Thoughts on the Future of Handheld Computing by Jake Ehrlich

Part 2: Phantom V Design Reference

September 2, 2003

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I am a designer and as many of you know I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the inventor of the original Palm Pilot, Jeff Hawkins and share some of my thoughts on the future of handheld computing.  Over the years I have owned many PDAs and I have always thought about ways to make them better.

Prior to my meeting with Jeff Hawkins I had two weeks to prepare.  I wanted to try to share as many positive ideas with Jeff on how to improve the future of handheld computing.  I sat down and started designing.  I am an advanced graphic designer and as I previously mentioned I had invested a great deal of time working on developing my UI design skills with the original User Interface for the Microsoft Pocket PC.

Back from the Future

I tried to envision the ultimate handheld computer!  I though to myself, If I had a time machine and I could go to the year 2015 and see a Palm handheld computer, what would it look like?  Would it have a Sony logo on it?  How would it function?  What features would it have? and most importantly, how many of the insights that I gained from using it would I be able to bring back to the present and incorporate into a model for the next generation of Treo due perhaps in late 2004 as a 2005 model?

I was so excited to meet with Jeff Hawkins and I wanted to impress him so I really got into trying to design what I perceived to be a futuristic Palm-Treo-like device and in doing so unearthed what I consider to be close to the perfect form factor for a handheld computer.  When I say perfect I mean that if it were any smaller it would be too small.  I dubbed my device the Phantom V.

George Bernard Shaw said "Some men see things as they are and wonder why.  I dream of things that never were and wonder, why not?"  I designed the Phantom V and all the BulletTrain components for myself.  They represent the design features that I want and envision as a user.  Many people have suggested that such a product is ten years away from reality.  I disagree.  I believe it could be real within a year.

As you can see above the Phantom V is approximately two thirds the size of a Treo 600, yet it's screen is almost twice as big and it has a native resolution of 320x480 (half VGA).  The futuristic thinking that went into the Phantom V is way, way outside the box.  It is perfectly ergonomic with a hand-in-glove-like fit which makes it completely slip proof.  Despite the fact that it looks like no other handheld computer and despite its otherworldly appearance it is designed as a very serious business tool.

The Phantom V is an example of form flawlessly following function and it is built to last for years.  It is not only waterproof but modularly upgradeable. It has two batteries, one in each side handle.  It is designed to be able to be used by a left handed or right handed person. Despite the fact that I am right handed, Jeff Hawkins was holding it in his left hand and thought it was for left handed peoplethat is how ambidextrous and ergonomic it is.  It is so small and ergonomically designed that you can access all the device buttons with just one hand.  This includes the buttons on the top of the Phantom.

The soon to be released Treo 600 has all the buttons on the front and no buttons on the side except a volume up and down button.  I think this is a waste of space.  The Phantom V has four buttons on the left side and three on the right.

The Phantom V has three on-board cameras.  One in front, one on top and one in the back.  The Phantom uses your eyeballs for screen navigation and text entry as well as your unique retina eyeball signature for password protection.

Instead of having a 5 way navigation button on the front, the Phantom has a bright red, 9 way navigation button located toward the upper right corner.

Text input is achieved by the front camera which tracks you pupil movement.  As you type, you look at different letters on the on-screen pop-up keyboard.  As you navigate around looking at different letters the letter you are looking at highlights in red.  To select it and type it in lower case you press the red 9 way navigation button in.  To type capital letters you press the corresponding button located in the upper left hand corner.

Please keep in mind that a device such as the Phantom V would have multiple text input methods.  For instance you could use your finger, a stylus or Graffiti as additional input methods.  In order to use your retina or pupil for screen navigation and text input the front camera would require a direct line of sight.  So if you were wearing dark sunglasses it would not work and thus you would need additional input methods.

I have always believed that everything that can be digital will be digital.  I thought of all the things that I would like my handheld computer to be able to do.  Basically in the not so distant future I want to be able to leave my home with just my handheld computer and a pair of sunglasses.  No more home keys, work keys, car keys, garage door openers, wallet, cash, credit cards, business cards, receipts, phone, laptop, calculator, etc.  The list goes on and on and on.

In order for the Phantom V to be a highly effective tool it needs a serious screen with at least 16 bit color depth and a half-VGA 480x320 OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) screen.

I started experimenting with different form factors but concluded that the ultimate screen size had to have a 16x9 or 16x10 aspect ratio.  The following images illustrate how I envision the Phantom V looking and working.

Surf the web the way it was meant to be surfed.

Look at Spreadsheets the way you should be able to.

Picture above is the Phantom with my drivers license.

Pictured above is a credit card transaction screen.  This would occur via Bluetooth.

Replace your car keys, home keys, work keys and garage door opener.

Send and receive business card info along with a digital business card image.

The Phantom V has a video camera on the front and back so you could simultaneously record yourself and a person you are interviewing or use it for video conferencing.

Watch a movie.

Watch a news program that you recorded on your computer hard drive.

Watch an episode of you favorite TV show that you recorded on your computer hard drive.

The Phantom V has a version of the BulletTrain Desktop Dashboard that runs directly on and from your Phantom.  The BulletTrain Desktop Dashboard is a Desktop PIM application that supplants Palm Desktop and will be discussed and illustrated in Part 3 of this series. 

Because the Phantom has Bluetooth and a Bluetooth USB adapter it would allow you to go to a friends house and access your Desktop Application via Bluetooth and run it locally on your friends computer in a browser window.  This would avoid your friend from having to have any special software on their computer.  With a Bluetooth TV adapter you could hook it up to a TV as well.

Why a 480x320 Screen

Having a 480 x320 screen would allow you to see everything with photographic clarity.  I believe the ultimate handheld computer really should replace the need to carry around a brick-like laptop.   I would also incorporate sub pixel rendering to make type that much clearer and easy to read in small sizes.

With half VGA and sub pixel rendering it would allow you to utilize digital tickets for events like a Rolling Stones concert, or airline tickets or even your passport.  You could also view live video from remote web connected cameras so you could monitor an infant in a crib, children playing at daycare, you could even view who is ringing your doorbell and activate the buzzer to let them in.

And then of course there are obvious things like using GPS (Global Positioning) to help you navigate on foot or in a car.  You could also carry PowerPoint presentations with you and run them wirelessly from your Phantom V as well as have your a huge music collection of MP3 files to listen to in your car.  And speaking of music, you could use your Phantom V to remotely control ALL of your RF and IR components in your home.

In order to do all of the things I mentioned above, Palm would need to manufacture their own chips instead of purchasing pre-fabricated chips.  I think this is inevitable.


The Phantom has a built in Gyroscope that automatically pivots the screen image from portrait to landscape in certain apps.

One Size Fits All

As you can see there is absolutely no wasted space on the Phantom V device. Every scintilla is optimized.  As a designer I believe very strongly in the principle of Universal Design.  Universal Design in its broadest definition is a school of thought that states that as a designer you should try to design products that have the greatest social utility and thus the greatest social value.

If I were Palm I would only make one device that is modularly upgradeable.  This would eliminate all of the hassles that come along with maintaining separate SKU inventories.  I would seek to make the Phantom V industrial strength and extremely reliable.  I would pursue figuring out how to make the screen scratchproof by using something like synthetic sapphire crystal.  The Rolex watch company has been using synthetic sapphire crystal in their watches for years.  Synthetic sapphire is so strong it will literally shatter before it scratches.

Also by making the device modularly upgradeable it will make it easier to sell to customers because they know it is built to last.  I would come out with a new Phantom model every year.  So in 2006 I would come out with the Phantom 6, in 2007 the Phantom 2007.

I recall recently reading a report from Microsoft Research that said that an average human comes across less than a terabyte of data in a lifetime. This includes all music, images, video, etc. Imagine one day in the future you will be able to carry all that with you.

Highly Ergonomic Form Factor

The Phantom V overcomes every ergonomic consideration that I am aware of.  The batteries are located in the side handles which can also be reversed by the end user if they are left handed.  My highly ergonomic handles are designed to give you a perfect grip no matter how you hold the device. 

The Phantom has four miniature polypropylene speakers that allow you to watch movies in stereo and if you rotate the device since it has an internal gyroscope it will automatically switch over speakers.

Notice how in left image below how perfectly your hand grips the Phantom V, and then notice in the picture on the right how easy it is to move your thumb up and control the 9-way toggle button.


The Phantom V is so small you can even access the four buttons located on the top of the device with one handed operation as seen in the picture below:

Why the Phantom V Name?

On the issue of naming brands this is something that I have a great deal of experience with. There are many reasons why I chose Phantom V. First of all Rolls Royce’s top of the line $325,000 car is named “Phantom”

According to my American Heritage Dictionary it defines Phantom as follows: “Something apparently seen, heard, or sensed, but having no physical reality; a ghost or an apparition. b. Something elusive or delusive. 2. An image that appears only in the mind; an illusion.”

I like Phantom because it sounds mysterious and my Phantom V device is so tiny that it is almost invisible.

In strategic marketing you also want to use Alliteration as a memory hook whenever possible. Phantom Five is an alliterative phrase just like Palm Pilot, Beanie Baby, Marylyn Monroe, or Coca Cola. Alliteration makes products easier to say and more memorable.

What is a Tungsten T or C??? How memorable is a Zire???

Social Security

On the issue of security I am convinced that eyeball recognition is the future. I very much recognize that I may be wrong, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. By using your retina for password protecting your device you could manually program different permission levels for different users.

So for instance, let’s say you pick up your device, you would have administrator level access. You could set it up so that your gal could use the phone and most apps but not all. You cold set it up so that if it does not recognize the users retina the person holding the phone is prompted with a message that says please return to so and so but if this is an emergency click here to call 911.

Also the Phantom V would support multiple users.  So for instance a husband and a wife could share a Phantom. This would work similarly to the way you switch users on a desktop.  This would also be great if you have a family because you could have your entire family's calendars and contact databases wherever you go.

Next: Go to Part 3: Bullet Train Desktop Dashboard


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Copyright © 2003 Jake Ehrlich.  All rights reserved.