While the current crop of handhelds is good, it could be better. There are three technologies currently being developed that could significantly improve future handhelds.
Long-time handheld users look back with nostalgia to the days when their handhelds ran for weeks or even months on a pair of AAA batteries. Batteries simply haven’t kept up with the increasing power demands made by color screens and faster processors.
As it stands now, prudent people get in the habit of putting their handheld in the cradle every night to be sure it is fully charged for the next day. If they take a handheld on a trip, most people bring some way to charge it. While this might be what we’re used to, it certainly isn’t ideal.
A potential solution is the fuel cell. These convert methanol into water and power. A lot of power. Way more power than an equivalent size battery.
Naturally, there are a few problems, like what to do with the excess water. The latest prototypes put the water back in the same container with the methanol and deal with the gradually decreasing concentration of methanol on the mix.
Initially, I think you’ll be filling up your own canisters from a bottle. I know some of you are thinking right now “No one will put up with that.” I think we will… if a single fill up will last long enough, like a week.
Later, I suspect you’ll be able to buy standard sized fuel cells in stores, like you do batteries now.
Everyone would like the screen on their handheld to be the same size as the one on their regular computer, as long as they don’t have to lug around a full-sized computer monitor.
One way to get around this is with near-eye displays. These are tiny screens that sit close to your eye and look like large displays that are several feet from your eye.
Typically these are included as part of a pair of eyeglasses. One eye can see the screen while the other is free to let you see where you are walking.
According to a study by Ohio State University, users of the latest models of these said they were as comfortable to use as a standard monitor.
I don’t think people are going to walk around everywhere looking at computer screens. I think these monitors will be used like we use headphones now. If you want to listen to some music, you put on some headphones and then take them off when you’re done. The same will be true for your near-eye display. These will probably be wirelessly connected to the handheld.
Of course, you’ll need some way to control a mouse. Obviously you can’t have a Touchscreen on a near-eye display. You could easily add a small trackball to the handheld, though.
However, I think handhelds will still have small screens on them, handy for when you just want to check a phone number or something.
Graffiti, Block Recognizer, and other handwriting recognition solutions aren’t bad but what you really need for quick input is a full-sized keyboard.
The Stowaway folding keyboard offers this in a relatively small package but even it is sometimes too bulky. What would be ideal is a way to have a full-size keyboard that fits into your handheld.
This isn’t as impossible as it sounds. A company called VKB Ltd. is developing a virtual keyboard. A laser projects an image of a keyboard onto a flat surface which can then be typed on as if it were actually there.
There are other companies working on different solutions but the VKB one is the one I think is the most practical.
In the same way that handhelds with near-eye displays will also have regular screens, I think handhelds with virtual keyboards will also include an alternate way to enter text simply because a flat surface isn’t always available.
Unfortunately, it’s going to be a long time before any of this reaches the market. Toshiba announced this week that it planned to release a laptop powered by a fuel cell next year. Scientists are still working to make near-eye displays smaller, lighter, and more affordable. Companies are still working the bugs out of virtual keyboards. However, I believe the day will come when all of these will be in common use.