A number of readers responded to our call to describe their perfect notebook. We were pleased to discover they generally agreed with major elements of our WorldBook design, especially the integrated smartphone and the embedded solar panel. We also learned that features we excluded for being too expensive or impractical might have enough market appeal to justify another crack at doing them affordably.
Modularity was a popular theme among the submissions. More than one reader wanted a removable keyboard, a removable screen, a detachable camera and mic, removable wireless speakers, and a removable disk drive that could be easily slipped out of the laptop and into a desktop computer.
Many readers wanted more from our WorldBooks. Wish lists included TV, GPS, a music synthesizer, shortwave radio, a tablet form factor, a keyboard that doubles as a touchscreen, even a fold-out screen or add-on panels to extend the display. Other readers wanted decidedly less: a form factor the size of a paperback book, small enough to fit in a pocket.
[ View a slideshow of our perfect laptop features. See "The best notebook money can't buy" to explore the interactive Flash illustrations of InfoWorld's ideal notebooks. Read the article on our original designs, "The birth of the InfoWorld WorldBooks." ]
Readers loved the idea of the smartphone integrated into our notebooks' touchpad/tablet. The embedded smartphone allows WorldBook users to access EDGE and 3G for Internet connections, as well as the ability to run productivity widgets, play stored and streaming media files, and employ the browser without powering up the notebook or lighting its display. Some readers, including grand prize winner Enrique Gines, wanted this smartphone to be removable. So did we. What nixed modular removal of the smartphone from the original WorldBooks were design challenges that we couldn't address affordably.
Hold the phone
Having a user-removable smartphone module would mean that the notebook would spend some of its time with a giant hole where the touchpad/tablet once sat. We could conceivably create a module that slides into the same space to provide only the pointing device, but wouldn't it make you crazy if you misplaced or damaged this? Whenever you removed the smartphone, your notebook would be useless, with a crater where the pointing device should be.
We also had to wrestle with the ever-present dilemma of creating a perfect, durable, and forgiving yet thin hot-plug connector rated for thousands of insertions and removals. Finally, when we sat down to sketch a smartphone that also functions as a removable cartridge, we ended up with one ugly phone. The connector would have to be on the side. The removable smartphone presents some hurdles, but we agree that it is an idea too cool to abandon.
Another approach is inspired by a screen-sharing server written for iPhone. We could fashion an affordable external wireless handset that is effectively a dumb terminal, an extension of the integrated smartphone's display and touch surface. By making this a Wi-Fi device, you'd be able to use your phone whenever your notebook bag was within a few hundred feet, even if it was powered down.