Digital Versus Physical: Does RIM’s Vision of the Future Interest You?

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Earlier this week RIM’s vision of the future was “leaked” out in two videos. The videos were undoubtedly in response to Microsoft’s video that showed Redmond’s latest vision of the future. The vision detailed in each video is extraordinary for two reasons: RIM thinks they have a future, but more importantly RIM thinks that a completely digital computing experience is the future.

The video opens with an employee setting his phone down on his desk, which then turns on a touchscreen in front on him and illuminates the desk space around his phone with a touch sensitive, gesture based UI. Later in the video, we see another gentleman set down his phone on his desk for a conference call. Once the phone is set down, it displays the information for his meeting on his desk. We see the new employee set down her phone on a special surface on a lunch table. The UI extends past the phone itself (because apparently the Streak 5-sized screen isn’t big enough). Later in the video we see the new employee type an email with a digital keyboard that her phone displays on her desk.  

I don’t think this vision of the future is impossible by any means, but I don’t think it’s the direction we ought to pursue. Using our phones as our main computing device has always been a dream of mine, but a completely digital world is not appealing to me. When I need to send a quick email I don’t mind typing on my Droid Incredible, especially with the stock Gingerbread keyboard. Auto correct works well enough for me to be able to send my thoughts quickly. When I want to type out a paper or something, however, I never want to use a digital keyboard. Even on a tablet, while I can use the keyboard to type, I prefer using a physical keyboard.

Even having a touchscreen as my main monitor doesn’t sound appealing to me. I always think that I’d like to have a touch screen on my netbook, but every time I’ve worked with a touch screen keyboard for any length of time I’m found myself plugging in a mouse before too long. Touch is not the be all end all way to interact with a device. It’s great for interacting with larger buttons or even some games, but for typing or drawing or hardcore gaming, I want a physical device (mouse/keyboard/controller). A purely digital device requires me to be looking down at my hands to ensure that my fingers are actually touching where I want them to. It’s not like a keyboard or game controller, where I can memorize button locations and functions through touch. A purely digital UI (especially one that can’t give haptic feedback) may allow for some memorization or common buttons, but I can’t feel my way around a digital keyboard or controller – I have to look.

I think one of the reasons why the ASUS Transformer was so popular (aside from price) was the keyboard dock. If you’re just using a tablet for media consumption then having a keyboard isn’t very important, but many people are beginning to see tablets as the netbook alternative. They have great (often better) battery life than netbooks and are increasingly able to perform more tasks that netbooks used to fulfill. Out of all of the tablets that have been released out announced, the Transformer Prime looks the most promising to me because it gives me all of the media functionality that a Galaxy Tab or Xoom has and it gives me the best productivity options. It’s not large and clunky like the Lenovo tablets, but it still has many of the expansion capabilities that I’d want in a netbook.

Another example of someone actually using the phone for more is the ASUS Padfone. This isn’t necessarily my favorite implementation of the idea, but the idea of putting your phone into a tablet is pretty cool. A better implementation of this (that is much closer to RIM’s vision) is Apple’s Airplay, which allows iPhone 4S and iPad 2 users to display whatever their device is showing on any TV connected to Apple TV. We’re only beginning to see how this could transform mobile computing with games like Real Racing 2 HD, but imagine connecting your phone to Google TV and being able to use a wireless keyboard and mouse to work on a presentation or watch a movie. Android@Home is definitely a step in the direction of using your phone for more as well. Instead of having multiple devices for multiple activities, you could run everything from one device.

RIM’s vision of the future may not be perfect and I have extreme doubts that it will be developed by them, but it does remind us that for all of our advances in technology, things could still get better. I don’t think a purely digital UI is the best implementation of that future, but I do think using our phones as our main device is not that far away.

What do you think? Do you dream of having only one device to use, or do you like having multiple devices for different activities? What do you think of RIM’s vision of the future? Do you want to see Google doing more with Google TV and Android@Home?


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