Infopads, smartphones, and information

While sorting through old bookmarks I stumbled upon an old blog post titled Desperately Seeking the Info Pad from May 2006.  I bookmarked it because I wanted the device that it described – thin, light, designed for taking notes and reading.  While re-reading the post just now I kept having to remind myself that it was written prior to the recent wave of tablet computers.  At the time I read this post I was convinced that color was as superfluous as the author claimed but I’m not as convinced now.  So many things that friends share with me are video or photos that the “infopad” device needs to be able to display such things effectively.

I’ve been looking for a notebook/reader device for a long time.  So far the devices I’ve bought have either just been disappointing  (like the Tablet PC, though as a laptop it was fine) or sufficiently promising to make me wish they finished the job.

The Kindle is pretty fantastic as a way to consume narrative text.  It’s too clumsy to use for reference material (slow screen updates make it hard to surf/skim/search) and obviously it’s no good for note taking.

The iPad is an okay way to consume narrative text (the Kindle’s screen is just more comfortable for that) and is excellent as a web surfing pad (pictures, video, blogs, news).  I haven’t tried to use it as a reference device unless one counts “looking things up on the Internet.”  I haven’t found a good way to put notes and text into an iPad (and out again, since notes and all I need on my other computers).  The on-screen keyboard is fine for tapping out a quick note but it’s too clumsy for note taking and drawing with a finger is just not comfortable or precise enough for drawing anything other than rudimentary diagrams.  OmniGraffle for iPad is nice for drawing nice-looking diagrams but it’s substantially less smooth recording rough thoughts.  And it’s a different app than any of the text notetaking apps.  I’ve tried one capacitive stylus and it worked but was awful.  I really want the device to support a Wacom-style pressure sensitive two-ended stylus in addition to being a touchscreen.

I want a device that is pretty much like the iPad hardware with the addition of a camera (for whiteboard photography and note taking, not art) and support for a pressure sensitive stylus (but keep the touchscreen).  The software needs to support syncing to my heterogeneous computing environment including printing, an Android phone (or whatever I have then), Windows desktop, Mac laptop, a Linux netbook, web site – whatever I have.  It needs to be able to export in a variety of formats to facilitate sharing with people without the software.  It needs magic screen sharing/shared authoring with people that DO have the software.  It needs usable authoring software for all those environments even though the primary authoring environment would be the tablet.

The software needs to support linking and ingesting from the web – saving snippets and links both to facilitate tying references to notes but also to guard against linkrot.

It needs to support on-screen input but also external keyboards on the tablet as well as projecting from the tablet (however that works – VGA/DVI out from the tablet, software that pushes to suitably equipped projectors, even an accessory nanoprojector).

The software syncing needs to let me run my own instance of the “cloud” bits (as well as supporting a hosted version).  Ideally, the server-side portion would be a documented, open protocol with at least one open source implementation.  This is for the long haul and  information I’ve stored in my infopad can’t be tied to a single vendor.

The software should support integration or importing (as applicable) with/from other data stores such as mail or photo catalogs from special-purpose software such as Lightroom.

I think we’re approaching the day when the hardware for a suitable infopad tablet exists or mostly-exists but as far as I can tell we’re not really much closer to having the right software.