Sometimes a technology idea is too good to be true. A flexible keyboard, Internet voting and watching feature films on your smart phone are examples. Today, these concepts are still evolving, but they're broken right now. I'll tell you why and what could be done to fix them once and for all.
1. Ultracompact PCs
Call them whatever you want: ultramobile PCs (UMPC), mobile information devices (MID) or subnotebooks. I call them small PCs, and they are almost indistinguishable from a good smart phone.
For example, the BlackBerry 8820, with its built-in GPS capability and excellent e-mail client, is a better device than the Samsung Q1 Ultra, described by the company as an "ultramobile personal computer." The only real difference is that you squint less with the Q1. But most people don't use a Q1 for gaming or writing long business documents.
The Apple iPhone is a smarter, sexier, more useable computer than just about any MID, such as the new Toshiba prototype. Meanwhile, there's more power in the OQO, than a regular UMPC, but the screen is just as tiny.
I figure that in less than three years, Apple will release a successor to the iPhone that works more like a Mac and will become the first company to make a true pocket computer -- one that runs any Mac OS X application natively, with a mini-DVI port.
2. Satellite Internet
The fair-use policies for services such as Hughes and WildBlue are killers. If you download too many BitTorrent files or game demos, your speed gets throttled back to something more like dial-up, and you have to slowly work your way back up to normal.
In response to this complaint, Peter Gulla, vice president of marketing for the North American division at Hughes Network Systems, said that most Internet service providers manage broadband use. If they didn't, more resources would be required, and the service would cost more, he said. "Hughes offers a variety of HughesNet service plans to address the differing needs of our subscribers," Gulla said. "In order to arrive at our Fair Access Policy, Hughes conducted an analysis of HughesNet customer usage and then established a download threshold for each plan that was well above average usage rates. "
WildBlue Communications did not respond when asked to comment on my complaint.
Another issue is that the stationary modem that you need for satellite Internet is a bulky device and uses coaxial cable that most people need a technician to install.
Also, in my personal experience, Hughes tech-support agents would often read from a script and could not proceed with troubleshooting until they had covered every step. Hold times were usually about 15 minutes, but HughesNet claims it has improved tech support over the past six months.
Yet I like the satellite concept because it could make the Internet much more ubiquitous across large swathes of the US Today, the antenna is bigger than a wheel rim, but there's no reason it couldn't be reduced to a size that works with your laptop. Satellite Internet has slowly increased in speed, starting out at only 512Kbit/sec. and currently at about 1.5Mbit/sec. If the technology improves and the company fixes all the other problems, it could be a solid option.