As we look at the immediate future of mobile devices, Ink is still very much a second class citizen. The ultra-sub-mini-net low cost notebook pond is so full of contenders swimming around in the shallow end, you need a Baywatch-sized cast of lifeguards to sort them out. Running along side that pool and parallel with that development is a move towards touch and multi-touch (Windows 7). But touch and multi-touch haven’t dipped their toes into the shallow end of the pool with all those ULCPCs yet. Forget the shallow end. I want to leap off the high dive and do some serious swimming around with the adults using a device that let’s me get some real work done. For me, and I’m sure for others, that means note taking in Ink. Ink is getting left behind, which is still puzzling to me, given how many folks have to take notes in their daily chores.
I’ve been using an evaluation unit of Motion’s F5 Tablet PC quite a bit lately. I really enjoy the mobility of that device and the Inking works very well, although I wish it had the Inking enhancements of Vista. I even enjoy the handle. Running EverNote on that device gives me the ability to Ink away in rehearsals or meetings and have that information back at my desk or at home, or anywhere that I can connect up for that matter. But I don’t need all the bells and whistles (or the price tag) of the Motion F5. As I watch how things are evolving these days, and enjoy the note taking I do on the Motion F5, it leads me to want a device that incorporates Inking but with the parameters that seem to govern the rise of the netbooks.
Here’s what I think would work well:
An 8 to 10 inch Slate form factor
Some sort of minimal OS that allows access to the Internet, but also allows for a similar Inking experience to what we have in Vista
WiFi, BlueTooth, and 3G
Works well with Windows Live Mesh or another file syncing option
A price point between $600 and $900
Here’s what I think is completely unnecessary for this kind of device:
An optical drive
Complicated and overhead heavy media playback features
Yeah, I know. I’m dreaming, but follow along here. My needs are actually pretty simple. I want to be able to take notes in Ink, have them sync to a more powerful desktop or Tablet PC automatically. I’ll use the Internet or Cloud for other rudimentary chores (email, document creation and review) I might need to do while I’m using this device. With the exception of enough power to run an active or capacitive digitizer, I don’t need to have a lot of power on this device. I certainly wouldn’t need lots of storage, or too many of the other bells and whistles we get on Tablet PCs these days. They are nice, but for this device I don’t see them as necessary. I want this to be a low cost Netbook with Inking. I know that flies in the face of marketing considerations that are governing the market today, but I think there are quite a few note takers who would gladly take advantage of this kind of device.
Here is range of my other thoughts on this.
The advent of some excellent file syncing options, and the potential for Windows Live Mesh, and Apple’s MobileMe, have led me to believe that I don’t need a full featured PC when I’m taking notes. I believe I can rely on that kind of Cloud communication, (when I have connectivity) to do my work. But the key is sliming everything down. Heck, a device that could run EverNote successfully might be all that we need, so maybe if the EverNote folks come up with a Linux based option that allows Ink, we’d be all set.
Maybe we’ll have a shot at something like this once Microsoft takes the wraps off of Silverlight. Some talk as if that’s the real future because of its potential for low overhead. We certainly haven’t seen enough yet to know whether it will be or not. I certainly hope that, in combination with Live Mesh, it might provide an opportunity for an Ink Enabled Notebook, but then that would require some OEMs to get on board as well. Adobe Air and Microsoft’s Silverlight are going to be in competition in this low overhead space, and both are aimed at the increasing number of users who have multiple devices using multiple platforms. Here’s hoping one of them won’t leave Inkers high and dry.
Apple’s iPhone/iPod Touch line has proven that you can get a lot done on a small handheld device. I believe it is about to prove you can do even more here shortly with the roll out of iPhone 2.0 and MobileMe. The only thing missing is a larger screen and Inking. Maybe that’s all that the long rumored Apple Tablet needs to be. Expand the iPhone size a bit, add credible Inking, and go.
Get Rid of the DRM Overhead
From an OS standpoint, I certainly don’t need the overhead that the various DRM schemes force Microsoft and Apple to employ so they can bring the latest and greatest in media to small devices. Would I give up some media playback possibilities on this dream device? Again, I’m hoping that’s what Silverlight or Adobe Air’s low impact solutions offer us. So, if they do, great. But then let’s craft an OS that doesn’t carry this legacy DRM code around.
Quite honestly, I don’t care who comes up with an Ink Enabled Netbook first. It could be a Linux based system, come from Microsoft, or come from Apple. Maybe Asus will get smart and realize that they came very close to a good Inking solution with the R2H UMPC, although it was encumbered with so many other problems. When I look at the early starts on what we’ve got going at the moment, I see great potential. So, somebody take some notes and get cracking on this.