Converged PC + mobile utopia: How far away are we?

Converged PC + mobile utopia: How far away are we?

Summary: Today's connected professionals carry too many devices. Make no mistake though, convergence is coming and it will have profound effects on both users and the tech industry.

SHARE:

Let's face it, today's hyper-connected professionals have too many technology tools that do too many redundant things. And, while that redundancy can be a good thing when one of the devices doesn't work or runs out of power, it also means that our devices are destined to consolidate because normal people eventually get tired of having too many specialized tools. Most would would prefer a Swiss Army Knife.

In the gadget world, we've already seen this happening with point-and-shoot cameras, GPS navigators, and MP3 players. Most of them have been wiped out as individual devices and simply absorbed into smartphones -- the Swiss Army Knife of modern tech.

However, there's also a new redundancy, perhaps the biggest redundancy. As smartphones get faster and more powerful while the technology that runs today's computers gets smaller and more power-efficient, the two are destined for a collision course. Plus, now we have tablets thrown into the mix.

I know way too many people who now carry a laptop, a tablet, and a smartphone (sometimes two). In fact, I'm one of them. However, I predict that five years from now, this won't be the case. Most people will carry one device. The question, of course, is which device will it be?

Judging by the current trajectory of these technologies, it will be something akin to what a smartphone or tablet looks like today, although with a big asterisk.

I realize this may sound strange since just last week I wrote the article "Tablets are for people who hate computers" in which I talked about the fact that people who are already highly-proficient with computers tend to end up frustrated with tablets.

But, what I'm talking about now is a future device that looks like today's smartphone or tablet but has all of the power of today's personal computer. A preliminary example is the Motorola Atrix, which is a high-powered smartphone that can also slide into a desktop dock or a laptop dock and function like a full PC with a keyboard, mouse, and large LCD monitor. The big difference is that the smartphones of 2013 and 2014 are going to be powerful enough to run a full desktop OS that can do virtually everything today's computers can do, including photo editing and high definition video conferencing. The other big difference is that future smartphones won't have to physically dock. They'll use an encrypted wireless docking technology that will function similar to Wireless USB and the Palm Touchstone charger.

When those factors come together, the smartphone will become the computer. It will not only be your communications device, but, with a combination of the cloud and local syncing, it will also hold the key to accessing all of your apps, data, and media no matter whether you're operating on the phone itself, or from a wireless docking station with keyboard/mouse/monitor at your office, or wirelessly tethered to your flatscreen TV at home.

The same will be true of tablets. They will be capable of docking and becoming a fully functional PCs. We're already seeing glimpses of this today with the HP TouchPad and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer. The future scenario for tablets will be nearly identical to what I mentioned above for smartphones. The big question will be whether you want a smartphone or a tablet. People who make more phone calls and tend to be more mobile and active will likely opt for smartphones. People who do more visual tasks will likely to gravitate toward tablets.

One thing to note is that for all of the people who choose smartphones, there will still be a market for a low-cost color e-reader (under $100) similar to today's Amazon Kindle. I think we'll see a lot more people using those as companion devices to smartphones than opting for both a tablet and a smartphone.

And, yes, there will still be exceptions. Video editing, multimedia production, CAD, and software development, for example, will all still be done on full desktop computers. But, these will increasingly become highly specialized systems, almost like today's workgroup servers.

There's also one other interesting factor to watch in this whole process. A lot of the current tech titans are likely going to fight this trend because they won't want to cannibalize any of their current revenue streams. They'd prefer to sell you a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop. That's what Apple wants with iOS and Mac. That what Samsung wants with Android and Windows. Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and ASUS want to replicate what Samsung is doing. HP wants to do the same thing, but with WebOS all around. None of them are going to be motivated to deliver a converged device instead of selling you three devices. That's going to leave the door open for someone unexpected to seize the opportunity.

Next week, I'll tell you who it might be.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

13 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

    I see convergance - but not in this way. I don't see a big push for lots of docks and cradles. Probably to a small number of devices, but not a single device.
    CobraA1
  • This could happen

    Interesting indeed.<br>What would be even more interesting is if the touch screen of either the smartphone or the tablet can still be used as an input medium when the device is docked.<br>I am not really interested by tablet, but a 7"/8" tablet with such capabilities could be quite appealing for me. It would be even more appealing if the dock add capabilities such as processing power, GPU power,etc...<br>Moreover if Windows 8 is as promising as it seems (especially the desktop/laptop U.I and the speed/reactivitu of the whole system), Microsoft could be one of the first to have the appropriate O.S for such devices. Their dual approach for Windows 8 could be quite visionnary after all.
    timiteh
  • Future = 4 Cores Smartphone & Wireless Perapherals Wireless SCREENS

    That Actually we will need as Ubiquitous Wireless Audio/Music in Fall of 2011 while I expected we will see Wireless Video during CES 2012 for Fall 2012 Launch

    I think WIRELESS Audio & Video will kill Tablets, e-readers, TV, & Personal Desktop & Notebook in favor of:

    1-Smartphones wireless communicate (Audio/Video/Documents) with Wireless's Screens, Speakers, Keyboards, Mouse, Video Cams, VOIP net

    2-Smart TV the wireless communication Hub with Internet Home Control Remote for the Digital Home that will control your Smart TV, Smart Fridge, Smart Lights, Surveillance Cameras,etc

    So Through Smart TV or Smartphone+Wireless Screen you could watch streamed Video or TV or Radio or Music

    or Documents & Internet Browsing by Adding Wireless Keyboard/Mouse

    Most Likely We will read news & books on Smart TV why e-reader?

    Wireless Technology for Bandwidth &Video will transform our life
    swisslakes
    • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

      @swisslakes

      No.

      People want something they can curl up in a comfy chair, or lay in bed for reading. The TV's size makes that a problem. The Author is right about e-readers.

      However, the future for high bandwidth will not be with cellular technology. The costs are just too high, and the radio spectrum is just too limited. No matter what technology is used, we will still have to live with the limitations of modern physics.

      Instead, look to WiFi, with fiber to the home. You can have a good, 100 MBPS home service today. For the future, look to increase that by around 10 times.

      I believe that in 10 years or so, possibly in as little as 5, the headless (no screen, no keyboard) server will be a basic household appliance, with disk space for video, audio and games. It will function as your internet gateway, and will provide more power than anyone but researchers in big labs currently has. They will probably be advertised by the number of processors. 128 might be a good number, with around 32 Gig's of ram, and a couple petabyte of storage.

      Your laptop, or TV, or sound speakers will all be WiFi enabled, and so will not need much more than a couple of times more processing power than cell phones currently have. Mostly for display. All the heavy lifting will be done by the server. You will be accessing the server from anywhere with good tunneling over the internet. The cloud will in the end just be for connecting you to your data.

      There will be some cloud services that will not be on your personal server (or your work server), but most people will chose to keep their data in their own safe.

      Oh, and the days of the keyboard and mouse are going to come to a close within 20 years. Voice input, together with precise location using pens or some other means will beat anything a mouse or keyboard can do. Both smaller and more natural.
      YetAnotherBob
      • Both of you guys are correct...

        A computer, whether in mobile format or desktop/laptop format, will be as usable as the outputs that it supports and produces.

        People have the five senses, and that is what the targets for output should be for any computing device.

        Most of what computers do now is to produce output to be seen and heard. The other senses are still not very much supported, those being smell, touch, taste. But, that could change in the future.

        For now, what is needed is for everything that people use to have some sort of connectivity, and that includes TVs/monitors, printers, speakers, cameras, refrigerators, ovens (both types), A/C and heating, lawn sprinklers, automobiles, homes, people, animals, etc.

        The only gadget needed is the attachment which each of those devices and entities would use to receive and send information to a series of devices or a central device (which the owner would have complete control of).

        Now, the biggest problem would be if someone were to have a controlling device, like a mobile computer, and that device were to be lost or stolen. In that case, people might have to start wearing their computers to insure that it can't be lost or stolen.

        With mobile devices becoming very powerful computers, the desktops and laptops and even the tablets wouldn't be needed anymore. With connectivity and communications becoming easier all the time, the main computing device might not even need to be carried around, and it could reside in a secure location or in someone's home; all that would be needed is a remote control with some computing of its own and with connectivity. The "server" at home or in a secure location would be in charge of connecting to whatever other device is requested through the "remote". That remote would, of course, have the functions of a phone and a camera and for texting, but, it wouldn't need to have the "server" guts in it. That type of system/configuration would make cloud computing unnecessary and/or redundant.
        adornoe
  • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

    Hopefully, we get over this "mobile craze". I don't mind convergance, but I'm not at all interested in carrying devices running crappy mobile OSs other than a phone.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

      @Cylon Centurion

      The OS will be invisible to most users. No one will care. Developers will write to a standard similar to Python, Java or HTML5, and even they will not know or care what it will be running on.

      Arguing about Windows verses iOS will be as stupid as the old arguments about how many Angels could dance on the head of a pin. It may be that these arguments already are.
      YetAnotherBob
  • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

    I fully agree. We already have the Atrix, which is only the beginning. The docking style is very ineffecient and bad design, but there is only a matter of time before this is done wireless. I remember seeing this (http://www.thefirstreporter.com/press-releases/zamboola-announces-breakthrough-3g-cell-phone-technology/) article a couple of years ago, which was about a year before the Atrix came out. Could be something to keep an eye on!
    brhodes87@...
  • Not going to happen until...

    ...a smartphone can have at least a 10" screen and a full size keyboard without having to carry either around.

    The screen problem they could probably lick with a projector or holographic viewscreen projected in mid-air--assuming they can *also* solve the power issues.

    Neither one of which will happen in the next 5 years. Of course the keyboard issue isn't likely to get solved *ever*.

    Not everyone can get along with a gimpy little keyboard and a 4" screen...
    wolf_z
    • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

      @wolf_z

      Keyboards are just a way of entering text. As the netbooks showed, you are right that shrinking the keyboard is a losing idea, but a keyboard is not nearly as good as a spoken input. Just ask any executive with a good stenographer if they prefer writing or dictating. Dictation wins every time.

      Mid sized servers or mainframes are required right now for processing dictation, but in about 5 years, voice response systems will be all the rage. Dragon Naturally Speaking, or IBM's speech program will expand rapidly. There is also an excellent system that MIT has. It needs a mainframe to run right now, but that will be available in your home within 5 years. With a good connection to a reliable server in your home, why would you ever want a keyboard?

      Text is really just a way of recording and transmitting speech. Typing is unnatural. Speaking is much easier. Speaking will win.
      YetAnotherBob
    • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

      @wolf_z
      The keyboard problem has already been solved. They have had projected keyboards that detect users fingers and then hit the key based on location. So you set the phone or whatever on a desk or flat surface and just start typing away. It doesn't work when your on the bus or subway but works in most other cases.
      tim.w.jung@...
  • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

    I am using a Tabletkiosk Sahara i500 and see this high end pc-tablet as a unique product that might be the direction of the market.
    An Intel i7 processor, SSD with most connectivity needs incorporated into a tablet running W7 provides a quality hybrid that I use for both business and personal needs.
    sickntired44
  • RE: Converged PC mobile utopia: How far away are we?

    The Asus Padfone looks promising for pushing this convergence forward along with phones like the Atrix if Motorola can ever get that working right.

    The author is right though; this kind of tech is just around the corner!
    aholland1