A bit on my companion idea

A while back I tossed off what I considered my perfect traveling computer – a netbook/reader killer (or more accurately next gen merging). While on the road to various interviews (still no success, but a couple of maybes) I’ve been thinking about it a lot. In the process I’ve had to think of why, and then there’s spill-off devices (inventions?). Bear with me, I’m going to put it in black and white.

I think the killer app for the next gen exists. I also think it costs way too much. However, I SUSPECT the reason for the latter is the low sales rate means price is necessary to cover expenses. I’m speaking of Nuance’s Dragon Speaking Naturally Professional (DSNP). Now Nuance offers a couple of less expensive and powerful versions, the more powerful of which is a quarter the cost of DNSP. The thing is…

DNSP is as close as you’re going to find today to software that lets you run your computer by voice. Yes, it has to be M$ Windows – there’s not enough sales for other operating systems (yet?). But you can do just about all commands in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Oddly, you can do more in Thunderbird than Outlook, and more in Firefox than Internet Explorer. In addition a lot of general operation can be done by voice (move cursor, click, “open filename”, “close filename”). Finally, you can make custom voice commands (basically voice tagged macros – keyboard, mouse, VBS). Oh, wait – and Pro is a bit more accurate out of the box as it also includes several dialects (mostly regional) pre-loaded for understanding.

Between touch (stylus) and voice, the keyboard can be almost unnecessary — and a virtual keyboard on a screen can fill the vast majority of those needs.

Yes, my “ideal box” is two facing touch screens that are hinged so they close together. Add a 3d motion sensor to detect up so the screens orient themselves for the user — so when ‘reading a book’ the screens are side by side with a narrow edge up (which up? whichever you’re holding up) and when laptopping it the screens are above each other with up toward a broad edge.

One more bit and I’ll go to the secondary inventions I see needed – heck, I suspect they’d sell anyway but it’d be small market without this box jumpstarting the need. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m almost fine with wifi, bluetooth, and a USB port (maybe two) and a power port being the cap on connections. I think it also needs a 10/100/1000 network interface, but that’s not the big deal. No, the big deal is a SDHC (or maybe SDXC) reader. This is the removable media for the box. The magic number for SDHC is 8GB. SDXC’s magic number is 48GB. Why?

Because a double-layer DVD is 8GB, and a blu-ray disc is 48GB.

Extra equipment time. First, and obviously implied, is a device (and maybe software) that allows a DVD to be imaged to a SDHC. The software already exists, it just needs to see the SDHC device as a drive. There are a couple of solutions which are not mutually exclusive. Solution one is a small SDHC box reader with a USB cord. Many of today’s digital cameras almost qualify here. Still, a small device the size of many of today’s USB flash devices would be worth making.

The second device for the same purpose would look a lot like a portable CD player. Pop the DVD in the top and close it, slide in the SDHC, and press the button. Machine formats the SDHC, images the DVD, and copies the image to the SDHC.

Are there copyright issues? Maybe. I’m not sure there are if you’re copying for your own use – it’s a gray area. You’re allowed to make copies of electronic media for backup, you’re allowed to move your software from one device you own to another device you own provided you don’t keep or sell the old one, and this transfer can be from one media to another (cassette to floppy, once upon a time). It’s definitely a legal team issue. Still…, well, let’s move on to the other device.

This one returns to the DNSP, the keystone product. One of the problems of use is background noise. I have… I have an idea which may or may not be done already for an ambient noise canceling microphone. It is actually two microphones. One is set in a parabolic receiver and is pointed at the primary noise source – the voice. The other is hemispheric (or close to it) and points directly away from the voice. The trick is a processor that uses the second mike to generate a reverse mask and applies it to what comes from the first mike. Yes, some of the voice will get canceled but most will still dominate. Because of the processor(s) needs, the mike will need a short memory loop before it sends the final as output.

If it works – and on paper it should – you get a microphone that lets you voice operate your computer while you’re commuting or sitting in a bar or… you get the idea.

Oh, I just realized I didn’t point out the serious power here. If the companion (my name for the netbook/reader) is closed without turning off, you should be able to still run low-power bluetooth (dedicated to the microphone) in a “record only” mode. Thus it becomes an always ready dictaphone into which you make notes, reminders, read business cards and other contacts, and even dictate letters. When the companion is opened, DNS activates and transcribes the dictation. If you’ve set up voice cues with that custom voice command section, you can have it ready to insert contacts in your address book and tasks to your task list and events to your calendar — either automatically or on your review and approval. (I recommend the latter.)

I’ve got more details on what my ‘idea’ is, but these are the truly different – and what, I think, would make this a game-taker in this field.

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