Consumer Technology has gone through several phases of convergence, only for new categories of devices to spring up and create divergence again. For example, standalone audio players started becoming more and more irrelevant as people starting using their phones to listen to music. But on the other hand, tablets are soaring more than ever, being used to consume and create content, when the same thing can be done on computers too. Utopian dreams of a ‘one-device-does-it-all’ have been showcased to us in futuristic movies. BlackBerry’s current CEO Thorsten Heins dabbles with the idea that his company’s phone might be the only device you’d want, and that the Tablet will be dead in the next five years (we wonder if their failed BlackBerry PlayBook had anything to do with this ‘bold’ outlook). Popular Linux Distribution maker Canonical is also peddling the same idea with Ubuntu Smartphones. Their biggest attempt at accelerating this reality was by taking hardware into their own hands with the Ubuntu Edge. What now is a failed crowd-funding campaign, could have been one of the best spec’ed phones on the planet.
The company had claimed to put the fastest multi-core processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB flash storage, had the incredibly tall task of raising $31 million been successful. Those specs sound a lot like what some Ultrabooks sport today. So, the idea is — since a phone today can be as powerful as a typical computer, it can run both type of Operating Systems — Android and Ubuntu. When used as a phone, you can use it like any other Android smartphone. And with the help of a dock that connects a PC monitor, keyboard and a mouse to the phone, you can use full-blown Ubuntu. If you’ve ever seen thin clients, then imagine similar ‘dumb’ terminals, but that are powered by your smartphone. What’s the advantage? Since all your data and apps reside on one single device, there’s no need to sync anything across multiple devices. As you know, both Ubuntu and Android are based on Linux. Thus, both the OSes use the same core and use the same user data. So your Contacts, Text messages, Calendar entries etc. are consistent within the two OS’s running on the same device. Also, assuming that you have widespread availability of thin clients, there would be no need of carrying a laptop around.
Sounds like an interesting dream — especially for those with just basic computing needs. That’s because the raw processing power that a smartphone provides may yet (may always) be insufficient for professionals who work on heavy-duty stuff (for e.g. like from the audio-visual industry), but good enough for somebody who just wants to check email, use social networks and surf the web. But it will require a major behavioral change.
Imagine you’ve docked the phone into the terminal and you get a phone call. You’ll need to use a headset to take that call. Otherwise disconnecting the phone from the dock will put your computer in standby, thereby preventing you from using both at the same time. Also, there will need to be a widespread availability of dumb terminals — at workplaces, at your home, at your friends’ place. This is the case for desktop computers; what if you need a laptop when say, you’re meeting a client at a coffee shop?
Variants of portable convergence devices already exist in the market. Take a look at the ASUS Padfone family — a combination of a smartphone that fits into a dumb Tablet shell; basically a tablet-sized accessory that has a screen and a battery, but no internal components. Instead, it uses the phone’s components to display content on a bigger screen. I can imagine someday we could see a dumb laptop terminal; a Laptopfone if you will. Featuring a keyboard, trackpad, screen and connectivity ports, but no processor or hard drive or motherboard inside; just a compartment to occupy a smartphone.
But what is the true benefit of all this convergence? As mentioned before, there will be one device that will store all your data, thereby eliminating any need for syncing. Next, since the dumb terminals will not have any core components, they should theoretically be cheaper than standalone devices. Finally, the smartphone will always be on charge when placed inside these terminals. But to be honest, there are considerable tradeoffs mentioned above when you weigh them against the advantages. Also, with ever-increasing Internet speeds, syncing of data seems to be working just fine amongst standalone devices. What do you say? Are you a supporter of the singular device vision? Or are you happy with the way standalone devices are fulfilling your need today?