Computing like component stereo systems

:: technology

Which of these do you use, and in what proportion?

  • Phone
  • Tablet
  • Laptop
  • Desktop

Noel Borthwick asked this and the resulting discussion was interesting. Here’s a longer version of a comment I posted.

Noel said he uses mostly tablet and desktop, and barely uses phone.

Personally I’m more like 90% laptop, 5% tablet, and 5% phone (MacBook Pro Retina, iPad, and Nexus 4, respectively.) That’s while stationary. While traveling it’s more like 50% laptop and 50% phone. I find the tablet to be neither here nor there: Not as powerful as the laptop, and not as small as the phone. (Although I do bring my eInk Kindle, because it’s incredibly light and is powered by magic faeries (i.e. the battery lasts for weeks), so it’s kind of a no-brainer.)

Anyway, I could see decomposing the pieces. Remember component stereo systems? Oh, you’re not old enough or hi-fi enough? Well, people would buy amplifier, tuner, turntable, cassette player, CD player, and speakers as separate units. Connected by a mess of wires.

What I want is component computing, but without the mess of wires. This would be in contrast to purchasing various all-in-ones (phone, tablet, laptop) that have unnecessarily redundant functionality.

  1. A phone-size thing with your radios, main CPU(s), local storage, and a small screen.
  2. A tablet-size touch screen (“mini”, big, or one of each).
  3. A physical keyboard.
  4. Goggles (ala Google Glass).

They connect wirelessly. You can mix/match depending on your situation. Also you can connect to big-ass displays.

1–3 already exist; 4, soon.

Apple could sell this vision and make it “just work”. On the other hand, what I describe is lower-margin than what Apple does today. For instance 2 would be closer to a simple touch-screen that uses 1’s CPU/storage, as opposed to a full-on iPad or Nexus 7/10. Pursuing a lower-margin version of something isn’t usually Apple’s game plan, so it’s hard for me to imagine them doing this, at least not yet.

Of course 2+3 has been tried, most recently by Microsoft with Surface. But not really: I mean a “dumb” tablet not a smart one. Plus, Microsoft is so far behind with market share on phones, I don’t think they could pull this off today.

Other companies tend to be primarily in just one business, and the resulting hybrid is accordingly wonky. For example the Motorola Atrix felt like a phone with an optional keyboard tacked on, and didn’t even attempt to integrate with a bigger touch-screen. Motorola saw the world through phone-colored glasses. Most other companies wear tinted lenses, too.

In conclusion, this seems like an obvious and desirable direction. I just don’t know if there are players today who are both willing and able to pull it off. Specifically I think Apple is able, but not willing.