Part Two .. Smartphones
In today’s marketplace even the cheapest cell phones have some form of computer technology in the form of a contact list and a way to edit it. As models progress, more features are added like calculators, cameras, and mp3 players. Somebody finally added a keyboard and called the gadget a “smartphone.” Not a bad name for it.
About five years ago, Nokia, a leader in phone technology, realized that the two related, but independent technologies, telephony and computing could be separated. They introduced the N770, an “Internet Tablet.” The N770 has a touch sensitive screen. A stylus is used for input and the device has both a virtual keyboard and handwriting software that works fairly well. Skype is supported for those who want to use the device as a telephone. Later models added an optional physical keyboard thereby putting it in the category of a smartphone. The operating system for the device is Linux based, and was given the name Maemo.
Apple joined the crowd with their introduction of the iPhone. Apple was also had the wisdom to realize that the two technologies could be separated and almost simultaneously released the iPod Touch which is simply an IPhone without telephone capability. The platform quickly attracted a huge number of developers. Input to the iPhone/Touch is via a virtual keyboard. The devices also have built-in sensitivity to motion and orientation. This enables applications to be controlled by tilting and shaking. The OS is a special version of the Mac OS which is a Unix style opearating system.
Coming in just a few weeks is the Palm Pre. It will have many of the same characteristics of the iPhone but will include a keyboard. The OS is called WebOS and is based on Linux. The Palm will be open to third party applications as is the iPhone. While there is no mention of a no-phone model, if the Pre is successful that is certainly a possibility.
IMHO, for these small portable devices, virtual keyboards make a lot more sense than physical keyboards. Most likely, you will hold the device in one hand and poke in the characters withone or two fingers of the other. Furthermore, the QWERTY character arrangement is a system developed over a century ago for mechanical typewriters and two handed input. The underlying principles no longer apply. Familiararity is the only reason it survives today. I also believe that VOIP services such as Skype are better alternatives for telephone type communication on the Internet. And finally there are services like Twitter. Keep in touch with your buddies all day long with free messaging.
Later this year, a startup company called TechCrunch will be introducing an Internet Tablet with a 12 inch touch screen and virtual keyboard input. The OS will be Linux based and the device will sell for less than $300. This just might be the netbook and smartphone “killer.”