Friday, May 25, 2018

From Japan, a typewriter in your pocket

The Pomera DM30 is a distraction-free word processor that goes 20 hours on a pair of AAs. However, this latest generation of a decade-old product line must make more English concessions as it heads to the US market via Kickstarter.



Once, early adopters looked to Asian import sites such as Dynamism.com for computing devices that leapfrogged the American state of the art. Today, portable devices sold in the US have slimmed down to the point where there's little advantage to buying products optimized for the Japanese market. However, that doesn't mean every product makes it to American shores.

Ten years ago in Japan, a 91-year-old company called King Jim created the Pomera DM10. The pocketable product had a small e-ink screen, worked on AA batteries, and featured a folding keyboard. It was billed as an ideal note-taking device, but the cramped size and slightly unfamiliar Japanese keyboard made it a tough sell for all but the most adventurous early adopters in the US. The company followed up with the DM20 and non-folding keyboards in the DM100 and DM200, the latter looking like a slimmed-down version of the Windows CE clamshells of the late 90s. The interface on these devices could be switched to English, but they retained Japanese keyboards.

Now King Jim has launched a Kickstarter project for the latest iteration of the Pomera, the DM30; it comes with a tri-fold keyboard similar to that of the Jorno. The DM30 supports multiple font sizes and line spacing options. It also includes an outlining mode and a grid for tabular info that looks like a spreadsheet but can't perform calculations. It can transfer text to a PC via USB or SD and can take advantage of Wi-Fi-enabled SD cards such as the Toshiba FlashAir. The DM30 can also transfer text via a specialized QR code that is read by a companion smartphone app.

Like previous Pomeras, the interface can be set to English, and the company will ship an English manual with the product. That had been the extent of the localization for the US market. Indeed, even the crowdfunding video is only in Japanese. However, King Jim has now said that, based on backer feedback, it is now considering tweaking the software and keyboard printing to accommodate a US English keyboard layout.

Ever a tool to test market concepts, Kickstarter also gave rise to the Freewrite (nee Hemingwrite) in 2014. The retro-themed, distraction-free writing appliance with a 6-inch e-ink display and mechanical keyboard display can back up its contents to the cloud. Freewrite offers long battery life, and outdoor readability. And, after some disappointing early receptions, its creator Astrohaus has continued to update the software to the point where its Amazon.com reviews are solid. But, unfortunately, the FreeWrite is about the size of typewriters of old and therefore offers little portability advantage versus notebooks.

The Pomera is still available at a backer price of about $350. It arrives at a time when there is a bit of a renaissance in keyboarding on the go. Recently, the Gemini, a color-screened, Android-based update to the old Psion 5, started shipping. And TCL Mobile is expected to announce a new keyboard-enabled BlackBerry smartphone next month. Even as a world has learned to type on glass, many still long for a more familiar and comfortable way to compose longer documents on the go without the bulk of a notebook.


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