Dream On: The Ultimate Digital Assistant

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WHAT’S
HOT

   This new Pocket PC takes the conventional design
paradigm to a new level featuring increased ergonomics, software integration,
and significant built-in wireless capabilities. 

HARDWARE

    The most noticeable difference of the UDA
is it’s asymmetrical design and ChromaFlair paint job.  The ChromaFlair
paint uses an ultra-thin interference flake that reflects the light
variances through multiple layers of light interference.  As for
the hardware’s form factor, the directional control pad has been moved
to the upper left corner of the device such that it can be easily accessed
when holding the PDA with your left hand.  Fans of the thumbwheel
will be happy to see this, though instead of just scrolling functionality,
the d-pad offers 8 way directional controls.  Traditionally the
directional control pad has been located at the bottom center of the
PDA.  However, placing your thumb in this area reduces the handheld
comfort and stability of the PDA when interacting with the screen. 

   
Furthermore, the traditional location of the hardware buttons on the
bottom made using these buttons very difficult while holding the PDA. 
You would have to stop using the stylus on the screen in order to press
a button.  The UDA moves three hardware buttons to the right side
where they are easily accessible to the fingers of your left hand while
wrapping your them around the back of the device.  This allows
you to activate hardware buttons with your left hand while interacting
with the touch sensitive screen using your stylus, held by your right
hand.  By default the hardware buttons on the right side are configured
to bring up the context sensitive menu, start menu, or task menu. 
The increased efficiency of this user interface is very refreshing. 
Since the buttons reside in a recessed area, they’re not activated accidentally
in your pocket, but you wont’ have to worry anyway since they are ignored
by default when the PDA is in suspend mod

   
There are also three hardware buttons at the bottom right corner of
the UDA.  These are primarily intended for games that don’t use
stylus input, where as you would use the thumb in the upper left for
directional control and these lower buttons for actions with your right
hand.  This layout is very friendly to a horizontal screen positioning
as well.  By default these buttons are assigned to launch your
Calendar, Contacts, and Phone send/end toggle applications.  They
are labeled with letters that correspond to your buttons control panel
in the operating system as opposed to application specific icons that
have little relevance when the button actions are changed. 

PHONE

   
Another thing you’ll notice right away is that on the back of the PDA
behind the directional pad is a detachable headset.  The Bluetooth
headset clips into the back of the PDA when not in use.  It’s internal
battery is charged through the PDA when attached to AC power. 
This negates the need for multiple charging cables.  The Bluetooth
headset will automatically power on and connect to the PDA’s headset
profile when detached.  The PDA’s internal Bluetooth radio will
also power on automatically when the headset is detached if it is not
already on.  The headset includes a small send/end toggle button,
but most other commands can be carried out through the voice recognition
software integrated with the Pocket PC Phone Edition operating system. 
By providing a clip-on Bluetooth headset, users can retain the single-device
mobility while combining voice interaction with tactile and visual interaction.  The
headset will also retain any shape that you bend it to, thus allowing
custom fitting for a variety of users.

   
Also available in the Phone Edition software is the capability to connect
to a VoIP SIP network automatically when connected to the internet via
WiFi, or any other specified network protocol.  By combining this
feature with a session initiation protocol (SIP) service and GSM providers
forwarding services, users can seamlessly switch between receiving calls
through VoIP and GSM by indicating their location through the SIP server. 

WIRELESS
NETWORKING

   
The UDA includes both Bluetooth and WiFi network connectivity as well
as a small low-power radio receiver for Smart Personal Objects Technologies
and AM/FM reception.  All of the radio transceivers are primarily
software based making upgrades that support different technologies more
feasible.  The SPOT radio integrates with Internet Explorer and
the Today screen to show location-specific information according to
user preferences such as the weather forecast and traffic updates as
they occur.  Traffic information can be routed into the included
Pocket Streets navigation software to recalculate your intended route
(also available through internet connections).  Traffic updates
are only received when your SIP server indicates that you are in transit. 
A GPS receiver is also included in order to offer accurate location-based
proximity searches and functions in combination with the SPOT radio
broadcasts.  The location information can be automatically input
into location relevant websites in order to find nearby points of interest
such bathrooms, gas stations, restaurants, etc.  Users can create
custom location maps that include GPS data and redistribute them on
the internet for other visitors or upload them to the central database
for maintaining accurate information. 

MEMS

     
There are three sets of micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS). 
One detects the direction of gravity and is used by the software to
automatically orient the screen depending on which way the device is
held.  This MEMS can also be used to enable tilt sensitive navigation. 
The other MEMS replace the traditional microphones and speakers in both
the PDA and wireless headset.  The MEMS microphone provides high
quality voice communications due to it’s capability to "hone in"
on the voice source using multiple directional surface mounted microphones. 
The MEMS based audio system removes the need for holes in the plastic
since it is embedded in the surface.  It is also 10 times smaller
than the traditional speaker/microphone system.

EXPANSION

     
On the left side of the device is a removable rubber grip.  You
can remove the grip by prying it off with your stylus tip.  This
will reveal an expansion interface for attaching a camera or a hardware
keyboard for use in landscape mode.  A hinged thumb keyboard can
also be attached here which folds over the front of the device providing
further screen protection.  Also, there is a universal expansion
port on the back of the device, where expansion back-packs can be attached
for adding peripherals such as hard disks, bar-code scanners, display
projectors, telematics connections and DVD ROMs.

SCREEN

    
The VGA resolution screen uses a new ultra-thin touch screen sensor
that does not require dual-layer resistive conductivity with glass. 
The outer layer of the screen is hard plastic, not glass, and contains
the touch sensitive sensor on the inside allowing for less wear and
increased durability.  The sensor is also tuned to detect touch
when no stylus is in use.  When a stylus is in use, the input sensor
only detects that stylus, thus preventing the palm-rejection problem
often associated with touch-screen input methods.  The new screen
also uses organic light emitting diodes instead of the traditional liquid
crystal displays allowing for a wide field of view, decreased power
consumption, and a lightweight self-illuminating display completely
visible even in outdoor lighting.

PROS

  • Small,
    easy to handle form factor
  • Great
    paint job
  • Built
    in GSM, GPRS, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, SPOT, AM/FM
  • Integrated
    wireless headset
  • Ergonomic
    design

CONS

  • Doesn’t
    exist


CONCLUSION

   Perhaps there will never be an ultimate digital
assistant.  Obviously different people are looking for different
features, and some may even be satisfied with the current PDAs, but
personally I’d still like to see more.  So I’ll keep dreaming.

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About The Author
Adam Z. Lein
Adam has had interests in combining technology with art since his first use of a Koala pad on an Apple computer. He currently has a day job as a graphic designer, photographer, systems administrator and web developer at a small design firm in Westchester, NY. His love of technology extends to software development companies who have often implemented his ideas for usability and feature enhancements. Mobile computing has become a necessity for Adam since his first Uniden UniPro PC100 in 1998. He has been reviewing and writing about smartphones for Pocketnow.com since they first appeared on the market in 2002.Read more about Adam Lein!