Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Ubiquitous Qubituous

It was 4:00 AM on the Fourth of July. As David Armitage took his mother's boat out for some early morning fishing, he was awed to find himself the only boat tooling around at that hour and faced with 50 tall ships. Anchored on the dawn of our nation's 225th birthday, David saw the ships shrouded in mist and watched as the orange glow of the day woke the inhabitants, who lifted anchor and headed East in succession. This man not only fishes, but he is a man who dreams and builds.

He had an interesting experience with his mother’s computer. It had been months since he set up her new computer and had been successfully receiving e-mails from her. Suddenly, nothing. Not one e-mail was coming from dear, old Mom. So he called her. She said that when she updated her browser, somehow it interfered with her ability to dial up her ISP. The two of them struggled unsuccessfully to enter her IP number in the DNS lookup field under the Advanced Properties section of her Dial-up networking. Like many consumers, David became disgusted with the uncooperative nature of the computer. In his eyes, there is nothing so arcane as computers, and humans have spent over 20 years trying to develop the killer app. Now with the Internet, it's not so much about the killer app (despite the flood of PR about such a thing), it's about developing access to information. David asked, how do we create something intuitive, spontaneous, ubiquitous and social? As he said "we've been exposed to the cumbersome realities of PC stuck in a corner of a room, usually out of the way, and manual laden to the spontaneous and increasing intuitiveness of telephones or televisions.”

He became increasingly captivated by the challenges and began thinking about recreating the computer. What if it were fool-proof, fail-proof and bulletproof, only doing four or five things, but doing them exquisitely. Oh, and they shouldn’t be stationery or clunky. He began thinking of the reality of high-traffic areas, where families usually live. What's the reality of a kitchen, family room or entrance ways. There's not a lot of space for a big monitor or hard-drive to reside.

So in 1996, he built in his workshop a prototype of a portable computing tablet out of particle wood, which become the model for the Web tablet. He protected his ideas and vision by patenting all that he developed surrounding Web tablet technology.

In 1997, he formed his company and received his first round of financing. Now Qubit has four platforms for delivering information via the Internet. Using his strong storytelling capabilities, David explained how he explored the realities of acquiring new users. Parting with the traditional hardware companies, David wasn't interested in reaching the 50 million households not online. He focused on the people already online and narrowed the focus more to the top percentage of clients at the larger reputable brokerage houses.

Now, the Qubit tablet will launch in a few months as a subsidized unit with complimentary partners. Users can access the Web for free, thanks to a partnership with Juno Online Services. They’ll also have access to e-mail, the Web and even a simple home calendar, address book by running a thin Windows client. The wireless unit has a docking station, but it’s entirety is no bigger than a cookbook in its stand. There is a keyboard at this unit for when a user needs to do extended typing, but otherwise this unit works on a touch screen basis. The fourth unit they're developing for delivering content and services on the Internet is completely housed in an Apple-machines like monitor and runs on Be (, a division of Apple. The unit is one of three and will soon go into a wireless keyboard model. It has a compact flash spot and smart card reader (ie. slip your AMEX Blue Card into the slot and presto! you just bought that leather knapsack from Eddie Bauer.

Speaking of buying from websites, just how do you navigate? Sponsors can direct you to preferred vendors -- ex. click on Shopping --> Flowers --> 800Flowers. And if you want to go to another vendor, then you have to type in the URL (back at the docking station) or navigate elsewhere. The monitor-model has a 16-bit stereo card, MP3 and video capabilities. This unit can plug into a phone line, DSL or cable modems. The hand-held tablet also has high-end multimedia abilities.

Rounding out the story of how these units came into existence – and the intuitive ways they'll be used socially – David pointed out that the failure of other companies’ attempts at handheld computing was not the hardware limitations so much as the software not being up to speed. Stay tuned for developments on Qubit and its various products. Even at last year's "The Next Twenty Years" one-day fest in New York, the Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher suggested ubiquitous computing as the way to go. ( We're already taking Palms and Cell phones into new territory, why not the clunky beige box on your desktop?!