An open-standard smartphone that works equally well for all users. A pocket computer that runs your programs, your way. A phone that works on Verizon and T-Mobile without a hitch, thanks to its multiple cellular radios. A device that plays your music in far better quality than your iPod, and is capable of streaming it via FM radio, Bluetooth, or DLNA. I present to you, for lack of a better name, the NookkinPhone concept.
I originally came up with this idea over a year ago – before Windows Phone 7 was even known, for example – so please keep this in mind. It was in response to many of the weaknesses I found in the iPhone and other phones. While I believe the NookkinPhone to be feasible, it will not be a very economial choice at the moment... but enough disclaimers, let's see what this beast can do!
Ed. note: Some of the original specifications of this device have been changed over the years, due to me coming to the realization that they would be impractical. This has been updated as of 2011.
Outward appearance and form factor
The NookkinPhone looks like a piece of black glass until powered on. Two physical buttons line the bottom, as well as a small capacitive trackpad in the middle (which, although seemingly unnecessary in the world of touchscreen phones, comes in useful – more on this later.) There will be a power button on the top, possibly a dedicated lock switch, volume and multimedia buttons on the side, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and micro-USB data/charging port on the bottom.
There will likely be two versions: a "slim" touchscreen-only version and a "pro" version with a slide-out tactile QWERTY keyboard. Both versions will feature the same customizable on-screen keyboard.
Processor and hardware base
The "engine" running it all is an x86 ultra-low-voltage CPU, most likely from Intel. (This is the one part of the phone that even now is not completely feasible – Intel's Atom consumes too much power and generates too much heat.) Alternatively, a top-of-the-line ARM CPU can be used if x86 proves to be infeasible. Why x86? Since x86 is the most widely used standard for consumer computers, it's only logical to use it in a phone as powerful as the NookkinPhone. After all, this phone aims to bring a more "computer-like" experience to the mobile world (in terms of what it's capable of, not necessarily appearance).
The device will have a 4.3-inch 960x600 (or higher) capacitive multi-touch AMOLED display. Sounds stunning? Yes. Not only are the specs stunning, but so is the functionality. The phone will feature an ambient light sensor, but users will also be able to customize the "curve"... the display will be able to dim to the point of comfortable use after waking up in a pitch-black room, and will be viewable in near-direct sunlight at maximum brightness. Various filters including "night mode" will be provided to further increase the screen's usability.
Smart haptic feedback
The device's haptic feedback engine will vibrate the phone differently when an on-screen button is pressed down versus being released. If you miss an item – for example, accidentally clicking too far to the edge of an icon – the phone will issue a distinct vibration (or no vibration), alerting the user that the intended button was not pressed. Vibration sequences will be customizable, of course. No more identical vibrations regardless of what was tapped on the screen.
A custom operating system will be necessary. I am intentionally leaving the "base" system open. The original idea was to use Windows XP Embedded, but this is overkill. Most likely a Linux-based underlying system will be used, possibly even a customized version of Android, though Windows CE is a possibility as well.
Standardized and unrestricted design
No more proprietary connectors and accessories. The NookkinPhone will use a standard micro-USB connector for charging and connection to a computer, and even this is optional (no forced sync with proprietary software). Interfaces such as Bluetooth will be unrestricted and will support the standard protocols such as OBEX. There will be a microSDXC slot on the device. The USB mode will be configurable as well – MSC "flash drive" mode, MTP for enhanced media transfers, you-name-it.
Open development standard: "anyone can code"
There are two parts to this. First off, nearly anything will be replaceable. Don't like the phone dialer? Write your own. Want a different keyboard layout? Customize it to your heart's content. Want a completely new shell mimicking another popular phone? Nothing stops you from making it. Resellers of the phone (such as cellular networks) will need to follow stricter guidelines as to what can and can't be replaced, but the end-user will be able to do with the phone as he pleases.
The second part is the whole developer program. Apple charges $99 for a development license, which allows the developer to place his application in the App Store. Yes, Apple is somewhat justified in charging this because the App Store doesn't exactly maintain itself – but this really favors large corporations with money to spare and hinders small private developers who just want to create a free application. With the NookkinPhone, anyone with programming skills – whether a millionaire or a poor high school student – will be able to write applications.
App Store: present but optional
An easy-to-use application store is a must in today's world. It allows users to easily download and buy applications and more, without much of a hassle. Obviously, there are costs involved in its upkeep, and these often get passed on to the developers. I propose that for-profit applications get a cut of each sale contributed to the store (as do Apple and Microsoft today), but that free non-profit (no ads) applications can be submitted freely.
Directly taking from the previous point: the app store will not be the only method of installing applications. Users will be able to download and run self-signed applications from anywhere – with ample security measures to prevent viruses, of course, up to and including blocking such installations until the user explicitly consents to running them. This will keep n00bs from bricking their phones, but will not prevent power users from doing as they please. As part of the open developer standard, this will allow developers to not worry about paying an annual developer program membership or code signing certificate fee.
The phone will be provider-based – services such as voice, text, email, and data will be abstracted through so-called "providers" that will pipe this content to the applications that need it, regardless of the physical medium it comes from. Do you have a data-and-text-only plan? No problem. With the VoIP provider, you will be able to use the NookkinPhone's phone dialer application just the same as your roommate with an unlimited-talk plan will be able to. Have a data plan without texting? An SMS-email gateway provider will allow you to receive texts "normally" via the standard texting application, just like someone with an actual texting plan. You will be able to add providers – even code your own, if you so desire – for any of the phone's functions. Gone will be dedicated VoIP and free-SMS applications with nonstandard user interfaces.
If you've read my iPod touch versus rockboxed Sansa e250 blog entry, you'll know that I can't stand poor-quality volume controls, equalizers, and the like. Since the NookkinPhone will be designed with multimedia in mind, it will include, at minimum, a dB-scale volume control, a parametric equalizer, and separate bass and treble controls. Throw in a DSP (Digital Signal Processor) API with effects such as virtual surround (excellent with headphones), crossfeed, stereo width, and environmental acoustics, and you have the best digital media player out there, bar none.
Multitasking will be easy to use and intuitive. Application windows will be resizable if desired – no more being locked into fullscreen-only applications. Running applications will be accessible in the finger-friendly "taskbar" at the bottom of the screen, and virtually all applications will support minimizing and closing. The NookkinPhone will have virtual memory support, and thus instead of running out of memory and crashing, it will simply page out the memory to disk much like your desktop computer.
The NookkinPhone will exceed industry standards for connectivity with its multiple wireless radios: GSM, CDMA, Bluetooth, wi-fi, and FM – or whatever is currently available in the industry. GSM and CDMA radios will allow the phone to be used on virtually any network – Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, to name a few – and if desired, it can use both radios at once, which will allow someone who has accounts with two providers to use one phone at a time. Bluetooth will be unrestricted, as mentioned before. Wi-fi will be usable as both a means of internet connectivity and as a cellular-data router. Likewise, the FM radio with RDS support will allow tuning of FM and HD Radio stations, as well as FM transmission capability for enjoyment of music on a stereo without an aux input.
The phone will be sold by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile – all major networks, assuming that they want to sell it – and will also be sold unlocked and unbranded directly from the manufacturer. (However, a subsidy lock will need to be implemented to help keep consumer costs down, but like other GSM phones, it will be removable via code.)
USB host port on the phone
This is self-explanatory. It will allow you to plug in a USB flash drive, digital camera, mouse, keyboard... heck, even a self-powered 4-port USB hub with all of your favorite devices. This will be made possible via an adapter plugged into the micro USB charging port.
Something this powerful will obviously suck a typical battery dry. Thus, power management is crucial. Unused wireless radios will be disabled to conserve power, multitasking will be configurable in a battery-optimizing mode, and unnecessary CPU-sucking features such as the DSP or even the 3D user interface will be disableable.
How does it compare to Windows Phone 7?
When I first came up with this idea, Windows Phone 7 was a distant dream much like Windows 9 is now. I was quite surprised (and amused) when Microsoft's mockup of the Windows Phone 7 hardware resembled the crude NookkinPhone sketch I made in Photoshop.
Other than that, there are many differences between the NookkinPhone and Windows Phone 7. For one, the user interface would be quite different. But perhaps more importantly is the fact that Windows Phone 7 represents the opposite of the NookkinPhone paradigm in many ways. No multitasking, no expandable storage, and a closed development standard? No thanks.
Whew. I think we have an iPhone killer here... problem is, it probably won't become a reality for various reasons, ranging from technical unfeasibility, production costs, and likely corporate greed. But other than that, a dream is a dream, and there is nothing stopping you or me from imagining the perfect phone in today's world. So what do you guys think? How would you change the NookkinPhone concept? And do you think it will theoretically dethrone the iPhone today?