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WorkPod Modular Computing Concept

It's funny how ideas can be floating around in your brain, yet with a single conversation, come to life. The other evening, my friend Andy and I were talking via iChat audio about the "perfect" device. Andy was a bit bummed because he felt that no one device suited all of his needs and wondered if ever such a device would exist. He wants something to carry, like a PDA, yet would love that PDA to be a full Macintosh which he could also do 3D work on and all of the other general work in between.

Clearly there's no device like this, but our discussion reminded me of an idea I had years ago about a very modular device that could work like this. The sketch below is the solidification of the ideas Andy and I discussed on Monday.


At the center of this modular system is the WorkPod, a small device very similar in size to the OQO which has been in the tech news of late. However, unlike the OQO, which is a very compact but stand-alone PC with full ports, the WorkPod is designed to plug into other "Shells" for other functionality. The WorkPod could work very much like the OQO, but the modular shell options would make it even more capable.

For instance, you could carry a WorkPod and use it as a PDA, but you could also read and edit documents, surf the web and do your email without the need for syncing, since everything is with you. Rather than a built in keyboard, I'd like to see the Newton's handwriting recognition software used, though maybe an integrated thumbboard similar to the OQOs might be alright.

I think the WorkPod unit would have a decently powerful low-power processor that would allow basic functions to be performed on the go. Email, web surfing reading and editing documents, etc. The WorkPod could also be used for presentations, either by plugging in a VGA projector or using the native 800 x 600 touch screen. It would have integrated WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0 and Firewire, IR, dual SD card slots, 80-120 GB hard drive, 1GB RAM, stylus-pen, and PDA-like buttons (programmable) and a central D-pad or O-pad.

Now, if you happen to need a notebook form factor for traveling or more intense work, you could buy the WorkPod Notebook Shell and just slide the WorkPod into the slot. Connectors on the top edge would let the Notebook Shell make full use of the WorkPod device and could add more RAM, better video card, and even a secondary processor for more intense work. This shell would also offer DVD capabilities and maybe more ports than the WorkPod, so for some instances, this might be more useful than the WorkPod itself.

Another option might be a foldable Bluetooth keyboard, Bluetooth mouse and folding easel, so that the WorkPod could be used when you needed to travel light, but required a full keyboard and mouse. This could be useful for field work, where you want a full PC but not the weight or bulk.

A third option would be the Desktop Shell, which could provide the WorkPod with mucho power, if someone would need that. A secondary processor (or multiples, added as plug in boards), good video card and lots of video RAM, several PCI slots for customization, bigger hard drives for backup, swap and storage, DVD burner and a full port compliment. This would allow the WorkPod to still remain the central device, yet with enough power for 3D work and rendering, Photoshop work, video editing, scientific processing and of course gaming.

The nicest aspect of the WorkPod idea is, your core data and processor are always present. There's no syncing needed since the WorkPod component carries the hard drive and would offer basic functionality for viewing and editing documents. For those who want or need more, they just buy a Shell and their computing system is extended into the features they need most.

I admit I was very much inspired by Apple's PowerBook Duo concept from 1993, especially since I own one of these systems. The Duo was a very nice concept, but at the time, technology was quite basic. I would still love to see a Duo system now, with a nice color screen and multiple port options, but I fear that Apple won't go down that road again. But who knows. I never imagined Steve Jobs returning either.

Anyway, that's my idea -- I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this concept and suggestions you might have. Who knows, there is always the potential that a device like this could be built someday. Maybe this is a little raindrop needed to get the wave started. :-)

Reader Comments (5)

Wonderful sketch, Mike, and a damned fine idea! :-)
January 15, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterCraig
Design sure is fun, isn't it?

Unfortunately I think we're at least a few (3?) years away from the engineering on this, and perhaps that far away from reasonably priced parts. And, if recent history is worth anything, we're definitely years away from a battery which would reasonably power thie whole shebang.

I'm always skeptical of devices that try to do too much with too little. That's one reason I prefer Palm over PocketPC and TextEdit or AppleWorks to Microsoft Word. Ideally, you'd have to have an OS which would be comfortable in three different screen sizes as well as three different processing levels (unless you wanted to have the interface change with every swap, which wouldn't be particularly user-centric, though perhaps more user-centric than buying three separate devices, which is what everyone does now).

Also, the idea of putting a screen inside a larger screen and replicating ports, adding hard drives, etc. (i.e. workpod into notebook) seems to defy weight concerns.

Don't get me wrong--these are great idea! I'd sure love to have the whole set! Where do I sign up?
January 15, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterresonance
are you a lefty? : )
January 16, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterWitold Riedel
chinchorrero -- gotta watch those coffee cups! I nearly dumped a full latt� on my laptop once, but fortunately it fell the other way. Too bad for the floor though. Gotta be careful about that stuff. :-)

resonance -- thanks for the comments. This idea is pure pie in the sky so I don't expect it to come to reality. Besides all of the things you've cited, deciding what shells to produce would be complex... and if one shell didn't sell well it might be discontinued. So, here's to dreaming! :-)

Witold -- no, I am in fact a righty. However, I'd give my left hand to be ambidexterous. ;-)

Thanks for the fine comments guys!
January 16, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde
Interesting update Gary. Maybe something similar to what I'm suggesting might be possible... though it probably makes too much sense to actually be made. ;-)
January 17, 2004 | Unregistered CommenterMike Rohde

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