Hardware as a commodity pt 2: The phone as laptop replacement

Posted on January 10, 2011

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In May 2010 I held a presentation at NEXT in Germany titled: “Hardware as a Commodity” and what that will change. The basis of that presentation were the concepts I wrote down in this blog post a few days before the event.

I will give you a few slides from that presentation here to show you the quick and dirty summary of my line of thoughts on phones. Then watch the videos by Charbax.

The phone as a laptop replacement

Main issues

Limitations

  1. Lack of screen / screen real estate – you need an external screen to work
  2. Lack of processing power – for the basic stuff like Excel, Power Point and Word you are fine. Take away all the bloatware and it will run like a charm. For the heavy stuff, a more heavy solution will be helpful. You can solve that issue by carrying a backup-processing unit with you. On that: more later.
  3. Lack of connectivity – You can solve the issue on raw processing power by working on a remote desktop.

Applications

  1. The barren land of Android and Linux – There are no real good replacements / alternatives for MS Office. iWorks might come close but is closed for OSX. Open Office simply is not there yet: still. And not available for Android.

Modularity: adding raw processing power

What we will see emerge in the next years are pocket size “desktop computers”, as powerful as a laptop and priced below 200 euro. A second development is inter-connectivity: to let one device rule others and act as replacements as a display, processing unit or input device.

To extend the processing capacities of your mobile phone, tablet or whatever you have, you simply should be able to “plug in” more capacity as you do with an external harddrive.

To test some of my hypothesis on scalability and portability I bought the Fit PC2 in 2010 which is approximately 10 x 10 x 3 cm and can run with the same power as a netbook.

Test

While still unusable for most real life cases, it will give me some idea about the advantages and limitations in upgrading your portable processing power in three steps:

  1. Tablet only – for on the go kind of stuff, including the use of an external mouse and keyboard and very basic productivity work like writing documents.
  2. Tablet set as a “slave” device connected to a box – Using a Remote Desktop to access the OS running on the box and use the processing power it has to offer over the tablet – to run MS Office on Windows and edit images or write some code.
  3. The box as the main device - Using the box as the main processing unit and using a HD screen to present the desktop in 1980 x 1020 pixels. To do the real stuff on a screen real estate that matters. Also nice for watching movies in bed on a lazy Sunday morning.

Motorola demo – doing the right stuff

Motorola Atrix G4 with dock

I think Motoroloa is one of the first to get it right with the new capabilities of mobile phones running on powerful and cheap hardware that offers almost the same possibilities as desktop machines.

In the Charbax video, also shown here you will see a remote Windows box via Citrix on the new Moterola phone – and a demo of Android on a big screen. It runs a Dual Core ARM Cortext A9 processor with a clock-speed of 1GHz per core.

Regarding remote-desktop sessions: you do not need the latest phone or Android version run that. Search the Android App store and you will find 2 or 3 options to download and test. You DO need HDMI output to get a proper screen real estate.

In the video you will hear some things about the target audience they have in mint with this specific solution. Brief: Motorola targets the mobile user that can use the phone as a replacement for a laptop or Netbook.

Also watch the Motorola keynote speech. About 2:30 it becomes interesting as the phone itself will be demoed. Scroll to 7:20 to see the phone dock as shown above, that offers a screen, touch pad and keyboard for the phone.

Conclusion

It is still early. Before we will have the machines that fit in our pockets and offer the same raw processing power we expect from a decent desktop today, we are one to two years further. Also, the tendency to add more crap to applications that do not change much in functionality – like in Office Suites – but make them more power hungry every new cycle will hopefully structurally turn around into the tendency to optimize the code and the processes so that we can run today’s standards smoothly on hardware that matches the standard of the year 2000.

I think the Netbook is on its way to be replaced by smartphones and tablets. If I would have stocks in: “The Netbook Industry”, I would sell them today.

Looking at the speed of adaptation and the need of advocates showing and using this in practice I think 2011 is bit too early to see that replacement happen. It will probably be the next big thing in 2012 when everything is a bit more mature, the concepts Motorola shows are copied and pirated, generic tablet and phone specs are more up to the “now” instead of the “yesterday”, ARM-loaded multi-core processor, below 200 euro pocket size RISC PC boxes will enter the market , Windows 8 comes out and we are getting used to multi-purpose devices.

Right now, thinking of “replacing your netbook by an Android device” is wishful thinking. Android is not offering yet the productivity applications you need to replace Windows, OSX or Linux. But with the new market dominance emerging, the coding tools and libraries available and the lack of real ground breaking stuff in those applications, that might be a matter of time. After all: the core functionality of productivity software like Office is still 95% the same as it was in 1991.

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