Hi everyone! This is a place where I share my experiences with the devices I come across and use. Hopefully, you'll find the info here helpful in your search for geeky stuff...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Made for the internet

The internet. Ahhhhh. What a marvel.

This ever changing entity has indeed changed the way we live. Want to buy a vintage microphone? Want to see/talk to someone thousands of miles away? Want some information on glass blowing techniques? Want an alternative view on your doctor's diagnosis? Want to know the meaning of life? Whatever it is, you can find it/do it over the internet.

These days, if a device doesn't have some form of efficient connection to the internet, it doesn't seem that it will have any credibility.

Many governments are setting up their countries to be wired to the internet. Take mine for example. Anyone and everyone is entitled to free wifi access to numerous hotspots all over the country.

"Wireless@SG is a wireless broadband programme developed by IDA as part of its Next Generation National Infocomm Infrastructure initiative. It will be run and developed in the next two years by three local wireless operators who will deploy a wireless broadband network in Singapore. Users can enjoy free, both in-door and outdoor seamless wireless broadband access with speeds of up to 512kbps at most public areas.

The targeted users of this wireless broadband network are broadly classified as "people on the move" - people who require wireless broadband access while away from their homes, schools and offices. These include students, tourists, business travellers and enterprise users such as insurance agents and real estate agents who use widely-available and wireless-enabled devices such as notebook PCs and PDAs. Once connected, users will be able to access all Internet-based services e.g. online gaming, web surfing, instant messaging, VoIP and email."

Malls, coffeeshops, bus stations... anywhere that people might be spending some time in, would be blanketed by free-for-all wifi internet hotspots. I'm typing this out at Starbucks at a neighbourhood mall with a Nokia N810 internet tablet and saving the draft remotely on this blogsite's server, so that I can continue writing this later at home or anywhere I can find an internet connection.

The Nokia N810 internet tablet. A child of the internet generation. This device was borne out of the need to be free from your desk, the need to be connected all the time. It does nothing but that. Its purpose is very pure. There's no built-in cellular connection at all.

So is it relevant? Especially when mobile phones these days can do pretty much the same. Apple saw this coming and produced their very first mobile phone embracing this vision. The iPod Touch is pretty much similar in concept.

Well, Nokia actually saw this coming too and pushed out 2 internet tablets before this, the N770 and the N800. Also not forgetting the numerous mobile phones that have wifi built-in. Yes, they had the vision. But Nokia being Nokia, their execution always leaves a bitter taste.

The current generation of their Symbian interface is clunky, "un"-elegant. Clicking and clicking and clicking on the edges of a square ring to achieve an action isn't what I'd describe as enjoyable.

And that's just the steps needed to get to a calculator and not even considering navigating around the internet and applications that are made to exploit the internet. Doing internet related stuff with a square ring and a button and a 2" screen is a royal pain in the butt.

Good thing the next generation of Nokia's interface for mobile devices finally embraces touch. Shall I say it? Like Apple.

Coming back to the N810 internet tablet, after having used it for 2 days, I'd say it suffers from middle child syndrome. It's good, but not great. It moves but not at blazing speeds. It's pleasant to use but can be better.

A big shot at Nokia, Anssi Vanjoki mentioned that the N810 represents the third of five steps in this made-for-the-internet product concept line that Nokia is going to be releasing over several years. Middle child.

The first internet tablet, the N770 launched in 2005, was like an experiment. It was targeted at "geeks", no, I'd reserve that term for people like myself. I'd say for people best described as "nerds". They choose the Linux platform for its ease and openess and to see if there was interest in the nerdy community. A very crucial step as these "nerds" are the people who would be developing stuff that make the device worth a squat. As expected, enthusiasts like myself, who don't know where to begin to make write our own applications, weren't too drawn to it.

Fortunately, the concept of an open source is fundamentally good. Like democracy. Apple also could not make people see otherwise and released their programming codes.

There was quite buzz within Linux communities. People started writing and porting applications and the number of useful things you can do with it grew and grew.

Encouraged by the response, Nokia launched the sequel, the N800, at the beginning of 2007. This time round, their target audience broadened. With a more polished interface, people like myself, whom I'd consider as "geeks", are within the reach of their casting net. Out of the box, you can do iPod-ish stuff. Listen to music , watch videos, extend your computer, surf the internet with a big screen..etc, except the memory capacity is limited to what's available and feasible.

The latest version of the lineup, the N810, has an even more polished user interface, despite having pretty similar hardware as the N800. Much like a hacked iPhone, there is quite a sizable number of FREE 3rd party applications available to make the internet tablet even more useful. Handily enough, the most common video/audio formats are playable on the N810. I can simply drag over whatever I want from my iPod library and it simply works.

The inclusion of a hardware keyboard, on top of touchscreen, makes this device actually usable for messaging or typing out a blog entry. Basically any kind of keyboard activity. If you bring your laptop everywhere for entertainment, media, web 2.0 usage, it is now feasible to leave it at home and bring the N810 instead. I've been doing that for the past few days and although the experience is not as good as a full sized laptop, I'd say it's acceptable for the size. My back certainly appreciates it.

Free applications like Pidgin consolidates all your messaging needs. You can talk to your friends on AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, GroupWise, ICQ, IRC, MSN, MySpaceIM, QQ, Yahoo...etc within one screen. A Mozilla web browser with full Flash support and ensures most websites are rendered correctly. The built-in GPS receiver adds value to the device, although how well it actually works compared to a modern GPS device and how much it costs to make it a full-fledged navigation tool significantly brings back the balance.

For now, it is a niche product. People who do not carry a laptop everywhere certainly outnumber the people who do. I think a big part of why this is so is not because most people don't want to carry a laptop with them. They actually want to, but it's just too much of a hassle. This is where internet tablets like the N810 shine. They provide decent internet experience without the need for a set of decent muscles to carry a laptop around.

The internet will only strengthen its hold on people's lives. There is no other way about it. And devices like this will be needed to meet this demand. You can already see that it will be a matter of time before they slap on a cell phone module into this thing. Dare I say it again? Like Apple.

Bigger devices with bigger screens will become more common and accepted as the need to create/share/consume content and communicating with a bigger audience becomes commonplace.

Like their ad says:

"A little hush please. The next episode is about to begin"


Island_paradise said...

Very good explanations. I like this made in singapore neutral review. Keep it up

I think part of the reason people are not into this type of gadget because a lack of softwares robustness and a full compatibility issue to a PC/Laptop.

Instead people would rather spend more to get a lighter fully functional laptop.

Time will tell. I think it is possible one day eveyone will have a fully operatable pc plus life translator that easily slip into a pocket.

chickenbackside said...

You can smell it coming. Whether it's Apple, Windows, Linux, Symbian...etc, slowly but surely, applications are appearing so that everything is cross platform.
Already, there are minimal issues with doing something on my phone, then transferring it over to my internet tablet or laptop or full desktop to continue doing it.
Or you could start/save documents online and do everything there (for eg Google Docs) without your work ever being on your computer, regardless of what OS you're running, for FREE.
As devices like these become more powerful, it will surely eat into part of the pie of laptops. Or it will become a secondary device that is common. Full fledged computers will always have their place. But a new category of intermediate devices is definitely up and coming.

Imran said...

Excellent article, I'm waiting for my N810 to arrive, once USPS decide to get off their butts and realise people are waiting for their packages. I used to carry my MacbookPro around (15inch) and it has taken its toll on my shoulders, the need for the cables and everything means extra weight, and extra hassle. I know for a fact that I'll be carrying this around most of the time now, and only taking my laptop where I need it. Most of my web browsing will be done on the N810 as well as chat and movie watching, it seems like a decent halfway point between the small screen of my N95 (for web browsing and tv watching) and the 5kg bag I haul around with me. Can't wait for it to arrive. And I agree, devices like this are going to explode once people realise that they don't need to sit around at their computers at lunch or after work to check their sites and so on.

Anonymous said...

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Medical Blog said...

There was quite buzz within Linux communities. People started writing and porting applications and the number of useful things you can do with it grew and grew.