A phone at the centre of my high-tech home
All this week on CNET Australia, we're focusing on tech in the home, and whenever I get to thinking about home automation, wireless connectivity and convenience, I tend to wonder about the future. It's a nebulous term, the future, and it means many different things to many different people. Some imagine Minority Report-style work stations; others see flying cars; and some are still holding their breath for lightsabers.
When I think of the future, from my vantage point as a smartphone reviewer, I imagine a world where I carry one single device. A device with my life packed into it, one that interfaces with the world around me; it identifies me, it keeps me informed and it pays my bills. This phone is also at the centre of my home life. I plug it in when I get home in the evening, and the house responds. It plays my music, it loads my favourite web pages and it sets the toaster to cook until golden brown while keeping the bread kind of soft.
But while flying cars may be a long way off (will I need to go on my Ps again when they introduce them?) this concept of a ubiquitous, pocketable computer seems much closer to reality.
I currently own about 10 computers, ranging from laptops to tablets, gaming consoles and set-top boxes. These computers all have different functions in my daily life, but all share similar components. They also all plug in to, or are attached to, a range of different displays. I have a large, flat-screen TV, a 15-inch laptop, a stand-alone desktop monitor, a 4-inch smartphone screen and so on. So the idea that I can keep this variety of different displays — some stationary, some portable — but have a single, powerful computer than attaches to all of them just makes sense, broadly speaking.
Of course, this isn't exactly science fiction, with several companies working to turn this vision into reality. Motorola experimented with its LapDock concept, a display shell designed like a laptop that was powered by the Motorola Atrix smartphone. Asus is trying something similar this year, with a device called the Padphone; an Android smartphone that clips onto the back of a tablet-sized display, which in turn clips into a full-sized keyboard dock. That's three devices, three different use cases and one CPU.
The official Asus Padphone demo video.
Along a similar train of thought, Samsung introduced the first upgradable TVs this year. Called the "Evolution Kit", this removable system on a chip will be hot-swappable, and far cheaper than the cost of a new TV. Basically, you keep the display, and you swap out the computer, and with this new system, you get access to better, more powerful apps and services. Sound familiar?
There are tons of problems associated with this vision, too. Privacy will be a major concern, especially when you consider how many of us store important work or intimate, personal information on our phones. You can only imagine the silence in the room when your dad scans the photos folder on your phone after you've plugged it in to the family TV. Partitioning the local storage could be one solution — where you have space for photos that your dad can access on the TV and a section he can't. Or perhaps these storage walls are managed in the cloud. Either way, we're going to need to be sure that our privacy is protected before we start sharing our phones with everyone sitting in the living room.
There's also the problem of durability with smartphones, and the fact that it is so much harder to safeguard a computer that you carry with you every day. It's already a heartbreaking experience to drop a smartphone on the pavement and ruin it, but if that also meant that you couldn't watch your favourite TV shows when you got home, or play music through your home-theatre system, this single-computer theory would attract more hate than love. Though, with flexible OLED displays on the horizon, and an industry shift towards more durable plastics and away from brittle plastics and glass, perhaps it won't be long before we finally have truly rugged phones as standard.
What do you think about my single CPU fantasy? Would you like this to come to fruition, or do you think that the barriers outweigh the benefits? Leave me a comment below.