Building the Danger Hiptop:
     Striking the Right Balance for a New Mobile Internet Platform

   Scott Jenson   Joe Britt, Danger, Inc.

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design

When mobile telephones became within the financial grasp of the everyman, the value was easily understood.  Telephone-accessible “content” (other people with phones) could now be enjoyed from a car, while waiting in line, or from a table at a restaurant (sometimes to the dismay of other patrons).  

With the rise in popularity of the Internet, new kinds of valuable but tethered content became available to ordinary people.  The most popular included the web, email with friends and family, and, especially for the younger generation, instant messaging.   In early 2000 Danger began developing an analogue to the mobile phone for Internet content. The goal was to create a pocket-sized, inexpensive, and easy to use device with always-on connectivity to provide a computer-like Internet experience anywhere.  The result was the Danger hiptop, also known as the T-Mobile Sidekick.  

Though most end users are aware only of the device, achieving the design goal required a tight marriage of custom hardware, operating system software, application software, user interface design, and a back-end service.  Together, these components comprise the Danger mobile Internet platform.  

In this talk, I will discuss several key aspects of the platform¹s development and share the design philosophy applied by the team.  Strong belief in the importance of hardware/software integration and an organic, iterative design process were critical for success.   Lessons learned at companies like Apple, General Magic, and WebTV provided the team with a context for partitioning a complex problem across hardware, software, and a powerful back-end service.   The result is a product that enjoys widespread popularity among the 18-34 year old set.  To the relief of restaurant-goers everywhere, this form of mobile communication is silent.  

As Chief Technology Officer, Joe acts as a strategic and tactical guide for the technical and intellectual property aspects of Danger's business. Joe brings more than 14 years of experience building consumer products to Danger, and he has been awarded 13 patents as a result of his work. His specialty is designing system software for consumer electronic devices.

Prior to co-founding Danger, Joe spent over four years at WebTV Networks, which was acquired by Microsoft in 1995. As the first non-founding employee, he was responsible for the architecture and creation of the system software used in the WebTV set-top boxes. Joe was involved in the design of every hardware product shipped by WebTV during his time there. Before WebTV, Joe worked at Catapult Entertainment. Joe was part of the team that created the Xband Video Game Network, a system which enabled multi-player gaming over the Internet. Joe contributed to the system software as well as the technology required to enable video games for network play. Before Catapult, Joe worked at the 3DO Company, contributing to the design of a game console powered by a PowerPC CPU.

Joe started his Silicon Valley career at Apple Computer, working in the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) Products Group. Joe was a core member of the ROM (Read Only Memory) development team for the first generation PowerPC-based Macintosh. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from North Carolina State University.

View this talk on line at CS547 on Stanford OnLine

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