Smartphones as laptop replacements: can you see the trend?

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?

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