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.
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.
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.
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.
- Fanless and silent (of course!)
- Weight < 300gm.
- finger and stylus driven UI.
- Firefox 3.
- Adobe Air.
- Full flash.
- Easy image posting s/w,
- Multi-protocol Blogging client.
- 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.
- 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.)
Under $800, sim-free, unsubsidised.
What does it look like?
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.
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.