The Unobtainium — Imagining Tomorrow’s Handhelds

People keep asking me what I think is the highlight of the O’Reilly Open Source Convention. I keep saying it’s the Unobainium.

That’s Jim Gettys’ tongue-in-cheek name for the incredible — but, so far, unobtainable — item he’s showing folks here:

alt=”The Unobtainable Compaq iPaq”>

This is a Compaq iPaq, but not like any you’ve ever seen.

The handheld, a research prototype, comes out of Compaq’s Cambridge Research Lab. It shows some of what’s possible today — and, as Gettys notes, what’s certain to be available in the not-distant future.

This one is a Linux-based machine. Attached are a VGA video camera and an audio jack that accepts input as well as producing output — a microphone as well as headphones, in other words.

There’s also H.323 video-conferencing built into the device, as well as Internet Protocol Version 6 , and more. Gettys says the company is building 100 prototypes.

An especially cool feature is the accelerometer. To put it simply, this means that when Gettys turns the handheld horizontally, the video display re-orients itself in landscape mode. Turned vertically, it orients in portrait mode. Automatically.

Gettys suggests more interesting uses for the accelerometer. For example, he imagines, you might “throw” a slide or presentation at a screen and have it appear. Or toss a business card to an associate.

Keep in mind that this is a full-blown computer, just one in a small box. It contains a 200-MHz StrongARM processor, more powerful than the PC CPU that was on my desk a year ago. Gettys points out that he can do actual software development on this machine.

It won’t be an Unobtainium for long, if Compaq has any corporate brains.


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