Perhaps the world is ready for a new mobile device that will become the icon of the real mobile internet revolution.
What would the device do? Most likely it would work first in Wi-Fi hotspots, connecting from further afield as the range of 802.11-based access points grows and other wireless networks emerge. It would probably do VoIP and IM exceedingly well. It would possibly also do email, RSS, and music. All these we can pretty much take for granted. More interestingly, it may start doing completely different things. Its ability to go where laptops can’t go, and do things that mobile phones can’t do, will create new needs and new opportunities, which make people write new apps.
It might be used to access place and event information in the form of annotated maps for instance. Or it might be used to download and watch TV shows. Or make them in the spirit of podcasting and vlogging. When high bandwidth mobile data becomes free, some of those old mobile service ideas that history left for dead might suddenly begin to make a lot more sense. The fact is, we don’t know what the device will be used for. That’s why the code base has to be kept open.
What might the device look like? It would need to be small and afford effortless one-handed use, incorporating the best learnings from over two decades of mobile phone design. This points to a Blackberry-style roller wheel to scroll up and down the buddy list, the email inbox, and the RSS feeds. However, it would also need to have a QWERTY keyboard or some radical new key layout if it’s going to do text input well. The large footprint of a full keyboard suggests a flip design of some sort. But it would have to be extremely slim.
Here are a few sketches.
On the software side, the limited screen real estate requires that the active application must occupy the full screen. IM would probably be the default active app because the presence status of buddies has to be visible at a glance. Switching between apps would need to be extremely simple and smooth, like control-tab on the PC. Perhaps quick switching is important enough to warrant a dedicated button on the side of the device. Click! From IM to email. Click! From email to RSS. And so on.
Here’s a sketch about the ‘full-context switching’ between apps (I looted the term from Chris).