iPhone Redux

By September 24, 2007

When the iPhone was unveiled back in February, Steve Jobs claimed that it was years ahead of the competition. Most agreed, and many started thinking about what could make the iPhone even better. How could we out-do Steve and his t

eam? The answer came two weeks ago, in the form of the iPod Touch. I just got one yesterday, and I must say that I am very impressed by the device. It’s not flawless (the screen in particular is not as good as the iPhone’s), but it has two major advantages over the iPhone: it’s a lot thiner (8 mm vs. 11.5 mm), and noticeably lighter (120 grams vs. 135 grams). As a result, putting your iPod Touch in your pants pocket is a lot more comfortable, and putting it in your shirt pocket is possible. It’s also cheaper to buy ($299 vs. $399), and a lot cheaper to own ($0 vs. $59.99 per month). Of course, the iPod Touch lacks one thing the iPhone does very well: making and receiving phone calls. But what if you paired an iPod Touch to an ultra mobile device like the Redux Model 1? Could the combination replace your iPhone and laptop computer altogether? If you add a good Bluetooth headset to the mix, it might… The idea is to use the iPod Touch as some kind of a remote control for your Mini Tablet, using the iPod Touch’s web browser as user interface, and peer-to-peer Wi-Fi as a way to connect the Mini Tablet to the iPod Touch. To make it work, the Mini Tablet would have to run a web server, following an idea suggested by my friend Andrew Baldwin in a comment to this post. The Bluetooth headset would be paired to the Mini Tablet, and the iPod Touch’s web browser’s home page would be served by the Mini Tablet’s embedded web server. When receiving a phone call, this page would display the caller’s information. And for making a phone call, this page would give access to the user’s address book. Now here comes the really cool part: because the address book would be served from a web server, it could itself fetch its data from an online database, such as… Salesforce.com! This would address a need I have been trying to fulfill for the past two years, which is to get all my Salesforce.com contacts (close to 12,000 now) on my cell phone, without having to use Microsoft Outlook to synchronize everything. And because the whole thing would be done as a web application, it would be trivial for anyone to customize it in order to retrieve content from virtually any application or web service. Are you seeing where I’m going with this now? Of course, what could be done with contacts could be also done with events and tasks. And using a service like Move & Play, one would get access to all the tunes, videos, and pictures stored on one’s home computer directly from one’s iPod Touch. This tiny device could even be used as a remote control to control the playing of music and movies directly from iTunes at home — more on this later… Granted, such an architecture would pose some very interesting technical challenges. For example, power management would need to be finely tuned in order to keep the Mini Tablet’s GSM connection always on, while the display would be turned off, and to turn the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections on instantly whenever they would be needed. But all this can be done at the software level, which gives us some time to properly figure it out. Another challenge would be to support two concurrent Wi-Fi connections, one between a Wi-Fi hotspot and the Mini Tablet, the other between the Mini Tablet and the iPod Touch. I do not know if this can be done with a single Wi-Fi module, but adding another one should be possible if we really have to. Last but not least: we managed to get in touch with the good folks at Openmoko, Inc., and they seem to think that our project is totally doable, within the time frame we have. Good news: we should be able to get a high-resolution display with a video controller that won’t require the development of a custom driver, and we might be able to use USB 2.0 for video out. Bad news: Adobe Flash won’t be available, for it does not support the ARM CPU we are planning to use (same limitation on Apple’s iPhone). We asked for a quote for 2,500 units, 750 of them to be given to physical attendees to the Office 2.0 Conference, and 1,750 to be sold to individual sponsors. We should receive the quote within a week, at which point we will make a decision whether to continue down that path or not. Ismael Ghalimi By the courtesy of our contributor ITRedux, September 19th, 2007   FEEDBACK For feedback on this article, e-mail us at editorial@atelier-us.com

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