Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Project: iPal...

There is the vaguest whiff of a rumor making the rounds that Apple is working on a PDA. What with my ten years of using PDAs and my flawless handwriting, saying that I'm excited would be an understatement. I mention the flawless handwriting because I for one was never frustrated with handwriting recognition problems (except just a little with the OMP. Just a little because I was staggered that it worked at all!)

Here are some of the features that I suspect will be included in Project "iPal":

The Newtons were monochrome and later models had backlighting of the indiglo kind. Their displays were black on white in theory, but truth be told, were more dark green on light green. This made for amazingly low power consumption so long as you were frugal with the backlight. I used mine for probably two hours a day and could go for a month on a set of batteries. If the batteries did completely die, it wasn't that big a deal because the flash memory held everything in limbo.

The Pocket PC that I use now has a brilliant transflective backlit color display, but with the same kind of usage I get about two and one half days of use before panicking about recharging the thing because just about everything is held in fast powered memory and if the batteries dies then it's all lost. So what do I think is a fair compromise from the iPal? Safe data integrity, and four days of one hour a day use.

Now in order to copy some text from a webpage and have it appear in the Pocket PC I have to perform about six separate steps that include pasting the text into a TextEdit document, saving it, connecting the Pocket PC, dragging the file into the PDA, deleting from the Mac and finally deleting from the PDA. With the iPal I'd like to be able to select some text in Safari and either drag it onto the iPal icon or press a key combination; then the next time I sync the file is moved to the iPal and given a name taken from the title bar of Safari. Deleting the file from the iPal would mark the Mac copy for deletion as well.

Naturally iCal, Address Book and various user folders would have lite synchronized versions on the iPal. You could use the iPal with the keyboard stowed, using a clickable trackpad under your thumb. Slide within a document to scroll and click and slide to navigate menus.

I imagine that Apple will keep the first version of this thing fairly simple; working mainly as a portable repository for your contacts, schedule and documents and images. If they go the same way as they did with the iPod there will probably be a universal connector so others can sell hardware addons like phones and Airport remotes and GPS and who knows what else.

A lot of people are already saying they want built in phone, built in camera, full OSX operating system, screeds of power and capacity—but I don't see it. If iPod and mini, and some of the new Mac applications are any indication I think their philosophy will be to have it do just three or four things ridiculously well—and let the third party developers and hardware wonks—and end-users decide where to take it from there...

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