songs I legally bought on Apples iTunes, except that the Apple iPhone does not support streaming audio? Come on, this is not serious.
    I’m sure lots of people will like it. Well, lots of people like Paris Hilton, white socks, patchouli perfume, deep-fried fish, well-done steaks and cables.
    I’m just not one of them….

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