What lippies want

Don't look now, but the location-independent movement is growing. Technology gives us the power to work wherever we please, and travel while stilling making a living. More people are embracing the digital nomad, extreme telecommuter, location independent lifestyle every day.

[ See also: What kind of digital nomad are you? ]

It's time that hardware, software and Internet companies notice this rising movement, and start offering products that take this lifestyle to the next level. Here's my list of the things we want from the industry, but that the industry has yet to provide. All are based on current technologies. I'm going to keep, maintain and occasionally discuss this list until we get what we want. But I need your help in three ways. 1) Please tell me what I missed; 2) let me know if a product on the list already exists; and 3) advocate the development of these products on your own blog, Twitter feed and in communication with the companies that can do it. OK, here's what lippies want. Solar-powered laptops. Laptops lids are broad and flat -- perfect for solar panels. Current solar technology isn't powerful enough to enable constant use of a real laptop without charging. But it might give you an extra hour or two. Plus, it can charge your laptop completely with the laptop is turned off when you don't have access to a power outlet. Built-in solar panels remove the need to buy and carry a separate solar charging device -- and also a spare laptop battery. It also should enable you to charge phones, cameras and other gadgets via solar power by plugging them into USB ports. Solar-powered cell phones. Digital nomads are far more likely to be outside, away from indoor power outlets than your average professional. Today's smart phones -- especially the full-screen ones like the iPhone -- suck power like there's no tomorrow. Give us an extra hour or two by building solar panels into the backs of them. Pay-as-you-go satellite. Satellite connectivity is ideal for digital nomads, because getting connected is challenging in remote locations, but vital for work. Trouble is, satellite fees are incredibly expensive, even when you don't use the phone. A typical plan might cost about $50 per month just to use the service, and another $1 to $5 per minute for actual use. In a pinch, the per-minute costs are acceptable, because using satellite should be rare. But paying $50 per month -- $600 per year -- is precisely why almost nobody uses satellite phones. The other reason is the cost of the phone handset itself, which starts at $500 and goes up from there. The satellite phone industry needs to wake up to changing demand. Rather than targeting a tiny number of deep-pocket corporate clients, they should instead go after a huge number of digital nomads who would embrace satellite if fees were more reasonable. And the phones need to come under $400. Most importantly, the monthly fee must be waived. Sure, they can double the per-minute charge to make it worth their while. But they'll never get a penny from us unless they get rid of that monthly fee. Easy motion-activated cameras that alert phones. Lippies are away for long stretches of time. It would be nice to keep an eye on things back home with the help of a camera. We need an outdoor Wi-Fi camera with a built-in Web server. When motion is detected, it should send a text message to our phones with a link to the picture. Several companies will claim to offer products that do this. I have tried many of them, and they never work right. They're complicated to set up. They're fickle to maintain. This shouldn't be a hard problem to solve. We need someone to solve it. Phones with front-facing cameras for videoconferencing. Videoconferencing currently requires a laptop or desktop PC. But why? It would be great to be able to participate in videoconferences on the go, without a laptop. Because digital nomads travel to other parts of the world, sometimes business meetings take place at odd hours. Let's say a meeting is taking place at 2pm in California. That's 10pm in London. You might be out at a restaurant, or visiting with friends. Cell phone videoconferencing capability would enable you to step away for a half hour, have your video call, then get back to what you were doing -- all without carrying a laptop around. Wireless keyboard for iPhone. As I wrote in a recent column, the iPhone is a monstrously versatile device, replacing GPS gadgets, digital recorders, eBook readers and more. What it can't do is serve as a device for serious writing, which most lippies have to do from time to time. All we need is a Bluetooth keyboard -- the type that has been available on other smartphones for a decade. Cell phone camera-based translation. One challenge with travelling abroad is dealing with foreign languages. Just about everywhere I've traveled, people are very forgiving and helpful, and often speak some English themselves. That's not the case with signs, menus and other printed material. Translation software works pretty well. So does optical character recognition -- look at how well the OCR in Evernote works. If these were combined, we should be able to snap pictures of foreign language words on signs and menus, then upload it for processing into English. Better cameras in mainstream phones. Dozens of phones have amazing digital cameras built in. Unfortunately, they're almost always non-mainstream phones. What we need are BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm, Windows Mobile phones that have at least 5 megapixels and reasonably good optics, so we can take good pictures with the phone we're already carrying. That's my "starter list" for what lippies want. Are you a location-independent professional? Let me know what YOU want! Are YOU interested in location independent, digital nomad living? Please add this blog to your RSS reader and follow me on Twitter!

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