Networking

Poll: With wireless docking, will smartphones replace many laptops?

The idea of smartphones using a protocol like Wireless USB to "dock" and act like a desktop or laptop is intriguing. Do you see it becoming a legitimate PC replacement? Take our poll.

When I wrote my article about Intel promoting Thunderbolt technology at the expense of Wireless USB, a big part of my argument was that Wireless USB could enable a universal wireless docking solution that could start a revolution in computing. The result would be that high-powered dual core smartphones could soon have the power to run a desktop OS and connect wirelessly to a desktop (keyboard, mouse, and monitor) or laptop "dock" and act like a full PC.

It was that part of my article -- talking about wireless docking -- that people got the most excited about. I even went on the podcast TechFan on Friday to debate the merits of the idea and talk about its real world possibilities.

We've just started seeing the possibilities of smartphones as PC replacements for light computing with the Motorola Atrix (below).

However, that still requires a physical dock and it's unlikely that all of the smartphone vendors will agree on a universal connector for docking. It's much more likely that all of them would agree to support a wireless protocol like Wireless USB that could then be used as an untethered docking solution. Yes, there would be security and wireless interference concerns, but those are not insurmountable obstacles. With smartphones going dual core and spreading to more consumers and business professionals, a wireless docking solution will likely emerge within the next two years.

Once this happens, do you see smartphones replacing some traditional laptops and desktops? For which types of users would this sense? Answer the poll below and jump into the discussion.

Take the poll

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.

52 comments
Geoff58
Geoff58

Would you be interested in a smart phone that you can touch type on?

fvazquez
fvazquez

I think that would depend on the user type: Those whose computing needs are more like a business man: they'd need an agenda and a phone and need to read stock market and news, no doubt. For those whose computing needs are more robust: developers for instance, I see them (i do it myself) carrying a laptop and a smartphone... for now.

vegesm
vegesm

To replace a laptop, you'll also need a keyboard, display, etc. at your docking station. I wonder will it be cheaper having a powerful smartphone (with a really good processor to replace a laptop) and all those devices.

bwexler
bwexler

SELMA was a credit card size computer on a TV show - Time Trax. SELMA provide a holographic image and surround sound as well as the ability to wirelessly control any electronic device (like the ignition on a car).

brucer
brucer

Honestly, I use my phone as just that - sometimes to check websites, but could never replace the laptop with a phone.

MrBeck
MrBeck

Why would I want to use my phone as my principal computing device? What happens to my work when I need to use the phone as a phone? Would I need to have another phone to use as a phone? I'm seeing this already, a "real" phone for calls and a "smart" phone for media, games and "apps" (web browsing in a wee-small-tiny screen). If I'm going to carry 'round a keyboard and screen, for a nickel more throw in a cpu, some ram and some flash, hey presto a PC. And I can use it and my phone at the same time.

Richard Turpin
Richard Turpin

The semi skilled end of the industry will probably be OK with a phone. But the skilled part of the industry will require a contrivance that is fit for purpose. Can't see a 50MB CAD file being worked on a phone or a cloud. But I do think that the "Jack the lads" brigade will be in their element posing with a telephone that does everything on a 6" screen...thats of course until they try to use it for real work. As an engineer who requires access to major software for code writing and tweaking most of the time in a car in the clients car park there really is no way on earth this could be attempted on a telephone. But I am all for progress but I doubt very much if this will be an engineers choice of tool, it could possibly be some assistance on the odd jobs.

BlazNT2
BlazNT2

I have been using a Smartphone for years to connect to all the firewalls and windows servers I support. I prefer a larger screen but if I need to fix something and I don't have my laptop or they don't have wireless then the Smartphone works. I still remember the last time I took my wife to the hospital. I don't know why my VPN would not connect on the Hospital WiFi but it worked on my Smartphone. I got all my work done and did not have to leave my wife???s side. I would without a doubt love a larger screen and keyboard for my Smartphone. If I had a portable one I would sell my laptop in a min.

dotgovgeek
dotgovgeek

I've been saying for years that the slate will be the death blow to the traditional laptop and correspondingly, wired connectivity for just about any real use. Add in Moores Law in action with the smaller and exponentially more capable devices such as smart phones and slates and yes, you can within reason, for the "average" user (read 80% of your user population) replace their desktop or traditional laptop with a device that is "cloud" connected. Whether that device is an ultra-portable "thin" laptop that doesn't store data or applications locally, slate/tablet devices with an ever increasing storage and application compatibility component or the "smart" phone. It's all evolved and will continue to do so right? The point has been made that one of the current detractions of going over to a smart device (phone, tablet, etchasketch) is more interface related than device related capability. Once we as IT professionals adopt and embrace the new architectures such as a broader "thin" client infrastructure, better online data storage and access from and through the network edge and deliver that infrastructure to support all of these merging technologies, the adoptive shift by the business and the end user will accelerate accordingly. Sort of a "Build it and they will come" scenario. The method these devices connect to each other really is moot, as noted there are several functional methods today that meet or exceed the need. That isn't said to imply that searching for improvements isn't needed; it's said to note that this can be done today. The future is already here...

jwildhair
jwildhair

I voted No, but what constitutes "many?" 2) If it has to dock with something, it is an extension of a device, not a replacement. 3) Keyboard. "txtng" is not the language of business.

jstlouis
jstlouis

Just getting down to the basics, that much data on a device that is so simple to lose. Very risky. I'd rather keep work in the office or home and access it remotely, than to always have it available.

blegs
blegs

Not until the smartphone op systems become as stable as laptops.

dhays
dhays

My phone (present model) has no docking port, only a wired USB. It would have to be all wireless. By the time you add a monitor and keyboard, then you might as well have a laptop with everything fully integrated. That is why I voted no. The keyboard on my phone is barely big enough to some light texting or browsing. Earlier post: "it's" is only to be used for it is, "its" is the possesive form of the word.

rmitchell
rmitchell

PC and phone have been on a convergent trajectory for more than a decade. Email wants to be in the cloud, so does much of infrastructure. The PC will eventually be vestigial, but having I/0 stations (keyboard and display) that will securely authenticate wirelessly when we approach the station will come. The convergence will continue until identity and key data stored in the phone will be ubiquitous.

guardian
guardian

I would call this a prototype of things to come. A demonstration of technology and what it can do. We discussed back arounf 1990 about something you carry around with all your software and data that plugs into a terminal. This is just the first step toward that end. Tom

JosephKobrin
JosephKobrin

I think that Professionals that don't use heavy processing like data or coding applications, will find laptops ever more unpopular as phones can do more and can do it faster.

AhmedAba
AhmedAba

Mobiles, PCs, Notebooks, Tablets are just tools to get you to your applications and data which will be in the Cloud. And mobiles with wireless docking technology will be the popular choice because of its portability.

jw
jw

This retired grandfather uses his laptop only for browsing, watching videos, word processing and the occasional simple spreadsheet. Phones have enough grunt to do all that, all that's missing is a big screen and keyboard. If I can put my PC in my pocket and connect easily to a screen etc. via "Son of Bluetooth" anywhere - good

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

I've been a Palm user since the '90s. When I moved up to a Treo "smartphone", the first accessory I purchased was a collapsible keyboard, which permitted me to efficiently do e-mail, documentation and similar work without the need to keep my laptop in tow. Although I still need and desire my laptop for tasks that my smartphone is still not fully capable of, for some time the smartphone has made it possible to be nearly fully functional on a trip without the laptop.

mattohare
mattohare

I chose a narrow definition of data analysts and creators. Data consumers can easily migrate to such a platform.

terry.oneil
terry.oneil

The phone could become the new Smart thin client with base corporate applications and use some version of virtual applications for the more intensive applications. A small to midsize tablet that has phone service would be ideal platform. Big enough to work on the train and still small enough to work at home. The only downside would be the availibility of docking stations at home and other non-office locations. Docks would have to be universal and not too expensive.

laristech
laristech

If you only want to check your email and text. Most users use other applications on their laptops.

Da Wizard
Da Wizard

Security? Frail hardware? No doubt it will work for some but I don't want to fix them.

scratch4653
scratch4653

Using Virtual Desktop.....secure and data stored in a hardened data center, virtually instant on. Access from many types of end points.

jiorjis
jiorjis

I am greatly concerned with losing work I have been working on, hence I could never trust my data on a device that can be stolen easier than any other device. Moreover, similarly to the Apple loop (when you buy apps and movies that only work with Apple) this may create a loop that without the smartphone the dock is useless. Yes you can have backup for the smartphone - no, smartphones will never compete on the capabilities and durabilities of laptops and netbooks. Technology may drive us to this end but this does not mean that it is the best possible option.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

For convenience and ease of access, we want our information on one device. One device eliminates the need to synchronize. If that device can handle our general computing needs, then it doesn't matter whether it is a phone with a CPU or a PC with a microphone and speaker. Fifteen years ago, I was providing docking stations to the road warriors to make it easier for them to use their laptops in the office. (Big display, normal keyboard, mouse, and ethernet.) Since then, the mobile devices have gotten smaller and smarter, and they now appear in many hands in many forms, but our hands haven't shrunk to smartphone size. So, today's devices can be made more useful with a dock that provides a link to human-scale peripherals. Whether the connecting technology is wireless USB or something else doesn't matter to users.

TGGIII
TGGIII

those with heavy input and processing needs will stay on more power devices...

Andrew Houghton
Andrew Houghton

Not sure why we need yet another wireless protocol. We already have Zigbee, Bluetooth, WiFi, WiMax, etc. Why can't we just do this stuff over WiFi which most smartphones already support instead of adding yet another protocol to my smartphone?

ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898
ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898

Well, it does depend on the work you do. But, I have to run test servers, I also do video and music editing. Smart phones and tablets are not powerful enough to run those programs. There's still many things one needs more power for and a laptop would work fine. Unless you use a remote client to your work server, then it might be a laptop replacement. HOWEVER, you also would need to hook up to it a keyboard and mouse to be most productive. More real estate and clunky. Where a laptop has the keyboard/trackpad/mouse (UltraNav on my Lenovo) integrated into the laptop. So it is all-in-one more than a tablet or especially smart phone. And also you might need a monitor. A few quick emails to your boss isn't bad but when you're developing or it becomes a conference via text, the small size of tablets (and especially smart phones) can be troublesome on the eyes, where a good 14" laptop would do just fine. Face it, laptops aren't really THAT big. At least you're not trying to lug around a desktop machine! BTW, I did download an app that is supposed to connect to your laptop or desktop via Remote Client so you can access it's desktop on your tablet (it's an Android app). I haven't got it going yet though. But I did get another "Remote Desktop" one going that let's me browse the files on my tablet on the laptop. There's stuff already out there. But it all depends on what you really need to do. If you are a server admin and coder, then you will still need a laptop at best. But the smartphone and/or tablet is a good thing to have on hand in case you need to get some stuff done quickly or answer a quick email, do research, etc. But nothing too heavy.

jeff.morgan
jeff.morgan

We already use the Iphone to get lab results, EKGs, Fetal Monitoring, Imaging (Radiology & Cath Lab)... Imagine hospital supplied solution where a doctor can if need be go to dock already set up...plug in, do a little heavier work, and then undock and go on his way. While remaining logged in and not having to worry about logging in multiple times into various systems (SSO). Sure I see ALL-IN-ONE device coming soon. As long as they can get the security right and it remains as user friendly as it is touted.

Allen Halsey
Allen Halsey

Smartphones will not replace notebook computers, because of two developments: (1) cloud computing, and, (2) super light and thin, yet affordable, notebooks like the MacBook Air. With cloud computing, I can begin composing a document on the smartphone and switch to my notebook computer and continue editing the same document without missing a beat. With the advent of super light and thin, yet affordable, notebook computers, it is only a small burden to carry a full-fledged computer for real work; just slide it into your briefcase or large purse. This is certainly less burdensome than looking for an available docking station and wiping it with a disinfecting cloth. That reminds me of public pay phones ... which seem to be nearly extinct. Allen Halsey

dphilips1425
dphilips1425

I think there are still a few steps along that path but it will probably come to that someday.

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

Sit back and look especially at your normal mobile users. What do they need, and can it be provided by a SmartPhone, and only lack some better physical manipulation interfaces? Email? Check. Contacts? Check. Files? Half Check, more refinements needed. CRM solution? Very check, especially if it's cloud based. Telephone? Check, I would hope. On that last one, with the correct telepresence integeration, their mobile phone is integrated into their office communications portal. So, for the average end user, a powerful smart phone and the right peripherals could become the only technology they need. Comfort and ease of use are the two biggest obstacles, so these are excellent points that using technology such as wireless USB or BlueTooth to bond the physical world needing human sized keyboards and monitors, with the mobile world, which has become so powerful.

ThatWasUnexpected
ThatWasUnexpected

Up until a year ago, we used Windows Mobile phones and I was given a Celio Redfly...that + terminal services and RDP did about 90% of things I'd be called back into the office for...We switched to Android phones at the direction of our CEO and that went away in a hurry...but I got back some it it by getting LogMeIn Ignition...but I lost my larger display and KB....I'm kind of stoked about what Motorola's doing, and really hope they settle on a standard that can be used by multiple Android devices.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

and I doubt my workplace will buy into that anytime soon either.

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

But the same is true for standard laptops and desktops regarding you concern with where the data is housed. Hell, I've rarely seen phone memory fail, but I see standard HDD's fail all the time. What if the phone interface was merely a portal to data stored in another location? I'm thinking if I could leverage the Office installation on a Windows Phone via a wirelessly connected KVM, then the documents would be stored on SkyDrive or SharePoint, the latter being the choice, so it's my company's SharePoint site.

Andrew Houghton
Andrew Houghton

I think your concern about security and backup are overstated. Right now I'm using my phone as my main computing device. Security is always a concern, that is why my entire phone's data is encrytped and it is wirelessly backed up to my SD card and to the cloud weekly. Almost all of my data is in the cloud and I can access it via applications or the browser. Thus, I don't need to have a GB hard drive to store my data and don't have to worry about backing up that data since its in the cloud already being backed up. If my phone is lost, stolen or dies, then I refresh it from the latest backup and reconnect the appropriate applications to the data in the cloud. I have already done this with little down time when my phone died earlier this year. In the scenario I described, its difficult to compare a smartphone+cloud to a laptop/netbook. I thought that I might miss my desktop, but I have found that I only use it for the larger screen or specialized applications. If I could physically or wireless dock my phone, then the larger screen issue disappears, leaving only specialized applications that don't have a cloud equivalent right now.

bkfriesen
bkfriesen

Actually, the 'phones' will be the 'more powerful device'. Think outside the box a bit and you'll see that the capability of carrying your entire data and computing environment in your pocket makes the blurring of smartphone/computer inevitable. We're pretty close right now in raw computing power in smartphones.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I picture wireless USB a standard designed for speed, not distance. Does it really need to travel more than a few feet? It could also have limited overhead, as it does not need a TCP style loss prevention, no one would notice if a few pixels died in mid flight to your monitor, especially if its rendering at 60-120fps.

jfreedle2
jfreedle2

A couple of weeks ago, I would have agreed with you. That was before I won an Apple iPad at a conference. Since that time, I decided to evaluate why anybody would want one of these devices. I accepted the prize in shame while others were excited that I had won the device. So I am only two weeks into my evaluation and I have used the device exclusively instead of my notebook computer. The second week I was on vacation, so limited work would have been done with the device. But for catching up on email and researching information on the internet, it was definitely something that can be done with the device. I really liked the idea of the original Handheld PC where I could easily perform notetaking in meetings and walk way from using paper then having to convert paper to electronic form for more permantant storage. With the iPad, that has increased by allowing me to access my workstation and not haivng a keyboard and mouse has definitely not impeded my ability to get my work done. For the last few years, because of the price of notebook computers has come down, I have been able to purchase more and more powerful hardware, that is mostly used to take notes in classes and meetings. I have noticed that I do not use the power in which I have with the notebook computer. Notebook computers will not replace desktop computers as they will never have the flexability nor the power. With each increase in computing power for the notebook computers, also come increases in power on the desktop computer. While I am out for the summer, I can only test how well this Apple iPad will work for a replacement for a notebook computer at work. When I am able to take classes again in the fall, I will be testing it there as well. Sometimes you have to look at what you really need to do versus what you already know and comfortable with. You need to grow beyond what you are used to.

Komplex
Komplex

If we were expecting the business traveler to carry his docking station with him, using the mobile phone instead of the laptop would be a stupid idea. It would offer none of the advantages and less power & storage. But if smartphone makers are able to agree on a connection standard so we have a universal docking station we are on to something. Business hotels could offer a full docking station to the business traveler. Offices can keep a few of these docking stations around for visitors. Sure you can't do multimedia editing, but you could run a good amount of business apps. For Coding and other graphics light, but processor intense needs you could set up a fairly secure remote desktop situation.

kenr
kenr

But wasn't there a recent article about a quad core phone being built on the assumption that this was true?

douglas.gernat
douglas.gernat

You have an excellent point here. I think we will see more of a blend in which the end user's interface to their data will be more a personal choice based on need. All their data and real applications (for the most part) will be in a cloud, not necessary 'the cloud', whether it be a corporate network, or a hosted environment. For those that need power, they will certainly be using a true laptop or workstation, whether it be traditional or cloud-based, but for those who do simple tasks, I see more and more never actually touching a PC. Even for myself, I hardly use my PC at home anymore, when I can access everything I need from my Windows phone, unless I need to test a physical network connection. And no, that doesn't mean I'm terminal servicing to a server, basically the same as using a PC. Not to say I can see the future, this article and possible glipse to the future just certainly intrigued me!

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

Really now! Labelling MacBook Air as affordable versus... what?!? A Rolls Royce Phantom 2? Come on! MacBook Air may be many things. But affordable it is not! Not for someone earning under 50.000 per year with 3 kids, an unemployed wife and a mortgage.

Edward D
Edward D

Great discussion topic, Jason. Thanks. My prediction...just a sec, while I get the dust off the old crystal ball... Something a little bigger, like a tablet, will include a cell phone and access (wireless or other) to a PC. This tablet-like device will be the personal "everything", personal phone (PP), personal data assistant (PDA), personal computer link (PC console). Complex cell phone signals, especially signals to base stations / towers / etc., carry low frequency signals that can interfere with brain and body cell communications in a very destructive manner. Good research with corroboration already has established this. And radio frequency (RF) is known to be harmful at power or close range. I would like to see a return to infrared linking. I still use my laptop IR link to print to my HP 6MP LaserJet printer. The link is good up to about 18 inches. Infrared, as in these types of links and for the older TV remotes, does not harm living cells. I also try to avoid spending time in large electromagnetic fields, such as under Electric Utility power lines. For me personally, the smart phone is not all that attractive (eyesight degrading with age, etc., and I started out with an NCR Century 200). I would like a tablet-size PC substitute with some sort of full-sized keyboard feature (attached or separate). The Star Trek voice commands would be nice, "Computer, I would like to dictate an e-mail message to Jason Hiner." So that's my prediction, and my vote. A Tablet-style Cell Phone / PDA / PC.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I have yet to have one of my laptop users say, "You know, I took just my phone on this trip and I didn't miss my computer one bit."

dogknees
dogknees

The killer for me is that my notebook doesn't need to talk to the world to let me watch my content. It's all right there. There are a few places I go that have no mobile coverage of any kind, and some that won't for years to come if not decades. These are exactly the places that I want all my content available. Remote mine sites are isolated and boring beyond belief!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

It's also does power transmission - mice, scanners, cameras, headsets, etc. No wireless protocol or method can do that yet.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I would hope, that a typical dock would involve a keyboard, mouse and monitor. The monitor should draw power from the wall, and plug the keyboard and mouse into the monitor or into whatever device is receiving the signals from the phone, translating them into a signal a monitor can understand, and re-transmitting them to a monitor. This box would likely also need to be powered.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

There are no efficient wireless power transmission methods in production. The Wikipedia article you linked to is a great overview of processes under investigation, but it's still borderline science fiction.

jhinkle
jhinkle

Wireless power will come from electric fields, not from established OSI protocols. So it doesn't matter what protocol you use wireless power will be solved by physically transferring power over electric fields and be protocol independent. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_energy_transfer http://www.silicondevices.com/Resources/EvalCards/PIC18F2550testcard.htm#_Toc242722399 I don't think adding a wireless USB protocol is going to mean anything when you already have things like bluetooth for secure short range transmissions (30 FT for standard BT). Not to mention that the different USB specs change overall speed and throughput. For wireless the transmissions are defined by the 802.11 standards, any protocols you put over it are going to max out at the speed of the wireless link. The protocols already in place are sufficient to do the jobs needed without wireless USB.

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