770’s, OQO’s, batteries and voice

Everyone else seems to have been writing about the Nokia 770, so I thought I would join in. Looks like a sexy device, indeed, battery life may be an issue, but that’s true for any portable computing platform with a decent colour screen. I remember two years ago I said I would never want to replace my PalmPilot with a colour PDA, as I never would remember to plug it in. Well, here I am with my Dell Axim, my Archos jukebox and of course my trusty Vaio, all of which would think five hours of battery life was a good run. What ever happened to those mats that you could just put a device on (suitably modified, of course) and it would charge without cables. One day, every table should have one.

Of course there have been some quite significant advances in battery technology, but thus far they have eluded the mainstream. There was recently announced a battery that could charge in a matter of minutes, which immediately made me think of the possibility of charging stations in coffee bars and on high streets. “See you at the charging station at 3,” well, perhaps not. The other very interesting technology is to do with fuel cells, which (as far as I can tell) convert naturally available products into carbon dioxide and water, generating a trickle of electrical current as a by product. A fascinating array of companies are aligning to manufacture and deliver the fuel cell supply chain: all the usual suspects, plus companies like Bic, the Biro and razor company who also has a sizeable chunk of the global market share in disposable lighters and lighter fuel canisters.

The fear is that, to power one of these newfangled, high-resolution colour devices, we’ll all have to walk around with huge cylinders on our backs. You’d only had to add a virtual reality headset to get that frog man effect. Perhaps some smart company will bring out flipper-like shoe attachments, which generate additional electricity by capturing the sound of all that slapping.

As for those screens, I heard on the radio yesterday that the eggheads could now grow Nanotubes as an array, apply a connectivity layer and a phosphorescent layer, et voilà, you have a low-power, very thin screen. Prototypes are currently running at a few inches across, clearly production is a way away but its looking good.

So – while battery capacity may not be improving very fast, charge cycles times are set to improve drastically, and fuel cell technologies open up a wealth of new options (I would not be against carrying a can of methanol in my backpack, though it might cause some disputes at the airline check-in desk). Perhaps somebody could invent a fuel cell that runs on vodka. Recognising that alcohol is essentially a natural product, people might start wanting to create their own fuel. Indeed, it would be awfully green, however, it would also be totally illegal in many countries. The situation might arise where, in tumbled down barns at the ends of rutted farm tracks, secret stills would be producing a village’s supply of fuel cell fuel. But we digress 🙂

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the OQO. This can claim to be the first product to market as a fully fledged computer with a jacket-pocket form factor. It is shipped with Windows XP, but uses commodity hardware, so there would be nothing to stop running Linux. An application of these devices his voice recognition, which I firmly believe it still to have its day in the spotlight. There are several reasons for this, not least the number of people I know who are developing symptoms of RSI, or back problems, due to spending too many years typing at a computer. The technology is now here, in that the latest version of DragonDictate is perfectly adequate for transcribing one’s voice into words. I am shocked and stunned see that neither the OQO nor the 770 has a microphone socket, thus preventing it from being a perfectly serviceable and totally appropriate voice recognition device. Incidentally there is a version of IBM’s ViaVoice for Linux, but this needs a bit of work in more ways than one.

Incidentally, this entry is being voice dictated as I cruise down the M4. My computer is on the passenger seat, and I glance at it no more than I look at the speedometer or the clock. Fortunately in this sun, the VAIO has one of the best screens there is; equally fortunately, I have a 12 volt adaptor so my battery life is protected. Phew.

770’s, OQO’s, batteries and voice

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