Thursday 26 March 2009

The Dream Gadget that we all really want

Its been a long while and I realized that a post is long due; its been quite a hectic week with a lot of things moving in progression and some things losing out to the more prioritized  set of tasks. 

What got me intrigued about the gadget that we as users really want is this post by techcrunch. Arrington believes that if you build features that users want, you will never succeed. And that the walkman would never have been made if this were so. The porsche would have been a volvo with user demanded features and horse would have been a camel. I beg to differ and disagree.

The fundamental assumption I'd like to make here is that users are dumb. Yes, marketers would disagree, and users and developers would all go up in arms with the defense "the user is king". But if you notice, just about carefully enough, you will see that the user has certain wants and desires that s/he wants fulfilled; but doesnt know how to go about getting them. 
The Xerox machine was never demanded by the users, It literally came into the market and begged everyone to realize that they want it. 
Ditto with the ipod. Any many many other products.
The features that users ask for result from their deductions about how to satisfy their wants and desires. And most often than not, these deductions are wrong; and that is why the user is "dumb". If I as a user am uncomfortable in my sitting posture in a porsche and demand more leg space, the designers should be able to see through my discomfort and maybe design an ergonomic or higher seat rather than conceding my demand of more leg space, and other features that would take the porsche to being a volvo.

The point I'm trying to make is that user feedback does matter. But not at superficial level or face value. It matters one further level away. User feedback about features should *ideally* reveal what they really want. And smart organizations would focus on serving those wants / needs / desires rather than blandly conceding to the features that the user demands. (or denying them the way Arrington has argued).

As for the title of this post. Before I talk about the gadget I really want, lets talk about the why I would want something like that. 
  • I have a PC which is powerful but its bulky and un-portable.
  • I have a laptop but thats bulky too and I'd like to have a simple, fast laptop with a touchscreen interface to browse the net, read ebooks (like kindle), keep me updated with feeds.
  • I've seen the tablet, but its too cumbersome and expensive. I want reduced specs and usability.
  • I want something light and portable that i can carry around anywhere. Imagine watching TV on the sofa and querying for the latest discounts on the advertisement you just saw on TV.  or maybe read about the reviews of a move that will feature in another 5 minutes. Or maybe verify the facts that Bush / Obama / other leaders are talking about in a live speech; maybe live blog about it?
  • It should look nice and trendy and be usable and fast and sleek at the same time.
As said in the first post on crunchpad:
I want a dead simple and dirt cheap touch screen web tablet to surf the web. Nothing fancy like the Dell latitude XT, which costs $2,500. Just a Macbook Air-thin touch screen machine that runs Firefox and possibly Skype on top of a Linux kernel. It doesn’t exist today, and as far as we can tell no one is creating one.

Crunchpad
Techcrunch went about its own task of making one such gadget. Here is Prototype A and Prototype B. A screen picture:


There are no plans of going into production yet, so lets put this aside as a mere hobby project.
Moroever, it seems a trifle too thick (and maybe bulky?)

Cost: 200$.

Touchbook
Recently I came accross Touchbook.
Until now, all netbooks were engineered the same way: Power-hungry Intel Atom, ugly case, and outdated 90's OS. Our goal: To achieve a breakthrough in both architecture and design. The result: a revolutionary device that works as both a netbook and a standalone tablet thanks to a detachable keyboard and a 3D touchscreen user interface.


Some highlights:
  • Like a cellphone, it is always-on, so there is no need to reboot each time. And without noisy fans and disk drives, it's completely silent, so it won't intrude on your inner space.
  • The Touch Book OS has two modes: one for use with keyboard and touchpad, and one for use as a standalone touchscreen tablet. The innovative 3D interface is easy to use and does not require a stylus or a skinny pinky.
  • The Touch Book also includes Mozilla's upcoming mobile browser, code-named Fennec, which was designed with touchscreens in mind.
  • 400$
  • The best one in my opinion
Mintpad
A device that is between a phone and a laptop, one notch above a PDA. 


Does almost everything on the checklist:
  • Memo - one of the core functions, vector-based memo engine, advanced technology that mimics the "same feeling of writing on paper," auto-save, detailed drawings
  • Schedule - calendar, appointments, to do list
  • Name Card - individual contact cards using photos taken with built-in camera
  • Camera - still images (JPG) and video recording (AVI)
  • Life - community feature, daily contests for mintpad users to enter
  • Blog - community feature, create your own and view others' "mint blogs"
  • Book Store - community feature, create and share content published as "books"
  • Chatting - real-time memo exchange, chatrooms, WiFi and ad hoc connections
  • Music - standard music functions (APE, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA)
  • Video - internet streaming TV, standard video functions (DiVX, MPEG-4, WMV, XviD)
  • Pictures - photo album, slideshow, up to 2048 x 2048 resolution
  • Recording - voice recording (WMA)
  • Internet - "high-speed full browsing with Flash support" (according to product brochure)
  • 160$

Others
There are couple others trying to build a similar product. the Kindle itself does pretty well on few fronts though falls back on features and capabilities. Apple is roumored to be doing something with touchscreens lately. But as of now the touchbook seems to be the best of the lot.

Only time will tell which of the gadgets takes a lead and provides what we truly want.

4 comments:

Aneesh Arora said...

I too was searching for a device that nearly the same as above except TV wasnt too high in my priority. I discovered that even though there are too many devices on the market currently you cannot get exactly what you desire but just close enough.

Problem with anything as big as a tablet is you cant carry it everywhere and then its got a full blown OS you dont want.

For me a gadget between tablet and the android phone would have been nice (lightweight phone oriented linux :D) but as you have already said it dosent exist. The iphone is too locked down for me and eventually I had to settle down for a WinMo. The device does everything I need for now just waiting for private operators to come up with 3G services. EDGE is too costly and a bit slow.

Offtopic: Abhishek, if you bought a new phone and it has GPS you might want google for geocaching. I am very interested in it but it has very few of them in India. Singapore might have more caches.

Abhishek Kumar said...

Aneesh, I did get a new phone and it does have a GPS, but then GPS is of no use without a data plan and Singapore telecommunications companies (Singtel) wont let me get a data plan unless I get a visa for a stay > 2 years! So I'll check those out later...

Yes, and maybe someday such a gadget will come out. Laptops are getting smaller and phones are getting bigger (feature wise) so its going to happen sometime. lets see...

Sahaj kadhi said...

aah, that mint pad is so cool!

one of my dream gadgets is a spec which somehow shows computer/tv screen when i want it too. good for watching movies while in train without taking much space. and perhaps it can give a widescreen effect too :)

Abhishek Kumar said...

@Sahaj: Yup, that would be a pretty neat device. Plus the resolution or size of the screen could be as big and deep as the user wanted :P

Guess that is the future of display. I'm afraid they're not currently available in the market.