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Google Portables Technology

Building the Dream Google Smartbook 53

Posted by kdawson
from the call-it-the-ijoojoo dept.
snydeq writes "InfoWorld's Mel Beckman conjectures on the functionality necessary to make the Google 'smartbook dream' a reality, prioritizing the features any smartphone/netbook hybrid would require to succeed. From multitouch, to SSDs, to dual-boot capabilities, the list goes beyond what early Android-based entrants have to offer but remains within the realm of possibility, especially if Google CEO Eric Schmidt's hints at a future Chrome/Android OS convergence come to pass."
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Building the Dream Google Smartbook

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  • by Apathist (741707) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @04:16AM (#30362796)
    But Google doesn't try to get it completely right the first time. They release and iterate... and it is that philosophy which is (one of) the foundations of their speed.
    • > But Google doesn't try to get it completely right the first time. They release and iterate... and it is that philosophy which is (one of) the foundations of their speed.

      You know right up until the last word I could have sworn you were describing Microsoft.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Maybe i would use the word convergence instead of iteration. "Google way" includes a cloud usually, and different ways to access it depending on hardware/software installed. Take maps, i.e. They have Google Earth and Google Maps, and they converged in the cloud. But also they converged in other devices, like cellphones (there your location can be given in an approximate way if you dont have gps), and it kept evolving taking advantage of gps, accelerometers and cameras. What is the "dream" google maps device
  • There's one UI concept which seems quite easy to grasp for most people (even so called "computer illiterates") and yet almost unused...except in many ATMs.

    Buttons around the screen, pointing at menu/iconbar just next to them, with action changing depending on context. Yeah, probably they could be only below the screen for physical stability of the laptop and overall small size with relatively big screen, but it's still worthy of consideration IMHO (weren't they present in old Psion palmtops? Quite nice UI-w

    • by rdebath (884132)

      It's been tried, that's what the function keys were originally for. If you go back to the serial terminals you have a line or three at the bottom of the screen for 'function key labels' that are linked to the Fkeys.

      The problem is that unless the menu tree is very small the users have no feedback as to where they are in the menu tree and the "get lost" far too easily. With cascading menus the tree is right there. For general use you would need something to help like that.

      Still it didn't stop it being v

      • by sznupi (719324)

        I think the thing it didn't work has more to do with the fact that such terminals were from the time when UI was generally...rough.

        Don't forget that this concept is very successful - in ATMs. Also, I quickly checked UI of old Psion palmtops, and they do have something close (though buttons are single-purpose); I do remember they were applauded for their UI.

        Chrome OS GUI, whatever it will end up looking like, will be certainly quite "simple". I wouldn't be surprised if you had difficulties finding any menu t

    • My phone has 2 buttons on the left and right at the bottom of the screen, and contextual menus on the screen right above them.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Yeah, mine phones have those too. Majority of phones do, actually. But they are perceived as quite distinct class of devices from small laptops and almost as "passe", in times of large touchscreen smartphones...

        I hope ATMs have more potential to show the validity of the concept for smartbooks. Their screen sizes are similar. And they have many buttons around the screen.

    • by sam0737 (648914)

      Windows mobile and most phones have such buttons. The two physical buttons next to the Dial/Hang Up button, which also linked to the touch screen soft button, does exactly what you mentioned.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I want every screen to be a touch screen. Not being able to just reach out and poke a screen, especially on a laptop, is a huge liability. And no, I haven't [yet] tried to do it to a non-touch-screen with disastrous results. I keep expecting to, though.

      • by Ksevio (865461)

        Oh like at Six Flags where they have the LCDs with pictures of the people on the rides outside and labels on the top saying "This is not a touch screen, please do not touch screen."

        Of course my friend poked the image anyways "just to make sure".

    • My Sony PRS-505's (ereader) UI can be almost completely controlled by buttons like this running along the right side of the screen. I think the UI is incredibly easy. My mother has used it as well and she had no issues figuring it out.
  • Want! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rrohbeck (944847) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @04:50AM (#30362932)

    If I can run ssh, VNC and NX on it that is. And Firefox, Thunderbird and evince. And Cisco VPN. That's my basic set of tools.
    If it's a full featured phone too I'd spend maybe $500 on it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by the ReviveR (1106541)

      If I can run ssh, VNC and NX on it that is. And Firefox, Thunderbird and evince. And Cisco VPN. That's my basic set of tools. If it's a full featured phone too I'd spend maybe $500 on it.

      Maybe you should keep an eye out for Nokia N900.

      Ssh, Vnc and firefox work pretty nicely already.

      Evince and vpnc (if that is ok for cisco VPN) were ported for N810 so I think those will also be available soon. Don't know what is the probability for NX or Thunderbird though.

  • by reporter (666905) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @04:54AM (#30362948) Homepage
    Instead of focusing only on capability, Google's management should also consider the style (of the netbook): the user interface and the aesthetics.

    We can easily find a generic x86 notebook that has more capability than a MacBook Pro, but the profit margin of the latter is much higher than the profit margin of the former. The reason is that the MacBook Pro has appealing style. The user interface is comfortable, and the MacBook's case and keyboard are attractive.

    A brand-new MacBook Pro does not sell for less than (approximately) $900.

    The MacBook Pro is one of those uncommon products which is extremely successful because its touchy-feely features are more compelling than its techy features. The MacBook Pro is a triumph of the business major over the engineering major. Would Apple, in its early days, have been successful if Steve Wozniak (techy guy who designed the product) and Steve Jobs (touchy-feely guy who set design goals on how the product should appeal to consumers) had switched roles?

    If Google's management expects to succeed in the market for netbooks, then the management should consider style in addition to capability.

    • It's not quite as simple as that. Other manufacturers provide high-end notebook computers often with features that Macs lack, and some with quite expensive "designed" cases. But they do not get the market share. Aesthetics are terribly culture-dependent; we laugh at heavy Victorian furniture which then was the height of style, and we now look at the Demoiselles d'Avignon and just see a "modern painting" while most of our ancestors saw it as shocking and ugly.

      Apple have persuaded people that their house styl

    • One my peaves is that I cannot use the keyboard with the phone in my ear. I would like the device to come with a separate ear piece/mike, or alternately, a handset about the size of a soup spoon. Either would have a single button for pickup, hangup. As long as I'm in bluetooth range of the netbook, I can use my phone.

      I also want voice recognition.
      Netbook -- Grocery list -- onions, oranges, crackers. End.
      Netbook -- phone Laura's cell. Retry every 10 minutes until answer. Don't leave message End.
      Netbook

  • Why do I have to have a full sized keyboard. At that point it is too large, I want something small and cheap for on the go. Something I can chuck in the bag and not worry about. The moment you fit it with a full sized keyboard it is too big.

    It is like the increasing size of netbook screens, aynthing beyond 10" is really to large, and 9 is big enough.

    I also don't understand the fascination of things like ethernet ports, WiFi is perfectly adequate for a netbook. Kill the port and make it robust.

    • I have an eee 900 (one of the earlier ones if you remember). It has an ethernet port which I use moderately frequently. The thickness of the eee is one of the causes of its robustness: it has a *HUGE* hinge on the screen which will never break, unlike so many other laptops. That makes the case deep enough to fit in an ethernet port comfortably without affecting the structural integrity of the machine.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      They seem to be describing typical, and quite expensive at that (from all the hardware features, battery time, small thickness), laptop.

      I don't think they realize what kinds of machines Chrome OS will target.

    • by rdebath (884132) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @05:25AM (#30363092)

      You're still thinking of the personal organiser of old. It's a good market slice but it's not what these are aimed at.

      Netbooks (and by extension a netbook with a built in phone) are more aimed at the sort of place where normally if you're doing a lot of typing you'll be using a big computer but right now you're stuck on a train for an hour or three (or in the back of a car) so you have time to convert the notes you took in the meeting into a set of minutes. But you've just been in that meeting for two hours and a normal laptop would have a flat battery ... :-(

      Another option is that the note taking and web browsing (aka "research" and "email") is all you need the computer for.

      The keyboard is essential for the use cases of a netbook it doesn't have to be a full speed keyboard but you must be able to almost touchtype on it.

      If you think about it this looks like the perfect terminal (browser or whatever you want to call it) for Google wave ... enough smarts to run a wave locally but with a solid enough connection for group working.

      • Back in 1995 IBM unveiled the ThinkPad 701C which had a folding keyboard. These should be resurrected and put into Netbooks. It really was a slick way to shrink a full sized keyboard. For some reason that notebook was the only one ever to have that keyboard.
        I have a BlueTooth Folding keyboard that is almost OK but it lacks many keys and you are forced to use meta keys for too many items.

    • by Hadlock (143607)

      Ubuntu/linux in general won't work with many broadcom chipsets out of the box, you have to connect to the internet "manually" with an ethernet connection/cable.

      Besides, when the screen is inevitably shattered/ripped off in a freak accident with a 6-year old, you can plug it into the home network as a NAS server, or in many cases with the newer models featuring HDMI out, a HTPC. Many if not most netbooks ship with gig-e onboard now.

      also a lot of offices don't have wifi (or the admin isn't aro

  • One thing I find as time goes on is that I want smaller computers. I don't do serious graphics work on the move, and increasingly I find myself using a netbook more than my thin and light laptop which replaced my large screen laptop. Any of these can be plugged into a large monitor when needed, and currently I only ever need a DVD writer for things that will be installed to legacy machines.

    The thing I want is quite simple: a Nokia web tablet but with a Bluetooth connection to a very small, very simple phone

  • I suspect most of us on /. would NOT go for a netbook conforming to the article.

    What about the weight ? The battery life ? The compact and lightweight charger you can carry in your jacket pocket without a doubt ?

    The article doesn't cover the essentials, just the crunchy bits, the gadgets that would seduce the masses.

    I certainly hope those gadgets won't get to us at cost of battery-life, not-so-useful functions, failure in case of a fall ("operate in in the palm of left hand, just typing that list before

  • 3. Full-sized keyboard
    Some netbooks take little to inappropriate lengths, as it were, with keyboards that are just slightly smaller than full size: generally about 90 percent as large.

    Wrong. My favourite 'laptop' ever was a Toshiba Libretto, about the size of a paperback book. My favourite laptop now is a Dell Inspiron Mini 9. What's great about these machines is they're small - the Libretto slipped easily into a jacket pocket, yet (running Debian) it was a full blown machine on which I ran everything from

    • by langelgjm (860756)

      You're dead on with the non-Intel requirement. The tantalizing stories of new ARM-based netbooks (or "smartbooks" as I've heard them called) have kept me from buying.

      What I want:

      1. ARM-based processor. This means low power, meaning longer lasting battery life. Ideally something around 8 hours would be fantastic. Presumably this would also mean fanless (which means quiet, and thin).

      2. Small - maybe 8" to 9". Also, light. My current aging setup is a PDA with bluetooth folding keyboard, for a total weight of a

      • I saw a prototype Pegatron machine that looked like it would meet all of these, but it's not available yet... every time I search, I keep hearing that these machines are just around the corner. In summer, they were coming about for Christmas 2009. Now that it's December, I hear they are coming out in Q1 2010.

        H'mmmm... one of these [engadget.com], you mean? Yes, I'd definitely buy one!

    • 3. Full-sized keyboard Some netbooks take little to inappropriate lengths, as it were, with keyboards that are just slightly smaller than full size: generally about 90 percent as large.

      Wrong. My favourite 'laptop' ever was a Toshiba Libretto, about the size of a paperback book. My favourite laptop now is a Dell Inspiron Mini 9. What's great about these machines is they're small - the Libretto slipped easily into a jacket pocket, yet (running Debian) it was a full blown machine on which I ran everything from Apache to Oracle. The Mini 9 isn't as small, but it still fits easily into my bicycle bag - which wouldn't take a full laptop. Some users who are poor typists and have fat, pudgy fingers may have difficulty with small keyboards. Good typists adapt. And when on the move small trumps big every time.

      A standard VGA graphics-out port is a given, since you'll want to use your smartbook as a presentation tool (although that may require running Windows -- horrors! -- in place of Android).

      Wrong. It's key to giving this machine decent off-power-grid performance that it runs a processor very much more frugal than an Intel. It needs to be an ARM (my preference), or a MIPS, or something new. Whatever it is, you will be able to run presentations - either Open Office will be ported (very probable), or something new will be written. You will not run Windows.

      To summarize the first point of your post: 1. Wrong. A few computer users albeit a very small minority, don't care about keyboard quality and size - they're willing to adapt to any keyboard, maybe just for the hell of it, because adapting makes them feel smart. This tiny group of users should be the focus of Google's strategy.

  • and slap ChromeOS 1.0 on that. The CrunchPad sounds like it would be the perfect device to use as a proof of concept for later Chrome devices.
  • As an owner of an XO-1, the thing that keeps me using my little green laptop even though it often gets mistaken for a kid's toy is battery life.

    I fly to vacation travel. (I defy anybody to drive to Hawaii.) From Boston, Honolulu is at least 12 hours away. In-flight movies being what they are, I usually read a book or two. With my XO, I can listen to MP3s, keep a journal, read an eBook or play games. (Freecell and Adventure keep me amused.) I can even use my StarChart program to plan star-gazing while

    • As an owner of an XO-1, the thing that keeps me using my little green laptop even though it often gets mistaken for a kid's toy is battery life.

      I fly to vacation travel. (I defy anybody to drive to Hawaii.) From Boston, Honolulu is at least 12 hours away. In-flight movies being what they are, I usually read a book or two. With my XO, I can listen to MP3s, keep a journal, read an eBook or play games. (Freecell and Adventure keep me amused.) I can even use my StarChart program to plan star-gazing while out there. [shameless plug]

      What I can't do in the air (yet) is browse the web. Having the necessary apps stored locally is therefore a must and a device that needs "the cloud" to function is useless for air travelers. But I digress -- I was saying that battery life is the deal-maker with respect to netbooks for me.

      I have two batteries for my XO. In flight, the wifi has to be turned off, which gives the XO over three hours of playing time on one battery -- more if I turn the back-light off and use the monochrome screen mode.

      If the layover is sufficiently long, I can re-charge at least one battery while waiting for the flight from the west coast to the islands. Usually, I arrive after the cross-country flight with both batteries discharged, re-charge one and get most of the way to Hawaii before I'm out of power. I know of no other netbook-like device presently on the market that can do as well.

      So rather than high-speed CPU, lots of storage, the ability to play HD movies or all the other features that seem to be standard in the current crop of netbooks, give me a machine that's frugal of battery, small enough to fit in coach class and equipped with enough built-in functionality to keep a man amused for six to eight hours.

      If you like battery life, you might be interested in an Asus 1005HA. Mine with Windows 7 lasted through my last 9 hour flight (I was reading pdf papers and writing a bit on it) and still had 15% battery life left when I turned it off for landing.

  • I don't want an underpowered laptop or a netbook. It's stupid. If i want a fragile gadget that takes it's own bag to carry around, I will carry my regular laptop.
    What I want is a phone size appliance. I have an iPhone and it does most of what I want out of a mobile device.

    What I want in addition to what the iphone offers:
    Slightly larger screen
    Open platform (like android), no restrictions, fully hackable.
    Phone/device not tied to any carrier (most important)

    Give me that, and I will gladly pay real money for i

    • by mdwh2 (535323)

      How about one of the many open phones (you mention Android as one example), that's either a SIM free version or available on multiple networks? We already have "phone size appliances like Iphones" - they're called phones :)

      • by MxTxL (307166)

        Name one that isn't either hobbled with poor hardware or poor interface. Or one that is really hackable.

        The Archos Internet Tablet almost hits the sweet spot for me... but even the Android implementation on it is neutered and not fully open.

        I want something that takes the phone form factor, but whose primary purpose isn't phone. The iPhone/droid/touch of the world are nearly that but sadly tied to a carrier.

        Think slightly bigger than iPhone, smaller than CrunchPad. Big enough to be useful but small enough t

  • Why can't I connect a USB harddisk to my phone?
    Why can't I connect my netbook as harddisk to my PC? (ok, file share may work, but it's more cumbersome than just plug the USB cable)

    So what I would like is a device which can act as a usb storage but at the same time also accept other usb storage devices connected to it.
    Thanks for USB to be an assymetic protocol, why didn't they do it like firewire in the first place?

  • "perfect" device (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    OK - here's a starter list for my ideal device (saying this without owning a netbook, droid or iphone):

    Hardware wise:
    1. Something in the size/form factor of the Droid. Big screen, slide out keyboard, etc, but a little thinner, easy to put in a pocket. But make it "sexier" like the iPhone (but with a physical keyboard - it's not that I mind touch keyboards so much as the screen real-estate they take when they are on screen).
    2. Support use of a full sized bluetooth keyboard/mouse.
    3. Docking station/charg

  • by johnkzin (917611) on Tuesday December 08, 2009 @12:29PM (#30366598)

    a) call it what it is: a netbook ... smartbook is a pointless re-naming of the device category. Stop it.
    b) TI OMAP 3xxx CPU (the 1GHz one)
    c) Slate Tablet or Convertible-Tablet Netbook format -- either way, 5 way dpad and "Android Buttons" next to the screen
    d) PixelQi hybrid LCD/e-paper 9" or 10" touch screen, multi-touch, 1280x720, 1280x768, or 1280x800 native resolution
    e) DVI-I out, supporting 640x480, 800x480, 800x600, 1024x600, 1024x768, 1280x720, 1280x768, 1280x800, and 1280x1024 resolutions (the non-HD/wide screen resolutions using letter boxing to show an HD/widescreen resolution of the same width; so, a 1280x1024 monitor would show the 1280x720/1280x768/1280x800 native resolution of the device, with the black bands at the top and bottom of the screen)
    f) 2-4 USB Host/OTG ports (keyboard, mouse, storage, network, etc.)
    g) 1 mini-USB for charging and data sync (it's ok to ALSO have a conventional charger, this is just for opportunistic charging at any USB port that's available)
    h) 3.5mm headset (bi-directional, so you can use it with VOIP/Skype/Google-Voice)
    i) 1GB - 2GB RAM
    j) 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB storage options
    k) 1 or 2 full size SDHC slots
    l) Android, with both the built-in Android browser, and the Chrome browser
    m) The Android x86 and Acer port of Firefox for Android
    n) Throw in a Fennec port to Android
    o) 8+ hours battery life, even with Wifi and Bluetooth on
    p) Wifi b/g/n
    q) Full bluetooth stack (DUN, PAN, FTP, HID, BIP, A2DC, etc.)
    r) PCI Express Mini card slot, for user-added 3G (or for carrier subsidized models)
    s) fast-boot/splashtop optimizations for Android (perhaps some of ChromeOS'es ability to check the validity of the OS)
    t) Android can easily/seamlessly hand-off to other OSes (UBuntu-ARM, Mer/Maemo, Windows CE, maybe ChromeOS if an ARM CPU is used; or Ubuntu, Windows, or any other available x86 OS (ChromeOS, etc.) if an x86 CPU is used)

    The Aspire 1420P convertible tablet netbook might be a good start, if it was scaled down to 10", and changed to a ARM CPU with a PixelQi display.

    I have more thoughts about it at: http://johnkzin.livejournal.com/55488.html [livejournal.com]

  • Wasn't this mental exercise called DynaBook aka Newton aka "personal intelligent communicator" aka "personal digital assistant". BTW the Coke has just announced "Coke Zero" aka Diet Coke aka Diet Pepsi. Are our attention spans really that short?
  • GPS, accelerometers, and a compass in a netbook? Maybe i tablet but that is over kill on a netbook. A gps maybe but even that is iffy. Knowing where you are is great for things like finding a restaurant or store but netbooks tend to be used indoors and getting a GPS lock can be iffy at best.
    3G/4G maybe but the customer friendly solution is tethering. I don't want to buy a second account just for my netbook. Bundle it in for an extra $5 a month or let me tether.
    Touch screen? On a netbook? Seems like a tablet

  • Be it a netbook, smartbook, or smartphone, price is one of the most important features of the device.

    Most successful netbooks now are in the $300-400 range, and the most prominent smartphones all come with subsidies to help defray some of the initial sticker-shock.

    If you're selling users on the idea that this device will satisfy most of their computing needs, but isn't meant to replace a full machine, then you need to reflect that in the price.

    If you read the article (I know, slashdot sin), the aut

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