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Summary:

Is it time to leave the laptop behind? That’s the question asked today over at the Wall Street Journal in Nick Wingfield’s thoughtful piece. Actually, there’s more than just thought and opinion in it. There’s some cold, hard facts that illustrate a trend we’ve been watching […]

IphoneIs it time to leave the laptop behind? That’s the question asked today over at the Wall Street Journal in Nick Wingfield’s thoughtful piece. Actually, there’s more than just thought and opinion in it. There’s some cold, hard facts that illustrate a trend we’ve been watching develop for several years. In 2004, global smartphone shipments were half that of notebooks. Last year, the tables turned as there were more smartphones than notebooks shipped world-wide and that trend is continuing.

We often talk about the ever-blurring line between feature-phonesand smartphones but that same argument can be applied to smartphonesand laptops. Of course you can’t do some activities on a phone that youcan on a notebook computer but the 80-20 rule could be applied. Manypeople could do 80% of their notebook activities on asmartphone that costs just 20% of a notebook. Using a $199 iPhone as anexample, I could easily handle tasks related to e-mail, web-surfing,social networking and even some media playback just as I could on a$1,000 notebook. Is the experience ideal or better on the phone? No,but the landscape is changing to address that. Just look at recentupgrades to Google Gmail for Mobiles or even their new Google Earthapplication for the iPhone as examples.

Then there’s the "tweener" devices: the $300 to $600 netbooks and MobileInternet Devices that get a cursory mention by Wingfield. They’retrying to bridge the gap more from a hardware perspective than asoftware one. From the netbook perspective, I’m sold that they’re aviable solution, but I suspect it’s a short-term solution. The marketand information access are moving more towards handheld portals, notjust shrunken down versions of devices we’ve had for years.

As far as MIDs go, I’m beginning to see less and less momentum inthat space. What sounded good out of Intel (they created the MID name)a year or two ago has been slow to market. When these devices do arriveen masse, will smartphones of the day already be so entrenched andmature that the MID market is gone? Put another way: if you have asmartphone this time next year, will you want to carry a similarlysized device running a full Linux operating system for computing orwill the smartphone offer enough at that point?

This doesn’t mean there’s no longer a need for notebooks today and I’m not advocating that everyone simply abondon their notebook computer and move to a smartphone. However, if you think about what you used to do solely on a laptop and compare that to what you can do today on a smartphone, you can see where we’re heading. Are there challenges in terms of Flash, Java, text entry, etc…? Of course there are. But you’re thinking in terms of smartphones today… what about tomorrow?

  1. My smartphone is my main device.

    I use it more, for a variety of applications, than anything else I own, including my laptop and desktop.

    I suspect that reluctance to use a smartphone has a lot less to do with hardware/software limitations than it does ridiculous data subscription costs. This is where netbooks and MIDs beat the smartphone. You get the mobility without having to tack on another 30-60 dollars in monthly expenses.

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  2. Most of my time on a computer is used a) writing, code or otherwise, and b) running code. I dearly wish there were a smartphone from which I could reasonably do these things. As it is, I’d settle for a smartphone on which I could tap out blog entries and code snippets without pain. Even my OQO 2 is iffy on that front, though.

    I *wish* 80% of what I do on a laptop was “e-mail, web-surfing, social networking”. Those happy tasks are something more on the order of 20%, if that high.

    Incidentally, I’m trying to decide between an iPhone 3G and a G1 as a replacement for my now-defunct CDMA phone. I’m keeping my eye out for suggestions. Sounds like the iPhone is the better experience, while the G1 has more potential… but it can’t tether! Agh! If it could tether I’d have bought it already.

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  3. Weylund, coding is definitely an outlier activity, but your point is well taken. Smartphones have been far better at content consumption than content creation for a while. However, content itself is changing and empowering phones. Look at video streaming services, social networks, IM, photo sharing, etc…. the notion of content creation itself is changing to benefit smartphones. They might not ever take the place of a notebook for your coding or my writing (although even that remains to be seen) but you can do so much more with them then you could just two years ago.

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  4. the most advanced feature rich Mobile OS hands-down is Windows Mobile & it cant even come close to replacing a real PC, much less more simplified kid friendly OS’s like the iPhone.

    i think the articles James points to are primarily written to “fill the void” of an empty writers mind & generate more hits/revenue & also appease manufactures interest by mentioning their products constantly.

    i used to write, i know how it works. nothing is as it seems & everything is politics.

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  5. Good post. You can do most of what you can do on a laptop on a smartphone, however some are not suited for most tasks.

    I have owned the AT&T 8525, 8925 (tilt), Samsung Q1, iPhone, and now I am running a Nokia E71, and have just purchased a ASUS 1000HA to compliment my E71 as my tx1205 isn’t cutting it for my mobile needs.

    Here is what I am trying to say. Using the iPhone with is touch screen was great for browsing the web and reading e-mails. I could easily navigate web sites, blogs, etc with ease. When it came time to send an e-mail, There was no way I was typing more than a sentence or 2 as the touch screen though brilliantly implemented, is not the same as using a true qwerty tactile keyboard. Having said that, on my E71 I have it setup similar to my iPhone, in that I can easily download email (15min interval sync), as well as view web pages using both the integrated browser and Opera Mobile. When I am on the road I tether my E71 to my notebook via Bluetooth or USB. So I don’t have to breakout my notebook and waste the 4hrs of battery life that I get, I purchased a stowaway bluetooth keyboard, and it has been working wonders for typing emails, using fring to jump on MSN and Skype, and browse the web.

    The biggest downside to the E71, are the browsers. They are no where near as fast at rendering pages as the iPhone. I do love the qwerty on the front.

    I think the best configuring for mobile users who are not doing any processor and graphics intensive work ie) gaming, photoshop, video editing, then a combination of a smartphone, and a netbook is perfect. That will be the way that I plan on operating once I get my ASUS Eee 1000HA.

    A Smartphone is not an adequate substitute for a notebook or a netbook. While it can satisfy the needs of its user for basic web browsing and email, nothing beats a full sized keyboard, large screen, and optimized web browsing.

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  6. turn.self.off Monday, October 27, 2008

    lets not forget about the redfly in all this.

    also, microsoft played around with hooking a smartphone to a tv to make a computer for the third world.

    maybe future starbucks will have redflys or similar for rent for the web addict with a smartphone? ;)

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  7. just a test, i cant see my own posts…

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  8. Hey Kevin. Yeah, I know – coding is definitely not an activity that everybody uses their comp for. And my wife could certainly use an iPhone or G1 for the bulk of her daily tasks (she’s got an N810 for now and does more than I’d imagined possible with it).

    I read something earlier on the T-mobile forums where a rep was claiming that the G1 would “replace your computer!” until a business user set them straight. Seeing a similar, albeit better-couched, idea here kinda made me think maybe I should mention the outliers. :-)

    I guess I’ll have to take one of these out for a spin and see what all the hoopla is about. T-mobile’s pricing is attractive, I might go with a G1. I wonder about the “last couple years”, though – my Treo 650 is still a little powerhouse for email and browsing. Not panoramic, gyro’d browsing, true, but if I need to look something up it’s more than comfortable.

    I should note that I’ve been coding pretty comfortably on a Zaurus C1000 for a couple years, so it’s definitely *possible*, with the right keyboard, in that size range.

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  9. I’m definitely not prepared to replace my full sized laptop with a smartphone, although my new Samsung Epix with my Redfly does give me some drastically increased capabilities. I’m finding the Redfly perfect for taking notes in meetings or for keeping up with email. Perhaps with the Redfly, when Windows Mobile becomes a full-featured OS with full-featured level storage, then we could say Smartphones are replacing laptops. I don’t think we’re anywhere close at this point.

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  10. I think most of us can see this quite a few years ago when the smartphones like the Treos, Blackberrys and others were already very capable of doing a lot of tasks that used to be done on a computer. Now with more websites optimized for mobile phones with mobile browsers supporting Flash (which is a huge thing) and full versions websites, it’s no wonder that many are thinking of using them more often than bringing along their laptops. This is similar to what’s happening with landlines as more people are using wireless phones instead of landlines (myself included). It is a natural progression.

    I am even thinking about getting a Netbook myself or something about the size of an HTC Advantage since I still think the small screen isn’t great for viewing and creating documents. The Nokia N810 would have been great had it been a smartphone with better keys. I’m okay with that size and screen.

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