One of my favorite people to talk to is Ward Bond, president of Infogrip, because he always pushes the envelope of technology. Infogrip makes the BAT chord keyboard, which should show up in the Mac market after they get enough money to pay an industrial designer to snazz it up for picky consumers. It’s already being sold to CAD users, I gather, since they don’t care much what it looks like as long as it saves time, which it does.
In any event, Infogrip has two new products which fit right in with what I’ve been saying for a long time about peripatetic (a nice Greek word meaning "performed while moving around") computing. The most exciting of these products from a retail standpoint is the Mini-BAT, which is palmtop computer like the Sharp Wizard or the new HP 95LX. Like the Sharp Wizard, the Mini-BAT does not use DOS, which can either be good or bad, depending on your compu-religious affiliation. The Mini-BAT comes with word processing software, calendar/alarm software, database software, 64K of memory, and a NiCad battery pack that lasts for 40 hours of working between charges. For more money on top of the retail price (less than $600) you can add up to 576K of memory, a Lotus 1-2-3 compatible spreadsheet, a pocket fax modem, an alphanumeric pager, a kit for transferring data to a PC or a Mac, and last but not least, foreign language translation programs for Spanish, French, and German. That’s pretty impressive for a non-DOS palmtop. Like both the Wizard and the 95LX, the Mini-BAT has a full (if something 3.5" x 7" x .8" and weighing less than a pound can have "full" associated with it in any way) keyboard. Unlike the other two, or any other portable computer of any size, the Mini-BAT also includes a special seven-key chord keyboard so you can actually type on it, even without looking. A friend lent me a Digital Diary for a while, and although I liked what it could do as far as keeping track of information, I hated entering information on its pseudo-keyboard so much I finally stopped using it out of pure irritation. In the BYTE review of the HP 95LX, they say that its main downfall is its abysmal keyboard. The reviewer even made a nasty comment about how not only was typing the Great American Novel not possible on this keyboard, even the Great American short story would be pretty hard to manage. The Mini-BAT should be able to put all current portable computer keyboards to shame because anyone can learn to touch-type on a chord keyboard quickly since you don’t have to move your fingers around to different keys. The ability to type without looking at either the screen or the keyboard should minimize the Mini-BAT’s main limitation, which is a small LCD screen.
Infogrip’s other new product gets around the Mini-BAT’s screen limitation, and if your compu-religious affiliation involves bowing toward Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond five times a day, you will like the Walk-Around Chordable Computer with Private Eye. It’s a long name, but basically you get a portable 8086, 80286, or 80386 computer running DOS. You wear the computer around your neck like a guitar, and use a BAT chord keyboard to enter information. Display is handled by the head-mounted Private Eye, which weighs less than three ounces and provides what looks like a full-size screen floating a few feet in front of you. No need to worry about electromagnetic fields with this baby, although you might walk into walls occasionally. That’s all we know about the Walk-Around, so call Ward at Infogrip if you want more information.
Another project that Infogrip is working on but hasn’t mentioned to the popular press is something with the terrible name of CompCap. The company that thought of the name and the product is Park Engineering, and the machine is an 8086 DOS computer shoehorned into a hardhat. A Private Eye provides the display and if everything goes right, a BAT should be included for text entry. For those of you who wear hardhats a lot (architects, construction people, engineers, people with soft heads, etc.), a CompCap is an excellent way to keep the computing power close at hand, or perhaps I should say, under your hat.
Ward said that he was talking to people at Apple, so if we’re lucky a future Apple portable will have a reasonable keyboard. I’ve heard from a couple of people now that Apple may release some small, possibly pen-based, machines using RISC or 68040 chips in the next year. Perhaps the most interesting of these will be an el-cheapo handheld in the $600 range that would be ideal with a BAT keyboard. Actually, since it’s looking as though there will be separate pen-based, handheld, and notebook machines, the BAT would work well with all of them, and would take care of my main complaints with pen-based computers. You use the pen for the simple stuff and the BAT for the real text entry and you get the best of both worlds without a massive keyboard weighing you down. Nice thought, that. Anyone at Apple listening?
Infogrip — 504/336-0033
Park Engineering, Don Merriam — 206/747-3309
Ward Bond, Infogrip