Thursday, June 10, 2010

A smartphone as a computer's "system unit"

I've been thinking about using my smartphone (currently the Nokia N72; bought Jan'08) as a "system unit" ever since Apple announced the iPhone. The idea goes like this:
  • Display (with inbuilt microphone and speakers): I should have a ~6-7 inch, 352*416 pixels LCD on my table, powered by a standard AC outlet. This shall connect to my N72 via cable
  • Keyboard: A full-sized keyboard, which connects to my N72 with a cable or bluetooth
After the connections are made, my N72 should transmit display and audio signals to the external display, and should accept keystrokes from the external keyboard (its own display and keypad should turn off). This setup will allow me to perform activities such as SMSing, Web browsing, music playback, etc., on a larger screen, and using a full-sized keyboard. The display should either upscale the 176*208 pixels signal coming from the N72, or merely copy each pixel's color in four pixels.

I have a strong belief that the experience of surfing the Web on N72's tiny screen with improve significantly on this setup. While I'm at my desk, I can keep the N72 connected to this setup, and when I'm done, I can place the phone in my pocket and get going.

I have an even stronger belief that the current generation of smartphones (significantly more capable compared to the N72) are even more suitable for use in the setup mentioned above. For example, the iPhone 4 has a 640*960 display (rotatable), which means it can support a ~11-12 inch external display (960*640 resolution). I'm 100% sure that using the iPhone 4 as a system unit will be successful from a user experience standpoint.

More generally speaking, I see a time when our smartphones are the only system units we own - we merely connect them to larger devices (display, keyboard, speakers, etc.) when we want a more complete experience. Otherwise, when we're on the move, we use the smartphones themselves for all our computing.

Update (3-Aug-10): As another example, imagine a souped-up future version of Sony PSP acting as both a pocket computer, as well as the system unit that plugs into a TV using the composite AV cable.

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