No matter how cool, phones are not tablets or computers. Or are they?

No matter how cool, phones are not tablets or computers. Or are they?

Summary: I see a lot of discussions about using phones in the enterprise but I never hear how well that works for anyone. Phones are not tablets or computers and aren't great for heavy BYOD use. But with a little tweaking, could they be?


Phones are phones are phones.

No matter how large the screen, how much data is on your data plan, how many apps you have on it, or how much you think how awesome your phone is; your phone is still just a phone. While you can compose email messages on it, how many can you do before you wish that you had a real keyboard? You can perform web searches on it, but how many can you perform before you say, "I wish I had a larger screen"?

Keep wishing. Your wish might come true very soon.

Great Debate: Tablets or more powerful smartphones - which is the future for business?

Sure, you can connect a Bluetooth keyboard to your phone. I've done it just to see what it's like and to avoid using the tiny phone keyboard. Between Autocorrect and fatfingering, I just don't have the patience for using virtual keyboards on phones. The pushbutton ones are better, but not much better.

To my knowledge, there aren't any consumer-ready Bluetooth monitors/screens that you can use with your phone available. And what if there were? It would seem silly to connect your phone to a keyboard and monitor, wouldn't it? 

It just seems wrong to me. Maybe it isn't.

Maybe it's no different than using an All-in-One computer that is a Bluetooth keyboard, Bluetooth mouse, and monitor with built-in hard drive and motherboard.

If enough people want to use phones as mobile computers, monitor manufacturers or an interested third-party should create a monitor-attached phone cradle so that the phone is hidden away so that no one knows.

These days, you can install any app on a phone that you can install on a tablet: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, email, Internet browsing, graphics, photo editing, music, technical utilities (SSH client, RDP client), and social media apps. 

And almost every time that I install an app on my tablet, the app also installs on my phone without intervention, and vice versa. 

I think that, given the power of new mobile phones, the form factor of your chosen computing device will soon be a moot point. In other words, whether you use a phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer will only matter to you. 

Desktop computers are getting smaller. My new Mac mini is only about 8 inches square and less than two inches tall. If you remember the "pizza box" computers of the old days, this thing is a personal pan pizza. It's totally portable -- provided that you have a monitor at each location that you want to travel to.

The monitor seems to be the current limiting factor on mobile desktop computing. Some have suggested that you can use your tablet as a monitor. But I say that if you have your tablet, why would you need to use it as a monitor?

If you have a keyboard, monitor, and maybe a mouse, I'm not sure that it matters what computing device you're connected to.

The closest arrangement to a real computer (desktop or laptop), in the mobile device world, is a tablet plus a keyboard. Then it's basically a laptop—or so my wife has observed when watching me use my Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad. She's never seen me using it with my iPhone. She will never see that. I don't need to partake in the inevitable dialogue about how silly it is.

It's not silly. It's an experiment.

And it's not a silly experiment, either.

It's an experiment to test whether using a phone as a primary computing device is a good idea or not. My results say that it doesn't seem to matter.

If you have a keyboard, monitor, and maybe a mouse, I'm not sure that it matters what computing device you're connected to. The apps all work as expected. Response is good. I can browse Internet sites, send text messages, edit files, and even make phone calls all simultaneously*.

Companies will have to accommodate users' devices by providing certain standard amenities: monitor, keyboard, docking hardware or device cradles. The device a user brings to the office might vary from day to day so the static office hardware needs to be flexible enough to attach to a variety of user devices. The biggest technology hurdle will be the monitor because you'd have to have one that can attach to phones, tablets, laptops, and various portable computer types.

Additionally, Wi-Fi connectivity will be required because phones and tablets generally don't connect to wired networks. Therefore, a true, fully realized BYOD environment** will require some thought and perhaps some rules of engagement.

This new paradigm does bring up an interesting question: Does the variety of user devices and connectivity issues create a technology conundrum great enough to make BYOD too difficult and too expensive? Only time and hardware advances will tell for sure.

What do you think? Given the diversity of user devices, is BYOD actually a workable solution for companies? Will technological advances improve our ability to bring any device to the office? Talk back and let me know.

*Simultaneously isn't quite accurate since people are generally monotaskers but as simultaneously as a person can do by having multiple apps open and switching among them.

**An environment that allows users to bring any computing device (phone, tablet, laptop, mobile workstation) and enjoy full connectivity as a usable workstation.

See Also:

Topics: Mobile OS, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • Bluetooth displays?

    At some point, you'll be able to approach a monitor, mouse, and keyboard with a device and then be able to use said monitor and input devices.

    Ironic part here- people say they hate Windows 8 modern apps because they are watered down compared to desktop ones. On the other hand, people complain that they don't have this app or that and yet refuse to use the website for the app (this goes for all platforms, mobile and PC). So either people need to overcome this dilemma or else admit there is no "post-PC" world.
    • @ikissfutebol

      Very well said. To me, there is no Post PC world. A PC is anything you use.
      • That's splitting hairs a bit, to change what was associated to a particular

        Now to a broad array of other devices.

        "PC" is and has been used to reference the device that IBM and Apple introduced years ago, not a tablet even though the tablet can fit that description.

        It's like the word "automobile" which means "a vehicle that moves itself". Sure a plane, boat, or train can fall under that catagory since it meets the criteria, but it's been long since associated with what we all know and love - the car, and I doubt you could take the word and now start applying it to planes without confusing the heck out of everyone.
        William Farrel
        • @william farrel

          Very well said
  • Technically, they are computers

    They meet every classical definition of what a computer is - they have a CPU, they have memory, and are general purpose programmable using compilable instructions that can be deposited alterably into storage and memory on the device.

    That said, your article makes an interesting point - what if you could monitor dock a phone?
    • monitor dock

      This is already achievable for folks that would want to do so; and maybe in a few more years, it'll be more common. For now, there is an incompatible overlap. Those that would want to, and know how to connect a phone to a monitor; already have full scale CPU's connected to those monitors. It makes no sense to disconnect a full cpu with hardwired gigabit ethernet in order to plug the monitor into a low powered cpu utilizing wifi for its internet. It also makes little sense to purchase and set-aside space for a monitor specifically for the phone.

      A pattern I could see coming in a bit, is where someone's desktop cpu dies, and they have a monitor capable smartphone; instead of replacing the cpu, they just connect their phone and forget about the desktop. I know my elderly parents and inlaws would both be perfectly well served by such a setup, though for now, they still use desktop systems.
    • Not a true PC to me.

      I can't nuke the operating system for a Linux system unless it's an x86 tablet. That is completely unacceptable. One of many reasons I feel tablets and smartphones are the beginning of the end of computing freedom.
      • Interesting point

        While computing freedom is irrelevant to the vast majority of users, it is a fundamental difference between most tablets/phones and PCs. Windows 8 tablets do a lot to bridge that gap, while RT continues that trend (which is why the number of RT apps is irrelevant to me -- it isn't an option on anything but a phone).

        Battery life, mobility and compactness is so essential to phones that it could take a while before phones are both able to dock as PCs and begin to actually be used that way. Attempts at docking phones haven't seemed to experience widespread adoption.
  • Bluetooth monitor?

    If you'd be willing to live with a cable connection, what you describe is already provided by the Ubuntu Edge. Unless you want to quibble about exactly the same UI for phone on its own with no connected I/O peripherals or fully connected to monitor, keyboard and mouse. The Ubuntu phones connect to monitors using HDMI cables, not uncommon.

    Wireless connections are a few years away from becomming common. Examples would be streaming content from phones to TVs and ubiquitous docking stations. The question is how much local storage is needed vs how much could be stored online.

    Phones now have how many times the computing power of 10-year-old desktop PCs? Most people could get by with just a phone which could connect easily to more standard desktop I/O peripherals. There'll still be a market for desktops, but only for some users in the workplace and dedicated hobbyists at home.
  • Thin Clients

    Thin clients are where its at these days. People want to be able to access their work desktop from anywhere, and VDI software can make that happen pretty well. Only problem is they need a machine to use at work and thin clients are so outrageously expensive its unjustifiable not to just buy a proper desktop instead. And at that point you might as well not have the mainframe.

    Why can't they use their phone as a thin client? This would be a killer feature on Windows phone, IMO Microsoft should be pushing the enterprise market with that platform. Imagine it: You plug your phone into an all-in-one monitor or a connector dongle (I'm imagining a cube with USB ports, sound ports and a VGA adaptor on the sides) and it sets up a simple RDS session to the mainframe that has your desktop. Could be a locked-down server at your office, could be your home PC. Phones easily have the power to do this, and IMO would do a better job at it than most of the thin clients I've worked with. Plus, you can pick it up and take it with you!

    This is how Microsoft needs to push Windows - from the enterprise out. Consumers aren't going to take to it on their own, but if employees are provided Windows phones as their work phones it could grow on people. Right now Windows phones don't cut it as an enterprise phone, but if Microsoft pushed the right features it'd be a sure thing.
    • Back to the Future

      Thin clients are only replicating the environment of 3270 terminals in the 1970's, except for using the internet instead of a hard wired company network. That environment was the only feasible one for many years because (1) communications links were much slower (9600 bps on a dedicated (leased) telco line, maybe 1200 on dialup (plus the dialing and hanging up time); (2) the only place having enough storage for a company (or even a single branch office) is in the mainframe at HQ; and (3) ditto for computing power.

      Today, we have the advantage of being ABLE to store our personal, or business, data on our own machines, process and update the locally stored data without having to have an internet connection always up and running. HAVING it always (or almost always) up is an added value, but not always a necessity, as having "the network" or "the system" up was a requirement in "the old days." So why would a sane company or business WANT to go back to those days, when we have the best of both worlds (in terms of technical capacity) today? Other than unusual logistical or security requirements, of course.
  • practically speaking

    The phone can never be a tablet or a PC. Of course technically there already are/have been hybrid devices padphone and atrix for example but. Here's the deal... if you upsize you display and add keyboard + mouse you have an underpowered PC with a short to very short battery life due to the higher processing demands. Same if you just add a display and try to upsize to a tablet. The phone form factor is limiting in that respect. 10 years out maybe a phone sized device could drive a large display adequately for hours and there will be ubiquitous free use display kiosks everywhere you can just walk up to and use with your beamed virtual keyboard and virtual touchpad until then the phone is still limited by its form factor.
    • In addition to a Display, keyboard, etc...

      you can just plug phone or tablet into a Power Adapter (Micro USB standard is pretty widespread) to prevent the battery from being the issue. Nearly every problem can (and most likely will) be solved if companies quit being so greedy as to want to churn sales of accessories. They display, keyboard, power, etc... dock should be a standard and be able to be useable for quite a few years (thereby reducing the churn). Some companies will realize this and sign on to a standardized dock. With regard to being "underpowered" we are now approaching the CPU and connectivity chips threashhold where processing power will be enough for most tasks (and the dock peripherals can be built to offload some of the processing load if necessary ex display).
      • false assumption

        You assume tasks remain static which they don't. As the phone progresses so does the rest of the ecosystem. When it can do all tasks it can be the it thing until then its just a stand-in until you can get where you can access a real full function device. Full function devices advance too.
      • Also having a battery built into the display dock

        will help with battery issues. A simple touch screen with built-in battery and dock/other connectivity to devices would be very nice to have. I can see using a Wi-Fi capable smaller touch screen that can connect to my phone or my desktop computer.
  • You forgot a lot of things

    Ok, you can browse internet, you can view movies,

    what about storage? huh?
    For me, i have 700 GB of media and programs, which in my laptop+a portable hdd, i upload all my medias from phone, camera, video camera, to my laptop.
    No phone or tablet can have even 64 GB of free space.

    What about charging things?
    I charge my phone and my tablet from my laptop, if i don't have a laptop? how i can charge those things?

    Nothing can replace a computer, nothing, tablet have no point, phones are phones no more.
    • (You forgot a lot of things) Actually!

      Storage? With respect to storage, quite a few folks (including me) use external devices anyway for media and programs, etc. With the increasing size of multimedia files nowadays (and I take a lot of photographs with my DSLR and I have quite a few movies), even 700gb is hardly enough. My Android device supports usb drives and it can connect (via free app) to my NAS over wi-fi.

      Charging? True, I do connect my phone to my computer from time to time, however it's mainly to copy stuff either to it or from it. Nowadays so many of the Android phones have batteries you can swap out. I do this all the time with my phone, thus I rarely plug it into an A/C outlet to charge it. I always have a spare battery that's fully charged and ready to go.

      As we begin to see increased flash storage capacity in tablets and phones as well as increased cpu power and more efficiency in terms of battery life, the line will continue to dither more and more.

      I'll keep my laptop mind you, but having that type of dockable computing power in my pocket would be awesome to have as well.

      I kind of like what Ubuntu is trying to do with the Edge device and their operating system.
    • The "future"

      FadyNabilNashed - I think you need to open your mind a bit more.

      The future will be a smartphone (pocketable computing device) with CPU power similar to what we have in our desktops (we're pretty close now), and connected to services and resources (like 700GB of storage).

      On your desk, you will have a charging holder and automatic connections to a larger touchscreen display, keyboard and mouse (hopefully wireless to avoid plug compatibilities). At home you use a tablet-sized touchscreen, but the same principle applies - all the compute comes from the phone, it's just displayed differently.

      Different profiles will determine which resources you connect to - home or office.

      When you're done, you pick up your device and off you go.

      It's really just a combination of BYOD and VDI. Not a real stretch if you ask me. We're almost there.

      I would be very surprised if this didn't happen.
  • And yet....

    Here in 'Backwards' down under where nothing much apparently happens and we apparently wouldnt know what to do with such things as nfc or digital wallets..... im increasingly noticing the amount of newer restaurants with waiting staff taking orders with mobile phones, id never really paid much attention to it but i know its happened a few times with iphones, and a couple of instances with what id assume were Galaxy Notes or similar, using a stylus.
    And yes, im aware there are proprietary non mobile type devices i could potentially be mistaking them for, but it genuinely does happen with mobile devices.
    Whether its using enterprise software or apps, or just using a note taking type or spreadsheet app, i really dont know.
  • I've thought exactly this for a while... day everyone will have a processing unit, say a smartphone, which will then connect to whichever input device and screen is suitable for the current situation.

    If the tech is there, it's kinda silly to have a phone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop, all with different processors and RAM and all the other bits that make them work. It's a lot of redundancy. Why not have a single processing device that runs everything?

    Honestly, the only difference between our devices for a lot of uses is the size of the screen. I can check my email on my phone, my tablet, my laptop, and my desktop. Same function, different screen size and such.