Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media


Selection from Cites & Insights 4, Number 14: December 2004


Interesting & Peculiar Products

Getting the Big Picture

Walt Crawford

Here it is, as promoted in the September 2004 Computer Shopper: wearable television! NHJ’s $219 VTV-101 TV-Wristwatch, with a 1.5" color screen (0.9" high and 1.2" wide, I presume). “It’s rated to run on an internal battery for about an hour and an external battery pack of four AA batteries for 3 hours.” [Emphasis added.] They don’t provide overall dimensions, but it looks to be a little over two inches in each dimension and more than half an inch thick. In other words, one seriously geeky watch. Wonder how long it actually functions as a watch after you’ve watched TV for an hour? It’s designed for the Japanese market, which explains a lot.

When it comes to real big pictures, the unfortunate news is that Intel decided not to pursue liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) imaging devices. LCoS has considerable potential for slim rear-projection TVs, and Intel believed that mass production would bring the price of 50" high-definition TVs down below $3,000. That will probably still happen, but possibly later or with an inferior technology.

Surface-Conduction Electron Emitters

Here’s one contender for high-quality, low-power big displays, eventually. It’s another version of a technology I’ve discussed in the past (3:10 and before), a variant on CRT technology that uses huge numbers of tiny emitters between two plates. Unlike LCD, DLP and LCoS, SEDs generate light directly.

It’s been a long time coming. I read about the technology quite a few years ago. Last year, I reported that Canon and Toshiba expected to introduce SED displays this year. Now, in a September announcement, the two companies say they’re investing $1.8 billion in a venture to manufacture the displays—and assert they’ll turn out 3,000 50-inch panels a month next year, aiming for 3 million units a year by 2010. Toshiba plans to use SEDs for TV sets bigger than 32", LCDs for smaller sets.

OQO: Vaporware No Longer?

Another one from the vaults. When I mentioned OQO in July 2002, working from a Wired News posting, the promise was for a “full-fledged Windows-powered PC the size of a pocket novel,” with 256MB RAM, a 10GB hard disk, 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless connectivity—for about $1,000. The CEO said, “Everyone we talk to wants this small thing.” Even the Wired writer wasn’t convinced there was a market—and at the time, it didn’t seem to include a keyboard.

That was July 2002. An April 2003 Computer Shopper preview said the OQO Ultra-Personal Computer was “set to launch,” with a 5" screen (800x480 resolution), 0.9x4.1x2.9" size and 9oz. weight, 1GHz Crusoe processor, “intended to be a primary PC” priced “around $1,500.” As I noted at the time, “You know, PC prices have been increasing so much lately…”

Here it is November 2004 (as I write this). Some time in the past few weeks, Newsweek had a full-page writeup on “Fingertip Windows.” Yep, there it is again, the OQO—to be unveiled “next month.” The OQO Model 01 “looks like a PDA but operates like a laptop,” with a “five-inch-wide screen,” a thumb keyboard that slides out, the same Toshiba 20GB hard disk used in the iPod, and a Crusoe CPU. The weight is up to 14oz. Oh, and now it’s $1,899, only available on OQO’s website. A review at handtops.com gives OQO’s dimensions as 4.9"x3.4"x0.9", so the screen isn’t five inches wide. Oddly enough, it is a wide-format screen, still 800x480 resolution. It has a touch screen but without handwriting recognition.

Is it real at last? Apparently. Is it “a holy grail of sorts in the tech world,” offering usable full-PC capacity in a fat-PDA case? Performance tests may be interesting: the Crusoe does a lot of emulation, making it substantially slower than its speed rating. It running Windows XP—but how well? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. But this sure is one of the longer-running “any day now” stories, for what seems to be an odd halfway point between PDA portability and the power of an ultralight portable PC. The handtop.com review doesn’t help much here—except to simultaneously say that “those who only need simple emailing/web applications and the occasional Web document” will find the OQO, attached to an external monitor and keyboard, powerful enough—and that businesses could buy OQOs for their mobile employees instead of laptops. Battery life is estimated at two to six hours. The OQO does have a fan.

An item in Media Life Magazine for October 27 notes that OQO’s Model 01 has reached the market to decidedly mixed reviews; “so far,” the item says, “consumers aren’t biting.” “Some of the drawbacks: Model 01 doesn’t have any built-in floppy disk or CD drives, making an add-on necessary to install software (unless it can be downloaded from the internet); the tool can get rather hot; and “the…processor isn’t as up to speed as processors found in many of today’s new computers.” Here’s the gotcha, and OQO’s dazzling defense against negative reviews: “Reviewers say that at the same price consumers could buy a very nice laptop; OQO says critics are missing the point by reviewing it as a laptop in the first place.”

There it is: You can’t call it an overpriced laptop, because it’s not a laptop. (An ultralight laptop would be cheaper, more powerful, much easier to type on, have a built-in CD or DVD drive, offer a much bigger screen—but it would also be bigger and at least twice as heavy.) You can’t call it a wildly overpriced PDA, because it’s not a PDA. (It won’t fit in a pocket, there’s no handwriting recognition, booting up presumably takes a lot longer—but it has a hard disk and runs regular Windows software.) It’s sui generis for now (but not for long), leaving only one little question: Does it serve a real need for a real market?

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 4, Number 14, Whole Issue 56, ISSN 1534-0937, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, a senior analyst at RLG. Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG. Comments should be sent to wcc@notes.rlg.org. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2004 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.

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