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The smartphone docking station: The time is right

Who needs a PC? Someone should produce a "dumb" docking station that you can plug your smartphone into. Connect it to a keyboard, mouse and wide-screen monitor and you are on your way.
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Written by Russell Fox on

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Russell Fox, a database administrator and mobile computing junkie in Sacramento, CA. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from U.C. Davis and enjoys playing and designing board games. He has no relationship with any of the manufacturers he writes about.

In a previous post I discussed relegating my cell phone to “dumb phone” status and using a smart pad as my primary on-the-go internet device. Most of you thought I was crazy. Your objections centered around the cumbersome nature of having to have a backpack with you at all times, though I have no problems with that, personally. Some of the comments got me thinking about an idea I had about a decade ago: using a small, handheld device as your primary computer and simply plugging it into a really, really “dumb” docking station for input-intensive activities.

I really started thinking about that with the new dual-core processors expected to debut later this year. Seriously, how cool is having two, 1 GHz processors in your phone? I would not be surprised to see quad-core phones with gigabytes of memory in a year or two, assuming they can solve basic overheating issues, and when that happens I have to ask: do I really need a PC?

I’m a database developer by trade and have done a lot of work with a decent laptop, but with the excellent remote tools available today I don’t even need to have a database on my primary work computer: I can just remote in to a development machine. Granted, I “need” a good machine to run my computer games, but I’d probably be just as happy with a gaming console. I’ve never owned one (nope, not even Atari), but after playing on a friend’s Xbox I can see getting into that. I used to need a good machine to work on personal development projects, but I rarely have time for that anymore, and now I’d be just as happy with a hosted server.

I think the time has come to revisit my idea of creating a dumb docking station. The idea is simple enough - you use your phone as the computer and plug it into a docking station with a big screen, keyboard, and mouse. The phone’s OS will need to be robust enough to switch from the small screen layout to the large one when you plug it in, and the docking station will need its own battery or external power supply to run the larger monitor. iOS is ready to make that simple switch and it sounds like Android will be ready soon, if not with Gingerbread that probably with the next version. It could even keep the phone screen active, akin to the Asus Eee PC Keyboard.

The dock could be a full desktop configuration or it could look and act like a laptop. Imagine something more svelte and lightweight than a MacBook Air and little more expensive than the screen by itself, perhaps $100 to turn your phone into a laptop. The connection to the phone/micro PC could be wireless, cable, or something more direct where the phone latches right into the dock. Perhaps the dock could have simple heat dissipation built in, allowing the phone to run on 2 cores when undocked and four cores docked. Airports could have kiosks of cheap dock rentals and schools could build them right into the student’s desks.

I know some of you are already thinking about devices that essentially do this right now, but I’m talking about completely ditching the desktop/laptop paradigm and going with ultra-portable on a permanent basis. As cloud storage becomes cheaper and more accessible, the micro PC wouldn’t need very much on-board storage and it would have 3G/4G/WiFi built right in for internet connectivity. You could even use it as your work computer, able to move from cubicle to cubicle or office to office or , with some data-scrubbing, job to job, with your whole working environment set up just how you like it. Employers might start to expect you to have your own “connection device” while they supply a virtual machine for heavy-duty processing.

Is this already happening? Are phones not yet powerful enough to sate your need for speed? Is this as bad an idea as my “dumb phone/smart pad” idea?

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