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.
"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."
"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.
"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.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.