Personal Tech

HP joins the campaign against keyboards

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Mark Baard
June 16, 2008

It's hard enough keeping my kids' hands off our TV and computer screens, never mind the windows and mirrors. But that's just fine with Hewlett-Packard: It encourages us all to paw at the 22-inch display on its TouchSmart PC, rather than at the its keyboard.

It's part of a pattern: Nintendo Wii players are surfing AP headlines with their Wiimotes. Users of touch screen and haptic phones sweep their fingers across their displays to send messages and shuffle documents.

Indeed, computers are fast becoming tools for the "new literacy," which is more about playing video games than about reading and writing. It's a term the novelist Robert Coover (who wrote the Times essay, in 1992, "The End of Books") suggested to me a few years ago.

Text might have a place in the new literacy, Coover said, but as part of a mix, with video and sound, and projected inside an immersive, 3D virtual reality viewing area.

The TouchSmart lets you poke around your social networks, and view pics and vids, by touching icons.

HP is pitching the TouchSmart as something of a keyboard killer. But the TouchSmart is obviously geared toward media consumers, not creative types, even if it does come with a wireless keyboard and mouse.

One model, the IQ506 PC, comes with a TV tuner.


Phone changes its functions

A small new modular mobile phone will slide into different jackets and devices that change its form and function, depending on your needs. The phone, called Modu, is like the Trill symbiont in "Star Trek," Dax, who retains her memories as she moves from one body to the next.

Modu ( has only a few colorful buttons, arranged in a tic-tac-toe pattern.

The phone is meant to serve as the brains for an array of devices. That way, your address and phone books, calendars, and pictures - your mobile identity - become truly portable. By slipping the phone into one Modu "mate," you can turn it into a boom box. Another enclosure includes a keypad, so you can use the phone like a BlackBerry.

At night, you might want to slip your Modu into something more comfortable, an alarm clock, for example.

The Modu concept has been racking up kudos from major telecommunications companies. Mobile service providers in Russia and Israel will offer the phone by the end of this year, according to Modu.

The company added that operators in Europe and the United States will be offering Modu products in 2009 - another reason to hang on to your old beater of a cellphone for just a little longer.


Low-coast underwater video

My 5-year-old, Maeve, got her break from the heat last week: a full day in the water with her Auntie Sarah in North Falmouth. The rest of us tried to stay cool in Milton, with a little help from Ron's Ice Cream (& 20th Century Bowling) in Hyde Park.

By all accounts, Maeve's day was filled with missed opportunities to snap our little mermaid in action.

I hope to make up for lost Cape time later this summer, perhaps with one of two new low-cost video cameras from Oregon Scientific that are made for the beach.

The ATC5K and ATC3K will cost about $200 and $150, respectively - way less than the $500-plus SeaLife DC800, which I told you about last month.

Of course, you get what you pay for. Compared to the DC800, Oregon Scientific's cams are kiddie-pool material: The cameras, which capture video at 640 x 480, and at 30 frames per second, remain waterproof down to just a few feet. The new video cameras have an SD card storage-card capacity of up to 4GB.

The ATC3K will be available in July. You will be able to get your hands on the ATC5K later in the summer.

Innovative last week

Walls of water at pavilion lack doors, but they part Red Sea-like for visitors

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week announced the opening of its Digital Water Pavilion, designed by a group including uber-architect and MIT professor William Mitchell, his Smart Cities group at the Media Lab, and MIT SENSEable City Laboratory director Carlos Ratti. The Smart Cities group designed the water walls that help make up the pavilion at the 2008 Zaragoza World Expo in Spain. The water walls have no doors; the water, wherever you enter, parts like the Red Sea, Mitchell said.

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