Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Time to replace laptops, desktops with smartphones?

Miniaturization has been with us for decades. In the 1980s (and, in the case of pioneers, 1970s), we had our first personal computers. They were getting smaller and more powerful. It was unavoidable that devices as small as smartphones would be vastly more powerful than my Commodore 64 in the 1980s (although Moore's law seemed too ambitious in recent years).

When it was introduced less than a decade ago, the iPhone became a standard for the smartphones. Apple currently pockets over 90% of the world's profits from smartphones, a result I find incredible and hard to sympathize with. ;-) When it comes to the number of devices, iPhones plus Android phones (the latter are produced by very many companies) make up over 95% of the market. Windows Phone was a small percentage a year ago – and it dropped by more than 50%, anyway.

Windows Phone is a great system and I think that Lumias are good phones. The tiles are natural, dynamic, informative, meaningful. The system is optimized, consumes less power from the battery, has a better system of backup. And Lumias, even the cheapest ones, have much better phones than the average Android phones... I wrote this thing before and I don't expect to make the buyers rational and increase the Windows Phone market share so let me stop with that futile exercise. :-D

Microsoft has been largely unsuccessful as a hardware producer. But Xbox did OK among the game consoles. And they have sold some mice and keyboards and similar stuff. The Surface tablets seem to do great and Microsoft is releasing its ultimate laptop, the Surface Book. We don't know how many copies they will sell. But like the Zune players a decade ago and many other products, Lumias, the smartphones bought from Nokia, have been a failure. In fact, the entry-level Lumia 520 (2012) remains the most widespread Windows Phone as of today (now sold below $70).

The other Lumias – dozens of models, usually more expensive than Lumia 520 – typically carry numbers between 400 and 1600 in their names, mostly multiples of ten. They come in many sizes but they mostly boast the same playful, colorful, plastic design. That's largely the case of the recent large expensive phones Lumia 950 and 950XL, too. Those are the phones capable of Microsoft Continuum – behaving as full-fledged computers with Windows 10.

Even though I like the playful colorful design, I can understand why it looks cheap to many people. (I bought something that looks like a golden ring from a Turkish family in the streets of Pilsen on Saturday – they needed money for oil. It still looks like a few grams of gold to me LOL but if it's not, I hope that I can sacrifice $10. It is a nice material. Metals may be attractive.)

In fact, Microsoft is just releasing Lumia 650 – possibly the "last Lumia ever". It's the first Lumia with the aluminum border – and the design is getting amazing reviews and ratings. Many people seriously claim that it looks way better than the Lumia 950 although the latter is more than twice as expensive. It seems self-evident to me that 650 will be a more successful model than almost all the Lumia models in the recent 3 years.

Cannot Microsoft find someone who would have needed less than 4 years to find out that a piece of aluminum for $0.10 may easily triple the value of the phone among the regular buyers? If Microsoft had asked me for permission to use the name "Lumia", I am sure that I would have told them about such a thing. ;-)

After the possible but not yet guaranteed "demise of Lumias", Microsoft may be preparing a flagship smartphone at least as breathtaking as the Surface among the tablets, the "Surface Phone" – something "even better and a more self-evident winner than Lumia 950". It is not quite clear whether there will be anything such as the Surface Phone.

However, Hewlett-Packard has proudly presented its own Surface Phone – the HP Elite x3 from the video embedded at the top. It looks cool. While it is a Lumia 950 competitor, it seems more aggressive – and is also more self-confidently marketed than the new Lumias. As I have already suggested, these most powerful phones among those with Windows 10 Mobile are capable of running as full Windows 10 computers when you connect them to a screen – through a small box.

HP has another solution beyond the simple box – the HP mobile extender. It looks just like a laptop explains that it has no powerful microprocessors in it etc. It is a brainless laptop! ;-) I hope that when sold separately, it will be much cheaper than a brainful laptop.

HP says that the HP Elite x3 is one device that is every device and it's obvious what they want to suggest. You should take your desktop and laptop and throw it away – I mean recycle it, of course. This smartphone may replace the computer. You may really use it everywhere. You really work with a "computer" that is in your pocket.

Will people make this switch in coming years? Will they type on keyboards connected to their smartphones etc.? The advantages and disadvantages are pretty obvious. You can work whenever you travel (and/or especially when you give talks) – it's always the same app on the same screen. But everything you have in your (now mobile) computer may get stolen or destroyed when someone robs you or you go swimming with a smartphone, or something like that. Some cloud, backups, and security features may solve these problems. It's a lot of technicalities that have been mastered.

When all the known solutions are incorporated, I think that these smartphone-sized, really mobile computers are the superior solution for the years to come. In fact, if I were co-deciding about the computer architecture at my workplace, I would propose to buy something like HP Elite x3 for every employer, along with several brainless laptops etc. And those smartphones would be used by all the members of the group as smartphones as well as workstations at work and at home.

This transformation may really change the way how we do computing. Aside from the stupidity of billions of people, one thing that will slow down this transformation is the fact that you don't have to make it. The separate smartphones and laptops and desktops work just fine. We don't really want to throw our laptops away if they work well, do we? Moreover, we don't really need the number of devices to be one. It's actually OK to possess several devices – a smartphone as well as a laptop and a tablet etc.

But I do think that when we're going to buy new devices, we should think about this full-fledged computing capability – about the gadget's potential to work as a computer. I think that if I were buying more expensive smartphone, I would probably "demand" the Microsoft Continuum (or its non-Microsoft equivalent if one emerges) and maybe plan it so that it becomes my primary computer at the same moment. We're not used to it but I think that it makes so much sense.

But just to be sure, I am not actually predicting that the market will switch to the Windows 10 including Windows 10 Mobile with the Continuum. I've been wrong about the expected successes of Microsoft's hardware (although it's now switching to other hardware producers, something that has been working better for Microsoft) many times so that I have learned a lesson – don't ever take my prophesies too seriously. The market has much more irrational resistance to Microsoft's hardware than I can even imagine.

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