The future of mobile computing: a phone, a mini tablet, and a super tablet

The future of mobile computing: a phone, a mini tablet, and a super tablet

Summary: Someday very soon, you'll carry three computing/communications devices: a phone, a mini tablet, and a super tablet. Each has its purpose and a form factor that's just right for the job.



Your future triple threat computing combo

When my oldest son and I get together, we discuss some crazy topics but our discussions of technology grow less crazy with each new encounter. I've told you before that my son has a Microsoft Surface RT, which he got last Christmas before the Surface Pro hit the market. He loves it. In fact, he uses it more than he uses his laptop. Why? Because it's mobile. It's light weight and small size make it portable enough to carry around with ease—to class, to the dorm desk, to his girlfriend's place, and to his home sweet home. His praise of it made us think that perhaps the technologically bound would carry a Surface or Surface-type "super" tablet and a phone. My wife chimed in with her love of the iPad mini. My son's girlfriend agreed that the mini is an excellent device for light tasks. It was near the end of this discussion that I had my vision of the future and the devices we'll carry to meet our needs.

"That's it", I exclaimed, "that's it"! Yes, much to everyone's embarrassment, I really did exclaim it and a little too enthusiastically I'm guessing from the number of stares from the other patrons in the awesome gelato joint* we were in at the time.


The Phone

We all agreed that phones won't go away nor will you ever be able to do any real computing on one. Texting, calling, light Internet browsing, email reading, video shooting, photo taking, and music listening, are what phones will be doing from now on. Phones, or rather smartphones, are toys/telecommunications devices that we love. They're lightweight and powerful but their small size limits their usefulness for higher level jobs.

The Small Tablet

When my family thinks of small tablet, we automatically think iPad mini—which, if you've kept up with my Consumerization:BYOD blog, you know I opposed in the beginning. After using the mini, I have to admit that I like it better than the full-sized iPad. The primary reason is convenience. It feels better in my hands. The full-sized iPad is a little awkward and I still have no cover for it after almost a year. I just don't like it enough I guess. 

The small form factor tablet is small enough to fit in a purse, a jacket pocket, a backpack, or even inside your laptop case. Sure, the regular iPad is small enough for a backpack or a laptop case but its larger size and awkward handling make it a less likely constant companion.

The small tablet is large enough for some light tasks such as composing email messages, watching videos, composing short documents, reading books, and so on. But it's small enough to be pleasant to use over a longer period of time.


The Super Tablet

I call the Microsoft Surface a super tablet because it's more than an iPad-type device but less than a full-sized laptop. Laptops are bulky, often heavy, short on battery life—so you always need to be aware and in search of an electric outlet for power. The Surface has a keyboard, a prop, a USB connector for an external disk, and real applications that you can use for a prolonged period of time. My son wrote a four-page document on his while manning the dorm desk. He said it was much easier than messing with his laptop, which stays in his dorm room like a desktop computer.

The super tablet is portable enough to go anywhere but robust enough to do anything that you can do on a standard laptop or ultrabook computer. If you recall, I was also opposed to the Surface when it first came out too.

Some technologies require shills** to make them more appealing. My family often acts as shills for technology that I'm not so interested in exploring for myself.

I like technology that's intriguing, clever, and innovative. If I feel like I've seen it before, it's not so interesting to me. After seeing other people happily use what I've cast off as rubbish, I come around. Hey, I'm only human.

For BYOD, I see this combination as a triple threat (read, triple bonus) to both users and companies. What's better than a worker who has devices that enable her to work from anywhere and at anytime when needed? Devices that are not only enjoyable to use but also able to perform a variety of functions: voice and text communications, office automation, video conferencing, email, office connectivity via VPN, and high-level computing such as database maintenance.

And best of all, one can acquire all three of these devices for under $1,000—even if you choose the brands I've mentioned. Compare that combined cost to the price of a single higher end laptop computer.

How many of you use these three devices or similar ones already to do your work? Talk back and let me know.

*OK, in my defense, it totally beats what I was going to do prior to that divinely intervened technology exchange. You see, there was a little stage setup in the place. There was a stool and a perfect setting for me to go up and begin entertaining with my analysis of 'W'. It goes something like this: "Wuh, double u, vay, vay frage, who, what, where, when, why. We say double U but it should be double V. The rest of the world pronounces it vee. Why don't we? Vy don't vee?" And so on like that. My wife was opposed to my performance, though she'd never heard it***, so I relented, sat down, ate my gelato, and remained sequestered, punished, and rejected. Alas, I proposed to myself, "The world still isn't ready for a full-on Ken Hess performance art piece." Thank goodness the gelato was good and the conversation led to this post. All is not lost.

**A shill is someone who uses a product to make others more interested. My most famous example of using shills comes from, of all places, right here in Oklahoma. The guy who invented shopping carts, Sylvan Goldman (OKC, circa 1937), hired shills to use the carts since people just looked at them in awe. Basically his invention was two baskets on a rack with wheels. People had always used baskets for shopping. Once his customers watched the shills using the carts, the idea caught on.

***She's my harshest critic. My sons, however, encourage me. Someday when it's just us men...

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Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Microsoft, Microsoft Surface


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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  • been there, done that - a phone and 2 tablets (and a PC)

    Now I use
    -a nexus 4
    -a chromecast (a better solution than the novelty of watching videos on a tablet)
    -a fast homebrew PC.

    Total cost- about $600 (not counting the cost of the existing 55" TV)

    A much more practical, economical lineup which does not include a tablet because its simply not needed. (I still own the ipad and nexus 7 but I don't really use them anymore).

    Of course I don't do much travelling, so that might not be appropriate for others.
    • Just one device

      I totally agree with "Richard In Norway". We only need one very very powerful SMARTPHONE but that should have a physical keyboard with two small (2.5 inch) and the other a 7 inch which is foldable or rollable or whatever. AND it should have colossal ram and internal memory with expandable memory slot.
      I'm not an IT person or technology geek but so are 90 percent of computer users. If someone could make that kind of smartphone then im sure most of us would jump in...
      • That is silly

        Why would you want to add a 2.5 inch display? It would be hard to use and the size would not change when the 2.5 inch display was being used. Also, it could not be foldable if it had a sd slot and it would be very thick if it had expandable memory.
  • Only one company and platform can deliver all three.

    A Surface pro / Surface Mini and a Nokia phone with data synced across via SkyDrive.
    • Nah

      I want a Phablet running Windows, with a desktop Dock and connection to a proper sized monitor when I'm in the office, using either Baytrail or Haswell U processor, 8GB RAM and a decent sized SSD.
      • almost

        Yes but not windows
        richard in norway
        • Yes Windows

          or at least dual boot.

          I would only get a tablet if I could use it at work and that means it has to be Windows. I currently have a 11" Windows tablet and it is great, but I still have to lug around a smartphone. If I could get rid of the smartphone I'd be very happy.
      • Post PC Era is just an extension of a computing format

        A few years ago the new Big thing for the Mobile Post PC were Netbooks, but they failed for a lot of different reasons to accomplish everyone's desires, then Smartphones and Tablets exploded on the market and again, people are realizing now that they do not respond to everyone's desires, we are about to enter into the Phablet era where people think that they will accomplish in what all other form factors have failed.

        What the past and present are telling us is that there is no unique form factor that will replace all others, the Post PC Era is just a vast set of computing capabilities in different form factors, because people have different needs on their everydays tasks.

        I have a High-Performance home Desktop running Windows 8 where I almost do everything for my personal use, but it lacks mobility.

        I have a Lenovo W530 Laptop that I use for the vast majority of tasks at work, I can carry my Virtualization Labs, have a big screen with 15", can watch movies and play games, but it is extremelly heavy to carry while I am on travel.

        While on travel I use my Surface RT where I am capable to do ~90% of my daily tasks with it, Office and Outlook rich client are a must have for a professional user and the mobilie capabilities of Win8 are remarkable, however for heavy CPU/memory task (vLabs) I have to revert to Laptop.

        The cherry on top is Lumia 920, Big screen, wonderful camera, I can access my Office files on Skydrive and Skydrive pro, use Lync and Skype for IM, Conf calls and vídeo, access all my email and keep my social status always up to date, anyway I cannot be fully productive in such a small form factor and I either lack computing capabilities for other needs.

        And what if I would have a Phablet and a Dock? This wouldn't be great? NO! Phablet alone is just a kind of big Smartphone or a kind of Small tablet mixed alltogether, with the dock it can extend some capabilities but I will not carry a Dock and without a proper LCD Monitor I would hurt my vision.

        Post PC is not a computing form factor replacement, it is an extension of computing capabilities to a vast set of form factors, you can use only one form factor, but do bear in mind that you can end up with limitations for you personal/professional requirements, the most importante thing is not to be aware of the latest and greatest gadget, but to be aware of your own needs.
        • To a point

          I agree with you. I just picked Phablet, because it was in the middle and it is something we have now.

          What I'd like to see is the "computing" part of the device decoupled from the input and screen parts. You'd carry around your "computing module" and connect it to whatever peripherals make sense. If you are on the move, you grab a 5" screen, if you need it in meetings to enter data, you take an 11" screen and a digitizer or maybe a keyboard, in the office, it connects to your desktop monitor, keyboard and mouse etc.

          Go into the conference room and it wirelessly connects to the wall mounted LCD TV or the projector.

          I think we need to move away from screen form factors and build a mobile computing device that just connects to whatever is available. It could be part of a belt, or attach to a belt or a pouch or fit in your bag, be relatively light weight and have decent battery life - as it doesn't need to power the screen itself, it could provide very good batter life from a relatively small battery.
  • Two is the max

    I can see shoving a cell phone in my pocket and grabbing a 10" tablet while dashing out the door, but a 7" AND a 10".... why? I have a Galaxy Note 2 which does everything that doesn't require a real computer for so why would I want to juggle another device?

    I see the ultrabook as the real answer. When you can get all the computing power you'll need for a full day's work in a device that's under 2lbs, why bother with anything else?
  • heading that way myself

    phone = Samsung Galaxy Note 2
    tablet = Nexus 7
    laptop = 2+ year old precursor to ultrabook ASUS UL30 - 8hr battery life and 1.4kg

    phone provides network connectivity for tablet and laptop - only one data plan required.

    laptop is next up for replacement - probably will go to a larger tablet + keyboard, but not decided whether it will be Windows Surface, iPad or Android. Since, when travelling, a lot of my stuff is synced via cloud, and most of my heavyweight apps stay back on my desktop, where a remote session can solve that problem in an emergency, then I am no longer tied to a Wintel laptop. This gives me a free choice of what has best usability.

    I can do pretty much everything I want on the phone; remote desktop is the hardest to do. Everything else is a matter of efficiency and convenience. 7" tablet goes for easier use e.g. on train and plane, and laptop only when I have space to work.

    Three devices seems to be the norm for many people. Although I often take my old Kindle e-reader because although I can read on any of the other devices, the e-reader is still the best for that purpose.

    I have a power supply for the laptop that has a USB charging socket out, so with most things now running off micro-USB, I don't have to carry a lot of other stuff. One of the side benefits of the EU mandating standard phone charger connections to stop millions of charges ending up in landfill. Sometimes governments do have good ideas.
  • Rumor has it that Apple will introduce a new 12" laptop design in 2014

    Call that product a super MBA. (Superior performance, Super HiRes display, very long battery life and system weight under 2 pounds while encased in a thinner profile clamshell design)

    And, I am sure, Ultrabook designs will follow in like manner.

    Those products would compete against the "Super Tablet" designs and, IMO, would offer the consumer much more flexibility than a "Super Tablet" product.
    • One of these and a phone...

      ...would do it for me. Mini tablet---meh.
  • A better way

    I half agree with ccs9623. Currently I run a desktop with two 22" screens, a Blackberry, and an ultrabook for occasional business trips. This could be simplified with a couple of small - unavailable - mods to the ultrabook. If the ultrabook had two screen ports, a fold away screen, and feet to adjust the keyboard to a comfortable angle, then the ultrabook replaces the desktop.
    the Blackberry Curve is about as large as fits easily in most of my pockets, so I can only assume the people with 7" mini-tablets have some super sized pockets. What I actually observe is folk carrying them around in hand - no thanks to that for such little benefit!
    • Ultrabook connection solution

      I setup people with Plugable or Sanoxy USB multi screen USB adapters plugged into a powered USB hub along with wireless keyboard/mouse. Connect one power and one usb and your running three monitors. I've found this setup more reliable than USB docks for multiple monitors.
  • Hey forgot one more item...

    ...the kitchen sink.
  • Men vs. Women

    Because women carry purses, they can carry 7" tablet (and some even a 10" tablet) in their purse.

    If a man is going to carry around a 7" tablet, he might as well carry around a 10" tablet.

    I've had an iPad and still have an Android tablet, but earlier this year I bought a Win8 Professional tablet and with the base station it comes with, I use it as my desktop PC. I set it in the base and do my regular desktop computing with a 27" monitor and external hard and DVD drives. During the day I pick it up and carry it around. I have to consider where data is stored, if I want it with me or if it can stay on the eternal hard drive at home, but that's easy to get used to. Most of the programs I use, even MS Office, are cloud based.

    No more desktops or no more laptops used as desktops, I have an Xbox for gaming and entertainment. A smart phone for when you don't want to carry your tablet somehwere and a Windows8 Pro tablet (not RT and not an iPad orAndroid) with a home docking station is all you need.
  • no way

    One device is all I want, my note2 is somewhat limited but soon smartphones will be all you need. We will plug them into screens and tv's and they will probably have fold out screens or projection

    Anyway I only have my note and it's all I need, but I ain't a power user, but 99.9% of people ain't
    richard in norway
  • No Ken, I won't.

    "Someday very soon, you'll carry three computing/communications devices: a phone, a mini tablet, and a super tablet."

    What makes you the "expert" on what people will need to use in the way of IT hardware?

    Making blanket statements like this makes you look like a complete idiot...again.
    • Very Grumpy

      Did your Mum not give you your favorite breakfast this morning? Turn you into a grumpy pants?