The Future of Computers?

Right now we have a problem – the propagation of a number of essential smart devices. For example, at work I have a workstation with two LCD monitors. I also have a work laptop which I sometimes pair with a LCD monitor when I have it at home. Then there is my smartphone – currently a Verizon / Motorola Droid 2. Add onto this my Kindle eBook reader. Right there are four different devices between which I am constantly shuffling and synchronizing data.

Now, honestly, I’d also like to have a tablet. Yes, I have a Kindle – but a Kindle uses eInk technology and is great for reading books but a little obtuse for surfing the web. Truth be told I like to walk when I read (in circles, around the house) and a laptop is too large for this endeavor and a smartphone too small and difficult to navigate (maybe I just have big fingers).

I no longer carry a digital camera – my smartphone is perfectly capable and while I’ve never had a digital camcorder it seems this too is unnecessary, having been merged into my smartphone as well. But there is need for additional consolidation of electronic devices.

The problem arises when one considers that a single device cannot adequately fulfill all the needs of the user, for example:

  • My workstation is the most powerful machine by far and also the largest, it also has two large displays. This supports prolonged work, especially intensive processing such as application development and database management.
  • My laptop is more portable but gets sluggish when tasked when hefty tasks and still is too bulky for carrying around like a book.
  • My phone can fulfill a lot of tasks, but a screen large enough for my liking would never fit into my pocket (unless it is foldable).
  • My Kindle is wonderful on the eyes, but lacks the speed of any of my other devices.

And so on. The attempt to build one device that can fulfill all these roles is hopeless, unless….One builds the device and then creates a shell into which the device slides which allows it to fulfill a given purpose at any given time.

Unfortunately, while I had this idea several years ago, I didn’t have the means or motivation to bring it into reality….but fortunately Motorola has since taken the initiative and while still fairly limited in its implementation is moving towards this ideal device – a device which I hope Google will recognize as valuable and assist in making a commodity item.

The first such device was the Motorola Atrix 4G, soon to be succeeded by the Motorola Droid Bionic. These devices are primarily smartphones similar to so many other smartphones, but they are different in the accessories that are available for them.

Motorola sells a lapdock, which looks like a laptop computer and allows one to “plug in” one’s smartphone, thus powering the laptop off the smartphone. Motorola also offers several other accessories – including mounts for driving, alarm clock/weather, multimedia, and so on.

While the technology is impressive I have a few complaints/suggestions:

  • I’m not sure that the best idea is ramming a honking processor into a smartphone. My wife’s Atrix 4G always runs warm, and while she appreciates the extra heat generation I’m already warm enough without having a phone beaming heat waves into me. Instead, I’d recommend including a decent processor, but putting heavier processors into accessory devices that require it. The honking processors in smartphones are still puny compared to full workstations or even laptops and yet too much for a smartphone.
  • The process on the lapdock is too high – clocking in at $299. While cheaper than a laptop, its on equivalent grounds with a netbook. Why shouldn’t I just buy a netbook separate from my smartphone? It will have greater resale value in the long-run. Lapdocks need to be extremely inexpensive – I’m thinking $100 at the most and $50 would certainly speed adoption. Of course, if they include some additional abilities (such as more powerful processors) the price could go up a bit. But essentially, a lapdock should be just a plastic case with a basic interface, keyboard, mouse, and screen – nothing too fancy.
  • The Atrix lapdock is incompatible with Bionic devices and vice versa. This is a big no-no. If I drop $299 on a lapdock I better be able to use it when the next phone is released – or I’ll be one unhappy camper! If Motorola truly decides this is necessary they should offer free upgrades on lapdocks to early adopters.
  • The way the phone mounts to the lapdock is funky. Instead have the phone insert into the lapdock as if it was a hard disk. My lapdock should be indistinguishable from everyone else’s laptops.
  • There is no tablet accessory currently available. This is a huge minus. Getting my laptop and smartphone together is a plus, but to really make it worthwhile you have to consolidate at least three of my devices. While making the tablet accessory it just makes sense to make a similar eink device as well.
  • Of course, I’d like to see a workstation accessory as well, but I think this would be the least commercially successful, and I can understand if Motorola held off for a while on this component.

Nor have we in any ways fleshed out the limits of the roles this device could fulfill. For example:

  • GPS
  • Stereo
  • Digital Microphone
  • Personal Health Device
  • Thermostat

In the future I hope to carry one device around with me, this device I will then plug into other devices as needed. Eventually I can imagine there will be public dumb kiosks. Once inserts the smartphone and instantly has complete access to one’s files and settings. Sweet!

For those who are interested in learning more about these devices check out the following Motorola product information pages:

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