Laptops that look like sushi rolls and cellphones that double as running shoes are just two of the not-so-far-flung devices that Toshiba product manager Laurie White says are on their way in the next few years.
Sydney-based White, who is one of only half a dozen Toshiba managers who work on product development, travels regularly to Tokyo to come up with notebook computer wish-lists.
“I have the best job at Toshiba — everyone here calls me the toy boy,” laughs White.
His work extends from the everyday incremental product changes, like moving to non-scratch notebook surfaces, to advanced lithium ion battery development that has batteries built in to the notebooks’ lids, to the science fiction, as in the sushi-roll laptops.
Toshiba's sticking to the laptop for now. “Toshiba likes the form factor of the notebook — we’re not going to be doing PDAs any time soon. What we are looking at is using polymer silicon displays.” Such a display would be more flexible than today’s screens and could be made to be touch-sensitive. “A user would simply unfold the screen, tap somewhere on the surface to activate it and begin typing. Touch typists have no problems but the two-fingered typists don’t know where to click next, so we’re working on that.”
The screen would fold up in segments “just like a sushi roll” around its central processor block and because it has no separate keyboard could be made larger than today’s 15-in screens without having to increase the overall size of the device.
Battery technology is another area dear to White’s heart. He says Toshiba is behind the incredible increases in power from proportionally smaller batteries that cellphone manufacturers are using today and which will be transferred to the notebook in future.
“We will be building a number of batteries into the lid of the notebook instead of having to snap it onto the back. They take up less room that way.” White says Toshiba has also been experimenting with fuel cells, and is working on a methanol-powered notebook that will convert the methanol into hydrogen.
“It’s better that way because people aren’t fond of having notebooks explode on them. From 300ml of methanol we can run a notebook for about a month.”
As for the cellphone sneakers, White says the cellphone will eventually become a communication hub that connects devices, like notebooks, headsets or sushi rolls, with the world. Because the devices will be enabled for the Bluetooth wireless standard the user will not need to use the phone itself to call out, so the phone can be any form factor you care to name.
“We’d build it into the heel of your Nike sneaker so every step you take is converted into electricity to keep it going,” says White, who doesn’t appear to be joking at all.