Insane project idea: iMate Mini

On dis­play at the Mono­chro­mat­ic Muse­um of Archa­ic Elec­tron­ics (oth­er­wise known as my bed­room clos­et) is a rel­ic from the past that nev­er got used as it should have. The Apple eMate, a device based on the New­ton plat­form but which came in a clamshell case with an inte­grat­ed key­board and a car­ry­ing han­dle, was designed to be sold to schools but nev­er took off before Steve Jobs returned to Apple and shut down the New­ton divi­sion entire­ly. The design for the case influ­enced the fol­low­ing gen­er­a­tions of Mac­in­tosh com­put­ers: it pre­saged the lat­er Power­Book, iBook, and iMac designs.

The eMate nev­er had the adop­tion even that the New­tons had. For one thing, they weren’t sold on the open mar­ket. For anoth­er, they came out after the New­ton Mes­sagePad 2000 with the same oper­at­ing sys­tem but a proces­sor that had come with the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of New­tons. Com­pared to the Mes­sagePads that New­ton users loved, the eMates were lim­it­ed in mem­o­ry and clock speed. While many mar­veled at the design, few actu­al­ly want­ed to use one.

There is also the mat­ter of a clamshell lap­top design for a com­put­er with a heav­i­ly pen-and-ges­ture ori­ent­ed oper­at­ing sys­tem. It was always a bit awk­ward to go back and forth from typ­ing on the key­board to point­ing with the sty­lus. As much as the eMate had going for it, there were some indus­tri­al design issues that nev­er quite got sorted.

Nev­er­the­less, the eMate seemed in many ways to be an ide­al writ­ing plat­form. Like a light­weight portable type­writer, the eMate has a com­pact pro­file. With a car­ry­ing han­dle and a small back­lit mono­chrome screen, it’s easy to imag­ine car­ry­ing the eMate around for some writ­ing in a café or a park bench. It would have been a delight­ful plat­form for blog­ging long after the device was con­sid­ered obso­lete except for a few pesky shortcomings.

Though the New­ton includ­ed a per­fect­ly capa­ble word proces­sor, there was nev­er a very good way to get con­tent off of the New­ton. Once upon a time one could use a util­i­ty called the New­ton Con­nec­tion Kit to trans­fer doc­u­ments back and forth, but that util­i­ty was nev­er writ­ten for OS X and cer­tain­ly not com­piled with Intel proces­sors in mind.

What would be ide­al is some­thing like a mark­down text edi­tor that would­n’t rely on any desk­top soft­ware and could be saved through a rudi­men­ta­ry brows­er. Trou­ble is, there isn’t any devel­op­ment still being done for the New­ton and the only browsers for the New­ton per­formed very poor­ly on the eMate’s under­pow­ered processor.

But what if instead of a mono­chrome LCD screen, the eMate could house, say, an iOS device? It would­n’t take a lot of dis­as­sem­bly and reassem­bly, assum­ing it would be pos­si­ble to do a non-destruc­tive tear­down of an iPad Mini and suc­cess­ful­ly replace the guts of the eMate key­board with a blue­tooth model.

It’s a nice fan­ta­sy, but the real upsides are few and the down­sides are many. For one thing, the iPad Mini screen is about an inch larg­er diag­o­nal­ly than the eMate screen, so the open­ing for the screen would have to be cut wider. For anoth­er thing, the eMate weighs about six times as much as the iPad Mini. There’s not much point in turn­ing a portable device into a much less portable device.

The built-in sty­lus slots on the eMate would not accom­mo­date any of the sty­lus­es that work with the iPad. Even if one could be found to lay in the stor­age tray and not fall out, the size of the tips of capac­i­tive sty­lus­es pre­vent any iPad-com­pat­i­ble sty­lus from fit­ting in to either of the stands on the sides.

A much more prac­ti­cal solu­tion would be some­thing like the ZAG­Gkeys PRO­fo­lio+ or if back­lit keys aren’t a neces­si­ty, ZAG­G’s ZAG­Gfo­lio would be far more economical.

For my own pur­pos­es, the Mac­Book Air is pret­ty darn light and has the back­lit keys already. It lacks the fan­cy car­ry­ing han­dle that the eMate has, and a mul­ti­task­ing oper­at­ing sys­tem can be less than immer­sive, but soft­ware like ByWord helps keep one task up front at a time.

So as cool a project as an iMate Mini would be, and as sad as it is to let a sweet device like the eMate col­lect dust, it sim­ply is too much trou­ble with too lit­tle pay­off to ded­i­cate any more time to it than it takes to write a fan­ci­ful block post and Pho­to­shop up a mock­up that won’t fool any­one. Per­haps some­one out there has more time and mon­ey on their hands and wants to retro­fit an eMate with an iPad Mini. If so, let me know. I want to see how it turns out.

In the mean­time, the eMate might make a decent dumb ter­mi­nal for the RS/6000 or the SGI Indi­go. If either of them were ever turned on anymore.

One Reply to “Insane project idea: iMate Mini”

  1. Mono­chro­mat­ic Muse­um of Archa­ic Elec­tron­ics
    It must be a great hon­or to curate and man­age a muse­um, even if it’s locat­ed near your bed 🙂 All cred­it to you, but I thought I should call my desk­top a [Vin­tage USSR Foun­tain Pens]( muse­um ( or at least “exhi­bi­tion”.)

    Not much of an “Apple” fan, I can see some recent Android based devices imple­ment pen input on their lat­est “smart­phones”.

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