Friday, March 04, 2005

Size matters- what's the killer dimensions for portable devices?

Yet another big company is getting into the portable device market (Random House Eyes Mobile Market) and looking for convergence between all manner of media- phone, music player, word processor, e-mail, etc.. As the article notes, Bertelsmann/Random House has an advantage because of their music and video catalog. While the financial backing and distribution power of a company like that is definitely going to be a plus, there's still something some missing factors that's caused every company so far to come up short against the likes of Apple.

Before I thought that the missing ingredient was just style. Everyone loves I-Pod just because it looks so f-ing cool. The fact that it's integrated so well with I-Tunes doesn't hurt but I still think it's about looks and the cool clout it gives the user.

When companies try to extend the reach of the telephone to computerize it and turn it into a music player too, they'd be well advised to keep this in mind. Even if they did come up with a sleek, stylish design, there's another factor they'll still have to deal with. It's all about size. The I-Pod has that going for it because part of its design is that it's very small and compact and thus easy to carry around. As electronic companies stuff more and more features into their phone/player/computers, they'll need to keep that in mind at their own risk. Devices like Blackberry are trying to muscle in on this market but isn't making waves as much as the I-Pod- granted that it's apples and oranges to some extent but they're both portable devices.

When someone gets the convergence equation right, then phones and music players as we know it are going to start to disappear. No doubt that Apple, Microsoft and the major electronic companies are already working on such a killer device that we'll all drool over and desire. The problem that they're all going to have is to figure out what's a happy medium in terms of size for such a gadget. An MP3 player doesn't have to be any bigger than it is for you to play or find songs. Ditto for your phone as you dial or find numbers.

As bandwidth considerations are brushed aside with improved bandwidth coming, the next frontier after twisting together the phone and player is how to add the computer to the mix. Blackberries are trying to become just that as are some phone models with fold-out keyboards. One problem that they're already seeing already is that these devices are murder on peoples' thumbs as they desperately try to type out messages. Presumably, the same'll be true for T-Mobile Sidekick that Snoop Dogg has been pushing in commercials. Since we already have enough problem with carpal tunnel using the regular old computer keyboards, this kind of thing isn't going to make users happy.

And what about our eyes? What do you think the long-term effects will be on our pupils after years of squinting as at our phones and players? If you want to do any serious writing on their devices, it's going to be even worse for us to see what we're doing or scan through our work on tiny devices. It's not going to work and even if we do go along with it for a while, these toys are going to get bumped off soon enough by other toys where we can actually read the words.

Taking a very unscientific survey with a tape measure, I found out what the magic dimensions are for a device. As high tech as we like to think all of this is or should be, the deciding factor is something decidedly simple and old-fashion- the pocket. If any device is going to be portable and worth taking around with us, it has to fit into our pocket. Otherwise, what good it is? So the tape tells me that my pants pocket measures about 7 inches in height and 5 inches in width (your own pocket may vary). But you get the idea. This is the fast and hard rule that these devices have to live by.

So there you have it- make it sleek, readable and 7-by-5 in size (or less if you can) and get your toy backed by a major electronic company and you'll be all set. Again, I don't need any credit for these ideas but a check made out to me in cash would be appreciated.


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