my vision of a perfect laptop

Recent news about an updated range of HP EliteBook (laptop / notebook) computers made me realize that I should compile a list of things I’d like to see on future laptops.

My list, or should I say: wishful thinking (but not utopia), does not include things that I don’t want to see on a laptop, and isn’t limited to material issues. Instead, it’s my own realistic approach to that “good-guy”-thing they’ve been talking about in IT since the very beginning.

Also, most of my observations are based on the business ranges from Dell, IBM/Lenovo, HP and also Acer. Some, if not all desired changes are already possible and available in some parts, others probably limited due to licensing or marketing reasons.

First: I’d like to see a leasing approach on most laptops so that they can be recycled and be made out of better materials.

You as a user / customer only pay for the use of these computers. The manufacturer shall use this relationship and consequently use materials of higher value which can be recycled (not downcycled). This c2c closing-the-loop concept is the basis for me on any product I like to purchase. I am not asking for “biodegradable” materials on my computer, but a good mixture of pollution-free materials that also won’t be toxic to any creature. This is important. There’s already so much toxic waste out there and we spend a great amount of time in front of a computer every day. So the computer should be made of non-toxic, recycable/reusable materials.

Having said that, the following is my list. I consider the display and the keyboard/touchpad the most important interfaces on a laptop.

  • Display: very bright, should be readable in direct sunlight without problems, high contrast, energy consumption should be very low, very good vertical and horizontal viewing angles, matte (not glossy) cover, ratio 16:10, ~ WXGA+ is ok. Probably also with a touchscreen option, which includes that it can be turned 180° around and flipped over (~ tablet computers).
    If this tablet option isn’t included, it should be possible to open all displays up to 180° (or similar).
  • Keyboard: manufacturer should offer the choice between chiclet and traditional keyboards. Keys should have a unique pressure point, enough width and no stupid layout “specials”. But since opinions on keyboards differ a lot – some ppl still prefer the ThinkPad layout – there should be different keyboard designs for the same machine. So those who prefer the “FN” key in lower left corner (instead of “Ctrl”), should be able to change it. Either via a hardware swap, or by using illuminated icons on the keys – similar to Art Lebedev’s Optimus Maximus keyboard.
    The keyboard should also be illuminated. But not via an external keyboard light like the one found on Lenovo ThinkPads or HP EliteBooks, but instead an illumination from beneath the keys – backlit keyboards. See DELL Latitude and Apple MacBookPro keyboard illumination – that’s the style I prefer.
  • Touchpad and / or Touchstick: users should have the flexibility to pick what they like best. I personally never use the touchstick, others love it. Also, the availibity of three buttons for those who need it (Linux users) is important – either virtual within pre-defined areas of the touchpad or physical. And not only on 15″+ laptops.
    It’s so easy to include another, third button, so I am wondering why not all laptops already have three mouse buttons.
  • Size: I like the 13″-14″ form factor best! This way they are often light enough to be carried around, accomodate a full qwertz/y keyboard and can still be balanced on your knees. 15″ is also ok with me for programmers who need the space on the screen.
    I used to believe that smaller computers are better and easier to carry, but in the end it doesn’t make a big difference if you have a 12″ or 14″ laptop to carry around. It’s the extras that matter here.
    I also believe that A LOT of people prefer a solution like the Mac Book Air where they’ll have the comfort of an OSX computer in a very light bundle with an attached keyboard. Also because more computing power often isn’t required. This may apply to those who do their conference hopping. Others who need their laptop as their “main machine” certainly require a real laptop (hence my post here).
  • Body: the “HP Duracase magnesium alloy chassis” on my current HP EliteBook is very nice and imo better than most ThinkPads or Latitudes. I would not want to compare it with the unibody aluminium chassis of recent Apple Mac Books because that’s a different approach to manufacturing, not worse or better. I think the ideal chassis stability depends on all other requirements. It may appear that the unibody structure is the best (as recent EliteBooks also come with a unibody-styled top cover).
    The aim for a durable laptop frame/chassis also includes details like the clam shell design introduced with ThinkPads back in the days where the display cover would not only sit on top of the keyboard (when closed), but also close the gap between the mainboard and the display, thus preventing any obstacles from entering into this area. I’ve seen that modern Elitebooks (i.e. 8640p) have some sort of rubber lip that’s supposed to do that. Interesting design.
    Some smarter engineering should also be applied on the display lock. I had to repair the one on my EliteBook – twice. After the second repair, the lock now works very fine. This is so basic yet HP messed it up on my machine.
    Likewise, all hinges on all laptops should be as stiff as the ones found on all recent business laptops. No complains here.
  • CPU & GFX: any Dual CPU is fine with me. I’d like to have an option where I can either choose between the internal or a dedicated gfx chip (both on the same machine, like some ThinkPads T400 had with hybrid gfx chips) OR a modern solution that already does that for me automatically so that I can play the occasional game on my laptop but will not complain about this battery drainer for the rest of the year.
    RAM and HDD can be swapped, so I won’t mention them any further.
  • Connectivity: This is a big one. Of course, USB 3.0 ports. Three or four would be nice (my current laptop has three USB 2.0 ports). Firewire? Never needed it. Express/54 cards? Why? Who needs them? How many business users actually need it? Fingerprint reader. Yes. SecureChip thingy for business users? Yes. Audio-OUT, Audio-IN _AND_ LINE-IN? Yes, so you can use these audio ports on a professional basis and don’t have to add another external audio card (e.g. I use Line-In for Software Defined Radio audio sampling). Oh, and the sound from the internal speakers should also be loud enough for most users. Some professional laptops that cost more than 1500€ are still sold with horrible speakers. Microphones? Of course, stereo. Webcam? Yes, but with a simple hardware cover.
    CD/DVD/BlueRay….hmm… yes, but always make it swapable so that those who don’t need it can insert a 2nd HDD instead. Card-Reader: yes, of course, and not only SD/MMC. RJ-11? :-) RJ-45? of course! Display ports: if possible – all of them. If not, VGA & HDMI? Bluetooth? Min. 2.1, if not higher. Wifi? Yes, a/b/g/n. InfraRed? No, outdated.
    WWAN, yes, all antennas and a modem that will work with all operating systems (i.e. not this Qualcomm Gobi thing). GPS? Is included with modern Gobi modems. GPS should be accessible. All components should be lockable and unlockable on BIOS level from all operating systems (= you won’t have to boot into Windows just to unlock your disabled WiFi to be used in GNU/Linux).
  • Docking station: all laptops should have a connector for a docking station (not just USB dockings, but real ones). This is so basic but still my main reason why I am not using an Apple MacBook. No docking station, no fun. And please, this “docking” is a bad joke.
  • Battery: Minimum battery runtime on the default battery with surfing and wifi on should be 6h. Period.
    Batteries should also be removable/serviceable by the user, also because they don’t last as long as the machine.
    I don’t know if battery technology will change that much during the next 3-4 years, and my hope is that we find a technology which would enable the production of energy the moment we need it – which would then elliminate the need for high capacity batteries. But as long as we haven’t achieved this, I’d like to see less heat on computers. The generated heat is where all that wasted energy goes to. Imo, optimize the energy consumption and you’ll also fix the heat problem. Regulate much more components, make them use only as much energy as they need. Use more sensors to double check that. Really, there are ways of achieving this and it’s not that hard. But it’s a buying decision. And it’s not about buying spare batteries. If you think the average customer spends around 150€ on spare batteries, just improve your energy management and add this as a surplus charge on your product. Any customer will pay more (see Apple!!) if runtime is improved. I will depend my next buying decision on a) display quality and b) battery runtime.
  • Heat: as mentioned above, heat is a problem with most laptops. I like the fan intake on ThinkPads (my main reason for ThinkPads) which is located at the side of the chassis. On Dell and HP, it’s both at the bottom. This is stupid. And on MacBooks? You don’t get to hear the vents most of the time but ask any MBP owner on heat problems. Yes.
    I would also like to have a computer I can take to work in a dry, hot and sunny African country without having to worry about any components. Cooling, as a start, should be excellent. Again, there’s so much potential on the heat dissipation thing.
  • Power Supply: Power supplies shouldn’t weigh more than 300gr, should be as small as possible, should NOT come with these really thick 230V cables even if the law still says so (ha! – but the cable weighs more than the transformer…), they all should have magnetic plugs as found on MacBooks (Apple, PLEASE licence this to others) and they should all have an LED indicator light (yes, some still don’t have this!). An LED on both the transformer and the plug.
  • Operating Systems: I like Windows. I like Windows because it works fine on my laptop. I like OSX because it works fine on MacBooks. I like GNU/Linux on desktop PC because it doesn’t give a damn about battery runtime. Honestly, I don’t care about the used OS as long as it is adjusted to the hardware I am using.
    It’s the details. Hardware that will only work on Windows, not in GNU/Linux even though the machine is certified to be compatible with SUSE Linux. Yeah, right. Software that will *know* how to address my hardware and will make proper use of it. This actually is one of those 1:0 situations for Apple. I prefer their approach (but they don’t have serious docking stations, etc. etc.).Instant-On-OS: a second, simple OS that may be switched on when the computer is offline. Many tasks are web based these days, some just require a quick check on computer data. It would be nice to have this on my “good laptop” (my EliteBook has this where it’s called “QuickLook” and “QuickWeb”…. but HP, well…., HP is a big bureaucratic company with no clear vision on things, it seems. It still does not work as beautiful as it should probably do).Also, as this often depends on the OS the laptop came shipped with: a clear policy on user data. Create a second partition, find a way to easily backup your home directory. Give users more flexibility in securing their data. After all, the hardware may die but your data should survive. It’s almost like asking manufacturers to have an extra HDD just for the static user data, and an SSD for the OS and programs only.

I think that a lot of the mentioned details above will still not be possible because of:

  1. marketing reasons (because they want to sell more, because their product managers are salespersons and not end users)
  2. technical limitations (the heat problem, smaller power supplies)
  3. licensing issues (patents on technologies such as the magnetic plug, and maybe also the fan intake on the side?)
  4. companies, who are the main customers of business laptops, don’t have such requirements and prefer machines that provide a controllable IT environment instead of any desired flexibility
  5. there’s still no such good + open + secure operating system that will play very well with the attached hardware.
  6. The design is done with a short product cycle, planned obsolescence, no dedicated C2C policy and in regions where quick wins are more important than overall achievements and happy customers (that’s why I suggested the leasing model, btw, because it would help a company to extend the product cycle and so much more).
    You can see this with the Qualcomm Gobi WWAN (UMTS/EVDO) modem which is a very nice piece of hardware, but was designed only once and all manufacturers then adopted this design to their needs. Probably licensing issues and the lack of human resources that limit the availibility of proper GNU/Linux drivers for this modem. Not good.
  7. Who designs these laptops? Engineers in the US, in Europe or China? Does each company have their own engineers? I don’t think so. Are these engineers paid to define what users/customers need and want? Who sets these targets? And what kind of relationship do these companies want to have with their customers? Are they interested in a relationship that goes beyond selling hardware and spare parts?

If there’s any serious manufacturer out there who would like to build THE perfect laptop: I am available. :-)

4 days on Android

old vs. new

There’s something about Apple’s iPhone that just won’t go away. I think it’s this “one button to rule them all” philosophy – the home button – that will make things a bit easier for the user.

When you’re already used to an iPhone, it’s hard to switch to any other mobile OS, especially if this includes letting go of a beloved app and a service that made things a bit easier for me:

  1. the app to control my bank account (currently no Android app available)
  2. no push notifications for Android 2.1 & Twitter app

I may be repeating myself here, but such a basic and important service like Twitter push notifications (forget about Facebook) not being available on my Android device is really sad. The only alternative to this is the use of an automatic sync (~ every 15 min.) via TweetDeck, Hootsuite & Co..

Else, my first 4 days on an Android device were less hectic. I received the phone, installed the latest available update (it’s still on Android 2.1!) and downloaded a plethora of interesting apps. Apps that I can even share with the rest of the world via Appbrain. Wow!

You know it’s a bit irritating when you’re already using Google Chrome, have a Gmail account, sync everything via this account and then you are wondering where your bookmarks are. Not synced! Why? No browser on Android supports this. Yes, there’s an extra app for this + I am a LastPass/Xmarks Pro user, so solutions are available, but still – this chaos at Google reminds me of Nokia’s Ovi.

Unfortunately, the Moto Defy also still has some open software issues and tends to “forget” a few settings after each reboot. I will also need to optimize energy consumption on it – my Symbian approach of closing apps which are not in use does not really work with Android.

As for the iOS vs. Android discussions:

  • Need games? => iOS
  • Need your (Google) tasks & calendar on a home screen? => Android
  • You’re fine with iTunes? => iOS
  • Want to backup your phone to a Dropbox account? => Android

To be honest, I am still at this point where I think that an iPhone is the better phone for most consumers – even though I’ve seen a lot of iPhone users who’d even be ok with a simple Nokia S40 phone (as they only need telephony and SMS).

Should I stay or should I go…

The following blog post may be filed under “things I do when I am supposed to do other, much more important stuff instead”, but I just need to write it down and share it here.

I am in the process of buying a new mobile phone, and my switch to the iPhone Classic some month ago made me realize that – in the end – I am no real software hacker (hardware, yes) and prefer a system that’s reliable and just does the job.

P1030474
main screen on my iPhone Classic
(note the Full Body Film coming off on the top right corner)

Meaning, the limited options on an iPhone Classic with a jailbroken iOS 3.1.2 aren’t necessarily negative, because you end up using only a few apps of the 140+ apps I’ve meanwhile installed on the system and also adjust to the user interface. I think we are human enough to accept user interface design flaws as long as we’re getting things done.

From my experience with Symbian and iOS so far, I can tell that iOS is kick ass and only has a few things that I would probably like to change (on 3.1.2, but also 4.x). There’s a plethora of apps available for iOS, there are many good apps also ONLY available for iOS (like the app provided by my bank) and everything is just very straight forward. There’s no doubt that Apple’s / Steve Job’s ZEN approach and the things they DON’T do or offer on their devices isn’t wrong, but instead one of the main reasons for their success – even in Japan, where analysts feared that the somewhat limited iPhones wouldn’t succeed (as stated in this brilliant article).

This week I went to a local Twitter meetup and realized that almost everyone was using an iPhone. Except for two coders who were on Android devices.

JKEs-iPhone-Classic

the back side of my iPhone Classic – with the partly worn out & yellowish Full Body Film (that covers the gaps on the aluminium back).
QR Code = my address for business contacts

Android and iOS. Let me be clear on this: I judge phones on their reliability and what I can do with them. I said it before, Nokia does not interest me anymore despite their awesome (really awesome and unbeaten) hardware. The camera on my Nokia N95 from 2007 is still very good when compared to current devices. And this although it only has an LED flash!

It’s the apps. No apps, no fun.

Hence it’s only iOS or Android to me these days. Likewise, any change of mobile phone operating systems has to be well planned. Seach the now (eventually also via web accessible!) Android app store online and see which app relates to the one you like best on your iPhone. Also, sometimes there’s no extra app necessary on Android as the functionality is also included on the default operating system. I am a bit afraid of software hacking any future phone, but going through the various forums/fora online I realize that a lot of ppl manage to hack their Android devices, so I should also manage to hack it to some extend.

JKE-iphone-Classic-docking
iPhone Classic docking station

Hardware

What you see in the snapshot above is the very nice, small & slim docking station for my iPhone Classic. I have two of them – one on my desk and one on my bed table. This is VERY convenient and also necessary, because they battery on this phone isn’t original and only lasts 8-10 hours maximum. I am using Kirikae multitasking switches and SBStoggles on the iPhone to kill unnecessary apps and free available RAM, there are no constant data connections and I mainly use it for Twitter/FB/Reader & as a phone. The battery and the display are both not original and thus a bit peculiar on energy consumption. Missing 3G speed, a lousy camera, battery life and limitations of iOS 3.1.2 now made me consider an upgrade to:

a) an iPhone 4, paid for in installments @ 25 EUR / month, iOS 4.x (= 649 EUR)
or
b) a Motorola DEFY, Android 2.1 (+ unofficial UK upgrade to 2.2), currently selling for ~ 290 EUR

Now, given that I can get the same things done with a cheaper Android device like the Motorola DEFY, why should I upgrade to an Apple iPhone 4? From a “let’s-be-real” perspective, the DEFY will just do as well. Most of the apps I am using will also be available via Android Market, and since I’ve also already jailbroken my iOS device, I will probably be able to hack an Android device, right?

Right?

Interestingly, one of the main reasons why I still haven’t bought the DEFY is the lack of a docking station. The DEFY also has its connector on the left side, so you’ll either have to modify a Motorola Milestone docking station (with a magnet, so that the display flips 90° to the side) or build your own, but in any case I will always have to remove the plastic/rubber flap that covers the USB port on the DEFY. Do I really want that? And will they be dureable enough?

Another alternative would probably also be an HTC DESIRE on Android 2.2 because it has its docking port at the bottom. This, the availability of many custom firmwares and the camera on the HTC DESIRE are reasons why I would go for an HTC DESIRE. But for the moment, also because of it’s rugged character – the Motorola DEFY is rated as IP67 – the DEFY looks like a current Android device with a very good value for money. The still missing & rather complicated docking station issue and the only average camera (I take a lot of photos for use on my Posterous blog) – sijui… will still have to make up my mind on this.

The recent launch of the Huawei IDEOS U8150 in Kenya triggered my interest in low-cost Android devices. A friend, who is currently programming a scientific app for Android devices, also recently recommended the DEFY (given my budget) as he’s currently using one himself. I had the chance of playing with the DEFY for a few minutes and liked what I saw. Of course, it’s not an iPhone 4, but it costs only half as much and makes me getting things done.

So here’s the question: wait for the iPhone5, buy an Android device like the DEFY or DESIRE, invest into an iPhone 4 or stick with the old one because there’s never “the right time” for buying Android devices?

(pls note that I didn’t even mention the convenient microSD card memory on these Android devices & the lack of iTunes, which is a nightmare on Windows & also reason for the change to Android)

What I don’t like about Apple MacBooks…

Interestingly, you’ll find quite a few “10 reasons why I dislike my MacBook Pro” posts on the internet, but you won’t find blog posts titled “10 things that I hate about my HP Elitebook xyz” . While that’s pretty amusing, it’s about time to add my own reasoning. Also, I need to find out why people love their MacBooks so much.

Continue reading “What I don’t like about Apple MacBooks…”

En attendant Android

I’ve been meaning to post this on my blog, even prepared a post in German, but then realized that 50% of the post is a rant on Nokia and decided to rewrite/repost it in English.

So, the following is a list of iPhone Apps which are running on my iPhone 2G (reassembled from scrap), and which should also be available on Android 2.x (and which may already be available). Thought about documenting this private list offline, but then: why shouldn’t I share it with you?

  • Twitter (ex Tweetie, very nice Twitter client)
  • Read It Later
  • ShopShop (shopping list)
  • Alarm :-)
  • AroundMe (shops within the area, location based)
  • Barcooo (Barcodereader)
  • DB Navigator (Deutsche Bahn timetable)
  • DHL (calculator for postal charges & parcel tracking via DHL)
  • Dropbox (sync files between devices)
  • eBay (follow auctions from the phone)
  • Evernote (sync notes between devices)
  • HootSuite (another Twitter client)
  • Instapaper (similar to ReadItLater)
  • iPostbank (online banking, search for nearest atm)
  • Last.FM (streaming music client)
  • MeinProspekt / KaufDA (advertising brochures as PDF, really cool)
  • VNC (virtual network computing)
  • Morse-it (awesome morse code trainer and my initial reason why I switched to the iPhone in the first place)
  • OpenMaps (OpenStreetMap client)
  • OperaMini (alternative browser)
  • Payback (…)
  • PlugPlayer (or any other NAS player)
  • Qype Radar
  • Sipgate (Sipgate (VoIP) client)
  • Skype
  • SPB TV (live TV streams)
  • Stanza (eBook Reader)
  • TeamViewer (remote login tool)

There are about 140 apps currently installed on my iPhone 2G – some really good ones, other just very average – but the ones from the list above are the ones I use on a regular basis.

IMG 0328
JKE’s home screen on the iPhone in May 2010

I also don’t do games (except for Labyrinth2, BiA or NSFU) because most of the time when I am bored and pull out the phone, I rather use Twitter, Facebook or ReadItLater to check out news.

So why Android?

I think my next phone will be an HTC device, running an instance of the Android OS. I also like the iPhone and will keep it for the moment until the functionality of all apps mentioned above is also available on Android. I’ve even accepted iTunes running on my Windows machine, which used to be a no-go for a very long time.

I am thinking about an HTC device because I miss the good camera from my Nokia N95 (& E72) on the iPhone. A flash would also be nice – and since Apple obviously won’t deliver, it’ll be an HTC device next up.

Nokia? Maybe when they’ve returned from the current chaos.

Being a hardware guy, I think it’s interesting to see how I’ve switched my preferences to some extent from good hardware (Nokia) to the availability of various software products (Apple).

This (software > hardware) is so eminent in 2010, isn’t it?