The AND-OR problem of laptop and mobile phone

As the Laptops are shrinking in size and phones are growing in functionality, some of us are faced with this problem. A significant portion of modern working population has basic minimum need for two devices: A computer and A phone. When they have to carry these devices, the former is in the form of laptop. The later is soon becoming some kind of smart phone. As the phones are matching the computers in terms of processing power; we are soon going to face “Why should I carry two devices?” problem.

When I tried to think about this problem today (while in shower… that is where generally clarity dawns on me), I found following answers to the above question.

Problems why phone can’t replace laptops:
1. Phones do not have fast input devices. However fancier way we find to hide a hardware keyboard inside a phone, it’s never going to match the functionality that a laptop keyboard that has 70ish keys each of size of my finger tip.
2. Phones have smaller output devices. Today’s standard smartphone screen is 320x480 in resolution (i.e. 3-4 inches). Laptop screen resolution are at least 800x600 (and 7-8 inches in size) if you consider the netbooks. A phone this small will never give the satisfaction of browsing your favorite site, the way your laptop does.

Problems why laptops can’t replace phones:
1. You can’t talk into a laptop while riding a train. In last couple of decades cell phones shrunk in size so that it would be convenient to use them anywhere, doing anything. Why should we grow them in size now? Just so that they can replace our computing device too?
2. Laptop is a poor notification device. A communication device needs to have a method to attract user’s attention when someone is trying to reach him/her. A phone rings or a vibrates to attract your attention; what should a laptop stashed away in your backpack do to do that?
3. Keeping the laptop on 24/7. Just so that it can be ready to receive a call whenever it comes.

There are separate solutions to this problems. For instance, a foldable bluetooth keyboard can solve the input device problem of phones. A built-in projector can improve the display output of the phone. On the other hand, a bluetooth headset coupled with a laptop can help too. The problem is all these solutions are not available in one package and surely not to a mainstream market.

No one can predict for sure what solution we will find for this problem in the near future, if at all. But anyone can dare imagine. So here is the design that came to my mind to solve this problem.

No matter what, we will always have the same size palms and fingers as we always had. So in our ideal device, a laptop size keyboard is a must. This device may have the same size screen as today’s laptop; or if producing the projection displays becomes more cost-effective we can do away with the screens and just replace them with a hole in keyboard that projects rays. But because of the size of the keyboard the device is already occupying the same surface area as today’s laptops. The device will have all the wireless connectivity options - GSM, Wifi, Bluetooth, GPRS/EDGE/3G/4G/… That doesn’t improve/deteriorate any usability problems directly.

What this magic device of ours will differ from our current laptops is the BIOS. It will have two computing devices built inside the one unit. One of them will run the laptop operating system and will shut down or sleep when we are not using the laptop functionality. The other device will run a minimal operating system which will manage the GSM/CDMA antenna, maybe a GPS receiver. What it will also include is a bluetooth connection to a headset. The bluetooth headset is what the user can wear when travelling, while the complete laptop size device is stashed inside their backpack. This bluetooth headset can be anything - a clip-on headset like we have today; or a small gadget that is a gaming device or an ebook reader in addition to being a speaker-microphone combo; or it could be a button on your clothing like in the Star Trek (“Bridge to Captain Picard” :).

So this ideal device of ours will not look a whole lot different from the current pair of devices we carry around today. But each part of it will serve a unique purpose. There won’t be a redundancy of functionality between its different parts.


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