06 November 2007

Asus Eee: forward to the past for graphic design on the Web?

Well, it’s not the world per se that’s getting smaller. The Web is another story, because of developments in the ultra-mobile PC space — and I strongly believe that these developments will have far-reaching consequences for best practices of graphic design on the Web, if they take hold in the marketplace.

Think small

Almost two years ago, I tore open a box with a buy.com shipping label and removed my brand-new subnotebook computer, which since then has earned a lot of oohs and aahs — it’s obviously not a Macintosh of any description, and it was somewhat underpowered even when I bought it (1GHz Celeron M CPU, 512MB RAM, 60GB HDD, XP Home), but it’s still a piece of work. I’m a Web guy. I don’t need tons of juice to get my job done.

More to the point, I’ve spent my entire adult life living the car-less lifestyle, so a rig that I could easily carry and shoehorn into small-ish public spaces was (and is) a wonderful thing to own.

Now that it’s been two years, I’ve started looking casually for a replacement… which means that I’ve noticed the announcement of the Asus Eee and its appliance-ish cousins that are already on the market.

I may well buy one, even if I need to get a portable disk drive too; $400 is a hard price to beat for a widget that can support everything I need except graphics, and my professional development is definitely taking a sharp turn toward the programming end of things.

Don’t misunderstand me — the Eee is a 1.5G product at best, and it’s a matter of time before OEM’s concede that keyboards are both necessary and constrained by a hard lower bound on size. Kids and petite women can get mileage from machines like the Eee, and so can folks like me who are smallish-handed and know how to type. As for bigger guys¹, or power users who are tethered to ergonomic keyboards², fuhgeddaboutit… and if you rave on stylus interfaces, expect me to guffaw in your general direction.

My point is that people want small and affordable machines that they can actually use, and I strongly believe that eventually the 7" display, or something close to it, will gain share in the user population.

Necessity is the mother of invention ’n allathat. Touchscreens will improve, or someone will come up with a more-usable yet adequately-simple keyboard design that will fit into that form factor.

If I’m right, that means that the march to 1024w layouts will falter. Ponder that.


¹My best friend in town stands 6'4" and weighs 240#. He runs in terror from the prospect of borrowing my notebook.

²…But I can’t stand ’em. I do not need some smartypants industrial designer telling me how to use my hands; as a sinistral, I have my own way of doing things. I also have a ton of acquaintances who swear by ergos.

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