Recently a journalist I know (full disclosure; he’s my brother) spent an entire week working purely from his smartphone — you can read the whole tale here: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2011/05/no-luggage-the-complete-series/. There was a little more to his plan; he also abandoned luggage in the interests of utility, and, I suspect, seeing how far he could push an idea, good or otherwise. But for the purposes of his week, his smartphone was his working computer.
Smartphones are getting smarter, and they’re also becoming quite ubiquitous. There are many models that start under $200 (some even cheaper, although at the sub-$100 price point you quickly outstrip the phone cost with the cost of your ongoing bills, making their limited utility a not-entirely-smart choice.). If you’re carrying one around with you, the temptation to check email or get other work (or personal) chores done is quite high. I know I’ve been guilty of that on more than one occasion. As they’re ramping up in power, with new models sporting dual core processors, dedicated graphics chips and expandable memory, the concept of carrying a single, small device to do all your on-the-go work is becoming more and more realistic.
I’ve also been testing out an interesting concept from Motorola that plays with this concept of the smartphone as the centre of your working world. The company’s new Atrix mobile looks very much like a plain smartphone. It’s an Android smartphone with a specific trick up its sleeve. Dock it into the $449 lapdock (an optional extra) and it’ll power up the lapdock to act as a regular notebook style computer.
It’s not a full Windows PC or anything like that; you’re still running the Android applications on the phone plus a small selection of applications that run on the desktop itself; most notably the Firefox browser. Within that combination, however, it’s entirely possible to get a lot of work done via online services such as Google docs, as long as the data quota on your phone is robust enough, or you’ve got access to a WiFi network to sidestep that issue. As an example — and for something of a test run — this entire article’s been typed out on the lapdock using the online Evernote service to synchronise it automatically back to my main work PC. Writing this way is certainly a lot faster than trying to type the same amount of content on a small smartphone touchscreen.
So does it work? Sort of. There’s a point where spending $449 on what is basically a headless notebook (on top of the phone’s asking price) starts to strain anybody’s budget; at sales you could score a full notebook (or pretty easily a netbook) for the same kind of money. The lapdock charges the phone when docked, which is very nice indeed, and there is utility in being able to switch from very small screen phone apps to their full-screen equivalent for some work types. But still, if you’re carrying the lapdock around, you may as well carry an actual notebook. It would make a great desk-based dock for your phone, but again, you could have a desktop or notebook in the same location. Given it’s not bundled with the phone I suspect Motorola won’t sell too many lapdocks, but it does point to where computing is heading in the not too distant future.