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?



The issue here is the notebook and the smartphone are different devices with different uses. When we all no longer have notebooks at home or in the office, then they are a replaccement. What we are really saying is that laptops are a hassle to carry and people would rather have the convenience of carrying only a smartphone since they can accomplish most of what they want. As the nature of the task becomes more complex, larger devices are required whch is why we do noto throw out our laptops at work.


While I really like my smartphone for many things, it will NOT replace larger computers for older folks (until fold-out screens are common). The simple, inescapable truth is that the older you get, the harder it is to see those little screens.


Those Netbooks really appeal to me I must say. I just spent another week lugging around my d620, no fun. If I could do the same on a netbook, I’d be there! But that means the netbook should for example be able to run Profiler to chew through an Oracle trace file, and run Golden32 and Putty. Maybe we’re getting there (I’d need the windows version, speed?)…
Like mentioned before, I still can’t see a smartphone as more than a great communications and web device. As for RedFly, I wonder how they are impacted by the netbooks. I’d rather pay a bit more for the netbook…


The problem I see is in trying to make all-or-nothing statements like “The Smartphone will replace the laptop”. You don’t need to.

Where they allow me access to the same content or apps, I’d see the 2 devices just as alternative channels to get to that content. Which one I use depends on where I am and what I’m doing, e.g. can I be bothered or is it convenient to open up my laptop? Or does it really make sense to do that bit of work on my iPhone, or would I end up just struggling through it. I wouldn’t think of my laptop or my iPhone being a replacement for the other.

It’s certainly true that smartphones are becoming able to do more and more of the things we do on normal PCs etc. But it will be interesting to see when people really start to use the smartphone to buy things online.


I can’t really see Smartphones completely replacing the computer any time soon.

I’ve been using a WM Phone for a number of years, and have found it a perfect companion device to go with my Notebook.

I can easily use it for Content consumption as you said when I am out and about, Checking my eMail, surfing a few sites, Using Calender and Notes But I cant depend completely on it for more then a couple of days, and even then its a bit of a stretch.

Even with the Keyboard, the Small screen and slow speed don’t help with productivity. And for multitasking, forget it. Most of the Smartphones don’t allow or don’t do it very well.

What I have found is that with a Smartphone, I’m much more plugged in, Checking and answering my Mail more frequently, checking my favourite sites more often, More organised as my data is combined in one outlook database, so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting something important. I.e I’m much more dependent on online sources then I was in the past. On the flip side, my information is usually much more up to date.


I’ve been doing this for the past year at least since I got my Windows Mobile 6 Pro phone. Of course, you can only do “so much”, but many trips are now taken with the laptop at home, and it stays in work a lot more during regular days.

Not ready to give it up for a desktop-only, but phones are sure getting good.


I don’t see smartphones replacing notebooks. As others have mentioned here, smartphones are primarily a communications device – voice calls, text mesaging, e-mail and web. Even with the latter two, a 8.9″ netbook will be far superior. Notebooks have always been the workhorse for getting tasks done, office docs, content creation, and with mobile broadband access to corporate web applications.

Think about what you would use your full-featured 15″ laptop for, now take away the big screen, keyboard, mouse/trackball and that 2.8 core 2 duo. Suddenly things you were accustomed to doing have hit a wall and you’ve become somewhat paralyzed. I’ve been using pocket pc phones since 2004, and while they are indeed very capable, they WON’T replace notebooks ever.

But as someone else here already mentioned, I see a viable alternative in having a pocket pc phone paired with a small netbook. I can pair my always-on HTC TyTN with my 2133 mininote and be able to comfortably work on word docs, spreadsheets, ppt and pdf files. A full keyboard lets me type documents/blogs/emails much more effectively, and the 1280 screen lets me easily view full-screen web pages without having to scroll like on a ppc. I keep full use of my desktop trackball and still have access to USB, pc cards, and enjoy a roomy 2.5″ notebook drive for 720p movies and music. When it’s time to split, the ppc goes back on my belt and the netbook hides under arm, keeping both hands free for coffee and handshakes.

You might want to take the HP mininote for a spin, it’s keyboard is pretty quick.

maceyr (of

The N810 was great with the built-in Wi-Fi. I really liked it except that the Maemo OS2008 has very limited selection of apps. Had it been equipped with Windows Mobile, it would have been much better. Plus having a phone, plus if the keys were better laid out and stuck out like keyboard keys.

The Xperia X1 looks great. The T-mobile G1 if they didn’t have that obstruction on the right would have been okay too. Again, the OS is a big deal.


Battery life. Once they can crack that nutshell, it’ll be there. But as it is today I can’t get through a normal day on a single charge with the iPhone or G1. BBs a little better, but we still need that quantum leap


The irony is that I really have been doing desk jockey stuff on tiny machines for a long time. (I began by spending about six months doing weekend coding on a Libretto 100CT way back when, for example). So I’m well and truly aware of the magical portability property, and smartphones are incredibly attractive all-in-one tools in that vein even if they won’t solve my normal day’s work.

I really just need a great keyboard, and I could at least code. Not write too much, I guess, but code. Manufacturers don’t seem too interested in squaring the input circle, though, as Corrupted Mind puts it. Sharp got it right with the Zaurus clamshells, and Blackberries are pretty darned good as well, but I have seen few small keyboards that are actually built for fast and comfortable typing.

Oh, well.

@GoodThings2Life: I’ve sold my wife on T-mobile, as it’s got the cheapest (free) tethering plans. For some reason I’m not seeing any of the Touches in their offerings. Know if that’s going to change?


@Weylund… if you need tethering, you should consider grabbing a GSM-based Touch Pro or Touch Diamond.

@JM… you’ve got it exactly right. My Mogul (and soon to be Touch Pro) is still more of a communication tool… calls, texts, and shorter emails, but to spend my days staring at a ridiculously small screen for my work is never going to happen. In fact, it’s precisely why I *don’t* like netbooks and other small form factors.

To be honest, I see netbooks as being popular because of the small but not ridiculous form factor. They’re still usable for many tasks. That said, I still don’t see them replacing laptops or even desktops for quite some time.

Nothing wrong with being a road warrior and wanting to be ultra-portable with your gear, but there’s always a productivity limit, and there are always going to be desk jockeys that need something a bit more robust.


You know what’s funny? After reading around (and given my tethering needs – don’t need speed, but I do need tethering) I’m actually considering a Dash or a Blackberry Curve rather than the G1.

I guess I could get a G1, then trade it in for a Curve or Dash if I don’t like it (or if I can’t hack together a tethering app within the return period…).


The biggest thing for portable computing is always-on.

My n800 is always running, but it’s not “always on” because I don’t have a cellular data plan or a Bluetooth phone.

I guess the n810 WiMax edition could be “always on” in a way, as long as you’re in a WiMax area, and with VoIP it can act as a phone. I don’t think it’s really realistic, yet.

The article mentions Intel’s MID, but Intel’s power consumption currently makes it far from “always on.” And Intel has been using FUD to snipe at the iPhone and others who can provide “always on” in that shape.


No, I really can’t see the trend. I still see my Smartphone as communication device second to e-mail on my laptop. I see how people are wanting to trend it in that direction, but it makes no sense to me (at this day and age) that it should be the end all. Those who rely on it as the end all only perform e-mail and light web functions, and no RDP or TS. Unfortunately for me and what I do, it cannot be the end all in terms of mobility. The laptop still wins.


With this type of study, I always question the definition of terminology used. What exactly is a smartphone and what makes a phone smart? Can we say OS X, WM, Symbian, Android, Linux, and Garnet do provide the comparable levels of feature sets and usability so that they can be regarded as one group? How many portion of smartphone owners use their phones as a smartphone? How about feature phones? As phones get fancier and feature rich in general, will customers even have a choice to buy non-smartphones?
I see to some degree, smartphones get popular and replace some functionalities of laptops, but I’m not ready to say they will become a laptop replacement. Also form factor is an important element in computing, and with physical limitation of screen and keyboard, I suspect only few users would feel comfortable using smartphones for computing purpose.

Aura Mae

With the latest version of Opera and flashlite 3.1 on my Advantage I am able to do without a laptop. (I am traveling light these days with it and my new Dell mini projector!)

With the increased storage capacities of micro sd cards, and the manufacturers intent to put bigger/better/faster processors on smartphones, I do ponder whether the Average Joe will need a laptop for portable computing in the not too distant future.

The biggest hurdle I see is actually getting consumers to use their devices to their fullest capacities. I hear stories of lots of folks returning their smartphones because they were overwhelmed by them and found them ‘too hard’ to use. Perhaps the market will evolve more strongly into consumer level and pro level with cheap and easy devices for the masses and more expensive powerhouses for the rest of us.

Corrupted Mind

I’m with the sceptics on this post… smartphone/MIDS/Netbooks cannot take over the space until they square the input circle. Speed is everything. Being able to type up/preview/post a response to a blog in a minute makes joe bloggs far more productive and for that reason, even for browsing and content consumption the notebook and desktop remain king, especially if you believe (as I do) that the future is an interactive one. Netbooks won’t kill the MIDS either, — they are still not handheld, and they still don’t have the battery life of a mobile phone. If a MID cracks the battery life issue, I am certain that netbooks and MIDS will coexist happily together.

maceyr (of

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.

Eric S. Mueller

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.


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.

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? ;)


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.


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.

Kevin C. Tofel

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.


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.


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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