Thursday, 4 January 2007

I knew it... size DOES matter!

Devices for mobile computing have come along way since their first beginnings such as the Psion Organiser and other 1980s pioneers of handheld computing. Today's devices have colour screens, wireless communications and the capability to run applications just a step down from those found on desktop PCs but what more have they got to offer us?

The newer smartphones and wireless handhelds are capable of downloading at 1.4Mbit/s which great (in fact it is not that far behind some fixed-line broadband connections) but few mobile applications would max out a 3G connection at the moment so what are we going to do with all that speed? It’s always nice to have a fast connection to browse the Internet, but what are you going to do on a device with a 3.5in screen that would require a large amount of data? There are applications such as AppServer that allow you to run your desktop applications from your mobile device but even they don't need to transfer that much data. There are promises of mobile TV and video-on-demand but how many businesses have being able to watch daytime TV as one of it's business goals?

So we come down to it....

It would appear that size is the limiting factor rather than technology. How do you squeeze a decent sized screen and keyboard in a small device that doesn't weigh you down or break your pocket? Designers seam to have settled on a handful of device formats over recent years:

  • the BlackBerry style with a qwerty keyboard beneath the screen;
  • the candy-bar smartphone design;
  • the clamshell design;
  • and the traditional PDA style with a touch-sensitive screen.

Each have their advantages and disadvantages but none are perfect.

There are new and exciting types of devices coming out such as the Ultra-Mobile PC which are not much bigger than Smartphones and PDAs but promise to give access to full-blown Windows applications. Unfortunately these are still in the early stages and so suffer from size restrictions, lack of battery life and bad processing power in comparison to laptops.

The only way out of the limitations imposed by the restriction on size is for mobile devices to have more innovative user interfaces, get out of the box and become more creative. Not strictly mobile computing I know but the Nintendo Wii's controls are a good example of being creative with the way the user interacts with the device. I am not suggesting smart phones have motion sensors in them so you wave it to do an action... although watching people waving their phones around would be an interesting sight. If people want to have small devices but a lot of information on them designers will need to be more innovation.