Can smartphones replace your clients' laptops and netbooks?

Your clients might be wondering if smartphones can really replace their laptops and netbooks. Susan Harkins explains that applications and subscriptions make switching to smartphones a reality for some users.

Perhaps you've seen the commercial where the businessman uses his smartphone to work while riding the bus. It seems too good to be true, but the reality is, smartphones offer much more than you might realize.

If clients are asking whether a smartphone can really replace their laptops and netbooks, the answer is yes, but only for a limited few. Applications are the key to getting the most out of a smartphone. Here are specific examples:

  • Using Microsoft's Mobile Word, your clients can enter text, choose fonts, and even format the text, but not much more.
  • Your client can run a PowerPoint presentation on a smartphone. This works great for an audience of one, and sometimes that's all you need! With the right accessories, your client can run a PowerPoint presentation via a smartphone from across the room.
  • Speech recognition technology is also available. That means your client can send email and instant messages from a smartphone, eliminating the need to type individual messages.
  • Clients can use the camera to capture, save, and even email text.
  • With the right accessories, you can even print documents received via email or scanned (using the camera).
  • Clients can book hotels, check flight status, convert currency figures, and check weather at the destination while traveling.
  • Clients can read email, update a calendar, and so on while away from the office.
  • Some smartphones can even find the nearest gas station using GPS technology.

Accessories and subscription plans can definitely make your smartphone more efficient. (Subscription-based products offer services for a recurring fee.) Due to the smartphone's automated synchronization, your clients can do all of these things without connecting to the Internet and that's what makes the devices flexible; clients won't have to wander around looking for a hot spot to connect. To learn more about what's available, check out the online application stores: Nokia's Ovi Store, Windows Mobile Catalog, BlackBerry App World, Android Market, and Apple's App Store.

Clients aren't restricted to common productivity tools either. With the right custom applications, a smartphone can process orders, update inventory, and so on. In fact, building custom applications for smartphones could be opportunity knocking at your door; it's the latest cottage industry. IT consultants could generate a considerable amount of extra income writing custom smartphone applications for clients.

On the downside, processing speed is usually, slow and clients will struggle with the small keypads. Entering text is slow and prone to errors, although clients can purchase portable keyboards and display units. In addition, the cost of a smartphone begins to add up when you start purchasing applications, subscriptions, and portable tag-alongs.

Final analysis

Clients who need Web and email access should do fine with a smartphone, whereas clients who need to run complex business software should stick with a laptop or a netbook. Any client in between will need a case-by-case review and that's where you can really help.

The following chart compares features of smartphones and netbooks and should prove helpful when making recommendations.

  Smartphone Netbook
Voicemail Yes No
Email Yes Yes
Instant messaging Yes Yes
Social networking Yes Yes
Multitask No Yes, but limited by processor
View and edit content Yes, with the right application Yes
Complex business software No Yes, but limited by processor
Create and edit documents Limited, with the right application Yes
Web connectivity Yes Yes
Automated synchronization Yes Yes, if 3G equipped
Fast download of video and high-resolution files No Yes
Digital camera Yes, 2 to 5 megapixels; video capture, up to 30 frames per second; basic on-devise editing Digital Webcam available in some models.
Touch screen In some models No
Full-size keypad Via portable add-on Available on some models
Screen 2" to 3.5" 7" to 10"
Weight 4 to 6 ounces 6 pounds or less
Internal DVD drive No If not, check for availability of external drive.
Battery life 2 to 8 hours 3 to 12 hours
Integrated wireless Yes Yes
Processor 434 MHz, but not all manufacturers publicize this information 1 GHz to 1.6 GHz
RAM 128 MB, but not all manufacturers publicize this information 1 GB to 2 GB
Hard drive Internal storage ranges from 16 GB to 32 GB 64 GB to 160 GB
Inspected by airport security No Yes
Price $200 to $700; this doesn't include the monthly service fee. $250 to $800

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Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.


With Windows Mobile I can indeed multitask and I do it quite frequently. I can't multitask the same way I can on a computer running Windows as I can't see both applications at the same time, but I can switch between the two or more applications running in the background.

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

when they are on the road, I do not see smartphones as a replacement as the laptop will still be needed for some apps and in some situations. That said, as smartphones get smarter it may very well be possible that the laptop may go the way of the dodo bird, I am thinking this may take another 5 years or so.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Lots of good info there. Until they come up with a away to use the smartphone as a software development platform, though, my clients will be limited to using them for connectivity and maybe demos. I do have a few customers who deploy their apps to the smartphone (via the web). I expect more of that in the future.


Thanks for sharing your experiences with that! When you say "running" do you mean, truly processing or just open?


Smartphones will force innovation and laptops might not disappear, but rather get better -- in what way, I can't really say right now -- maybe be wafer thin and fold up and fit in my purse. :) Until we replace the keypad, traditional laptops are here to stay, I think.


I think there's a future in custom apps, unless of course, something brand new and more innovative pops up quickly. I know a few consultants who are providing smart apps, almost exclusively now. Nice work if you can get it. :)


worked with a company that used WAP phones for real time udates to CRM/Clarify. This was pretty nifty because we could get our service calls, update ETAs, arrival time, restoral time, completion time, directly into CRM/Clarify. Cusmters who were granted access to CRM/Clarify could get real time updates. The only thing missing was to be able to imput notes. If they could do that, we didn't need a laptop to close out calls.


Smartphones are too difficult to support. The clients rely on us IT folk to fix their phones, and clearly we're not telecom repair guys! I can fix a computer issue to keep a client working, but replacing PCs with smartphones, no thanks!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

But I have high hopes for keyboards that are projected on a surface, as well as holographic displays.

CG IT has this article on touch screen tablets While the article focuses on the tablet being an EReader, competing with Kindle, I can see this moving over to the PC area.


I was reading about this very issue in ... don't remember now, I read several IT mags yesterday... anyway... they're here and IT's supporting them. Six months ago, I agreed, but the tide has turned and we are now expected to support them, like it or not. If you work in-house, it can definitely be a pain. For consultants, I see it as another opportunity to provide services the clients want and need.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It's iffy at the start. I'm hopeful there will be improvements that will make this a workable idea. I'd love it just for my notebook, so I could carry a full-sized keyboard when I travel.


I haven't seen anything about this technology, but I have reservations about it. I assume the projection is from above the hands. As a touch typist, I don't see how the system will detect which of the bottom row keys I'm 'pressing' when those keys will be projected on the back of my hands. Also, this system would have even less tactile feedback than the phone touch screens I already dislike.

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