The Nonexistent Device I Want

2 comments September 22nd, 2007at 12:52am Posted by Eli

So, yesterday I learned that my cellphone is about four times faster than the first Cray supercomputer. I mentioned this to a coworker, who predicted that 20 years from now we wouldn’t even have computers, that we would have something that we can’t even imagine right now. So that got me to thinking, if I could design the Perfect Portable Device, based on existing or at least plausible/impending technology, what would it be?

Most of it is fairly obvious stuff: the next generation or two of flash memory should be dense enough and fast enough to replace hard drives (which should improve device size, weight, reliability, and battery life) portable CPUs get smaller and faster, and there are already portable devices that can play console-quality games, audio & video files, display ebooks and photos, surf the web, and even run Windows or OSX. And really, any device that can run a desktop OS and connect to the internet is capable of performing all of those functions, so we’ll just assume that PPD can do all of that, and that it has at least a 128 GB flash drive, 1 GB of RAM, a 2 GHz mobile processor, and a small 3D video card. And speakers, definitely speakers. A decent digital camera would be really nice too, but I can live without that if I have to.

There are devices that can pretty much do all of this already, but they have the absolute constraint that they have to be at least as large as their screens. So large-screen devices are bulky, and compact devices have tiny screens. So here’s my idea: A screen that folds. OLED technology will make it possible to manufacture displays that can bend in half, so why not have a device with the form factor of a book? You open it up, and you have a screen that’s the size of two “pages.” For typing, you could turn it 90 degrees and use one “page” as a touchscreen keyboard – or just use the bottom half of the two-page display (needless to say, it would auto-tilt the screen like on the iPhone). By my calculations, a 4″ X 3″ folding device would have a 7″ display when fully unfolded. At the other extreme, you could fit a 15″ screen on something roughly the size of a hardcover book.

Oh, and I would also like WiMax broadband connectivity, and if it’s fast enough, I don’t see why the PPD couldn’t use it to view cable TV channels, if the cable companies can figure out a way to make them available to their subscribers and their subscribers only.

I don’t think I’m asking for so much, really…

Entry Filed under: Technology


  • 1. Bill Bradley  |  September 22nd, 2007 at 10:32 pm

    Don’t confuse “clock speed” with actual speed. I used a Cray 1 (and 2, and XMP, and YMP) and back in 1990. The Cray 1 was 80 MFLOPS, and I’m kind of doubting cell phones doing 320 MFLOPS full precision.

    As far as displays, you’re thinking too linearly, or at least planarly. With micromirror arrays you can just have the screen project in front of you either on a surface (for better contrast) or virtually in the air (for 3D effect). Decent speakers, however, are hard since you have to move air, and have the energy to do so stored somewhere.

  • 2. Eli  |  September 23rd, 2007 at 9:40 am

    I think I would rather have something self-contained that doesn’t require a surface. What if I’m at the airport and there’s no surface in front of me?

    The speakers don’t have to be great, they just have to *exist*. PSP-grade speakers would be fine.

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