The ‘Ring of FIE’ and the Perfect Mobile Microblogging Device.

Posted on 11 February 2009 by

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while but this post by Robert Scoble has prompted me to get everything written down and finalised. My thoughts about the ideal microblogging device started during the MBC09 conference that I attended as part of the first MIDMoves tour where people were all using either smartphones or PCs to microblog. I couldn’t help thinking there was a better way and of course, as I’m familiar with the area of pocketable productivity, couldn’t help thinking that the latest MIDs would be good so i’ve decided to spec out my ideal microblogging tool. It turns out that it sits right at the intersection point between MIDs and the new generation of high-end smartphones. Where ARM meets Intel!

First of all, what is microblogging? Wikipedia has a definition but to me, it’s being able to post a thought, image or sound to a publishing platform in the quickest and easiest possible way AND at the same time being able to track that publishing platform for posts that interest or are directed at you in some way. Tracking posts means being able to view 100% of the web in a quick and quality way because most microblogging posts are just leaders into rich web content

Twitter, Friendfeed, Seesmic, Flickr, Jaiku and many others fall into the platform category and in some respects, social networking platforms like Facebook also allow you to do the same. In general, most of the services offer a programming interface that allows direct posting and status updates from the platform and because of this, many third party tools have surfaced. Twhirl and Tweetdeck are the two that Robert Scoble addresses in his post but these are for desktop operating systems. The nature of microblogging means that you’re not always at your desk when that microblogging moment happens and i’d argue that most microblogging moments come when away from the desk making mobile devices extremely important.

Smartphones are a good choice for microblogging Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, and RIM mobile platforms all have microblogging client options available for them but so far, I haven’t seen a complete mobile microblogging solution. They all have major issues.

Web access.

All the clients seem to be efficient and do a good job of showing generic streams and targeted or filtered posts. I use Mauku on the Nokia Internet Tablet a lot and it’s great but just as on all smartphones, when I reach a link (I estimate over 50% of the microblog posts that interest me, have URLs attached to them), it takes forever to open and never gives me the full web experience thats required. Either javascript is not working, flash or some other component that is expected today. Screen sizes are too small and it’s slow, slow, frustratingly slow.

Battery Life.

Using a mobile phone for constant web access kills the battery life. Smartphones are efficient, yes, but having to carry a handfull of spare batteries or having to worry about turning off the microblogging client to preserve the last bar for voice is just not on.

Screen.

There are two things that annoy me about screen size. One is that I can’t scan tens of items in one go. The second is the problem of navigating a web page. After awaiting 30 seconds for a page to open you then have to scroll around and navigate ads or irrelevant content to get the important part of the page. It’s a poor show.

Keyboard.

Keyboards are getting better on smartphones, it’s true, but I haven’t yet seen a smartphone that combines a keyboard with a high capacity battery. As with MIDs, it’s a design choice. You choose between, large keyboard, large screen or large battery and never all three at the same time. With current ( < 2008) technology, it wouldn’t fit comfortably in a pocket otherwise.

Processing power and storage speed.

This is related to the ‘web access’ problem above. More processing power is required to be able to get those clients up and running quickly. More disk access speed is required for the same reason. Smooth scrolling, multi-tasking and other elements also hinge on processing power. Again, it’s part of the design tradeoff. More processing power requires a bigger battery. (Smaller screen and keyboard)

Microblogging is relatively new and none of the phones on the market appear to have included it as a design consideration (Web OS from Palm is one that might be an exception here) so the question is, if you were to design a microblogging device, what would it look like and what specs would it have? Here are my specifications:

Stylish Hardware (quality finishing, stylish appearance)

  • 4.1″ 800×480 screen. It’s entry level for a good, productive web experience.
  • High-end mobile processor (Benchmarks: 10-second average web page load time. YouTube SD flash playback. 5-10 active programs.)
  • Video playback acceleration (Benchmark: 720p)
  • 3W max design power. 1.5W average. 15W battery for all-day microblogging.
  • Camera. 5mp glass optics. VGA video capture. (720p would be nice too!)
  • GPS for geotagging, navigation.
  • Slider keyboard with backlight
  • Local 3G flavor $30 per month data cost (unlimited)
  • Wifi, Bluetooth (2.1 for near-field pairing)
  • Voice – SIP, Skype, GSM
  • FM radio and TX (Always worth having on a mobile device.)
  • Stereo speakers for kitchen-quality sound.
  • 16GB + fast SD storage.
  • Stylus
  • Fanless and silent (of course!)
  • Weight < 300gm.

Stylish Software

  • finger and stylus driven UI.
  • Firefox 3.
  • Adobe Air.
  • Full flash.
  • Easy image posting s/w,
  • Multi-protocol Blogging client.
  • Podcatcher
  • Multi-protocol IM
  • Video capture software (VGA, direct to H.264 for YouTube posting)
  • Navigation (turn-by-turn car and pediestrian) and geo-social software clients.
  • Intelligent predictive text and on-screen keyboard option (in-car use)
  • Configurable home-screen applets.
  • Fast, well-featured RSS client
  • SyncML for contacts and calendar.
  • Email client
  • PIM features
  • Basic office suite (for occasional use only)
  • Compatibility with a common gaming platform.
  • App store
  • E-Book software with link to stores and DRM authorisation.

Stylish Accessories:

  • Netbook (dumb screen  + keyboard + battery with CPU booster. (second core?)) dock.
  • Car Dock
  • Wall mount
  • Credit-card sized remote display and drive a-la windows sideshow that also houses a BT headset.
  • Wrist strap display option that is used as the notifier. (Vibration, audible and visual.)

Cost:

Under $800, sim-free, unsubsidised.

What does it look like?

ringoffie

The Ring of FIE

FIE stands for FULL INTERNET EXPERIENCE and the ring of FIE is my definition (see original here) of the gadget middle-ground that many people ignore when considering a ‘third’ device. There’s already a range of gadgets out there in the middle ground and most of them are already migrating towards internet connectivity. The closest form-factor I can think of is the Nokia N810 although given the battery requirement, it would probably be a bit thicker than the existing N810.

Anything else?

Yes, community. That exciting feeling that you’re buying into something more than a bit of hardware. With the popularity of microblogging at a peak, now is exactly the right time to be bringing a device to market and build a community.

Differences to a smartphone.

As far as 99% of the technical specs go, it’s a smartphone. The big issue, quite literally, is the size. It’s beyond current limits for an acceptable 24/7 consumer phone. There’s no getting away from the physics of good keyboards and an 800×480 screen with a sensible 200-250 DPI. With current technology, the battery is also big and heavy.

Differences to a MID.

For some people, (Texas Instruments, ARM, Qualcomm) the device here is exactly an MID. It even fits in Intel’s definition of a MID although some of the devices we’re seeing now just aren’t quite there yet and in the current Intel platforms, voice support doesnt exist.

Why not call it a smartphone?

This will be too big to fit inside the smartphone category. It also does far more than a smartphone ever did. It makes sense to break out a new category of communicator-style devices, to ride on the microblogging wave and for people to treat this as a second, high-end device. As most high-end users carry two phones anyway, why not make one of them a MID? Breaking out a another device category is also in line with what the marketing people will do anyway.

Can I buy it?

Nope. no-one has done it yet. Nokia have been on this track for years with their Internet Tablets and I anxiously await their new device (which appears to satisfy all requirements except Voice. That might be good enough for me!) Intel are moving into this segment too with their MIDs (See Compal, UMID.) Archos are attempting to unite the smartphone with a media and internet tablet and I know from discussions that ARM’s partners are planning to launch these devices too. Qualcomm were talking about these devices months ago. I would put money on us seeing more than one device in this vein next week in Barcelona and am expecting to be able to buy a device like this before Summer 2009. We’re almost there!

It would be silly not to point out that what I’ve defined here is much the same as I defined three years ago as my ideal device (The Carrypad) but technology, the WEB and Internet-based services have moved on to make this an even more desirable device now than it was then. We’re just at the right point on the timeline of technology and web services that make this sort of device possible and potentially, extremely successful.

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  • The ‘Ring of FIE’ and the Perfect Mobile/Microblogging Device. http://www.umpcportal.com/?p=5595

  • fab

    yesterday: guys, lets play football after school

    today: guys, i have to go home my MID crashed with a kernel panic and i need to restore an image with Acronis so that I can check the new group i joined in facebook

    tomorrow: guys? where are you? ah..there, did not see your flashing IM notification. need to switch to bloggorama, see you next week online in virtual-paris.

  • You lost me at sim-free…

    • t.waldis

      You state out exactly what i think. A perfect MID is not existing yet. Now i had a Nokia E90, an Nokia N800, an HP 2133 and i now own a Wibrain.

      In my opinion, a Nokia N810 with a 3G Modem only for Internet would fit it perfect. I have a Mobile Phone for doing calls and i want to have a internet tablet to stay online when i dont do any productive work.

      Otherwise i also think that with less power, more miniaturized devices i can imagine to have an full UMPC like the wibrain. I dont mather if i have 200g or 500g in my bag. I will have a bag when i carry my Internet Device. But please not heavier.

      • theluketaylor

        I agree with pretty much all the necessary specs and software. Reading that list is exactly what I’m expecting nokia n900 to be able to do. Now they just have to announce it.

  • lets see how Toshiba TG01 will fit to your requirements.

    • t.waldis

      In my opinion the toshiba tg01 is missing the keyboard. So this is not something which can replace a N810. In my opinion a keyboard is to essential to miss.

  • I don’t think Microblogging should be the standard for building any device. Seriously – if you need to buy an $800 device that is dedicated to Twitter, the nice men in the white coats will be by to pick you up shortly, the pills they give you are candy that can make you fly. Eat as many as they give you!

    That said – the device you describe is one that I would like to have, I think the price is high, but there’s a lot there. But when you compare it to what is already on the market… The N810 WiMax Edition, for example… you’re talking about a $300 – $400 jump in price, and for what? What does your device have that the N810 does? A better camera? Some proprietary applications? A bigger battery? Cellular voice? More storage?

    I tell you what would be perfect. A jailbroken unlocked iPhone with a better camera (or 2), faster specs, higher res screen, true Bluetooth that could be paired with a fold out keyboard, video out, a bigger user-replacable battery, Flash, and USB host/slave.

  • Ricoks

    Or how about the Archos that’s comin………….

  • Joao Oliveira (BassoPT)

    Aigo with XP, a 20w battery and slight more storage capacity would be a almost perfect device.

    Processor power in it is more that enough to do regular internet tasks. Memory is enough too although 1gb wouldn’t be bad too. Battery is the main priority in these devices for me.. depending on what platform is the one of your choice, i’m sure you will find something that fits you, but battery will always be a problem.

    About the perfect device you will never find one unless you build one yourself on your desk…. who knows maybe one days this will be possible. :)

    All the best,
    Joao.

  • suchus

    I guess we’ve gotta wait for Intel Moorestown before we’ll see devices like that.

  • Chuck

    800×480 will give you an acceptable FIE? You like to scroll!

    • You cant read text at 1024×600 on a 4.1″ anyway so it’s either scroll, occasionally, or zoom in to 120% and get the same expereience as an 800×480!

      Steve

      • t.waldis

        I guess the differnce is that you have a higher resolution which allows you to have a better quality than 800×480. I think specially when you use the Device for showing pics to someone, it would be useful to have higer resulution.

        Anyway i think a possibility to set up font size systemwide would be very useful.

        • Vakeros

          I agree with resolution point. You can have a bigger screen than 4.1. The first point is the size of the bezel, the second is the bigger the screen the faster the drain. I want pocketable and so upto 5.6 is pocketable. the weight is more key for this. You won’t be able to put it in your trouser pocket easily so why aim your device for that pocket anyway. Until holographic projections come about. Or mini screens which you project onto) Your size of screen is decide by the comfort in your pocket.
          I’ve always broadly agreed with Chippy, but for me 160x120x20mm 5.4″ screen is the best size. 120×77.5x15mm 4.5″screen max for the trouser pocket. This is half a cm wider, almost a cm shorter and the same thickness as the N810. I would prefer a res. of 1024×768 though (for better scaling.)

      • Chuck

        I find that the Wibrain screen is minimum for me. 4.8″ 1024×600 give me a FIE I can live with. Minimal scrolling. Depending on depth, bezel, and keyboard it can be pocketable. Needs to have a thin protective cover over the screen, though.

  • Micke

    And it burns burns burns, the ring of FIE, the ring of FIE… Clever!

  • ProDigit

    what good does 720p videoplayback do on a 480 pix device?
    Are you really going to add a monitor to a MID?
    Same goes for the camera. A 1,5 to 3Mpix cam should be good enough for these devices.
    Instead of more processing power, I think you’ll just need a mobile network like internet for mobile, where flash, and animated gifs, as well as commercial and ads will be kept to a minimum.
    I’m sure not only the battery life will benefit, but network bandwidth will be better, and the cpu will most likely be powerful enough to display main pages.
    On the beginning of the article ‘microblogging’, the idea of an RSS-Feed browser came to my mind.

    Alot of the futures mentioned make no sence putting into a MID! Perhaps you want to photoshop, or do some CAD work on your cell too?

    Asus tried 800×480 on a 7″ device, and I had to say the resolution was pretty sharp for a cheap device like that!
    You’re trying to squish it into nearly half the space: 4,8″?
    I think what you mention is far from the perfect device, and I doubt many will want to pay $800 for it!
    MID’s really should stay below the $250 limit.
    Before we know it MID’s will cost 1000, and mininotebooks 1500.
    another excuse for laptop manufacturers to start entry models @ 2000$!

    You know, we’re getting into times where people are looking to simplify their life, not make it more complex!
    All these cellphones with camera’s and internet gadgets have more risk of being stolen anyways!
    A cellphone of $40 is more then enough!
    text messaging, a clock and alarm clock, and a way to communicate with the family is more then enough for a cellphone.

    If you want comfortable internet experience go for a mini notebook; that’s what I’d say.
    Those small MID’s will always some way or the other lack something; be it a comfortable keyboard, not enough processing power or storage space, too short battery life, or too large to fit in the pocket!

    You can’t expect it to be your television remote, while being a microwave and your CD burner at the same time!
    There’s always a limit, and for sure, comfortable internet experience on a MID will never happen!

  • Matt

    A Sharp Zaurus with a cellular modem, bluetooth, and wi-fi built in and faster CPU, more RAM and updated OS would be perfect! The thumb-board on them is to die-for.
    I know, if you made all those changes it wouldn’t be a Sharp Zaurus anymore, but seriously – they already designed all the hardware – the newest ARM CPU’s are probably so close it would hardly require any engineering effort at all.
    At some point, a qwerty keyboard is too physically small to use with 10 fingers. At that crossover you switch to a thumb-board. I used the thumb-board on the Zaurus C800 (or so) and it was great in real-world extended testing.
    Also, the Sony Clie UX-50 had a fabulous keyboard. I tried all the different clie keyboards and the UX-50 had the best by far. Actually there was a T-50 or something that was nice too.

  • Inspector Gadget

    Bingo!
    I’ve been waiting for this exact same device for a long time now.
    If something like this would came along, I could immediately forget the UMPC and feature-phone combination I normaly carry.

  • Will CrunchPad fit the bill?
    http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/04/10/about-those-new-crunchpad-pictures/

    Cheers!
    Shonzilla

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