You run into the most interesting things as an emerging-technology analyst. This week, it was a set of technologies from a company called MyOrigo Ltd. out of Finland. MyOrigo demonstrated the first smart phone Ive seen that could obsolete both the new Motorola MP x200 and PalmOne Incs new Treo 600.
Just out of prototype and entering initial manufacturing, what makes this phone different and better isnt just the software, its the hardware. Or, more accurately, it is the user interface to the hardware.
One of the major problems with the new class of smart phones is that you have to trade size for usability. The Motorola MPx200 was the first phone that demonstrated you could make a smart phone both useful and small. Also, at $149 after a subsidy from AT&T, it is one heck of a bargain. However, doing e-mail on it is a pain, and browsing the Web isnt much better.
The PalmOne Treo boasts a larger screen and a keyboard, but it is also a much larger and more expensive device. The Treo remains bigger than most seem to want in a phone. Much of this is because of the keyboard and display, both of which need more real estate than is provided by the MPx200 to be truly useful for communications and Web browsing. On the other hand, the Treo is simply too large for most, and the keys have a stiff feel that is uncomfortable for some.
Neither phone has a good replacement for a mouse, though the touch screen on the Treo is close.
The MyOrigo phone prototype is smaller than the Treo and larger than the x200. Accelerometers are used heavily in the design, and this allows the screen to change orientation simply by turning the phone. It also allows the creation of a virtual mouse, which also works by tilting the phone. The cursor, or scene, moves by simply tilting the device much as you would if you were balancing a ball on the device. This is the first solution to the “mouse” problem that would allow you to one-hand the device that Ive seen.
Tactile Feedback Helps
The prototype includes a special touch screen and a virtual keyboard. The touch screen is much more robust than others we have seen, and a device in the phone provides tactile feedback when you push a virtual key. This feedback created the first virtual keyboard that I enjoyed using, and it makes a huge difference in the users experience, and likely in the users acceptance, of the new platform.
When you touch a key, the phone pulses, similar to the feel you get in a force feedback mouse. It feels more natural, and you can actually tell through feel that the key was pushed. This was impressive, and it is worth checking out if you get a chance.
For long documents, the device emulates a book, so you can use your finger to turn the virtual pages.
I got hooked early on with reading books on my iPAQ (and now have trouble finding electronic books that will work on it), but this suggests a future use for a smart phone I hadnt anticipated. But we still have the display limitation, and its too darned small for reading.
You can increase the text size, but this means you are turning a lot of pages, which would get old really quickly. Until fold-out displays make it to market, Im afraid we will be stuck with this display problem.
Over the past year or so, Ive seen a number of technologies I thought would make a difference that havent made the cut to manufacturing, the last being a phone keyboard from ThinkOutside that was impressive. But in that case, the firm held the design too closely, and it wasnt picked up by anyone. A shame because it, too, was very impressive.
An increasing number of interesting ideas are coming out of Europe. Another is an online TV gaming system that uses your cell phone as the controller and doesnt need a game consol from a company called Outerrim, but that is for another column and another time.
Keep checking back, as we are entering the time of year when companies take their secrets out and share them with the analysts and, where Im allowed, Ill share them with you.