Posted by: glennandert | 19-October-2008

The iPhone powered laptop

Remember a while back, I mentioned that the obvious future for the iPhone is a way to dock it with a device that includes full size keyboard and big screen?

Tim de Jardine pointed me to Olo Computer’s concept mockup for having an iPhone control a laptop. Go take a look. No, its not real. But it just adds to the point that people are thinking about it. Actually, I should say “thinking about it again”, because Palm developed a product called Foleo in the same vane, but cancelled it in 2007.

There are lots of technical issues: Can the iPhone support the required connections, does it have enough horsepower to drive a big screen, does it have enough memory to replace a traditional laptop, etc etc. My guess is that it will take until iPhone version 3 or 4 before it’s technically viable.

I’ll say again, it appears that Apple is repeating the history of the PC. With the iPhone, they have the best product, hands down. But they are keeping tight control over the platform and using that control to prevent competition – witness using control over the Apple store to prevent developers from bring out applications that might compete with Apple’s own roadmap.

This “iPhone running a laptop” scenario is a perfect example of where openness would allow the market to quickly develop in epidemic fashion, and be stiffled otherwise.

So, maybe not the iPhone. Maybe the gPhone. And god help us if it’s the mPhone 🙂

How should the product work?

Mail, contacts, calendar, etc are stored in the cloud (like on Google). The phone is just an access mechanism. Caching on the iPhone is good. Explicit synchronization is never required. That’s the status quo with mail using gmail, iMap, iPhone, Thunderbird, etc. Same is true for calendar. Same needs to be true for contacts.

Documents are stored in the cloud. gDocs, Zoho, or whatever. Ditto photos, music, videos, etc. Caching on the iPhone is good.

With all the stuff stored in the cloud, my essential data does not have to be backed up (a serious problem with laptops and becoming so with phones).

Yes, all my personal phone settings are also stored in the cloud (yes, yes, yes a few things like whether 3G is enabled are unique to the iPhone).

Yes, all software is loaded onto your phone straight from the cloud, including the operating system, and without the need for iTunes. Your personal and complete configuration information is stored in the cloud. And complete and automatic restoration is available from the cloud, without a PC, without iTunes, and without DLL conflicts. If your phone is mission critical, who wants to be dependent on a PC somewhere to restore it? In fact, you should be able to walk into any store that sells an iPhone and have them be able to restore your complete state onto a replacement iPhone in less than 15 minutes.

So what good is the storage on the iPhone? It is essential as a cache. It means that my important information is available to me instantly, and even when I am not on the network. But explicit synchronization is never necessary.

There is no need for synchronization between the iPhone and the docking station. The station runs off the user-specific settings on the iPhone. If the station has a processor, hard drives and the like, it’s transparent.

The idea of a “laptop powered by iPhone” is the wrong concept. Docking station is a better concept. A laptop simply has poor ergonomics for this application. Docking stations exist at home, on your desk at work (assuming you have one of those), in your car, in coffee shops, business centers in hotels, first class airline seats, business lounges in airports, etc etc. You can dock when and where you need.  When we fix the transportation system, your private delivery pod will have a docking station!

Many of the above locations have unique ergonomic considerations. So just think docking station, not laptop.

The user interface of the docking station needs to be pretty much identical to the iPhone’s. So that means that big screen needs to be touch driven in the same way. If the screen itself is not touch driven then the remote touchpad needs to make it seem so.

I’m sure at least a thousand people have already written these same words! The only open question is whether the phone in question is an iPhone, gPhone, mPhone, or ???

See you in the future.

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