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.
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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.