IBM shows glimpses of Bluetooth future

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- IBM is spreading its development resources widely in search of Bluetooth-enabled devices that users will embrace as part of their personal area networks, an IBM engineer Wednesday told attendees at the Bluetooth Developers Conference here.

"We can count on a large number of devices showing up on the market in the next few years," said John Karidis, distinguished engineer in the Personal Systems Group at IBM. Not all of these devices will succeed, but developers should "experiment with as many ideas as you have time for," Karidis said.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y. is working on a range of innovations, including the WatchPad, a wristwatch with a high-resolution touchscreen, and CyberPhone-2, a lightweight cell phone that can project data onto a small mirror the user can look at while talking. Karidis showed prototypes of the devices during a keynote address at the conference.

The prototype wristwatch, thinner than most current calculator watches, features a 720 dpi VGA display that makes 6-point type (about half the size of typical newspaper type) legible to the user. This allows the screen to show about as much type as the larger screen of a Palm handheld. Because of the high resolution of the display, the text can be read easily by the wearer, Karidis said. The device would offer organizing and messaging functions and could be navigated by touch, with just four or five touch areas.

"Your watch knows what time it is. It certainly should be able to tell you where your next appointment is," Karidis said.

Using Bluetooth, the WatchPad can communicate with a PC. As a demonstration, Karidis used the touchscreen controls to move through his presentation, which ran on an IBM ThinkPad notebook computer.

Researchers at IBM Japan have developed a prototype motherboard for the watch, about 1.25 inches across, with 8MB of DRAM. It runs a version of embedded Linux. The device could be commercialized within two years, Karidis said in an interview Wednesday.

The CyberPhone-2 concept uses the same motherboard and offers a small display similar to those on typical cell phones. A larger display also can be used by projecting what is on the smaller display on to a mirror that flips out of the bottom on the phone, allowing full Web pages to appear legible to the user. A trackpad on the back of the phone, near the user's index finger, controls the device.

CyberPhone-2 could be marketed as a companion to the ThinkPad, as an interface to a Bluetooth-enabled phone carried elsewhere on the body, or as a phone co-branded with a mobile phone maker, Karidis said.

Karidis also described in his keynote devices more similar to current products. He showed the Chameleon, a combination notebook PC and Web kiosk for home use, as well as a "wearable drive" concept in which a Bluetooth-enabled IBM MicroDrive would serve as network-attached storage for a number of personal area-network devices, and Mica, a notebook PC in a portfolio with a companion pen that lets users automatically input to the PC what they write on a pad of paper.

For frequent flyers, Karidis suggested a couple of odd solutions to the problem of fully reclined seatbacks: the "Monarch butterfly," a notebook with a keyboard that can be reconfigured to be wider but more shallow, and the AirWarrior, with a display that can be raised up to eye level. Although the AirWarrior would allow the user to see the display, the drawback is that everyone for several rows back could also see it, Karidis acknowledged.

The Bluetooth Developers Conference continues through Thursday at the San Jose Convention Center.

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