Related link: http://danger.com
In February of 2001, I wrote an article on what was wrong with the current state of computing, PDAs, and wireless. My argument was that it was a foolish direction to pursue devices that were all about storing data and less about moving it. I felt that smaller wasn’t better, smarter was.
It’s 2003 and I’m still waiting for my predictions and desires to come true. There has been a staggering lack of compelling development in the past three years and for awhile I never actually thought Bluetooth would show up.
I want wireless devices to focus more on tools and less on browsing. We don’t need more new ways to view content that we are already ignoring, and what wireless should represent is simply the door to our world, not just the world itself. Handheld devices should serve as the portal to our own personal servers. They should direct information, not merely store it.
I’m sitting with you in a restaurant. We start to discuss a project and I decide to send you a 300MB project file. I pull out my handheld, you pull out yours. My handheld connects to my server, I locate the folder and our handhelds automatically negotiate the transfer of the files between my server and yours through a secure connection. The only data passing through our handheld devices is a security handshake and instructions on where and how to send the files. Minimal packets move mountains. Simple enough idea, and I’ve been waiting for a simple execution of it for three years.
Glimmer of Hope
Over two years ago I conceived and executed a promotional idea for the HandSpring Visor and Springboard line of products. The idea was simple, travel over 10,000 miles in about 30 days. Document the entire trip daily using only the Visor and Springboard modules. No laptop or cell phone (other than the VisorPhone). My wife and I would visit over 20 states and about 13 CompUSA locations in order to promote the idea of true mobile computing…to show that we were on the verge of a dream I had since my wireless (through Metricom) Apple Newton 2100.
After the trip, I stopped using my Visor. Handspring discontinued the Springboard and I lost interest in PDAs. The Treo was released, but it’s price and reliance on the “phone” metaphor for it’s design didn’t interest me. I had my iPod and that took care of most of my needs. In fact I never thought I would go back to using a PDA/wireless device again, until last week when SunCom (thanks Karen Rountree) & Danger (thanks Susan George) sent me a Hiptop wireless device.
From moment one I was smitten with this device. It is pure geek sex appeal with an urban-tech look & feel. The flip screen is not only cool, but it and the iPod are the best execution of handheld ergonomics I’ve seen in years…and the UI is almost as good as the Newton…graceful, quick, and simple. In fact, it reminds me of a device that Apple might make.
While the HipTop has it’s faults, it does a lot of things right.
Data Is Centralized
I don’t backup my Danger device. It backs itself up…always. Remember in the past when the juice of your Palm died out or an unexplained crash toasted all your data until you HotSync? And of course you were always miles from your computer. Not a problem with the HipTop. In the case of data loss, the moment my HipTop device has a wireless connection to their server, my data is back. I like that my device works for me, not me for it.
Keyboards Beat Handwriting
I hate Graffiti…always have. I hate that I can’t put down a steady stream of thoughts without first translating my ideas into shorthand (”which way is U and which is V”). The best thing HandSpring ever did for the Treo, was ditching Graffiti for a keyboard. My problem with most devices is that they focus on phone design over data. Danger’s design is data first, phone second. I’d say that 90% of my communication is based on text, not voice…so Email and text messaging are crucial to me. I am pleased that Danger didn’t sit down and say, “How can we put a data device into this phone.” and instead said, “How can we put a phone into this data device.”
The Danger Device FEELS like a computing device. Drop down menus, excellent user feedback, and yes you can run more than one application at a time. For example, while requesting a web page, you can log into AIM, then take a quick look at your email, and when the web page is loaded…it will let you know. Having an AIM chat, but need to check your mail? Go ahead, you won’t lose your connection.
I downloaded an application called Terminal Monkey to my HipTop and I nearly plotzed when I logged onto my home server through an SSH2 connection. When I saw “Welcome to Darwin,” I couldn’t believe it. I launched applications, moved files, modified my server, and killed a process that was hung. Sweet!
Problems? There Are Some
Certainly this is not a perfect device. The lack of a touch screen, the lack of connectivity support for a home computer (USB or Bluetooth), and the awkwardness of the device at times as a phone, are just some of the issues I’d like to see resolved. But if you ask me, this device has more critical issues right than wrong. The HipTop feels more like a fourth generation device than a first. In fact, if Danger is ever looking for an east coast evangelist…you should check out my resume!
It’s been three long years of waiting for the perfect wireless device, and while perfection isn’t here yet…we’re another step closer. Handheld/wireless developers should take note of Danger…because they are one step closer to wireless handheld Nirvana.