Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

  My most interesting failures, #2: The pre-ipad

Somewhere in 2000 or 2001, while working for MontaVista, I got ahold of a webpad design built around Transmeta's intel clone chip. By 2001, I had it booting from (32MB!) of flash, and running Linux, Xwindows, Mozilla and an mp3 player in 64MB(!) of ram. It had a virtual keyboard using a hack from the Xtest library. It had wifi - I used it to stream internet radio all the time, in loving memory of the Kerbango Radio. It was easy to hold in your hand and on your lap - it had a much softer edge and was lighter than the ipad, as best as I remember.

It was cool. Oh there were flaws: The battery lasted about two hours. It also cost - retail - over 1500 dollars. It was slow. It didn't have bluetooth. The onscreen keyboard was a bitch to type on. It found a limited market in the medical field, but nobody I talked to could see the potential I saw in it, if only it could do more stuff, wirelessly, and had more memory, both flash and ram. Back then 32MB of flash cost serious money.

I showed it to everyone I could find - My bosses - Sony - Nokia - NEC - Apple - Mozilla - and it went nowhere. All people could see was a slow, and very expensive laptop without a keyboard, even though I would plug in (and velcro) a logitec wireless keyboard on the back. It sat by my bedside, velcroed to the wall, for a year, before I had to give it back.

Later on we starting seeing stuff like the smart door for meeting rooms, and dynamic picture frames, but they were very specialized applications that used less general purpose hardware.

Recently I waited - with great anticipation, for the crunchpad. I was upset when I heard that they were using intel architecture - the low battery life and size of the chipset were going to hurt them - I could have told them that by using Intel architecture they were barking up the wrong tree, but nobody asked me, and in the end the project disintegrated before shipping due to internal politics. With the right confluence of circumstances they could have beat Apple in many ways.

I finally got a chance to play with the ipad last month. (I know I'm behind the curve on this, but the nearest Apple store is 1200 miles away)

First impression: It needs velcro, and it's heavy. Maybe I could hang one from a rope in the ceiling so I can watch movies comfortably, lying flat on my back. Second impression:

Slam it hard up against a wall at a good focal distance and I'd use the hell out of it; get some desk space back. Maybe it works with a bluetooth keyboard. I have one of those around here somewhere. Or maybe someone makes a dinky little usb slave to bluetooth adaptor so I could plug in ANY good keyboard, like the , and make that talk to it. I've googled for that little box - no luck. Sounds like a market segment someone (else) could address... I tried my bluetooth headphones on it, they didn't work worth a damn.

And while so many devices support bluetooth, the technology that logitech uses for their wireless keyboards and mice is much lower power and longer range, and more reliable. Why haven't people licensed that?

But the ipad is cool. I'd get one if I wasn't broke, and the screen was a little larger and it came with velcro. I expect that we'll see a lot of competitors in the next year.

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Comments:
"Maybe [the iPad] uses a bluetooth keyboard."

Yep. It does. I use one with mine when I want to type faster than the onscreen keybd allows.

Oh and it's not heavy, it's just that your wrists are shot :)
 
I had had a nice bluetooth keyboard, lost two keycaps to it. It also had trouble staying registered....

Yes, my wrists are shot.
 
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David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


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