So, I’m really excited for the epic throw-down that this post on Lifehacker is sure to start. With a title like “Your Smartphone is A Better PC than Your PC Ever Was or Will Be”, nuance has officially left the debate over the ascendancy of mobile devices. Still, I’d like to add a liitle more to the whole PC vs. Smartphone debate (cf. the Jason Griffey-Bobbi Newman dustup)
I agree with Pash’s short list of things that give smartphones the edge in “personal” computing: a smartphone “comes with you wherever you go…knows where you are…is always connected to the internet…handles every form of electronic communication short of Morse code…recognizes your voice and reacts accordingly…[and] doesn’t just spellcheck, but corrects your typos”.
I also agree with his observation that smartphones still lag with respect to several activities, “Namely, right now desktop PCs are better for work. They’re better for typing. They’re better for manipulating large data sets and for heavy computation (like video editing, data crunching, image editing). They’re better at multitasking. They’re better at creation.”
But, according to Pash, this is only temporary. From Bluetooth keyboards to plug-and-play monitors, smartphone peripherals will allow smartphones to bridge the gap and provide a desktop experience. I think this point is too often lost in the debate over the future of mobile technology.
What if, in the near future, we could meet the following criteria:
- Smartphones match the processing power and storage of the average business PC (either through enhanced architecture or through the cloud), AND
- Full-scale, productivity-oriented apps (e.g. Office, CS5, or SPSS) are widely available at a reasonable cost, AND
- Smartphone “docks” are available that allow users to connect their device to peripherals such as a keyboard, monitors, speakers, mouse, printers, etc., AND
- The cost of a smartphone and peripheral docking station approximates the cost of a standalone PC workstation.
In such a scenario, the smartphone becomes a CPU when heavy-duty processing, content-creation, and multitasking is needed, and a portable communication device after hours. Isn’t this the ideal future for computing? Can’t we try to meet these criteria? Rather than focus on the native capabilities of smartphones and argue that user interfaces in business, entertainment, creative, and communicative activities will adjust to touch screens and miniature displays, let’s accept the peripheral approach and give users the ability to replicate the desktop experience, if they so choose.
This is not a new idea. Celio makes the REDFLY Smartphone terminal, though it only replicates the netbook experience, not the desktop experience. Apple has all of the parts in place, but either won’t sanction them or haven’t gotten around to it yet. Even better, Microsoft has a patent for a smartphone interface that is geared at businesses, homes, and even “emerging markets where the average user may have a handheld mobile communications device but not a home computer.” Indeed, this is a plausible future and, if Microsoft’s vision is implemented, a possible bridge across the digital divide (though I still hesitate on that).
So, I say that we forget the baseless contention that the future of computing will be overdetermined by the mobile UI (small displays, touch-screens, geolocation, etc.). Let’s also get rid of the ad hoc assumption that smartphones will always be cost prohibitive and lag with respect to computational power. There is no reason why we can’t marry the mobility of a smartphone with the robustness of desktop UI and create the best of both worlds.