Google and Sirius XM: Build my "Dream" Handheld

Google and Sirius XM: Build my "Dream" Handheld

Summary: The current rumor-mongering seems to indicate that HTC's "Dream" will soon be making landfall in the US. Based on the initially leaked specs of this device, it still sounds like it doesn't do what I really would want it to do in order to replace by Blackberry 8820.


polymer_concept.jpgThe current rumor-mongering seems to indicate that HTC's "Dream" will soon be making landfall in the US. Based on the initially leaked specs of this device, it still sounds like it doesn't do what I really would want it to do in order to replace by Blackberry 8820.

My true "Dream" device would be a lot closer to the "Global Link" handheld in the late Sci-Fi series "Earth: Final Conflict", for those of you dorks that remember it. It had a pull out flexible wide screen and all sorts of cool Star Trekky interface stuff on it. The show really jumped the shark in the final season after the Taelons blew up in the volcano (where have we heard that plot before?) and they introduced that stupid Atavus race but I digress.

Back in February 2006 when the first generation iPhone was announced and Android wasn't even a blip on the radar, I wrote on my personal blog Off The Broiler that my ideal $500 digital convergence device would have the following characteristics, and would be fully doable using current, not Star Trek or alien licensed technology:

• Built in Wi-Fi peer to peer mesh networking that would allow you to trade songs and videos and other files with people wireless, directly access the Internet and download music, videos and software without the use of a PC. • A nice screen like the PSP so you can play Internet-aware multiplayer games and watch videos • 40GB hard disk with Secure Digital slot • 1024×768 SVGA full motion digital video camera on swivel mount (2MP or better) with integrated stereo microphone, high quality speaker and USB 2.0 connector • High capacity lithium-ion rechargeable, removable battery pack. • High-speed 4G cellular for doing your phone calls, digital teleconferencing (with the built in camera) and data service when you aren't within Wi-Fi range, and VOIP integration like a built in Skype or Google chat client. • An Open API developer tool set using open source components so anyone can write applications for it • A great end-user interface that ran on Mac, PC, and Linux desktops • A sleek, innovative industrial design that would smash the hell out of proprietary units like the iPod.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Since then, these basic design specifications for my ideal device have not changed. The HTC Dream and Android only addresses some of these desires of mine. It doesn't have removable batteries to my knowledge and has no video capture capability in its 3MP camera, nor does it have mesh networking out of the box. Fortunately, as Android can be licensed to any number of handset manufacturers, form factor and religious industrial design constraints (i.e., iPhone) are not a major concern, so there is greater malleability in the platform. OEMs and carriers can add new software features or new hardware and drivers to it as they see fit -- although one would hope that we don't see different "distros" of Android that are incompatible with each other. So for example, if T-Mobile makes a mesh network system application, it better be able to communicate with Android users who have Sprint devices or AT&Ts. That, or independent meshing networks are going to have to be allowed into the picture.

I have since, however, added some things to my laundry list that I absolutely need now if I want an all-inclusive, super duper dream handheld. For starters, anyone who does a large amount of messaging absolutely MUST have a full keyboard or a superior touchscreen technology that effectively replaces it. My Blackberry 8820 has tiny keys, but it's functional and I get by even with my ogre-sized hands -- so an iPhone is a non-starter from that perspective. The HTC Dream reportedly has a full slide out keyboard, so that's a big plus. To compete with RIM and Mobile Me (although the idea of Mobile Me being a threat to Blackberry Server is laughable given how unreliable it has been) Google is going to need to deploy a robust corporate messaging system integration platform in addition to the expected Gmail and Google Apps sync - it needs to support Exchange, Lotus Notes and of course IMAP and POP3. And it's got to be reliable.

I also would like to see full transparency and openness when it comes to app stores. Given Google's direction towards e-commerce with eBay and Google Checkout, it should allow ANYONE to open up an "app store" either in Google's own infrastructure or run independent app stores. Major Open Source app feeds such as SourceForge/Freshmeat should be able to have their own stores outside of Google's infrastructure, and Google should treat any ISV or individual who produces applications for the platform on a pure caveat emptor basis and not impose Nazi-like restrictions and "disappear" applications remotely that are controversial or piss off providers, such as with the iPhone app that turned it into a Wi-Fi bridge.

For those end-users who do have concerns about security and reliability and quality control, one way this could be done is with a "Android Trusted Application Store", similar to what Apple does with its iPhone store, where only selected applications that go through a rigorous testing process would be allowed in - or those who would be willing to cough up a major partnership fee, such as from a prominent mobile ISV such as Opera Software or Nokia/Intellisync.

The rest of the apps in the Android Store could be hosted in other Tier levels, which could utilize something similar to eBay's "feedback" infrastructure - the good programmers with stable, working, and secure apps get "stars" and "sunglasses", whereas anyone who gets significant negative feedback (all of which should be viewable by the prospective buyer, as in eBay) gets thrown to the bottom of the list. And of course, anyone who does a good job and gets a lot of positive feedbacks can get promoted to the Trusted Application Store. That being said, actual applications that are deemed to cause havoc on units via malicious intent should have the ability for Google to inform the user to delete it if it is installed on the device. The call to remote destruct an app as Apple has said they possess should only be used in the most extreme and desperate of circumstances.

What else? Well, I'm also a satellite radio junkie. Sirius XM is a must for me because I'm not a huge MP3 collector -- so my "Dream" device would have to also fulfill the functions of a Stiletto, which I have been considering purchasing lately because I do a lot of travel. Don't get me wrong, I love music, but I'd rather pay for a service that supplies me with an endless amount of CD-quality Classic Rock, Jazz, Classical, and of course, Howard Stern and uncensored comedy rather than having to buy CD's and rip my own music. ZDNet EIC Larry Dignan adds that he also would want AM/FM radio built in, just in case there's bad weather or the satellite infrastructure goes down. I can relate to that, but that's not necessarily a must for me.

While we are on the subject, I would advocate that the existing AM/FM radio infrastructure probably needs to go the way of the dodo, much like HDTV is going to displace analog TV in 2009. The AM and FM frequencies should be re-partitioned for "Digital" radio so that we get more channels. I don't see how this could possibly be interpreted as a net negative because each AM and FM station would have to get at least 10 digital channels in return for the frequencies they were giving up. Sure, existing radios will either need to be replaced or use AUX jacks, or the new units will require FM transmitters like the current portable Sirius units for older cars. People will yell and scream initially, but in the end, they'll get more content and higher quality sound.

My take on this for the radio stations is the more digital radio channels they have, the more advertising they can sell, which yields more specialized content -- and would allow them to compete favorably with Sirius/XM in terms of broadcast sound quality and special interest programming. All-day local traffic report channels and local weather channels that were separate from the main local news feeds would be awesome, as would lifestyle and entertainment local digital radio channels. It would also get around the issues of format changes losing audience share (like when classic rock goes country or hip hop) because a radio station could simultaneously broadcast different formats on different channels. Or have four Country Musics and four Classic Rocks, depending on how they wanted to partition their bandwidth - just like how a local TV affiliate might want two 720p or four 480i channels. This is something SiriusXM could never hope to compete with, this despite their inherent "advantage" of having no FCC oversight on things like adult content and dirty words for being a pay service.

What does your true "Dream" handheld look like? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: HTC, Android, Google, iPhone, Mobility, Networking


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Question

    Hi Jason,

    First off, I'd like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your insight into the world of next-gen hand held devices. You are clearly well versed on this matter which is why I'm coming to you with a question. In your opinion, how would a recent college grad like myself go about getting in touch or involved with people or companies researching and developing the kind of technology you described in your "Dream" device? I would greatly appreciate any knowledge you would be willing to share with me. -Nate
    • There is a lot of technology involved in this

      There is such a long laundry list of technology involved in this that I don't know whare i would begin.

      A lot of different vendors need to come together in terms of standardization and platform in order to make this stuff become a reality. Obviously if you are interested in Android, I'd start with the Android SDK if you are developer inclined. Mesh networking is still very much an emerging technology and I couldn't tell you offhand if there is any standard for something like this yet. My gut instinct is some company will develop a mesh networking client for multi-platform use and end up being the next Napster, hopefully without the same consequences

      A lot of companies are working on different digital convergence technoloyies, such as Cisco/Scientific Atlanta, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, and of course HTC.
      • Mesh networking and Copyright law....

        Copyright law will have to be fixed before mesh networking takes off.

        It's the chicken/egg paradigm - who's going to put significant time and energy into developing a technology that'll just get you sued if you try to use it for its most logical application? And who'll hold the entertainment media and Congress's feet to the fire over the deficiencies in copyright law if there's no large base of technology in place for people to want to use in ways that require the law be fixed?
  • Digital radio is here today...

    But I never seem to hear that much about it. I have pretty much given up listening to music over AM/FM. I much prefer internet radio mostly because of fewer commercials but also the selection is greater. If you care to spend the money I'm sure satellite radio is superior but in my car I'm happy with talk AM or my iPod. Mr. Stern usually bores me anyway.
    Mac Hosehead
    • It was an iPod world.... even before the iPod

      The last two cars I bought (used) had 1/8" stereo jacks for external audio built into their dash audio systems. They were made in 1988 and 1992, respectively. Of course, the audio devices the designers had in mind were the Walkman for the '88 and the Discman for the '92, but my point stands - car manufacturers lost no time realizing that modern man walks around with his music in his pocket.

      Now that you can get 8 Gb SD chips for under $20, that'll be the next hole that appears in the car stereo. Or not. Car manufacturers might just figure Bluetooth is enough, these days.
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    I would like to see almost all of what you already asked for but add Video Out, I do a great deal of presenting. You don't actually say it but office applications are a must, then video out is important.

    other that that, maybe Video Out, or did I mention that.
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    Here's reference to a much more extensive discussion of
    features and functions of a perfect cell digital
    internet media device.
  • Either way I won't be getting one

    If they do make a unit like this, it will be almost guaranteed to cost well over 800 bucks....and I thought an iPhone was expensive.

    Needless to say, if I didn't want to pay for an iPhone, I won't be paying for one of these either. At least, not until the price would go down...
  • Detachable Unit from Lightweight Laptop

    The handheld would attach to the laptop cover like a PCMCIA card where it would recharge its battery, serve as a wireless modem and sync data (contacts, calendar, notes, music, video???).

    When detached it would be a 3G mobile phone like an iPhone or Samsung Omnia.
  • Not-so-Sirius XM

    Don't know about Sirius but xm hasn't been CD quality in years. It's barely fm if that. Seems I read they did that intentionally several years ago. Anyway, I rarely listen to it for music. Talk and the comedy channels are it.
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    You say "I would advocate that the existing AM/FM radio infrastructure probably needs to go the way of the dodo, much like HDTV is going to displace analog TV in 2009." I don't think you have a clear understanding of the number of AM/FM receivers you're talking about making obsolete. In my three-bedroom apartment, we have at least 10 radio receivers (clock radios, TV w/built in radio, stereo receiver, portables, cell phone/PDAs). Most of these devices don't have an 'Aux' input.

    With so many radios out there, HD will need to coexist with traditional AM/FM broadcast for a long time.
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    You have forgotten a few features:

    Extremely large beverage holder
    A little ball on top of the aerial
    Several ringtones that all play "La Cucaracha"
    Ken Fegore
    • You forgot . . .

      to put one of those "bobbing head" dogs mounted to the top of the unit. I'm sure they can make them small enough . . . . ;)
    • RE: forgotten a few features:

      Most likely the ringtones would be user definable. Since most people only have two hands which will be holding the device, you could always get one of those beer hats and you will be set.
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    Keyboards on phones should go the way of the dodo. Why not use voice recognition for finding contacts and inputting email and document text? A large harddrive shouldn't be that necessary - go solid state and let the cloud handle the storage. An LED projector would be preferable to a large screen. Your Li-Ion batteries should be AA batteries. Charging by USB cable would be useful as an emergency backup. I'm already listening to radio all over the world on my 2+ year old SDA smartphone. Why would I want to limit my choices to Sirius?
  • RE: Google and Sirius XM: Build my

    Why not ask for a little cylindrical holographic display that pops out from the handheld while you're at it? :-)
    • RE: Holographic display

      because it's much more sexy if the holographic projector is flush with the device, and it would be less likely to break off.
      • you misundertook me

        The holo display WOULD be flush with the device - until it operates, when the holographic image would appear to be a cylinder that juts out from the device. If the holo image itself is flush with the device, it's not holographic, it's video with simulated depth.
        • nt.

          I don't think a jutting cylinder that operates with non-simulated depth is the type of "Dream" Handheld this article is talking about.
          • One More Time...

            the "cylinder" would not be an actual object, but an erect virtual image created by converging waves generated by the holographic projector.

            What do they teach in school these days?