Mobility

Will smartphones and TVs join forces to replace PCs?

We are quickly approaching the time when smartphones and large-screen LCDs could team up to displace the current PC as we know it.

It's a concept that has been hinted at for over a decade, but we may soon be approaching the time when smartphones and large-screen LCDs could team up to displace the current PC as we know it.

The idea is that the smartphone will become powerful enough to be a full-fledged computer and that wireless docking technology will enable you to set your phone down at a work area and immediately connect to a large-screen LCD, as well as a mouse, keyboard, printer, and other PC peripherals.

In that scenario, the smartphone simply replaces a desktop PC tower or a docked laptop. That's simple enough and certainly makes sense as smartphones become as powerful as last year's PCs (the first dual core smartphones running the Nvidia Tegra2 are expected by the end of the year). And, it's a clear replacement for a home PC since more and more people are likely to have a smartphone and an LCD panel that could double as a TV and as a computer monitor.

But, when it comes to the enterprise, companies aren't going to want to deploy smartphones to every user. First of all, there's the likelihood that a large number of these devices would walk out the door and never come back -- no matter how cheap they get -- and that would keep a lot of companies from handing them out.

What would make more sense is that companies have a work area with a screen, keyboard, and mouse connected to a $100 box the size of a cable modem and similar to many of today's thin clients. This box would serve two functions: 1.) connect to nearby mobile devices, and 2.) connect back to the data center to run a virtual desktop that has all of the company's apps and business data. To the user, it would look and feel very similar to today's computing environment.

The smartphone would of course hold the employee's personal files and apps, photos, etc. It would also hold the employee's personal preferences for their computing environment -- icon and menu settings, bookmarks, wallpaper, etc. The IT department could set it up so that certain corporate data and apps would be allowed to be transferred to the employee's phone. What gets transferred and how much would depend heavily on the job role, the company, and the kinds of data and apps that the employee works with.

In this scenario, the user owns their own smartphone (and all cell phones will soon be smartphones). If the employee doesn't have a phone or doesn't want corporate data on their personal device then they can simply use the virtual desktop for all work activities.

As these smartphones get faster and more sophisticated they will also be able to contain within them a complete software image of a virtual desktop (running Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome OS, or whatever), similar to what vendors like MokaFive are already offering. This will enable the smartphones to act like full-fledged PCs when connected to bigger screens and other peripherals -- at work, at home, at the coffee shop, at conferences, wherever.

Once the smartphones have that capability, they will become the primary computing device for each individual.

Enabling factors

The move to this scenario will be dependent on three factors:

  1. Powerful smartphones (multiple CPU cores and more RAM)
  2. Low cost LCD TV screens (under $200 for over 30 inches)
  3. Near-universal standardization of Near Field Communication, Bluetooth, and/or Wireless USB

The multi-core smartphones are already on their way. By the end of 2011, dual core CPUs will very likely be the standard in high-end smartphones, the following year we should see multiple cores, and within five years nearly all cell phones will be multi-core smartphones.

Many computer monitors now have multimedia input connectors such as HDMI and Component, just like TVs, while flat panel TVs almost all have VGA connectors to attach to computers. Pretty soon, the distinction between a computer monitor and LCD TV will become completely blurred. They will simply be screens that can connect to various types of computers, multimedia boxes, and mobile devices.

As for the wireless protocols, there is a rumor that Apple is already building NFC into the next iPhone to allow it to connect to a Mac and log in with the user's preferences and data. That could be an important first step toward the scenario we're talking about. Bluetooth, of course, is already serving as a standard for connecting mice, keyboards, and other PC peripherals and could remain part of this equation for that purpose. Meanwhile, Intel, Samsung, and others are pushing the adoption of Wireless USB, which has clear ambitions of offering exactly the kind of wireless docking capability that we're talking about in this article.

Ramifications

If this scenario were to become standard then it would have a number of major implications on the technology world, including:

  • Reducing the importance, and likely the cost, of the desktop operating system (i.e. Windows, Mac, and Linux), but certainly not eliminating it (remember, it would still be needed for virtual desktop use)
  • Selling desktop PC hardware would become a much smaller and more specialized business
  • Laptops could take on form factors much similar to netbooks, ultra-portables, and the 11-inch MacBook Air and become infinitely cheaper (under $200) since they'd need very little power of their own and would mostly serve as a mobile screen and keyboard running off your primary computing device -- the smartphone.
  • Smartphones would likely grow at an even faster rate than currently predicted by industry analysts

Final thoughts

This pair-up of smartphones and LCD TVs is a much more likely scenario for transforming the standard PC experience than seeing the masses give up their desktops and laptops for tablets like the iPad.

That's not to say that the iPad and tablets like it are not going to thrive in the years ahead. They definitely will. As I've said before, they will become the de facto device for people who spend their whole day in meetings (executives, project managers) and professionals who are on their feet out in the field (consultants, realtors, repair technicians).

But, that still leaves the standard knowledge workers who are chained to their desks most of the time when they need to get work done at maximum productivity. The smartphone + large LCD scenario would take advantage of the efficiencies developed in the current computing environment, but would give it greater flexibility and portability as well as a much larger virtual workspace using a big flat panel.

I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. Bill Gates was talking about scenarios like this in the late 1990s. Various publications that focus on futurism and tech culture have espoused similar visions of what the future of computing could look like.

The big players in the computer industry are also very aware of the possibilities of this scenario and its potential implications. There's a reason why Apple is devoting most of its energy and resources to the mobile space. And, there's a reason why Microsoft has gone all-hands-on-deck to revive its mobile fortunes, if only to hedge its bets against a future where the PC as we currently know it is no longer sitting on a desk but is stored in a pocket or sitting inside a server.

About

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 book, Follow the Geeks.

114 comments
J.C.Alexandres
J.C.Alexandres

A TV is a TV, a phone a phone, and a computer a computer, you can run all of them in a computer, and you can run some computer functions in a phone, in the moment I can run a programming languaje, a spreadsheet, or a word processor in a tv, then it will be a computer with a large screen running it.

Par-Pro
Par-Pro

with a pc you can upgrade with a few parts under 100.00. With a smart phone you have to buy a new one. Smart phones don't hold 12GB of DDR3 or a 6 core chip. And thats just todays market. The next new chip is an 8 core with a MoBo that will hold 32GB of ram. I'd like to see anyone play Halo on the net with out killing there battery after 2 hours (if that long).

the_webninja
the_webninja

This Story might hold some truth if you were just talking about the average Moron who subscribes to AOL or something, but given the wide Range of applications that PCs have, there is no way in My mind that I can see a Smart Phone EVER completely Replacing a PCs. Not Happenin. Because you can't change out and upgrade components and this is what keeps the PC market alive. There are many different reasons people Upgrade and Customize their PCs but the bottom line is you can't do that with a Smart Phone, and you will NEVER be able to do that with a Smart Phone. Are you implying a Smart Phone is going to be capable of speed Crunching Data for Gaming or Processing Video? NO WAY! And the idiot who wrote this story should know better writing for a Website like Tech Republic.

tecguydomain
tecguydomain

PCs will never be replaced by these systems, but will be intergrated as we are currently seeing.

Netteligent
Netteligent

Intel and Microsoft keep telling us that new computers cost less and more powerful. Computers and Microsoft Windows are too expensive, less value, and boring. We have 6 years old computers with last Windows XP. Our new AMD computers come with Linux at much lesser costs. This is called real saving.

DadsPad
DadsPad

I see several needs for this to be implemented. Military come to mind first, see lots of applications here. Both the young and schools would do well with this. Small busineses but not large corporations or govenments. Large entities do not want non corporation phones on their systems. But I see this could work for sales and meetings. If this connectivity does catch on, I see the need for data packs that would provide extended memory and battery life then connect wirelessly.

robertog169
robertog169

I think that you will see the PC replaced in the HOME with items that are specialized in particular functions. I mean people will still want the GAMING performance of a high-end PC (WoW sells millions of copies of its games, cant play them on any CONSOLE or Netbooks etc, at least not with any reasonable performance) so TV/Smartphone makers would need to address this somehow if they were to truly replace the PC in the home. Yes, we all browse the net, read e-books/news, and watch streaming video MOST of the time but there will be a need to accomodate those folks who want to GAME with software that functions only on PC\MAC platforms. Or, perhaps the software companies will change...which one will accomodate? Thoughts?

jazzy5
jazzy5

This also remind me of another prize in the sky. Many years ago it was said the thin client will be of the future. It never happen. Now we talking about cloud computer for the past two years. It has not taken off like the smartphone or the notebook. I wonder why? This is like an answer to a question nobody have asked or want to ask. The smartphone is a nice add device but not to bet my job to it unless a want to be fired.

jazzy5
jazzy5

To replace a PC? No! A nice add on for some peoples. There are two types a people that will use this concept. 1- The IT guy that needs to be on the move and needs the power of the new smarthphone. Not many of them. 2-The cool/idiot guy. This is the guy that have more money then brain. Wants to be super cool with, "look what I can do with my smartphone" but never use the device for real work. Saying that most new PC cost lest then a smartphone, especially at the rate corporation buys from HP or Dell. Where I work, 10 of thousands computer on in use. I would never see the company replacing then to for all the employee with phones that can be lose, stolen, drop and broken. Maybe for the top managers which really don't use because that is why they have secretaries and other people to crunch work.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

on a phone even if a phone had a 60GB HDD or SSD installed it still wouldn't provide enough computing power to play the huge high resource consuming games that aren't going away nor are they getting smaller I use - Core2Duo 2.66GHz - over 5TB of HDD space, - 4GB DDR2 Dual Channel 800MHz RAM (PC6400) - XP-SP3 with a stripped config. just to do Pro Audio work and it still isn't a good enough system to play WOW even playing older games causes it to peg at least one of the cores @ 100%

bwyatt
bwyatt

Not before 2015 at the earliest... So says my crystal ball... Every smart phone today requires reboots/restarts far too frequently - the applications (and OS, frankly) are just too unstable... in the rush to enable portability, stability went AWOL...

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

[i]"This pair-up of smartphones and LCD TVs is a much more likely scenario for transforming the standard PC experience than seeing the masses give up their desktops and laptops for tablets like the iPad.[/i] I concur, right now manufacturers seem to like playing consumer gadget games. Nothing new of groundbreaking is changing how we do thing, iPad is just a cut down mobile PC, most smartphones are just slight improvements over previous versions but nothing has really 'changed'. The technical debates are not about great new devices they are just about OS wars and if iGadgets will take over the world, which they haven't even come close to doing yet. It reminds me of buying old console game systems, another new one every year, but besides a little quicker and a littler better graphics, no big changes. It wasn't until PC gaming took over that we saw REAL changes in gaming. With Asian smartphones making our own look like the Motorola bricks of the 80's, they STILL aren't doing much that we would accept in North America, such as being used for instant payment. I can't see to many people here accepting that their phone can simply be waved past a scanner to withdrawal subway fare from debit, buy a CD in HMV etc., but they do it in Japan and it's hot. I'd say they'd have to come up with something fast though. Docking notebooks went the way of the Dodo bird. Right now, docking small devices (like iStuff) is trendy again and if they want to see docking smartphones take an industry by storm, they better do it while the technology is still desired.

terry.sanderson
terry.sanderson

Let's get realistic here: 1) Anyone who has used netbooks already knows that the 1.6GHz Atom processor is a slug. Yea, OK for email and web browsing, but try to do anything bigger. So, we're going to replace real desktops with dual 1GHz ARM processors. Don't think so. 2) A TV doubling as a computer monitor? How many times have we heard this in the last 30 years? Take a look at the pixel pitch and supported PC resolutions for most of these TV's. I wouldn't want to be sitting 18 inches in front of one of those 32 inch babies at 1024x768! And remember, you said "cheap" TV's, not high end brands like Vizio. 3) Where are you going to get the video bandwidth from? Bluetooth? NFC? I guess we'll be seeing PCIe-16 slots in smartphones next? Bring it on. I could go on, but won't. Why is it that everyone wants a one-size-fits-all solution? Just imagine my smartcar/minivan/SUV/semi. The best of all the worlds! TerryS.

jon@Mindmeltproductions.com
jon@Mindmeltproductions.com

"By the end of 2011, dual core CPUs will very likely be the standard in high-end smartphones,the following year we should see multiple cores..." Anyone worried about having that much computing power so close to your brain??

Tommy S.
Tommy S.

Seriously, they will become powerful enough? Jesus, most people whine that a netbook is underpowered and now a phone is enough? The die of my GTX470 is bigger than a whole iPhone. They could replace all those P4 that are only collecting spywares and botnet clients thanks to their gullible owners though.

melias
melias

A few quick thoughts about this... Monitors capable of running at 1080 are available for reasonable prices. A Dell Professional 22" WFP with a 5-year warranty will cost you around 400 + Tax, S&H. Also, in your scenario, unless you want to drive your tech people insane, you better have strong standards about which phones your company supports. Finally, backups. What happens when the phone dies and becomes a brick? Do you have your data somewhere where you can get it? And don't talk to me about the data backup from your vendor, that failed me the one time I needed it, on our corporate account. All in all, these ideas sound great, but in the end, they generally have several stumbling blocks to become practical, such as software vendor support. I can run application X on my Windows Mobile, but this other app will only run on the iPhone. Will Microsoft Mobile/7/whatever become the defacto standard of business phone OS, just like Windows? If smart phones become desktop replacements, one phone OS will probably become the business standard, while others make inroads on home/niche markets.

richslab
richslab

The biggest factor keeping our company from moving more towards netbooks and smartphones as a total solution is performance. Running corporate applications on one of these devices simply does not perform to the level people are expecting now days. I think another enabling factor would be a multi-mode processor. It would act as a power conservative CPU on battery similar to a single core 1.2 GHz Atom processor. When docked it would "power up" to a performance oriented level similar to a dual core 2.4 GHz i5 processor.

dfair
dfair

This will have huge implications for the education world as well. Ever since the iPod touch came out, I've been saying that all students will need is an iPod and a desk which has a monitor and keyboard built in. The iPod touch (or any other mobile device) will simply act as a wireless connection to the internet where students can work, access textbooks, and create anything within the cloud.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

Ommm.. why do you think chat smartphone will do everything. For me the most limiting factor would be the energy dissipation which will mean costly small batteries and reduced autonomy as dell as uncumfortable text input. In fact I really think that most of the computing power will be fixed, either online with cloud computing, or at home or on desk in the TV set : digital TVs are already computer faturing powerful graphic engines. The smartphone will more likely become peripherals of TVs at home and of online clouds, even if they will also be remote interfaces to various tools at home or in our car. But most importantly it will be an interface for identifying ourself safely to our private profile. It will perform less things, but will be highly connected. It will store les info, It will just be an easily transportable terminal with excellent broadband connection, but more secure. There will be less risks of loosing it, It will embed ? finger print reader or some biological sensors, and will be interchangeable with someone else. Most of its security impelmentation and data will be on fixed computers or online. W? already see two directions for computers : either ultramobile with excellent wireless connection. Or fixed and loosing using powerful TVs at home acting as a central medaia center and private storage solution. These TVs wil lalso all be online. They will be a center faround which all our data will be available. here will be also more humane interfaces from various tools performing simple but frequent tasks. Mobile terminal don't really need local storage stage (they are very unsafe locations for storing them, as this data can be lost easily or broken or stolen) or lot of processing : internet or wlans will be everywhere! xonnecting you from anywhere to anywhere. The data will be delocalized just like the processing power. For our prive data the safe place bill be at home, and TVs or appliances at home connected to the net will do all the rest, as well as online computing solutions (with synchronization from all places on which the smartphone will be jsut a secrure identification terminal containing nothing by itself)... In fact you'll find good quality screens in almost all places, so you won't need to carry giant mobile phones. May be you'll just need a very small appliance (like the iPod) just to authenticate yourself with a finger print and to select the device on which youll operate cunfortable to get access to your private data stored online or at home. you won't really need an excellent mobility, except within transportation and in cars or when walking on the street. Why transporting a device that uses so much energy and needs costly batteries when the power is everywhere around you ? That's why I'll see a beter future for near-local networking (in the 10 meters limits) wuch as a small bluetooth connecting you to less mobile or fixed devices that are themselves connecting you to your data and appliations from anywhere. Why would you need quad cores or dozens of givaherts in a smartphone? Transport less, and place this power online. We already have the tool for mobility but smarthpones can just become cute terminals with almost no processing performed inside. Let's also remamber that batteries will be a severe source of pollution. and we don't want to have a heater in our pocket. May be it will be simpler to have glasses on our neck and thin tactile interfaces capturing our gesture an speach as the input interface.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I have an old 450mhz machine running XP hooked up to a TV running netflix movies. Most cell phones have more power than this desktop.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

does a masterful job of illustrating the use of obiquitous handheld computing and communications devices in an advanced society; as well as its limitations outside of communications with a server. There are 3 things needed to replace a PC. 1: a display system big enough and detailed enough to easily view and work with. 2: a user interface that is easy to use, real time, and powerful enough to allow you to do the things you need to do with it. 3: processing and storage capacity If we ever get a smartphone that you can sit on a flat surface and project and use a full-sized virtual keyboard, and project a 48 inch screen viewable by only myself or a group at will, with the current connection and off-line storage capabilities of my workstation and telephone, with a decent operational life span, and long lasting battery power, at an affordable cost, I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

ed3602us
ed3602us

Seems to be the case allready I just drag whichever browser onto my Plasma put the Kb on my lap and off I go browsing happy..

pete.cruz
pete.cruz

All this talk about "working" in the cloud and using these devices seems more than a bit premature. First of all although I pay for a high speed internet connection that is supposedly the "upper tier" throughput (paying more for the service) I constantly get kicked off. Whether it is a band width issue or a "client" issue I am not at all ready to give my computing privilages over to third party. I think it is VERY dangerous for us to simply hand over our computing power and data to "the cloud" simply because the industry says that is what we should do. I say be afraid be very afraid.

onclejon
onclejon

No. Smart phones are a fad of rich young Americans. The rest of the world, which does not spend its day in meetings, will be very happy to have a phone that is easy and simple to work likewise TV & PC

it-is-here
it-is-here

That's one way to look at it. Another is that PCs are becoming so small and powerful that phones as we knew them have been replaced by palmtop PC.

J.C.Alexandres
J.C.Alexandres

I don't think that will happen anytime soon, can we do programming with a tv or a smart phone?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Maybe I'm missing something, but it sounds to me like everything described can be done with any monitor. I agree the line between monitors and TVs is blurring, but I don't see how the TV function of the display device factors into this. "If the employee doesn?t have a phone or doesn't want corporate data on their personal device then they can simply use the virtual desktop for all work activities." If it can all be done with current virtual desktop set-ups, then what is gained by tying in the phone?

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