Thoughts on S60

reflections on the most popular mobile operating system worldwide

Some thoughts on convergence, in light of Palm’s Foleo

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I love using my N95 in the car because it’s where I get the most functionality out of it. Using a car charger, 3.5mm audio cable, and a vent mount, my N95 doubles as both my GPS navigation system and my MP3 player. The whole system works really well with the N95’s huge buttons for fast-swapping between applications as I use them, and for answering phone calls using my car’s speaker system. The problems come in when I need to use my phone for more than typing in a quick address or switching songs. Getting a text message and even worse, responding to that text message disrupts the entire system. I have to take release the springs on the vent mount, grab the phone from its position, and try to work my fingers around it without getting in the way of the two cords connected to it. Granted, this isn’t all TOO complicated, and I probably should be concerned with texting while operating a vehicle anyway, but I think it says something really important about the “Convergence” idea Nokia is pushing so hard. Is it even possible for a smartphone to replace all of your standalone devices? I look at things like my radar detector and the situation I just described. How would my N95 fare as a radar detector? Even if the software and hardware were able to coincide in the N95 to replace my radar detector, would I want to? That would just be another complication to using the device for other functions. I definitely couldn’t mount the device sideways and still expect to view the maps from the GPS simultaneously. So what can be done? I have a few ideas…

The idea of the Foleo is very similar to what I was thinking about as a model for Convergence. To remedy my situation as described above, there should be a way to display a stand-alone screen of an application running in the background on my phone. If my car were equipped with a screen in the dash, I could set my phone to display GPS information on that screen at all times (over some form of Bluetooth or some other small, personal network) that would not disrupt whatever other application is currently being displayed on my phone’s screen. The screen in my dash nearly acts as a “shell” that would display whatever I request it to wirelessly. That way, I’d never miss any important GPS related information when I’m changing songs or replying to a text message and I’d still be able to focus on the road without having to do more glancing down than necessary.

If the mobile industry started focusing on these devices that act as no more than “shells” with basic or limited functionality, many different options could unfold. I believe this was something similar that Palm attempted to do when they announced the Foleo just yesterday, but I think they’re taking the wrong approach. The add-on device by itself is too expensive. For the cost of a Foleo and a Palm Treo of a newer model variant, I may as well spend a little extra and buy a new laptop that performs better than the combination of devices. Currently, there are docks for laptops that allow you to connect them to a completely separate workplace, complete with keyboard, speakers, and, as I mentioned, a monitor. How nifty would it be if our Smartphones could do the same thing and truly replace our PC’s? What if you able to go anywhere and connect your smartphone to one of these “shell” terminals for your computer needs instead? I imagine showing up for work and rather than opening my laptop to show a coworker an important document, or trying to show that same document on my smartphone’s tiny screen, I could just connect to his or her “shell” and show them on that instead. The “shell” itself would have no way of storing the data displayed through it. If data needed to be saved, it should be sent over WLAN or Bluetooth to a wireless storage device, which I’ll get to later.

What would it take for Nokia to implement something like this in current S60 devices?

  1. Larger, higher res screens. If an S60 device were to have its display forwarded to a monitor or a TV, it would need at least a VGA display if not more and at least 3″ in size on the device itself.
  2. WAAAY more RAM. Currently, my N95 has a hard time simply playing music while I browse the web connected to the SU-8W. In order to create a fully functional PC replacement with a full docking station as proposed, the device should not only be able to handle those three applications simultaneously, but also have plenty of room for more.
  3. Bluetooth 3.0, or similar. In theory, these “shells” and my device should be able to connect to each other wirelessly or over a standard USB connection with a much higher transfer speed than what Bluetooth 2.0 currently offers. In addition to the current features of the newest Bluetooth specification, wouldn’t it also be even more convenient if your smartphone could be charged wirelessly as well?
  4. Ease of use.When connecting a smartphone to a shell of any type, it should be as easy as UPnP; you plug in your smartphone (or connect over Bluetooth with a simple touch, as Bluetooth 2.1+EDR is supposed to be able to do already with compatible devices) and everything just works.
  5. Support. There should be a way to generate several different types of “shells” based on the place where it will be used, such as a business “shell” as I suggested above, a simply display “shell” for my vehicle, and even public “shells” where people can take a break from reading their emails on a tiny screen and use a 19″ monitor instead. These “shells” should be of such common construction that they’re able to be built anywhere and at a relatively cheap cost. Even now, a keyboard, mouse, speakers, and a monitor could probably be assembled at a low $300 price point, with whatever Bluetooth device used to connect it to your smartphone being the most expensive part.
  6. Wireless storage. This doesn’t necessarily deal directly with the idea of the “shells”, but it definitely has to do with using a smartphone as a replacement PC. Rather than trying to stuff Smartphones with more and more memory, there should be a fast and easy way to retrieve data from a wireless hard drive set up on a WLAN network, be it at home, work, or wherever. Even now, something similar is possible over PC’s, but this would have to be greatly expanded for mobile use and wireless hard drives would have to become as popular as external hard drives now. That hard drive would just act as a data vault which the user could securely connect to over WLAN from any location, and it should be as fast as if the user were accessing files on the smartphone’s internal memory.
  7. 3G or faster. While already available in countries outside of the US, we’re still getting the shaft when it comes to high speed data outside of a wireless network. This would be key when accessing larger files from the wireless storage device (the Vault, as I’m calling it).
  8. The big one-battery. If the “shell” terminals were equipped to be able to charge your smartphone as you were using it, this may not necessarily be as much of an issue, but even so, a much stronger battery would be necessary to power the device when not accessing a terminal for an extended period of time. This is particularly important if the Vault is constantly being accessed over WLAN or 3G.

What problems do I see arising from this already?

Security is the biggest point. As I mentioned, the “shells” should not be equipped to store any data whatsoever and the wireless hard drive standard should be protected through a form of password system. The next would be easy of use and I can’t stress this enough. If a system is implemented that is not easy for people to use, it will never take off.

I apologize for such a long first post, but I really wanted to get these ideas circulating before I forgot about them entirely. I also apologize if I didn’t spell out what I’m envisioning clearly enough. There’s some more thoughts I had on this “shell” concept, but I think I’ve written quite enough. Please comment, I’d love to brainstorm about where such a movement would put the cellular industry.


Written by Jonathan

June 1, 2007 at 4:45 am

Posted in s60 Suggestions

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