“The One” from Apple

This man’s wish for a MacWorld San Francisco Announcement

Not long ago Steve Jobs was interviewed and he said that he was in no rush to enter the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) market. He had noticed two things about it. First thing was, like the PC market, it was becoming a commodity market. The second thing he noticed was that hardly anyone was still bringing PDAs to meetings. After reading that I too noticed that nobody was bringing their PDAs to meetings. Most of the folks I know that have one never seem to use them. Graffiti is no match for good old pen and paper, besides a Palm screen seems too small to take real notes to me.

I’ve never had a PDA so trying to take notes on one hasn’t been an issue for me. I have used my PowerBook in meetings; it worked great for taking notes. The problem was that I wasn’t participating in the meetings. I’m not the worst typist in the world but I’m certainly not the best. Taking notes on a keyboard took just enough time and attention that my participation in the meeting was limited. It wasn’t long before I put the PowerBook away and went back to good ol’ pen and paper. Which allowed me to take notes naturally on the fly, without preventing me from participating in the meeting. But retyping handwritten notes later isn’t very wired.

What’s a wired guy to do then? I’m wondering if Steve doesn’t have an idea about how to handle this situation. What might Apple’s plan be then? It’s worth looking at what Apple did (or in this case didn’t do) in the past to see how they might address PDAs in the future.

It wasn’t that long ago that many were speculating that Apple would develop an Internet Appliance. A market that was supposed to be “HOT!” Apple never went down that road. It’s a good thing because companies like Sony and others have stopped selling their Internet appliances. Steve Jobs realized that the Internet is built for a complete computer. Not a stripped down one, with an itty-bitty screen or missing a hard drive. Apple decided it was a dead end road and they were right.

Notice too that the Apple still hasn’t entered the PDA market. A lot of people have been speculating on that one for years now. Why hasn’t Apple entered that market? The same reason that Apple didn’t enter the Internet Appliance Market. It takes a full computer to do the job of a PDA, right. I think the best way to make PDAs useful is to give everyone the full experience of a computer in a package that can also be used as a PDA. People don’t want half a computer they want it all. People don’t want to try to read spreadsheets or view a proposed company logo on a tiny screen. They need a richer experience than that.

Just as Internet Appliances never took off because they didn’t offer the full experience of the Internet, PDAs are declining in use because they don’t give you the full capabilities that a real computer can. Graffiti is no substitute for pen and paper or even typewritten text. Additionally, people don’t want to make themselves reminders to e-mail a copy of a Word document to Phil. What want to do is send the file and be done with it. They need the complete networked digital data that only a real computer can give.

Here’s what I’m hoping Apple announces at MacWorld. Apple has a lot of powerful Handwriting Recognition code from the Newton. I did some reading on the web and found that though it stumbled out of the blocks, it matured into something very useful. Why not combine that with the additional work that Apple has undoubtedly been doing on handwriting recognition and put it all into a complete computer. One that would be as powerful as a TiPowerBook but could also be used as a more functional PDA.

Yes, this new Mac would be a tablet computer but don’t think of this as just an oversized PDA. This is a complete, full power, fully functioning Macintosh, running OS X. This is the real deal, not a mini-Mac running a scaled down OS X or an OS based on QuickTime. It’s a completely different way to look at a computer or even a PDA.

Start with a TiPowerBook; strip off the keyboard and track pad, integrate the screen directly where you just stripped the keyboard off and add a place for a stylus pen to snap onto the unit. You’d retain all the ports that the PowerBook came with, USB, FireWire, VGA out, Ethernet etc. You then build a special stand, like the Apple’s LCD displays have but you give this stand the added ability to act as a docking station.

While it is detached, the computer works with handwriting recognition, the stylus pen also providing mouse functions so you can double click on icons to open applications, navigate through the finder, or use drop down menus. When you snap it into its docking/stand you use a keyboard, mouse and can add other peripherals, just as you would a regular PowerBook or PowerMac.

Some might call it the iTablet but I’m thinking of calling it something else. I’d call it ‘The One.’ (With apologies to Jet Li.) Why? Because you could do away with your PDA, pads of paper and separate desktop computer they’d all be consolidated into one computer. One that acts as a PDA but is the very same computer you use at your desk.

While you’re taking notes you’d be using some kind of ‘iTablet’ software to recognize your handwriting. It would automatically translate your handwritten notes into typewritten text. Text you could cut and paste into any program. There could even be a feature where you could ‘handwrite’ directly into Microsoft Word or other programs.

Now the best part is that since it’s a complete computer you’d have all of your programs available to you at anytime, anywhere right at the tip of your stylus pen. Instead of printing out a hardcopy of the Illustrator file that you are working on and taking that to a meeting, why not just open that on your full-sized color screen and show your coworkers in your weekly progress meeting? No small screen to battle with. No pad and paper to jot down your co-workers suggestions only to have to type them up later. It’s all there!

The meeting is over now and you’re on your way back to your desk. You run into a coworker that wants to know if your company got the marketing contract for the new client. You open the final proposal file and show your coworker that not only did your company get this marketing contract but that the new client chose his department’s plan. He’s thrilled. With a wink you ask him to keep it quiet until you get back to your desk and can send out the official e-mail.

Back at your desk you snap The One into it’s docking/stand but instead of transferring your notes from a PDA or laptop all you do is open a new e-mail, paste in your notes, add a few words of congratulations for the winning team, send out the good news and you’re done! Everything is all ready to go on The One.

I know what you’re thinking. “But Bob, a PDA based on a full sized PowerBook would be too big, too heavy, too bulky, the screen would be too small for use at my desk. It’s never going to work!” First things first, don’t think of this as a PDA, think of it as a complete computer that can also works as your PDA.

Too big? The TiPowerBook is just one inch thick. Imagine how much thinner a TiBook could be if there was no keyboard or track pad. You save not only the actual physical depth of the keyboard but also the room needed to connect it to the motherboard. Plus you’ll save the extra space to keep the screen off that keyboard.

Too heavy? The PowerBook is only 5.4 pounds. That’s pretty darned light. I used to keep my PowerBook G3 in a leather portfolio when I’d take it to meetings. Never had a problem carrying that around and it was actually heavier than the current PowerBook. The One would be lighter still.

Too bulky? Look at the iPod. That’s a five Gig hard drive shoehorned in there. I’m sure that Apple could incorporate some of that technology into the new computer and keep the bulk down. The final size would hardly be bigger than a three ring binder.

Screen too small? Most companies have standardized on 17-inch CRT screens or in the case of LCDs, 15 inch. A 15.2 inch screen is plenty big enough but for more demanding use The One would also have monitor spanning so it could be attached to an external monitor. And the screen could also switch between Portrait and Landscape automatically for you.

Considering the above, I’d estimate that The One could be as little as 1.875 inches thick. It would actually weigh in around 5 pounds (give or take an ounce or two). Remember, you won’t have to bring along anything else, no note pads, pencils, PDAs or printouts.

It’ll never work? The One would work because it would be a complete computer but have the ability to function like a PDA. Because it’s a powerful computer, it will recognize your natural handwriting (not Graffiti or some such compromise) directly on the computer where you need that information. Your full size, full color, full resolution screen would allow you to share information anytime, anywhere with others spontaneously. You’ll never have make yourself a reminder to “Send Phil the parts list” ’cause you’ve already did it via Airport at the meeting. No separate PDA, no reminders, no synching, no paper or pens, it’s all done on The One.

This could revolutionize business, because companies could replace everyone’s desktop, laptop and even their PDA with a single solitary computer. It’s your PDA, desktop, and laptop. No multiple software licenses, you have all your programs in one place. You use it at work, at your desk and in meetings. You take it home and use in your home office with a second docking/stand and even in your easy chair with Airport, to surf the web.

One operating system, one copy of applications, one copy of documents, on one computer for everything! No more calls to your company’s IT support because your PDA calendar won’t synch up with your desktop’s copy. No more, “Where did that printout go?” just before the big meeting because you only have The One computer.

I don’t know if you’re dreaming of a G5 or a flat panel iMac but this is what I’m looking for at MacWorld; the most revolutionary computer since the original Macintosh. One that would transform the business world, reducing IT costs by hundreds of thousands. Not only that, but it would be a godsend to people like myself. Simplifying the multiplicity of a full desktop computer, a PowerBook, a workplace computer, multiple e-mails, multiple projects, multiple meetings and personal interests. Keeping them all up to date and straight is a pain. I’d love one computer that would be just as powerful as my desktop but still small enough to be my PDA. Oh yes, what I wouldn’t give for The One that could do it all.

Bob McCormick

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