Your Mobile Phone is the Computer

Canonical recently showed off Ubuntu running on an Android smartphone at the Mobile World Congress. It looks really cool. I’ve been thinking about an idea like this for some time. Smartphones are getting really powerful. Can we see see our smartphone becoming our computer some day soon?

I can’t say in the long term if this is how our gadgets are going to be like this. But this idea seems like something workable in the short term. Can we merge our notebook or desktop computer into a smartphone?

I like carrying around my applications and my data with me, so that I have a consistent working environment and user experience wherever I go. I know, there’s the cloud. Use cloud apps and put data on the cloud. But that cloud isn’t quite the solution that I’m looking for. Maybe it’s just that I don’t trust the cloud. I use the cloud to help me get things done, but I don’t want to have to need the cloud to be able to get anything done. I don’t think cloud apps are ready to replace native apps right now. There are more reasons, but let’s not get into those in this post.

I want to have the computer with me.

So basically here’s my idea. Smartphones are getting more powerful than ever. The Tegra 3 powered Transformer Prime is already boasting a quad-core CPU and 12-core GPU. Can you really use such a device for real work, like you would with a notebook or desktop computer? Oh, that’s right, how can you do real work with such a small gadget? You need big screen real estate and you need a real keyboard.

Can we fix that? Yes! You can wirelessly connect the smartphone via bluetooth to a keyboard and mouse. You can connect the smartphone via HDMI to a big monitor. In fact, you could do the likes of AirPlay or AirDisplay to wirelessly connect to a big monitor too. So, there you have it, the keyboard, mouse, and big screen problem resolved.

It’s hardly useful, however, to be able to see the Android OS super-sized to a big screen display. What we need is a true operating system that will work as a desktop OS. Yes, that means we’re asking for something that will adapt to various environments. You need a user environment that works with tiny screen sizes typical of smartphones and tablets, and yet be able to adapt to much larger notebook and desktop screen sizes. Better yet to be able to support multi-screens.

So that’s why I was quite interested to hear about Canonical’s demonstration of Ubuntu running on an Android smartphone. They run both Android and Ubuntu on top of a custom Linux kernel. I’m wary of the part about having both Android and Ubuntu, because, I’m not sure how well integrated the experience is going to be. Yes, I’m think a lot about the experience nowadays. You don’t just slap two things together and say, there, you have the best of both worlds.

Today, Apple can be said to have the most unifying experience across all our mobile smart devices: notebooks (and desktops), tablets, and smartphones. There is no Google solution on desktops. No, Google web applications on top of Windows or Mac OS X don’t count. Chrome OS counts, but it can hardly be seriously considered by anyone in its current incarnation. It’s really a pity. I was thinking about acquiring a Chromebook, but I think it’s still a developer’s toy.

Let’s talk about other physical aspects of this gadget. What I’m asking for doesn’t have to be that small. I’ve been saying smartphone, but we could perhaps work with slightly larger form factors too. After all, it might be quite a challenge packing so much power into such a tiny gadget. We could probably work with tablet-sized gadgets (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Tab with a 7″ screen), or something in-between (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Note with it’s 5.3″ screen). The gadget’s own screen, you realize, can also function as a secondary display when you’ve hooked it up to a big monitor to use it like a desktop.

Maybe, given these circumstances, I wouldn’t mind carrying a large smartphone with me, something as big as the Samsung Galaxy Note with its 5.3″ screen. Yeah, I’ve been complaining even about the 4.3″ screen in the past. I’m getting used to it now, I don’t know if I would eventually accept the 4.6″ size, and for now, 5.3″ is a little far off. Unless you tell me with 5.3″, I can do so many more wonderful things.