Saturday, July 31, 2010

Is Your Next Laptop a Smartphone?

The smartphone might not be one's first choice for spreadsheets and documents, but let's face it, everybody has one (in business, anyway, all over the world), and those that have one will buy a new one sometime in the next two years as cellular products and wireless technologies continue their rapid evolution. The level of capability in contemporary smartphones is remarkable and continues to grow.

Smartphones are as powerful as PCs from just a few years ago, with significantly better software, user interfaces, and flexibility. Smartphones won't replace the laptop for typical business users, but over the next few years, many people -- my guess is 12% to 15% of business users -- will be able to leave their laptop at the office and handle essentially all of their mobile computing and communications tasks with a pocket-sized device.

As you might guess, size here is both an advantage and a challenge. Smartphones need to be as small as possible for mobility while still maximizing the size of the keyboard and the display. The keyboard on a smartphone, be it physical or screen-based, is obviously never going to get bigger than is acceptable for the two-thumb typing technique, although I predict a surge in add-on Bluetooth and USB keyboards that can be quite effective for writing longer missives. The display is similarly constrained, although being able to connect (via wireless) to an external display with better resolution -- the TV in one's hotel room, for example -- should become quite popular in the future.

Networking, storage and processing aren't really issues anymore, as tiny devices can have lots of each, and a connection to the Internet addresses any concerns here in the same fashion as for computer users everywhere. A much bigger issue is battery life.

So, you might conclude at this point that there are really no showstoppers with respect to replacing a laptop computer of any form with a smartphone. But, should you conclude as such, you would be ignoring the effect of the culture surrounding the PC: From IT departments to enterprise users to just about every technology user on the planet, the PC is viewed as the mainstay of personal and corporate IT and thus a core requirement. But it is nevertheless very likely that we'll still be carrying both a notebook or Mobile Internet Device and a smartphone for some time -- well into the foreseeable future. I think that my 12% to 15% number above will grow over time, however, as Web services and cloud computing become the popular, if not dominant, model for enterprise IT.

For now the convenience of needing only one tiny device -- again, one that everyone needs to carry anyway -- is so compelling that more progress toward the single-device solution is certain. Personally, as one who lugs way too much technology around every week, I can't wait.

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BI Software Reporter said...

But you can't mean you'd get rid of your other device and truly use a single device with such a small screen and inferior input methods? You must mean you like the idea of a second device that can substitute for a lot of the times you'd otherwise have to use your laptop.

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