By John G. Spooner
Special to CNET News.com
July 20, 2001, 4:00 a.m. PT
Meet the guy responsible for developing IBM's famous "butterfly keyboard."
John Karidis, an IBM distinguished engineer, has what might be the coolest job at IBM's Personal Computing Division. Since 1994, he has been working with a number of different teams inside the division, from engineering to marketing, to turn sometimes wacky ideas into full-blown products.
At any time, the 43-year-old Ph.D. could be working on a handful of projects in various stages. Most recently, he worked on ThinkPad TransNote, a new notebook PC that can capture handwriting using a special notepad.
His most famous project, though, is the ThinkPad 701. With its foldout butterfly keyboard, the 701C is one of the most famous notebook computers and, like an automobile, has attained cult status.
These days, Karidis seems excited about a wireless IBM Micro Drive recently created by a fellow IBM engineer. The engineer fitted an IBM Micro Drive with a Bluetooth radio, allowing the drive to play host to a number of files, such as MP3s. Karidis believes the sky is the limit for this device, suggesting possible uses for the drive as a wireless MP3 player using Bluetooth headphones or as a form of wireless network storage.
In a recent interview, Karidis shared his thoughts on the coming generation of PCs and PDAs. His one overarching prediction: The PC is not going away anytime soon. But it is going to see some radical changes.
Q: Will the butterfly keyboard ever return?
What PC trends do you see evolving over the next five years or so?
If you look at historical trends and you extrapolate them, history says that...you could get five times the performance at the same power in four years or so. So you could imagine a processor being five times faster, or it might not be five times faster--it might be 2.5 times faster, at half the power, in four years. So you could get the same computational power at five times less battery drain or maybe 2.5 times more computational power at half the battery drain.
Another trend is increasing storage capacity. That has been doubling every 12 to 18 months. That's allowing people to do more storing of rich media at home.
In the display area, I think we're going to see several parallel developments. I think we're going to see very high-resolution displays. We're also seeing the organic LED (light-emitting diode) technology being worked on in the labs. That could come to market in several areas. It could be PDAs, it could be notebooks. There are also virtual or projection displays. I think they are going to be important for providing large field-of-view displays for devices that are typically too small to give you direct, full view of a Web page.
You mentioned that storage capacities will increase dramatically. What will all that storage let people do that they can't now do?
To be sure, processing power is increasing at incredible rates. But do we really need it?
On the desktop, it's a little more difficult to say exactly what people will do with the huge processor power increase. Many people might not need it. That may lead to a "good enough" scenario for a lot of people. However, people may start to do very intensive things at home, like the Hollywood "Toy Story" kind of animation. Home computing might be powerful enough for people to do very sophisticated things with 3D actors and personalities, and maybe some home motion-capture technology.
3D just to entertain the kids?
Another (use for processing power) would be software MPEG encoding, where you encode, for example, an analog video...directly to MPEG2. That takes quite a bit of processing power to do well. If you have more processing power you can do a better job...The video quality can be better.
What's IBM doing in terms of increasing security for people's data?
You will see (security chips) in IBM PCs.
Is that going to become more important?
What kind of effect is wireless going to have on personal computing in the next five years?
We're going to see people moving between these pockets of wireless LAN connectivity to slower wide-area connections. People will want both, but people will try to utilize wireless LANs at work and home and airport, and if none of those is available, they'll certainly want the wide area.
Wireless really does change the way you work. When you can go to a meeting and have access to corporate information, people can go get relevant information during the meeting and not be fighting over one wired connection in a meeting room. For wide-area wireless, the key threshold is switching from circuit-switched connection (currently in North America) to packet-data connection (GPRS, or General Packet Radio Service), because then you get the equivalent of instant on and always on. Then you get things that are much more real time and synchronous, like instant messaging and instant e-mail.
What is there to do with instant e-mail?
With technologies like speech becoming more prevalent in PDAs, will user interfaces also change in the next few years?
In addition to speech, I think we'll see more use of natural input forms, things like ink, handwriting recognition, high-quality text-to-speech...We're starting to see more applications for speech interfaces in the telephony space, where you navigate...using speech as input, and speech as output is a natural approach for some info when you don't have a display. In the future, I think we'll have computers generate voice that is virtually indistinguishable from human voice.
How will speech recognition affect the daily lives of people?
So then speech could be the killer app for handhelds?
Speech recognition will probably never be perfect, as in "Star Trek," but it gets a whole lot more valuable when the alternatives are lacking--when you don't have a good display or a keyboard.
Where is display technology going to take us? IBM recently introduced the T220, a very high-resolution display with a resolution of 3840 by 2400 and 9.2 megapixels.
Take the IBM Cyber Phone, for example. With the display flipped out, you can see the equivalent of a full PC screen at a normal viewing distance.
With this kind of device, you're both hearing and seeing full screens of information. Through the combination of pointing, plus the speech for navigation, you can imagine interacting with very rich and complex data in a very tiny device.
So no more need for a PC?
Any thoughts on the PC-as-home-server scenario, where the device is stored away in a closet somewhere?