Neil MacIntosh, the poor fellow, owned an early Star-Tac and suffered. Yes, the dirty little secret of the ST was that it sucked. Or at least, the interface sucked and it would cut out a fair amount. But it looked damn good and everyone wanted one. It’s the only American phone ever to actually look like anything other than a brick. What a shame, then, that every other Motorola phone since has looked like a breeze block, and inherited all the “issues” that bedeviled the early ST’s software. Not entirely fair, but you get the idea.
There’s an interesting two-piece over at Tabula PC about why Apple products are regarded as cool, while PC products – and in particular, the Tablet PC – aren’t. The main thrust of it is that while tablets and PCs focus on technology, Apple has successfully turned its products into appliances – products that are easy to use and look good – while PCs remain simply ugly. The key is that the first wave of Tablet PCs focussed on the traditional PC user, corporates, and looked like they were designed for boring men in beige suits.
The most interesting Tablet PC remains Microsoft’s original prototype, for the reason that Microsoft wasn’t bound by the terrible ideas on marketing that the likes of Compaq and Toshiba are. It’s no surprise that after all this time, the only company that can make PCs that look like appliances rather than water coolers is Sony – and its absence from the Tablet market is probably one of the reasons why that market is currently so dull.
Not only has someone converted Wikipedia to a format for offline browsing on a handheld – the ultimate encyclopedia, really – but they’re included instructions on how to convert it yourself – so you can have the most up to date version at all times. There’s no reason why you can’t script this, either.
Clay has written a piece on the differences between permanet – the idea of permanent, impervious connectivity – and nearlynet, the ad hoc, semi-permanent networks characterised by 802.11b. It’s well worth a read, but I think there are a couple of points that Clay is mistaken about.
First of all, the lesson of in-air phones isn’t that permanet is less powerful than nearlynet: It’s that being able to receive a call is more important than being able to make one. Like the Rabbit system in the UK, the big turn-off was that you had a phone that no one could contact you on, which significantly reduces its usefulness. The most powerful feature of a mobile phone is that people can get hold of you, not that you can call anyone at any time.
This is the key difference between airphones and Iridium, Clay’s second example of permanet. Quite correctly, Clay claims Iridium as an example of permanets, and that it failed because of the fact that people simply didn’t need phones that would work anywhere enough to pay the high prices that the huge investment costs demanded. It’s worth remembering, though, that Iridium is actually alive and well, and serving the niches that do need phone service anywhere – governments, NGOs, and the like. Those satellites haven’t gone away: the cost of putting them up there has just been written off in order to turn Iridium into a niche service.
Clay isn’t wrong about 3G, though – I have yet to see an application that would persuade me to buy a 3G phone, and I’m an ideal early adopter. But I don’t think the comparison with airphones holds water.