"It has a web browser, so I can use it for school..." So says my 12-year-old after his older brother bought himself one of Sony's latest handhelds this weekend. If I remember correctly, I used a similar argument on my own father quite a few years ago. At the time, he was convinced that, despite being about 12 myself, I would be pre-med, so I broke out the "it will improve my eye-hand coordination" argument when I asked for a Nintendo Entertainment System. Since I actually got one for Christmas, I was apparently a bit more convincing than my web-browsing son.
While I must say that the second generation PSP is a really cool little system with a decent web browser, wide screen, great video playback, and outstanding 3D rendering, a tool for serious learning it is not. The on-screen keyboard alone makes me cringe. Yet my boy's request does bring up an interesting point. I am increasingly leaning towards the idea that putting a small computing device in as many secondary school kids' hands as possible is a pretty good idea.
They need to be cheap, so that most parents could afford them or they could be easily subsidized for low-income families. They would certainly need wireless Internet access and they better have an actual keyboard. They also need to be small, to easily fit in backpacks, on school desktops, on lab benches, or on laps in an auditorium. On the other hand, they should sport a large enough screen that back-and-forth scrolling is largely unnecessary at human-readable resolutions. A touch screen wouldn't be a bad idea either, to accommodate a wide-range of inputs.
As I think about what he'd really use a PSP-like device for (he's actually not a big gamer, so using it for school is not completely preposterous), I realize that an Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) would in fact be perfect for him. If only they could be had for a reasonable sum. The PSP is running $150-$200, depending upon software bundles. This is an utterly attainable price, but, unfortunately, an impractical piece of hardware. If the ASUS Eee lives up to its promise and becomes available soon, we're starting to approach PSP price ranges. The UMPCs on the market are still well outside most parents' budgets. However, it was not long ago that the first generation PSP wasn't a big seller because of its high price tag. Moore's Law is our friend, folks. I hope my 12-year-old has a really slick UMPC long before he graduates; the PSP he can buy himself.