Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Turning Your Phone Into A PC

Microsoft is still trying to take over the world. This time, they're after your phone. No, they didn't come out with a new version of their Windows Mobile operating system - instead they've basically patented a device that's a uber docking station.

The thought here is similar to one I voiced back in June 2008 - the coming of "PocketTops." As smart phones get smarter and more powerful - the benefit of the form factor (small enough to fit in your pocket) becomes its biggest liability (you can fit it in your pocket). If you've ever tried to type anything more than a short email on these things - you know what I'm talking about.

Even the iPhone - which is mostly screen - is tedious to view large numbers of sites (not to mention the lack of a way to display Flash stuff), and really doesn't have enough storage on it to replace even a cheap netbook.

What if you were able to take your smart phone and dock it like a laptop? You could then use connected full size keyboard, mouse, monitor and have access to all your peripherals as well. Of course, there would have to be some kind of "glue" to translate phone commands into commands that the connected objects would understand, and of course there would need to be storage for drivers, and some other goodies for managing ports, etc.

Hey! I know! How about a thing called... "a computer"? That would work!

Yep, Microsoft basically just patented the computer. However, they knew they couldn't just patent the computer, that would be too broad... so they applied for and just received a patent for a "Smart Interface System For Mobile Computing Devices."

It's more than just a "cradle" - it slices, it dices, it transcodes video, it send keyboard and mouse streams to the device... and if you act right now - you'll get a free toaster.

On the surface it sounds like a pretty cool idea. When you think about it a bit more - it blows. Why? Do you really want another device that's basically a computer - running some crazy subset of Windows Vista (only "lighter") that has to talk to your phone (Windows Mobile, only - no doubt).

Why not just create a "dumb" dock that will do the same thing via software? Seems to me that it would be a lot easier to keep your nettop or laptop - and have an all-in-one device that is portable and useable, rather than just a dumb computer that can only act like a glorified USB cable.

The idea is OK - it's just the execution that is a bit tedious. I think in the future there will be a computer that you can fit into your pocket (ok, ok - so most smart phones are already more powerful than the 386 clones of yesteryear) - but there's a lot of work that needs to be done on the peripherals side to make it all work.

For example big screens that you can just unroll or unfold, keyboards that can be projected on to any surface (or at least ones that are rollable and small), a wireless USB standard that would do away with the need for wires and cables, etc.

The fact of the matter is - the state of peripherals is getting very close. All of the things I just mentioned are either on the market or are coming this year. The handsets are getting much more powerful - and I predict we'll see our first multi-core model by late 2009 or early 2010. We already have solid state drives coming into the marketplace, 5 megapixel mobile phone cameras, and some projectors that are the size of a pack of cigarettes.

The idea of a PocketTop is coming - but I just hope it's the way it "should" be - rather than the way Microsoft sees it.

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