Smartphones

Docking smartphones will be a key part of future, say IT pros

The convergence of PCs and smartphones is destined to have a major impact on the enterprise, according to TechRepublic's skeptical audience of IT pros.

I've written a lot about the potential convergence of smartphones and PCs -- including recent pieces on Motorola Webtop and Ubuntu for Android -- but I recently polled TechRepublic's audience of IT professionals to get their take on whether they see these docking smartphones as legitimate PC replacements. This audience is notoriously ambivalent about tablets, but they turned about to be surprisingly optimistic about smartphone/PC convergence playing a key role in the future of the enterprise.

As you can see in the chart below, 82% of the audience thinks docking smartphones will become an important part of business computing.

One TechRepublic member aptly summed up the argument for why this could make sense:

"Many business and personal users may find a small computing device like a smartphone that can morph in to desktop, laptop, or tablet a very attractive option... Cost is also a factor to consider. Many businesses already provide a smartphone and a desktop or laptop to their workers. There is a obvious cost savings potential here. For consumers, cost is a even more relevant factor and may drive many to these converged devices. From a personal perspective, I need a powerful workstation for work and for now smartphones don't cut it but for the rest of my computing needs I can see devices like these in my future."

Member buck_lane added:

"I love the idea of being able to point to one device and say 'thats got all the things!' I have a linux desktop and an android smartphone anyway, why not merge them? I know this will not be a full desktop replacement, as people still enjoy their high powered desktops for games, graphics and the like. The biggest feature is being able to take my secure connected work desktop with me where ever I go, less stuff to backup, and less environments to change and configure. Throw in a laser projector and keyboard and i'm good to go."

However, the concept certainly has its detractors as well. TechRepublic member vulpine wrote, "I think you'll find them a fad that flies for about a year or two and fades away again like the netbook of the middle '00s. Why? because with the exception of a rare few phones, too few have a standardized connection in a standardized location that would make such a docking system more universally favorable and very few people will want to buy a new docking display every time they buy a new phone."

While vulpine is right that a universal docking mechanism will definitely be needed, I think that will emerge in the years ahead. I expect that it will be a combination of wireless charging (like we saw pioneered by the Palm touchstone -- see photo on right) and wireless docking like we're going to get in Wireless USB. Some will argue that Wireless USB won't have enough bandwidth to drive displays. That's a fair argument, but the limitation will eventually be overcome.

Another user, Bob_or_Fred, summed up another one of the big concerns:

"With how often people break or lose their phones, there will be some big thinking as to why you're giving someone who only works at a desk a smartphone for a computer. Yes, people who are more mobile will get benefits from it, but not everyone is that mobile. In addition, the no-contract costs of smart phones is quite high, easily comparable or higher than a desktop. Additionally, there's lifespan. We have several desktops that have lasted 4 or 5 years, and we still use them (while admittedly, they are quite slow) because they still do what's needed. Oh and last of finally, when thinking of moving to a smartphone for a PC... Employee theft? All they have to do is wipe the memory and they have a black market ready phone, just replace the SIM card and you're good to go. (the non-removable SIM in the iPhone finally can be advertised as a feature!) At least they're easier to support. Software issues? Wipe and reimage. Hardware issues? Replace."

All in all, PC/smartphone convergence is going to be one of the key issues to watch over the next several development cycles in enterprise technology. BYOD, desktop virtualization, and cloud computing will obviously play key roles in this as well.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

20 comments
333239
333239

More and more data are moving to 'the cloud'. We're not quite there yet, but we're fast moving towards a place where all your data is easily accessible on any device, desktop, phone, tablet. Internet connections are getting faster and more prevalent. Data can be cached for when the connection is lost. Whether you use the same processor and local storage in your phone and laptop is largely irrelevant. There might theoretically be some minor cost savings but these are offset by proprietary docking arrangements - people change/lose/break their phones more often than their laptops - will your next phone be the same as the last because it fits in the dock?

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

Not just the compute work, but the very vulnerable data that can be lost (or worse, subject to espionage) if you drop the phone or it's stolen - there's a lot of hype about the cloud too. Great for when you have a good connection. I have had email enabled on my Galaxy SII for the last month and my verdict is it's officially unreliable. Not quite useless, but I definitely can't depend on it because the cell reception is too spotty - at least on my network, and in the semi-3rd-world country I live in. If I don't have 3G signal, I know I can forget opening even the smallest PDF attachment, so working on Cloud documents is out of the question. Naah, I'm old school. Gimme a desktop with two 23 inch screens and I'm happy - until then, the smartphone is just that - a phone, with some fairly natty capabilities like an effectively unlimited contacts database store.

the_tech_mule
the_tech_mule

I was mulling this over and I was agreeing with Vulpine and chrisbedford, this is all just a phase. But there might be something here if this is linked to VDI. Since VDI takes all of the compute work and moves it to the data center or the cloud, you can replace the desktop with a VDI terminal. If you do that, why not make your terminal portable in the form of a smart phone or tablet? There is likely enough power in newer mobile devices for this purpose and you can even use it as second form of authentication. One challenge I see is standardization around the infrastructure to make it happen.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

Great article this time Jason! Being able to secure corporate or protected data (ie HIPAA) on smartphones is currently an issue and will likely shape the way these devices are used before we get comfortable enough to use in this manner (from a corporate standpoint), but I can see it happening.

krishnansriram
krishnansriram

There are more reasons why this may not happen. More of tehn storage in mobile phones are limited. In reality especially for companies, we need a lot of storage. IT may end up installing a lot of their security s/w in my phone which is more often going to be annoying me then facilitate my mobile usage Life of a mobile these days is much less than 2 years, but the average Ife of a computer is much more than that. Add to it, easy upgrades on mac and pc's while there are no upgrades for phones Alternatively companies may decide to give their tablets/ipad to employees. There are less chances of mobiles playing a bigger role in the near future. Except a few cases most of the mobiles are centered around consumers than enterprises

info
info

...over the weekend if I had become an 'old school' IT guy. Trapped in the 'Old Think' about needing a 'real' desktop PC to get anything done, keeping everything 'traditional' just because that's the way I've always done it. And the answer was, "I don't think so." As chrisbedford and Vulpine mentioned above, the driving factors here will be increased productivity (perceived, anyway) and cost. 'Power' tasks like CAD and such will still require cutting-edge hardware, and computer-saavy 'power users' will still wish to retain the option, but for the majority of users that only require a dedicated app or two, an Email client (it's not dead yet, or if you wish to think in future terms, a 'connectivity' client), and an Office suite, a 'powerful enough' tablet-factor (bigger screen than a smartphone, big enough to comfortably work on 'on the fly', tetherable/transferable to a smart-phone (I think I see where BlackBerry was trying to go with the PlayBook) for when the users wanted to be truly mobile would do. A wireless charging station would be more apt, with links to the display and peripheral devices being wireless (users HATE wires). 'Wearable' accessories aside (they'd have to be more stylish than even the best Bluetooth headset), if they can speed up consistent operation of the devices to where they're 'good enough' (most users don't care about hardware, chrisbedford, just whether it gets the job done), while keeping things small and light (batteries and SSD chips spread thin and evenly through the device) I think they may have it...

JCitizen
JCitizen

For corporations that have simple requirements unlike Vulpine's; All they need is their old monitors and keyboards and the last refresh they'd need is the docking station. Oddly enough, BYOD would probably actually be greeted with an uptick in morale; as folks could bring what they've been using on breaks and lunch anyway - their smart phones! In answer to the "universal" problem, I feel the author already addressed this with the bluetooth charger as an example. No more battery problems, and actually the monitor should work this same way with the kind of tech I see all over NewEgg and Amazon these days. I don't see many phones without bluetooth video sharing on PCs; surely some enterprising gizmo developer could turn that into a video streaming channel similar to a regular monitor. With iPhone or Android ubiquity, it shouldn't be too challenging on the software side either. Or - maybe this would save BlackBerry as a new order of business computing. *chuckle* C= ;\

john
john

I don't see why you would need to complicate things with a 'docking station' when you only need a standard bluetooth keyboard and mouse at the office. The iPhone can display 1920x1080 on a monitor with a simple HDMI cable or you could splash out on Apple TV.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

...and thence to i3, i5, and i7. We upgraded their graphics cards from Intel's 945 chipset to separate GeForce cards, and put Gbit network cards in their PCs. They worked on XP, which they loved, gave up on Vista, and with huge gratitude migrated to Win7. They got used to 256 MB, then 512, now all of a sudden 2 GB isn't enough. They filled a 20 GB hard drive, then a 60, a 120, and now if you don't give them a 750 they look down their noses at you. And now you want to wind them all the way back to something slower than an Atom processor, with less than 384 MB of memory (?don't know where I got that from, I can't get my Android to tell me how much RAM it has), maybe 20 GB of storage (some of it on slow external SDCard), a stripped-down version of Linux, and slower responses than a 1986 IBM XT? And this is going to be an *important part* of the computing landscape in the near future? I agree with Vulpine, it's all a new romance. At the moment it's cool to open a PDF on your phone, pinch it bigger, and flick it around on the screen while you try to read it. But pretty soon the lust affair will cool, the hormones will dial back a couple of notches, and all those starry-eyed lovers will start realising their new paramours have buck teeth, crossed eyes, and bad breath. Even the best smartphone, Apple's, is not fast enough to be a serious, even a meaningful computer. I can't speak for the Windows phone, but my Galaxy SII is sometimes so slow to respond I want to throw the thing into the river - and that's just while using it for basic phone functions like calling and looking up phone nos. I can't imagine waiting for those kind of response times while editing a document, I would go batsh!t crazy. No, sorry, "IT professionals", I think it's a lot of wishful thinking - unless in the next year Silicon Valley can come up with a 10-fold performance improvement while doubling battery life, I can't see this prediction coming true. Heaven knows, I'd love it to be true, but I don't think so.

TNT
TNT

With my Motorola Atrix and a dock with keyboard mouse and monitor I could do everything my job requires. Thanks to web apps and Citrix I can gain all the necessary access to corporate resources I need through its built-in Firefox browser and Citrix plugin. I would love a converged device like this with a little more processing power (quad-core and more RAM would just about do it).

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

But most companies don't have monitors with HDMI cables. So: Phone: $400 (plus 2-year cool data+voice plan for $80/mo) Dock: $400 Ergonomic Keyboard & Mouse: $50 HDMI monitor: $300 ---- Price of netbook w/wifi and more powerful processor, and using existing monitor and keyboard equipment that will last another half-decade or more: $300 Granted, if that limited 4G plan is worth the extra money, get it and don't leech off of everyone else's wifi, that both phone and netbook would have to do at some point somewhere...

TNT
TNT

Since many applications and storage exist in the cloud the kind of hardware user's are used to just isn't necessary any longer.

rhonin
rhonin

Even if it went the way of the phone to dock (which I like btw...) and you had secondary CPU/GPU/etc... I highly suspect by the time they roll this out in a few years the smarphone will have evolved into something yet again different. Same concept but different form factor and potential. Think to the futuristic video made by MS? that showed the home/office/work/personal intergration with a thin clear phone and wall displays.....

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

may prefer IE for the browser... all these companies can claim "open standards", but only as open as YOU perceive them as being. Behind the scenes, they will all make walled gardens, because anyone having to rely on open standards and real flexibility and freedom wouldn't be able to make a dime to live on.

chrisbedford
chrisbedford

And a waist-belt-mounted car battery to keep you going from lunchtime to 5 pm?

rhonin
rhonin

Then again a Lenovo T series with swappable everything bought in bulk..... Maybe the dock thingy for limited environments - boardroom, engineering, sales,.... limited.

scblomstedt
scblomstedt

You might have a point there. If you don't try to protect your product a little bit, you might end up losing out. However, you should review VHS versus Beta-Max.

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