Standing on the Shoulders of Mobile Giants, Part 0a: Prada

I’ve kind of painted myself in a corner with that headline, because I never anticipated I would need another preview article for this project. However, thanks to all your comments on both the site and through email, the scope of this project has grown considerably. As part of this growing scope, I’m acquiring more and more devices, and yesterday, I managed to score a phone which, while almost forgotten by most of the rest of the technology press, contained two very important firsts. Not only was this the first phone with a capacitive touch screen, it was also the first phone with an interface design from the ground-up for finger/touch input. Say hello to the LG KE850, better known as the LG Prada.

The scope of this project has grown. To give you an idea: I’m going to detail large parts of mobile/pocket computing history, starting with what I’m calling the ‘calculator years’, on to the ‘pen years’, followed by the ‘finger years’. I’m going to talk about the history of each of these epochs, important devices in each of these epochs, and so on. I’ll also detail how the various bits of technology work, where they were developed, and so on, and so forth.

This broadened scope is ‘forcing’ me to get my hands on even more devices. One OSNews reader (I’m not entirely sure if he or she wants to remain anonymous or not) is going to send me two very important Sony Clié PalmOS devices, and he pointed me to an important angle that will be included in the article; namely, how Sony was the driving force for many PalmOS features. David, OSNews’ owner, will send me an Android device so I won’t have to rely on luring Android-packing friends over with the promise of beer and porn chips.

This left me with two other devices I need to get my hands on. First, with this broadened scope it’s virtually impossible to get around including first-hand experiences with the Apple Newton. I’m searching my bum off for one, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The other one can be crossed off the list – I also couldn’t get around trying out the very first touch/finger-based device, the LG Prada.

So, I bought one yesterday, used. Unveiled in late 2006, released in 2007 (before the iPhone), the LG Prada was overladen with all sorts of awards, and it was followed by pretty decent sales figures too. Not only was it the first phone with a capacitive touch screen (like the iPhone), it also packed an interface designed from the ground-up for touch and finger-based input.

It’s pretty clear that almost every touch-based mobile phone today is pretty much a ‘copy’ of the LG Prada – but then, what else are you going to do with a phone consisting mostly of screen? I was surprised by how nice-looking the Prada really is in real-life – very humble, almost unassuming. The default theme, designed by Prada, is very minimalist, and the subtle animations in the interface – albeit it a bit sluggish – are very nice.

I bought the rarer silver model, so you can’t see it very well, but especially the black version of the LG Prada looks remarkably like an iPhone 4. If Samsung can be called a copycat, then sure as hell so can Apple. Not that I personally care – I think it’s great that good, sensible, and beautiful design is being copied. That’s how mankind progresses.

Further details about the Prada will make their way into the article, which, aside from being published on OSNews, will also be available as an ebook. You’ll be able to buy it straight from OSNews itself, in PDF format (and maybe DjVu if there’s demand), with beautiful typography (I’m putting a lot of effort into that). There will be no silly DRM, and you can share it with your friends in whatever way you like. With a bit of luck, enough people buy it so I can break/even on the devices I’m buying for this project.

As I said in the previous article, don’t expect this to be done within a few weeks – more likely, we’re looking at somewhere October or November. I’m really excited about all this, so keep sending me comments and emails about devices or technologies that just must be in there!


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