Future Tense: Good Little Ideas

Maximum PC Staff

Somebody had the good idea to put a camera into a cellphone. This was a good idea. It was a great idea. What made it even better was including a slot for a Micro-SD card. I have a 32-gigabyte chip in my phone and I haven’t run out of storage yet. I can shoot photos or movies wherever I go—and email them immediately. I can read e-books or listen to music or watch videos. (The Samsung Galaxy phone has a great screen.)

The smartphone is a combination of many good ideas and its overall usefulness should be a guide for all manufacturers of portable electronics.

So why doesn’t the iPad have a memory card slot? Why doesn’t Amazon’s Kindle Fire have a slot for an SD card? A 32 gigabyte card is less than half a benjamin at Fry’s electronics. (The 64GB cards are still too expensive for most users.) Expanding the capacity of the device expands its usefulness to the user.

All tablets should have memory card slots. Too many of them don’t. The Motorola Xoom has one, but it’s inactive pending a firmware upgrade. The lack of add-on memory is one of the reasons I haven’t bought a tablet yet. I want a tablet that can do everything my phone does—and on a large enough screen to be convenient.

Where else would add-on memory be useful? In an iPod or a Zune. Microsoft has discontinued the Zune . Too bad. If they had given it a mini-USB port instead of a custom one and a slot for an SD or Micro-SD card, they would have had a product not only superior to the iPod, but significantly superior—enough perhaps to carve out a viable future for the product. The user could have had multiple libraries of music without having to erase old music to make room for new. That would have been a selling point.

How about a memory card slot in your TV so you can store photos and videos instead of having to plug in a flashdrive? And maybe you could have your TV function as a DVR as well, letting you record shows for later viewing. Wouldn’t that be convenient?

Where else would a memory card slot be useful? How about your car stereo? Why shouldn’t it provide storage of your favorite music? Why should you have to plug your iPod into it? How about your car’s GPS system? Certainly it would be an advantage to be able to upgrade its database of maps and locations of restaurants and hotels and gas stations as easily as popping out an old card and sliding in a new one.

And what about Bose? They sell prestigious music systems—wouldn’t it be great if it had a memory card slot so you could play your own library of music without having to plug in the iPod? Even better, what if it could be used as an audio-DVR so you could pause a program or rewind it or even save it for later? And then you could pop the card into your car stereo for the drive to work. Ohell, why not have the car stereo have the same audio-DVR capabilities too?

Being able to add or swap memory to a device expands its overall usefulness. It’s a good little idea and I’m disappointed that so many manufacturers haven’t recognized the possibilities.

Here’s another good little idea. Twenty years ago, I had a digital watch from Casio that recharged itself through a small strip of solar cells mounted next to the display. Why can’t our current electronics do the same? We certainly have more efficient solar cells today—cells that can even generate electricity from indoor lighting.

Imagine if your smartphone had a strip of solar cells on the back, or even at the top, bordering the screen. It could trickle-charge your phone whenever it was out of your pocket. Mine sits on my desk most of the day. I usually carry a spare battery with me because at the end of the day, the phone is nagging for a recharge. If it could trickle-charge, that might be worth a couple more hours of service.

Why not add solar cells to a Kindle or a tablet? The Kindle has such a low power-draw that a strip of solar cells might be all the recharging it needs. Adding solar cells to a tablet might not provide a full recharge, but it could certainly extend the hours of usefulness per day.

How about solar cells on your Bluetooth or your mouse? How about solar cells on all those remote controls in front of your TV set? Trickle-charging might be enough for some devices that you’d never have to change batteries or plug in a recharger again.

Why not have batteries and solar cells on your external peripherals as well? Think about your external hard drive that connects through a USB port. Right now, it needs a cord to the wall. What if it could keep itself charged, partly through a solar cell and partly through the USB port. You could have one less cord to trip over and your external drive would be a lot more portable.

Where else could you put solar cells? The Toyota Prius has solar panels on its roof, but those only power a fan so that a parked vehicle doesn’t get too hot on sunny days. Why not also trickle-charge the car’s battery and extend its mileage?

Adding solar cells to any electronic device lessens its dependence on batteries and wall-sockets. Consider that there are a billion electronic pieces in the United States alone and the power-saving would be considerable. It would also reduce the number of batteries discarded every year.

And finally, here’s a third good little idea. One automaker is advertising a car that can be locked and unlocked from a smartphone. That’s a good start, but how about having a phone app that does a lot more? The Prius key-fob is a good example. If it’s in your pocket, the Prius senses its proximity and the car door unlocks automatically as soon as you touch the handle. Even better, you don’t even have to take the key out of your pocket to start the car—just press the On button and go. Why can’t all cars work like that?

But why have a key-fob at all? Why can’t your smartphone be the key? Why can’t it be a garage door opener too? And how about having it unlock your front door automatically so you don’t have to fumble in the dark? Ohell, it should turn on the lights automatically when you get home at night.

And while we’re at it, why not have your smart phone function as a universal remote control for your TV, your radio, your disc player, and your DVR as well? Why can’t there be an app for that?

Yes, a lot of this is going to require some integration with your Personal Very Private Network, and more than that, it’s also going to require that manufacturers agree on a standard for integrating multiple devices across the internet, but if someday every device is going to have its own IP6 web address, then we should also have one device that we can find in the dark to bind them all. (With Nazgul, an extra $139.)

None of this is impossible. The technology already exists. It just hasn’t been integrated yet. But these are the kinds of things we want our machines to do for us.

What do you think? What good little ideas would you suggest?

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David Gerrold is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author. He has written more than 50 books, including "The Man Who Folded Himself" and "When HARLIE Was One," as well as hundreds of short stories and articles. His autobiographical story "The Martian Child" was the basis of the 2007 movie starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet. He has also written for television, including episodes of Star Trek, Babylon 5, Twilight Zone, and Land Of The Lost. He is best known for creating tribbles, sleestaks, and Chtorrans. In his spare time, he redesigns his website, www.gerrold.com

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