In 2010, thanks to my position at Ejecutivos magazine, I was given the opportunity to interview Cyril Zimmerman, the founder and CEO of Hi-media, one of the brands leading the online advertisement market in Europe. It was a great interview, but there was an idea that really impressed me back then, and it has taken me two years to hear about it again. A year before that interview, Bernardo Hernandez had said that mobile phones were going to be our closest computers, and when I asked Cyril about that he replied to me the following:
I agree, but I don’t think it’s going to be call “mobile phone” or “computer”. If we take the iPad, for example, it’s not a mobile phone but you can actually bring it anywhere and make calls thanks to services like Skype. I believe that we will talk about a different gadget with which we will be able to do everything. It could be something similar to smart-phones, but that when you get home or to the office you can just plug in a big screen and a comfortable keyboard and use it as your desktop computer. It’s really hard to know what’s going to happen.
Yet he actually knew what was going to happen. Canonical presented that exact same concept during past Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and it should be in the streets by the end of 2012: Ubuntu for Android. As Canonical writes it down on their website, users get the Android they know on the move, but when they connect their phone to a monitor, mouse and keyboard, it becomes a PC running a full version of Ubuntu. All contacts and messages are synchronized in both, and you can still use your phone while is docked to the monitor.
But even though I love the concept, I’m not sure how Canonical and the manufacturers that might embrace the idea are going to deal with the five biggest questions about this gadget:
- Storage. Now-a-days’ computers normally have at least 250Gb of storage memory, but you can easily have up to 1Tb. Smart-phones, on the other hand, only offer up to 32Gb, which is the maximum capability of SD cards. Therefore the device it’s going to need a way to increase the storage room, either with an external hard drive (which kind of defeats the purpose of the mobile device) or with cloud services. The second option seems more probable to me, although it will have a cost: Ubuntu1 itself only offers up to 5Gb for free (similar to other competitors), which is clearly not enough to replace your computer’s hard drive.. plus it would generate a lot of data traffic that will increase your phone’s bill (and make you totally dependent on the connection, but that seems unavoidable).
- Battery life. My quite simple Samsung Galaxy Ace, just running Android 2.3, needs to be charged at least every other day, but if I use Internet apps or if I use it to play music it doesn’t even last one full day. I can only imagine how fast the batteries are going to drain if the device has to run two operating systems at the same time, plus all the connections (signal, 4G, bluetooth…). If the dock is going to be charging the phone whenever it’s plugged so you don’t have to worry about it, that might mess up the batteries memory really fast, making them useless more sooner than later.
- Size. As far as my hardware knowledge goes, stuff like RAM memory, Graphic cards and storage memory occupy physical space. If it would be possible to make a whole fully functional computer in the dimensions of a mobile phone, leaving enough room for the phone’s hardware itself, I think manufacturers TACHA Apple would have done it already. So even though the idea is great, I think it’s important to keep mobile phones in a handy size, and I already find the latest Samsung Galaxy S a bit too big for a phone.
- Compatibility. In the long term, the ideal would be that every place users might go to (office, home, hotels, friend’s house…) has a dock for this kind of phone/computer device, so you can really work everywhere. But is an HTC phone going to work with a Samsung dock and monitor? As a user I want to believe that yes, but manufacturers would most probably want to sell the whole package (phone+dock+monitor), the same way they don’t even have compatible chargers yet (even though the EU said they should).
- Prize. As Adidas slogan reads, impossible is nothing…. you just have to pay for it. I think that, even it would be running two open and free operative systems, this device would be crazy expensive. Is what it takes to make such a powerful gadget with a really long lasting battery in tiny dimensions, plus the cost of developing the new monitors, docks and all the hardware. I think that’s why Canonical seems to be focusing to market it to enterprises rather than to final users. And actually makes sense: since companies are already getting one phone and one computer per worker, this solution might be cheaper.
So I actually have wanted a gadget like this since my interview with Cyril Zimmerman. I’m also a fan of both Android and Ubuntu, and I believe average users could perfectly live and work without ever paying for software or OS licenses. But I would like to see first how Canonical and its partners deal with the issues listed above… specially the prize one, since I don’t think I’ll be able to afford something like that any time soon!