Why I Hate Palmtops (was: Re: SGML, XML and SML)

rev-bob at gotc.com rev-bob at gotc.com
Tue Nov 23 15:56:55 GMT 1999

I said:
> >>The fact is, I *despise* palmtops when it comes to documents 
> >>bigger than, say, your average shopping list.

Don said:
> Palmtops will get slightly bigger display with much higher
> resolution and color in the future which will greatly enhance
> readability.  Note that most people have no problem reading
> paperback novels which are just slightly bigger than Palmtops.

I just happen to have both my palmtop and a paperback handy.  My palmtop (a Casio 
Pocket Viewer) is about 3" wide by 5" tall.  Of that, the display is about 2.5" square, not 
counting the part of the screen reserved for the menu icons (which are actually screened 
onto the plastic).  By comparison, the paperback is about 4" wide by 7" tall, and all of 
that is viewable area.  (In fact, I could even argue that the viewable area is really 8" by 
7", because you can see two pages at once.  This is a very important consideration to my 
"mindspace" argument; how much document can you see at once?)  In other words, that 
paperback has 56 square inches of visual space - the Casio has just over 6.  In no way, 
shape, or form does this qualify as "slightly" bigger.  That paperback is actually much 
closer to the size of a small monitor or a laptop screen than to a palmtop.

To put this into a more practical form, that paperback displays two columns of text at 36 
50-character lines each.  (Yes, I counted.  Random page, random full-length line, and 
this is a Young Adult novel to boot - which means larger type.)  Let's rearrange those 
numbers a little bit - say, to 72 x 25.  Look familiar?  It should; that's really close to a 
standard 80x25 DOS display, flipped up on one side...and that's only one of the pages; 
double it for the full view and you're at 80x45.  By comparison, my Casio displays 
25x16 at best (full-screen mode), and 20x12 is standard.  Rather a shocking comparison, 
wouldn't you say?  I daresay that no amount of "slightly larger display" and higher 
resolution will compensate for this huge discrepancy.

Now, if you want something which would catch my eye, steal a clue from about twenty 
years ago and rev it into overdrive.  See, back in the early 1980s, Nintendo came out 
with some handheld games that were built around about the same form factor as the 
modern palmtop.  (Yes, these were arguably the grandparents of the Gameboy.)  One 
particularly memorable experiment was a clamshell design - you opened the game on a 
hinge, revealing two screens with the controls arranged around the bottom one.  Now, 
imagine a palmtop with this basic layout.  Open it up like a micro-laptop, make the "top" 
screen display-only (less expensive!) and save the touch-sensitive tech for the bottom 
screen.  In data browsing mode, you could use both screens together to make a book-
style interface, or maybe even display two different documents - one on each screen.  Is 
anybody following me on this?
> With better contrast and something like ClearType, you will
> be amazed at the differences.  There is a lot of room for
> improvement in the UI design as well.  What we have now
> simply sucks less than before.  Handwriting recognition
> will also improve drastically soon.  Some of the prototypes
> I have seen is amazing.  The writing surface will also improve
> to feel more like paper rather than feeling like skating over
> thin ice.

See, all that just misses my point entirely.  I don't care what the writing surface feels like.  
I don't care about handwriting recognition - in fact, my Casio doesn't include it at all.  
My concern is that I can't write a coherent article when I can't even glance up to see 
what I wrote last paragraph - and that's purely a function of the limited visual area.  The 
only thing that will help that is to make the screen bigger - and that clamshell trick is 
probably about the only practical way to do that to any large degree.  (Not to mention 
that it automatically provides screen protection and covers the buttons!)

 Rev. Robert L. Hood  | http://rev-bob.gotc.com/
  Get Off The Cross!  | http://www.gotc.com/

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