Friday, March 5, 2010
Portable Computing takes a Shift Forward
Today Microsoft quietly dropped a bombshell on the mobile computing world, and like any good action hero didn't even look back as a massive fireball began to swell up.
I'm talking about, of course, the Courier Digital Journal device, slated for release just in time for the holidays.
When I watched the videos on this device's user interface, I felt a technolust I have not experienced in a long, long time. I got legitimately excited about this product. This was not because there was a huge amount of hype around it, frankly it was leaked, but because this device was so well thought out, so suited to being a collaborative device that allowed you to be as relaxed or as precise with your thoughts, collect them based on your ideas rather than what file type they are, package and share them that I was quite simply awestruck. The designers of this stopped thinking about how to make us work with mobile devices, and how to make them work with us.
And then there's the form factor and input device. The device is a notebook, not in the technology world of notebook computer, but in the classic "let me jot this in my notebook that I carry around all the time. It has two beautiful screens powered by the upgraded Terca processors that run the ZuneHD, which means fast and smooth with beautiful colour and crisp resolution. The inputs are simply touch, and stylus, neither of which are new, however this time they are being used together, to produce a seamless experience that allows you to grab, gesture and flick large objects and pages, but then allows you to pull out the stylus and get precise for writing, drawing, even painting on your work right within the handheld, the best of both worlds, and a natural interface that is a perfect fit with the form factor.
It took me a few hours of pondering exactly what elusive element this device contained that the other portables out there do not. The answer is quite simply, the other portables are largely a one way communication device, from the publisher or content store to the device. I state this knowing full well that you can take photos on them and send texts, tweets, emails and phone calls, but by far the main content stream is to the device, in that if you want to do something with it, first you have to purchase the content or application, then use it in a single linear defined way.
This device, on the other hand, is very social. You can take photos (probably video too), mark them up, smoosh them together with other information like location and scribble notes and diagrams, and then float the whole thing out to your group or the public at large and the content goes the other way for once. What I'm trying to say is you can self publish, not just tweet or do status updates, but self publish on the move, meaning that the Windows Live cloud just got a massive boost and a whole new purpose in life.
I do not think this device is going to be an iPhone killer, people who already have several hundred dollars invested in them are going to keep them, and keep using them, because they have modified the way they think and act with a mobile device to support it. This device is for the rest of us, those who want to be able to mix our professional world with our personal world and our creative streak into one device that allows us to move between the different aspects with an organic ease, not flip back and forth between them as forced one-at-a-time steps that never quite meet up with each other.
The iPad, on the other hand, is in trouble. Apple's been touting it as a revolutionary device, and with nothing else to really compete with it, people have been believing it. Now, however, people have an opportunity to see what happens when you really do go back to the drawing board and start over. If we learned anything from tablet PC's it's that just because you take something that works well, and make is smaller, it is not always a good move, Apple may just learn that if you take something small, and make it bigger, it may not be so great after all. Apple, to summarize, got lazy. They had a couple good products, the computers and the handhelds, and wanted to fill the gap, but rather than really making a new device in that gap, they just inflated the handheld and called it new, kind of like a cartoon character who uses a bicycle pump to blow up items to make them comically huge, and just like an over inflated balloon, they are likely to pop when faced with a real obstacle.
The Courier Journal fell into neither of these pratfalls, they are not a desktop shrunk down to useless size, nor a phone with a big screen, they are a purpose built device with a specific goal - to work as a single go-to portable device that collects and manipulates information in a way that people can actually relate to.
This device, unlike the iPad, I don't have to look at and think "yes, that would be good for my 80 year old father, but I don't have a real use for it". I look at this and know that not only do I have a use for it, it's exactly the device I have been waiting for. It's a fusion of media player, camera, notebook, pda, internet appliance and ebook reader that I want to put in my bag and drag around with me. I look at it and say 'yes, this can let me pull up maps, read blogs, make notes, make diagrams, store my addresses, organize my projects and still play my music and movies". I look at this device and say that finally, someone understands how I want to use a mobile device.