Author(s): Robert Caunt
Last week I went to see Planet Computers to hear how its crowd-funded Gemini phone-with-a-keyboard is progressing.
The device has now shipped to all its Indiegogo backers and is available to buy from specialist retailers. It's already spawned a small number of third-party cases, especially in Japan, which accounts for the biggest proportion of Gemini sales.
Having used my Gemini for more than a month, I'd agree with the claim by Janko Mrsic-Flogel, Planet Computers' CEO, that the device is a "no hands or two hands" phone — it's best used open on a desk ("no hands") or held with both hands so the keyboard can be operated by your thumbs. These two options work well, but they do mean that the Gemini isn't a "one hand" device like a traditional phone. This will obviously diminish its appeal to a mass-market audience.
To overcome this limitation, Planet is looking at solutions involving a second screen, possibly powered by Google's Wear OS, placed on the outside of the Gemini. This would allow the closed device to operate like a normal phone. Initial feedback from Gemini owners indicates that their three biggest gripes are the lack of an external screen, the relatively low quality of the outward-facing camera module, and the lack of backlighting on the keyboard. Planet believes all these problems will be addressed in a future iteration of the product.
As I reported earlier (The Gemini PDA Arrives), the Agenda application has yet to make an appearance. Last week I saw a preproduction version that seemed very impressive: Planet Computers has obviously worked hard to reproduce all the best features of the Psion's Agenda software.
The forthcoming Agenda app shows that there are still pockets of innovation in a largely mature, stable market. Calendar functions are a cornerstone of mobile device usage; it's surprising that the default apps supplied by phone-makers or with operating systems are relatively poor. Even dedicated apps like Outlook don't match the promise of the Gemini's Agenda, in my view. Like all software developers, Planet faces the problem of how to fund continued development of its application and, like many, is considering a subscription service for future versions.
On 26 June, Planet announced the release of tools to enable the Gemini to boot into any of four operating systems: Android (standard and rooted versions), Debian and the newly supported Sailfish OS.
The availability of Sailfish OS on the Gemini brings a certain circularity to both projects: the Gemini was conceived as an update to the Psion organiser, whose operating system evolved into the Symbian platform that underpinned Nokia's smartphone business. When Nokia switched to Windows as its sole mobile operating system, its MeeGo open-source efforts mutated into Sailfish OS.
Finally, the meeting with Planet also highlighted a little-known feature of the Gemini: it's one of the first phones available in Europe with e-SIM functions; it also supports a regular hardware SIM, with two modems to allow simultaneous connections. Widespread support of e-SIMs could prompt some fundamental changes to operators' businesses if networks remove the need to distribute physical SIMs and allow users to swap providers as their needs change (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2018 and Beyond for one of our predictions about the future of e-SIMs).
I'm looking forward to continuing to track the Gemini's progress. In a market where innovation has arguably stalled it offers a rare reminder that smartphones can be different.