The "One Device" is the natural evolution of Post-PC

The "One Device" is the natural evolution of Post-PC

Summary: Computing Convergence, driven by an overwhelming desire in the future to reduce cost, consolidate form factors and enterprise infrastructure will be backed up with services running on powerful Clouds.


Whether you are an adherent to developing for or an evangelist for Apple, Google, Microsoft's or Canonical's mobile operating systems, I believe that the basic concepts Mark Shuttleworth is championing with his crowd-funded "Edge" smartphone are fundamentally universal to the future of computing.

Specifically, I am referring to the fact that Shuttleworth believes that the smartphone of the future will be the single device at the center of the end-user's universe. In summary, it will act as a "brain" for the tablet, laptop, and even desktop displays and TV sets, which will simply be just modular peripheral extensions of the handheld device.

What Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth proposes with his Ubuntu Edge is going even further than Steve Jobs' "Post-PC" concept, and into what I would call Computing Convergence, for lack of a better term.

In the future, smartphones will contain the CPU, storage, and wireless connectivity "core" of the user experience, running on a unified mobile operating system — and in the case of the "Edge" should it achieve its super-ambitious funding targets, Ubuntu running on the ARM architecture.

But it could very well and just as easily end up running on an operating system created by the usual suspects, even if the Edge never sees the light of day.

Instead of carrying three devices — a smartphone, tablet, and laptop, all of which would have discrete storage and memory, and would have to be independently managed — the user would just carry the smartphone and have attachable modules, such as a tablet screen, a large high-definition display, a detachable keyboard and wireless human interface devices that the smartphone would plug into or communicate with.

That, along with seamless integration with Cloud-based services, is where I see the future of personal computing truly heading.

Ultimately I beleive that our computing technology can and will get cheaper. I also think that the scenario of owning four separate devices today for four discrete computing scenarios is really only applicable to high-income individuals. 

In reality we are talking only three form factor scenarios since the laptop has for the most part completely displaced the desktop. As I author this article, I am using a Lenovo X1 Carbon laptop in my home office connected to a HD monitor and a USB 3.0 hub as a dock for an external keyboard, mouse and other peripherals. 

So the trend towards convergence and cannibalizing computing roles/scenarios has already proven itself in the industry. The question now is how much further convergence and platform unification going to go?

One thing that is almost certainly going to drive convergence is the financial means of people that are in the lower economic strata residing above what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation refers to as the "Bottom 2 billion", who face such incredible challenges for staying alive and need basic needs for food and water that computing is far from their main concern.

Above the abject poverty line in the third world, there are still billions of end-users in developing nations who can only pay so much for their computing. And within just the United States there is an entire growing segment of the population who already only own one device to meet their computing needs because they are largely income-constrained.

The Pew Research Center for example back in March recently released results of a study regarding Internet use among Americans of Latino (Hispanic) heritage.

This study concluded that Latinos primarily depend on their mobile devices, rather than desktop and laptop computers when accessing the Internet. 76 percent, versus 60 percent of White Americans.

As we dig even further into the study's data, we learn that nearly half of Latino adults live in smartphone-only households, and that smartphone adoption can be correlated with age. More specifically those Latinos between ages of 18 to 29 are much more likely to own a smartphone than those ages 65 and older. 

This study of course targeted only one demographic group in one large country, and I would expect we would see similar rates of mobile technology adoption in other large demographics in the US and in other countries that are forced to do more with less.

As they enter the workforce or want to do more with technology these very large groups of people will drive enhanced computing scenarios for their devices, such as connecting smartphones to desktop screens or televisions (like the way Shuttleworth proposes with the Ubuntu Edge) or even docked into a tablet/battery display combination, much like Motorola pioneered with the original Atrix, which I think was a product that had a great idea that was released before its time.

The demand for these enhanced scenarios for mobile devices will force the OEMs/ODMs to create devices that better conform to the scenarios users actually can and want to participate in regardless of how many form factors those companies want to actually sell. You can't shove new scenarios down users' throats, the roles are reversed. 

It's the users that determine, along with their dollars, what gets produced. The end-user is the disrupting force. Not Apple, not Microsoft, not Google, or any other company trying to enter these well-established mobile application and device ecosystems, Canonical's Ubuntu included.

Now all of that being said, Microsoft and Google are well positioned to introduce devices to market with either their own OEM branding in conjunction with ODMs or those released in ODM labeling such as Samsung's.

Based on what we've been hearing about in the news, Apple is heavily investing in semiconductor technology and will own more and more of their own production capacity and component designs. All signs are that some form of ARM-based platform convergence from Cupertino will occur sometime in the future. When that occurs it is hard to say.   

I think we are still in the early stages of convergence, but it is going to become more and more important as the back-end services become richer and shift computational power and business logic from the device to the Cloud.

The tipping point will come sooner than we will all think, and there will be reactionary measures taken by some device manufacturers to compensate for this whereas others will have been planning and preparing for it for quite some time. 

The Ubuntu Edge has some very specific challenges, although I personally would like to see them achieve their full $32M crowd-sourced funding target because it would be a massive wake-up call for the entire industry. It would accelerate discussion of convergence and it would cease to become a "should we" issue and would become a "how do we" issue. 

I cannot truly speak for what is going to happen with the Edge and I think we have to view that product as a test-bed for people willing to be early cutting-edge early adopters and not regular end-users that consume these sorts of products in very high volumes.

Based on the specifications the Edge's hardware looks impressive. If it delivers a rich Ubuntu desktop like that exists for regular Ubuntu x86 systems today while being able to seamlessly merge Android applications into that environment onto that desktop as it is promised, then I think their admittedly small but passionate group of end-users and developers will be happy with it. 

However, I do not believe this is a mass-market device and even Canonical acknowledges this is more of a proof-of-concept for pioneering types that want a very high-end device, not unlike how the Tesla is for people who want to own a luxury electric car. 

The Tesla is not a mass-market electric car, and electric cars have failed as an overall industry, but it has managed to create a nice niche for itself despite the huge challenges the rest of its industry has faced. I see the Edge and Ubuntu's mobile convergence OS as the same kind of thing.

The ultimate and stated objective of Ubuntu's device OS is to get carriers and device manufacturers to take lessons learned from the Edge and make commodity hardware solutions for the every-man, not $700 ultra-convergence phones.

Topics: Mobility, Cloud, Mobile OS, Smartphones, Tablets, Ubuntu, PCs


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Ubuntu is really blazing an important trail here

    but I'm really not convinced Edge is going to be a good device. the mockups are beautiful, but the price and specs are both gigantic. the high specs to at least somewhat justify the high price, but those high specs also make me suspect this thing is going to have the worst battery life of all time.
    • also

      I'd much rather have an android app compatibility layer in Ubuntu than an android dual boot. I don't want to have to keep rebooting my phone, that's a bit idiotic.
      • Android Ubuntu dual boot

        is kind of a misnomer at this point. There are videos that can explain this better, but the latest developer version (pretty darn close to production) runs both OSes side by side with seemless switching.

        As far as needing cloud apps to work Ubuntu Touch is not really Cloud Dependent as Jason may leave one to believe. It runs native Linux applications as well as HTML5 and QML.

        "Ubuntu provides an amazing native developer tool-set. QML provides a slick, easy development environment for native apps with engines in C or C++ and JavaScript for UI glue where performance isn’t critical."

        While Ubuntu Touch can leverage the cloud running services from all major cloud providers and even Daas for enterprise from various vendors. So if your employer wants to serve up enterprise apps on their private cloud Ubuntu Touch can provide access to those (an example might be MS Office apps running on a private cloud).

        As far as comparing Ubuntu Touch to Microsoft's approach with Win8's UI the two are worlds apart. But nice try, Jason. Ubuntu Touch is just a few meters from the finish line of a true convergence platform While Win8 has a unified look across devices, but a long way to go to convergence.
        • Oops forgot to:

          all of the existing native apps for Linux (too many to list here) are able to run on Ubuntu Touch and voice commends can be ported to many of the most popular of these apps to do tasks on the phone. One thing already in Ubuntu Edge Developer build is the ability to edit image quality aspects right in the image viewer. Speak a command and bring up image quality settings that can quickly be adjusted, like brightness, color balance, etc. with a swipe.
          • Wrong

            Any apps that are able to run on ARM devices will be able to run on the Ubuntu Edge. This isn't an x86 device.
            Michael Alan Goff
        • can you run

          android an ubuntu apps at the same time, or only 1 set at a time?
          • My understanding

            Is that it can do both. The Android apps are windowed in desktop mode.
          • but what about

            when you're in phone mode?
          • and does that mean

            that this is a compatibility layer?
          • Not really a compatability layer, actual Android

            Both Ubuntu and Android run on identical Linux kernels and run on the ARM processor. So really what we are talking about here is just having the Android frame buffer for the video run on the Ubuntu desktop. You really just have one Linux, with the Android Dalvik VM running to provide the application environment.
        • Android has now over 60% market share of all new devices

          Last year Goldman Sachs was stunning the world (or ignorant people) stating that Android Linux was the leading OS with 42% market share (Apple 24%, Windows 20%, others 14%).

          Q1 2013 numbers of new devices (smartphone, tablet, pc) gave 52% for Android

          Now we have see the latest figures of Q2 2013. Android got 80% of smartphones and 67% of tablets. You just have to add 75 million sold pc and what we will get:

          Android has now over 60% market share of new devices.
          • 61,1% for Android Linux

            -229.6 million new smartphones
            - 51.7 million new tablets
            -75,6 million new pc
            total 356.9 million new devices


            -183.7 million smartphones
            - 34.6 million tablets
            total 218.3 million Android-mobiles

            total market share of new devices for Android

            218.3/356.9 x 100% = 61,1%



          • 61,1% for Android Linux

            Nice, glad to here your making so much profit from Android.
          • 61,1% for Android Linux

            You left out the total new PC's with Android.
  • not going to happen

    This was tried by others, most notably Microsoft many, many times already. It does not stick to the wall.

    It is all very simple. The computing world is multi platform, has always been, will always be. It is not only not important, but also not necessary for everything to be homogenous. It is also very, very hard thing to do, almost impossible. Those companies will do better to concentrate on building compatibility and interoperable protocols. It is obvious that no company will ever control "it all", so why not concentrate where they are best?
    • Multi platform doesn't mean everything must be different

      Why does Ubuntu need a different operating system for their phones than their desktop? So that developers have to duplicate their coding efforts to support even more builds of software between more operating systems?
      • ...

        Because a phone and a desktop are two wildly different devices, used in different settings, for different purposes. That's like asking "Why does GE need a different set of controls for their microwaves than their double-oven convection ranges?" Sure, they're similar in that both are used to cook things, but they're totally different animals. It's the same mistake Microsoft is making with Windows 8. One-size-fits-all OS's are a lousy idea.
    • Re: most notably Microsoft many, many times already

      I think the important difference is that Microsoft tried it from the viewpoint of forcing the market to fit into their Windows product limitations, while Ubuntu is trying it from the viewpoint of offering a flexible platform that can adapt to customers' actual needs.

      I think Ubuntu stands a better chance than Microsoft.
      • Re: I think Ubuntu stands a better chance than Microsoft.

        In as much as I like to see the UNIX based Ubuntu succeed, my experience with these things says this is just too much of a task for one company to achieve. I know what UNIX is capable of, so yes, it is not fair to compare it with anything from Microsoft, still...

        Look at the Internet: it runs, mostly on top of open source unix. But it also runs on top of all kinds of other systems and likely will always do so.

        In the living world, you see ecosystems comprising of many different species, all having very specific relations, that let the ecosystem exist. Remove one of the species and the ecosystem shatters, but eventually re-balances. Make an ecosystem consisting of only a single specie, and when that single specie has trouble, the entire ecosystem is gone.

        To Emacho: I am not saying Ubuntu needs different OS for desktops and phones/tables. They can do just like Apple and use the same OS everywhere. But this does not mean they can do with the same UI, or APIs or even protocol stacks (except the common base) on the different form factors. Nothing wrong with having the "same OS" everywhere -- this is what UNIX essentially does for decades. Ubuntu is just one of the open source UNIX systems out there.
        • its not UNIX,

          If you knew as much as you act like, you would know that gnu stands for "gnu's not UNIX", and that Ubuntu is gnu/Linux.