After playing around with my brand new infrared v90 modem for my PDAs (expect a review soon), it got me thinking…For almost the same size of that modem, someone could place in there electronics also for ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b) and Bluetooth 1.2 Class I (100 meters/330 ft) in addition to existing serial/IR modem support. Remove two batteries from the case’s design and the size of the device should remain the same. Two batteries for such a device should last at least 10-15 hours, the current 4 batteries of the Pegasus III can do 30 hours and they recharge automatically when using the DC.
Basically, such an imaginary device would work as a networking bridge for a PDA or laptop, a PDA that would have no other means to communicate other than infrared. Most Sony Clie are like that and most Palm PDAs too. Only recent PocketPCs include either WiFi or Bluetooth in them. But no matter how you see it, 70% of the active PDAs in the world today have no means to directly communicate with the internet/network, and the ones that do have the means, not always are in a situation where they can use their WiFi or BT internal modules because the user might be on a place outside of his wireless network (e.g. on vacation, in a hotel while on a business trip, or visiting another company and needs to use the net quickly). With this imaginary device I am describing here, even an old PalmV, or an 4 year-old iPaq, or an older Zaurus device, or a Windows laptop, would be able to connect to the network without much hassle via the method available each time.
Personally, I have four PDAs at my home: one of them is able to do WiFi (Sony Clie TH-55), one of them is able to do both WiFi and BT (Dell x50v) and the other two (PalmV, Sony Clie T615C) can’t connect to the net directly at all (only via offline syncing methods like AvantGo). And to make things even worse, there is no Bluetooth or WiFi or modem or ethernet SD or memory sticks sold anymore (besides, they become expensive when they are implemented on these CF/SD/MMS protocols), and so these PDAs can’t be expanded to add network connectivity to them (there are a few expensive compact flash ethernet/modem addons but for PocketPCs only). You may argue that most of the internet sucks via a small-screen browser, but hey, OSNews.com does not. And I find IM and email usage also usable via a PDA, and so I argue that extending these PDAs that happen to lack onboard or third party connectivity support is a good thing.
A great connectivity example is my 12″ Apple Powerbook which comes with BT, Wifi, Ethernet and 56k modem. It’s a true mobile device and it features all means necessary to login to any given network while away from home/work, depending on what method is available each time. So why a PDA should not be able to do the same? I believe that the strengths of PDAs are underestimated. My latest PDA, the Dell x50v, has a 624 Mhz CPU, 128 MB ROM, 64 MB RAM, VGA 640×480 hi-res screen (via a hack), WiFi, Bluetooth, 1.2 GB storage via SD/CF and yes, a 16 MB 3D accelerated card (!). My PDA’s CPU speed is *faster* than my main desktop machine’s which runs Windows XP (533 Mhz). How about that for a PDA, huh?
I believe that it’s not difficult to bridge IR with modem/eth/wifi/BT, it just requires a bit of a clever thinking and some well-architected drivers… And if such a device was able to sell for something like $99, I believe that it would be a great hit, because it would feature all five ways of communicating with a network, all in a small device!
Many will say that Infrared communications are slow (115.2Kbps for most devices, 4Mbps for some PocketPCs) and that it would be reduntant to communicate a PDA to this IR device when the IR device itself is connected on its backend to a fast network via BT or Wifi or Ethernet. These people would be misguided though, because the point of such a device is NOT to get speedy connections to move files or multimedia around, but the ability to connect *any* PDA/laptop/tabletPC to the network for some basic usage. Infrared’s 115.2Kbps is not that bad of a speed either to download your email or browse the web. Nobody is going to download and store mp3s or movies via his/her PDA anyway, and so, fast bandwidth is not really required for the true purposes of such a device. Sure, infrared means that my PDA needs to have a line of sight with the device at all times, but at least it gives me a feeling of [semi-]wireless experience. Besides, if the device was not infrared and was instead depending on proprietary cables, it would significantly limit the number of supported PDAs, because each PDA has its own, different kind, connector. And that would be a disaster for support, sales and compatibility for the company that would create this product. Personally, I would not mind sacrificing speed for the ability to connect anywhere and via any method.
Regarding support, it would be nice to see drivers for all major versions of WindowsCE/PPC, PalmOS v3.5 and up, Zaurus, Windows 9x/2k/XP, Linux and hey, why not? the Apple Newton & Danger’s Hiptop/Sidekick. That would be fun!
Regarding Bluetooth: not many use their BT-equiped phones as modems, neither many people have Bluetooth access points, but it’s still useful to be there. Remember, the functionality of Bluetooth in such a device would just be as a “net client”, it would not be a bluetooth modem neither it would sport a full Bluetooth implementation. So, adding Bluetooth to this communication device wouldn’t be too difficult from the engineering point of view.
Anyways, having the device doing at least 56k modem, ethernet and WiFi and be able to connect any PDA/TabletPC/Laptop to any given network, is priceless. I wish someone could create such a multi-device with a small form factor, using two AAA batteries and optional DC, serial support and the Infrared FIR protocol for up to 5 meters, for $99. It would rock the mobile world and it would fuel a new era of web design professionals optimizing for small screen devices! Just create the need for it!
Your faithful gadget geek,
but the price is absolutely unrealistic. That would cost ~200$ minimum (bt, wifi, v90, ethernet + ir + firmware to operate all of them + drivers)
The IR costs about $2 USD. It’s by far the cheapest of all. Bluetooth and WiFi cost about $10 each to implement in the OEM circles. Ethernet and modem is less than $7 each. The rest, is just the hardware parts, R&D, driver writing, and testing.
I believe that $99 is realistic these days for such a device, however, even if the device was offered at, let’s say, $129, it would still be a good price for the features.
BTW, lets not forget that the Bluetooth stack would not need to be fully implemented (only “net client” mode is needed), and that saves money on R&D and driver writing.
Interesting idea. However, power consumption of WIFI would require to use some low power 802.11b chipset, which in turn would drive up the cost significantly.
My little surway on prices for serial2bluetooth modules (did that 2-3 months ago, with the hope to internally “bluetoothize” my sony clie by soldering inside the beast) proves smth. VERY different. 80$+.
And these modules seem to me to be the perfect fit for the device described… I really want to be proven wrong…
IR requires line of sight-holding the PDA’s Ir eye to this device would be cumbersome 🙂
In regard to BT and using BT enabled mobiles to connect to the internet with a laptop/PDA, I did that when I was on the go and I had two separate devices. Two devices are kinda cumbersome so now I have an HTC blue angel (Siemens SX66 variety). At home I have WiFi and at work I have WiFi so I dont have to worry about getting online with my laptop anymore from weird locations, but i still have the option
You’ll need at least 3 batteries (to provide a bit over 3.3V), but most probably 4 (to get 5V) – it’ll give a lot more freedom in choosing the components. As was said, operating a WiFi antenna takes an awful lot of juice, and short-range bluetooth would probably be the preferred solution for such applications. I’m not saying that WiFi isn’t a good idea to have, I’m just skeptical about whether it can be run on 2 or 4 AAs for a reasonable amount of time (let’s say 4 to 6 hours) without either a bigger LiIon battey or an external PSU.
Eugina…. With all of those devices, you will need massive up-front costs for FCC testing. Also, I would recommend an AC Adapter or an ON / OFF switch for every type of network because with ALL of them ON all the time, constantly polling to see if new wireless connnections are availble, you will be draining your battery life for no good reason.
Also, 802.11x takes significantly more power than most people realize, ESPECIALLY IF IT’S OPERATING AS A GATEWAY. Like 0.5Amps.
Blue Tooth and 802.11b,g use the same frequency range, so their antennas would be the same size, just operating on different channels. The radio hardware would have to be pretty clean and have EXCELLENT FILTERING between channels (not the cheapola stuff you see for $9.99 at CompUSA.)
The processor wouldn’t have to be any big deal since it’s just forwarding data and “discovering” MAC ids and network connections to make.
You’d want SOME security, ATLEAST a password on the thing, since if I’m wardriving, I can now bridge over to your PDA and read your address book, sensitive information you capture at meetings (like the drawings you make of your boss while he’s speaking,) and your contacts.
For V.90 modems, there are already MANY whole solutions in FPGA / ASIC. If your product was VERY cost senstive, I’d go for the win-modem type and do as much as possible in firmware / software.
What I would recommend, if you had the resources, BIG IF,
is do all of your hardware design in a very large and very fast FPGA. Buy a Strong ARM core and implement it. There’s your processor. Design in enough ram, etc. Allow for an update system via USB or other HARDWIRED connection.
When newer standards or better compression algorithms or more channels of the 2.4GHz band get opened by the FCC, you will not need to re-spin the PCB. You can simply do a firmware update and boom, new product.
Each of the topologies you’ve mentioned are VERY refined, especially V.90 and ethernet and IR. Each has had its design absoultely squeezed to reduce cost over the years. each one has it’s own ASIC (in this case, basically a program + processor + RAM all in one chip.)
If you were to BUY *GASP* the IP core *GASP* for a good processor, buy the IP core for a v.90 modem, buy the IP core for ethernet nics, and implement the hardware / firmware for IrDA yourself (its a very easy protocol and the hardware COULD NOT BE SIMPLER, you could produce this product yourself with all LICENSED IP CORES and be “in production” in your basement in 1 month.
Your biggest cost would be licensing of existing, very refined IP Cores, the software tools, and the FCC listing (See Part 15.239 and Part 62 (I think that one is POTs lines connected gear [v.90 modems].)
What you have to weigh are the usual constraints:
Either you want to spend NO MONEY and do it all yourself, all Core development, and PCB assembly (where the only cost is the time you put in and the cost of parts used.) This takes THE LONGEST TO GET TO MARKET. Leads to greatest $$$ per unit of sale.
or you want to spend LOTS OF MONEY, buy all the needed IP, tools, and get to market in a few months. Leads to lower $$$ per unit of sale.
or you can pay someone offshore to do it for you (no support). Leads to mid-level $$$ per sale, but will probably ruin your company in the long run when changes are needed if your developer disappears.
I think this is a very interesting idea and I would buy one if it were under $200 and small enough to fit in a coat pocket or even a backpack. This would be very helpful and useful at the hotel or in the coffee shop (with WiFi), when I just had to get that email off, needed to check movie times, reserve a rental car, etc. I would like to see the option at least to be able to plug into a wall outlet to conserve/charge the battery (I would go with lithium).
Your idea sounds like a winner, but for more than just PDAs.
1) You should a USB 2.0 (or 1.1 at minimum) port. Then, the manufacturer of the device can sell cables that connect from the USB port of the device directly to your PDAs interface and reduce the IR speed bottleneck. You could have cables that are all USB on one end, but Dell, Palm, HP, etc on the other. Heck, it should be able to work with the existing USB sync cables that people already have.
2) Not all laptops have all the connectivity that your 12” powerbook has. If a USB to USB cable were provided, you could connect this to another other laptop (or desktop for that matter) to get connected.
It would be simple enough to have a CD with drivers/applications for Win32, PocketPC, Palm, Symbian, etc.
3) Lastly, since you covered all wireless spectrums other that cellular, why not add in EDGE/1xRTT/EVDO? Then, the user just needs to activate it with the cellular provider and have another communications method.
Granted, the extras may not fit the $99 budget, but consider this: I can almost guarantee that *if* you can fit all of these functions into one device, and *if* it sells and people are interested, someone would be willing to license it and would make it smaller, faster, and with better battery life. Of course, unless you already patented your idea, you just lost out on all your royalties.
Put in a 4GB compact flash card (they’re cheap enough these days to be in sub-$100 MP3 players). At least then, I would install Linux and setup a bogus access point/fake login page to trap the username/password of the T-Mobile users at my local Starbucks, then use that to configure the 802.11b in your device and bridge my way on over, and with an extra layer of anonymity since the MAC address of my laptop would now *not* be in the real access point’s logs (only the MAC of the multi-device would show up).
Heck, now that I think about it… add an LCD screen to the case and embedded Linux on a CF card and we have, well, a PDA.
And make sure you call it the “Choo Choo”. After all, its going to be “The Little Engine That Could” for all the devices that couldn’t.
“My latest PDA, the Dell x50v, has a 624 Mhz CPU, 128 MB ROM, 64 MB RAM, VGA 640×480 hi-res screen (via a hack)”
I just got the same PDA…but you said you are running 640×480 VGA via a hack…What hack is that?
> Also, I would recommend an AC Adapter or an ON / OFF switch for every type of network because with ALL of them ON all the time, constantly polling to see if new wireless connnections are availble, you will be draining your battery life for no good reason.
No. Only one connection at the time should be made available, depending on the switch selected. When for example the switch is set to ETHERNET, the rest of the components would be off.
> Also, 802.11x takes significantly more power than most people realize, ESPECIALLY IF IT’S OPERATING AS A GATEWAY. Like 0.5Amps.
It would not operate as a gateway/router. It would only operate as a net client.
Thanks. Much appreciated. Any other recommendations for this new PDA (the X50v) ?
Yes, buy a 1 GB SD card for it from Dell.com. They only sell it for $75 (including tax and shipping), which is the cheapest price around.
And, if you have the money, also buy the higher capacity battery for it, because the big problem with the x50v is that it can only do 3 hours of battery, which is very low for any PDA.
Other than that, it’s the best PDA on the market today (my only three nitpicks: low battery life, only 64 MBs of RAM, no camera).
Already ordered a 2GB CF card, 1GB SD card, the high capacity battery and a nice SD-cam from HP for it. I was wondering if you had any more recommendations in terms of software
Btw, have you found a better browser than Pocket IE? This is something I really need…Any recommendations there?
NetFront 3.1 is your best bet for browsers. Download it from http://www.access.co.jp I think. The rest browsers don’t really matter as AvantGo crashes easily.
Regarding software, make sure you buy some stuff from Resco, http://www.resco.net/ they have some great stuff.
Also, there is a nice gameboy emulator for it etc.
Have a look at the Posio PX-30 …
This might be a good starting point – BT, WiFi, CF-Slot, Linux (hackable) & runs an OSGI server.
Add some guts from a mobile phone and some batteries and you’re on your way.
Is this product aimed for the common consumer or for the rich guys, who already have bluetooth enabled cars. The price seems like it will be way up there.
Sounds like Possio’s PX30 would be the high end of this little niche market (with the PC card and CF slots and ‘hackable’ linux that would be my first choice – sorry). That’s just shy of a full PDA. There are a lot of combo network devices out there, you should be able to splice something together. Good luck.