The Next Level of Convergence?

Wouldn't it be cool if I could plug a keyboard and monitor into my phone....

An unwelcome surprise

Laptop crashes are something I usually only hear stories about.

That is of course, until last night when my Dell just wouldn’t boot — only 5 weeks out of the warranty of course — go figure.

I went to bed hopeful that the data on the drive was still intact. I have back-ups, but that is never a fun exercise.

Data backups are kind of like life insurance — you need it, but you never want to use it, if you know what I mean.

I put the hard drive into a USB-caddy and was pleased to see all of my data happily residing on the hard drive.

Breathing Easier

Now that my immediate concern of data loss was in the rear view mirror, my mind moved to my current situation. My data was in good order, but I didn’t have another laptop into which I could slide the hard drive.

As I walked around the office looking for a surrogate machine to house my disk drive, I mused that an increasing amount of the work I do on a day-to-day basis is actually done on remote servers anyway. I just use the laptop for a keyboard, mouse and monitor — not exactly cloud computing, but approaching that.

For instance, this article is written via a web form online — no word processor required. Thankfully spell-check is included.

Web development is usually done via ssh and vi; or via Remote Desktop for connecting to applications hosted on remote Windows servers.

Ironically, mobile development generally requires local computing resources:

  • iPhone requires an Intel based Mac
  • Blackberry requires a Windows machine
  • Android applications can be built on Windows, Mac, or Linux
  • Palm webOS can be built on Windows or Mac. However, the new Ares development environment for webOS runs entirely in the browser. We’ll look at this innovative development platform in more detail in a future column. I have taken a quick peak at it and in a word – it is “cool”.
  • And for Symbian? The last time I checked it was Windows — it’s been quite a while since I’ve ventured into the land of Series 60.

So, while much of my work can be done “in the cloud”, it appears that I still have need of a laptop for my mobile development work. The truth is that I am not a huge fan of cloud computing just yet — I have perhaps a false sense of security knowing that my data is nearby. But what if there were another way?

Real computing convergence

Every day I pack up my laptop into my backpack — twice. Once to head to the office. And once to come home. I spend a lot of time at the keyboard in both places — too much in fact. Lugging the backpack around gets old. In fact, my favorite coat has to be retired because I’ve worn a hole in the shoulder from lugging my bag around every day.

What if I didn’t need to carry this bag everywhere? What if my phone really were smart and became my computer?

Devices have come a very long way over the past few years. Storage is dirt cheap — and compact. Processor speeds are improving, networks are faster. Insert generic hyperbole about Moore’s Law, here, etc. The point is that the laptop of today may just be unnecessary for many work profiles.

The laptop may not be easily jettisoned for people who need to do significant amounts of image processing or other computationally intense activities, but the majority of users send email, write documents, pretend to use spreadsheets and surf the ‘net.

Years ago when I first saw the Qualcomm Palm phone I thought it was the coolest thing. Ugly? You bet. But it made sense. I had a Palm Pilot in my bag and a Nokia candy-bar phone in my pocket. I rarely used the Palm Pilot because it wasn’t top of mind. Sure I would take it out and beam a card from time to time — it was the hip thing to do. But not until I got that big, ugly Palm phone did I get real use out of the “PDA”.

Today, the idea of using a smartphone is no longer novel — it is the norm. Perhaps we can take it to the next level?

I would sure love to just use my smartphone as my computing device and have a simple means to cradle it on the desktop, connecting a monitor, keyboard and mouse which I would never have to carry around.

The hardware isn’t quite ready yet, but it could be before long. Power really isn’t a concern because I can plug my phone into a power supply on the desk — the phone would just have to run in two modes — full power when connected to the grid and in “slower” mode when running on battery.

As for an operating system for this computing platform, today I would be split between Android and WebOS. They both have their merits. While Android has a much bigger market and mind share and more horse-power for more graphically intense applications like games, WebOS may just be the better platform for many types of applications and user behaviors. Either way, I look forward to watching the market mature to this point.

In some ways we are there already. My phone is with me more than any person, place or thing. Profound really how invasive this device is to my life.

What do you think? Could you ditch your laptop altogether and imagine using your phone as the center of your computing universe?

Fatal error: Call to undefined function aa_author_bios() in /opt/apache/dms/b2b/linux-mag.com/site/www/htdocs/wp-content/themes/linuxmag/single.php on line 62