Friday, April 06, 2007

A Nanobook Dream

There are rumors that Apple is working on a nanobook, an ultralight laptop using flash ram instead of a hard drive. As a fan of both the Macintosh and the--now unfortunately defunct--Psion pda's, that naturally started me thinking about what my ideal version would be.

What I want is a functional laptop, one that runs my usual software, small enough so that I can conveniently carry it with me most of the time as I did with my Psions. Fitting in a usable keyboard and screen probably requires the largest form factor that can be conveniently carried. Experimenting with a piece of cardboard, that appears to be about 4.125"x7.5". If reasonably thin and light, that goes comfortably into the inside pocket of a sports jacket. That would require me to wear a sports jacket or equivalent--or else some sort of belt case--but then, I started wearing sports jackets routinely when I started carrying my first Psion. It would fit into a pants pocket, but I'm not sure that's a safe location for an expensive and somewhat fragile item.

For screen and keyboard the important constraint is physical size. The keyboard of my desktop is 11", so 7.5" allows about a 2/3 size keyboard, which I think would be fine once one got used to it; the Psion Revo managed to fit a just barely typeable keyboard into less than 6", although I have always suspected them of using magic to do it. My Nokia 9300 smartphone has a 640x200 screen that's about 4" x 1.25", so 1000x600 should fit comfortably on my nanobook's screen.

I don't know enough about the internals of pda's or laptops to be confident how much space the rest of the machine would require. But my guess, from things like the iphone, is that it could be managed with a thickness of no more than an inch and a weight of well under a pound. Even that much weight might be a problem; my Psions managed to do minor damage to a lot of sports jackets over the years. But that's a price I was, and am, willing to pay.

My one additional suggestion is that the machine might include a hard drive--very tiny hard drives now exist, and I think they still provide considerably less expensive mass storage than flash memory. The machine could have the operating system in flash memory to permit almost instant booting, like my old Psions. The hard drive, if there was one, would provide additional storage, and would remain off, drawing no power, unless needed.

Hitachi is supposed to be bringing out a 20 gigabyte microdrive this year. Add another 20 gigabytes of flash, a gigabyte or so of RAM and the lowest power version of the cpu used in current Mac laptops and you have a functional laptop capable of running the current MacOS and applications. Small enough to (just barely) fit in your pocket

I want it.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

What I'd like along these lines is a core - cpu, ram, storage - that could support a small form factor like you describe when I'm "portable" but then seamlessly plug into a 20" flat screen, mouse and full-size keyboard whenever I was at home or in the office.

Anonymous said...

Having a nanobook is a nice thing when you go outside, but why would you go outside in the first place?

Anonymous said...

I think I read something about a "virtual keyboard" a while back that could solve half of the size problem. It was something like an optical scanning device, maybe something that plugs into the pda and projects an image of the keys on the surface (say a Starbucks table), so person just uses his fingers to type as he normally would, and the device that projects the keyboard also scans the location of the person's fingers and types on the screen accordingly.

I may be way off on this, but I do seem to remember reading about it somewhere.

To decrease the size even further, you'd need to simply project the screen image somewhere, perhaps on a roll-out white screen or just some local surface area.

Of course - battery life would become an issue with this approach, so you might need to carry a 50Lbs battery backpack to support this tiny device :)

WHat do you think, Dr. Friedman?

Ross Levatter, MD said...

Wouldn't it be simpler to just try and convince the shirt manufacturers to make bigger pockets? :->

Brian Hollar said...

I know it's not a Mac, but there's a device very similar to what you're talking about called the HTC Shift. I just wrote a blog post about it earlier today. I too yearn for something like what you described.

BTW, I am currently a PhD student in George Mason's econ program and getting ready to start my JD as well this fall. I love your books Hidden Order and Law's Order. Reading books by you and your dad played a big role in getting me to pursue a career in law and economics.