Merging lines

[Thumbnail image of Sony's new UX50 handheld computer, which starts to look a lot like a miniature laptop.] The gap between PDAs and laptop computers continues to diminish. I just noted Sony’s upcoming release of the UX50 CLIÉ handheld. With built-in wireless 802.11b, Bluetooth, a low-end digital camera, MP3 player, video recording, and a larger “keyboard” than the typical thumbpads of today’s PDAs and smart phones, devices like this take a another step closer to their larger notebook cousins.

With only a 480×320 resolution screen and 29MB of memory, this handheld will be a far cry from even the most sub-compact full-featured notebooks. But we would certainly be remiss if we don’t keep an eye on the effect these devices will have on the way users will see and experience the Web of tomorrow. Micro-technology which fits in palm-sized computers is here. Just look at Apple’s 30GB hard drive used in the latest iPod. A 512MB DDR memory module which fits in my new laptop is half the size of the standard SODIMM. Subnotebooks slightly larger than the UX50 handheld, with computing power equal to low-end laptop computers, have already hit the mainstream in Japan, and are available in the U.S. from small-quantity importers. North American markets may adopt micro-technology more slowly, but it will certainly be here eventually. The real challenge falls on industrial designers tasked with designing tiny computers which remain usable, efficient, and attractive to a typical consumer.

Some subnotebooks will support 800×600 resolution and higher. Other devices like these handheld-wanna-be-notebooks won’t. Along with these devices, a whole new crop of web browsing apps will surface in addition to the ones we already have. Hopefully, they’ll support the CSS handheld media type, and encourage the use of leaner, structured XHTML. However, once devices like this begin to fill breast-pockets of executives and shoulder bags of early-adopting gadgeteers, kiss goodbye the assumption that one “minimum resolution” exists to which we can design any interface.