A funny thing happened on the way to the mobile app economy we’re currently experiencing: tens of thousands of compelling software titles have been created, and some of them are actually good enough to displace their desktop or web counterparts. In some cases, these mobile apps are just as functional as, and easier to use than their traditional computing equivalents. That observation about software has me thinking about the subtle, but growing merger of desktop and mobile computing. Need a few examples of this early shift?
- Motorola’s Atrix. When I reviewed the Atrix 4G, I found it to be an excellent phone, but the unique lapdoc accessory still leaves a bit to be desired. However, as a concept, I love what Motorola is trying to do here with a modular solution that blends the mobile and desktop worlds. Placing the phone in a lapdoc — a laptop-like shell with keyboard, battery and high resolution display — launches a Linux-based desktop, complete with a Mozilla Firefox browser. You can’t install apps here, but you can run practically any web-based app there is. And the lapdoc can show or run apps from the attached Android phone, right on the lapdoc’s screen.
- Android on Windows. Much like the Atrix implementation, some companies are experimenting with Android running on Microsoft Windows PCs. Until now, a few computer manufacturers created dual-boot solutions for Android or Windows, but BlueStacks now offers software that runs Android within Windows. BlueStacks creates a virtual machine (VM), or a software-based computer, that runs as an app like any other Windows software, and the Android smartphone system exists in that VM. Think of running Windows within Mac OX through Parallels Desktop, VMWare’s Fusion or Sun’s VirtualBox software: the concept is the same but instead of running a desktop OS within another, BlueStacks enables use of a mobile platform on a desktop PC.
- Controlling PCs from mobiles. Even though smartphones are now outselling traditional computers, the latter is still a dominant force. Helping to bridge the gap between being mobile and having access to full, powerful desktop systems are a number of apps that help remotely control or access a PC from the handset. LogMeIn’s Ignition is a consistent top grossing app for the iPad, for example, (currently at number six on the list), and is available in an Android version as well. Citrix’s GoToMyPC is another favorite app in this regard for some. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this type of functionality become native on at least one major mobile platform within the next year — my money is on Apple’s iOS platform.
- Mobile and desktop display sharing. Five years ago, I added a second monitor to my desktop for a big productivity boost. These days, you can add an external desktop monitor to an iPad through an accessory or use the iPad as a second monitor for a Mac computer through the use of software and a wireless connection. And although I don’t have a need for this solution, I caught an interesting video look at this use of an Android smartphone as a secondary display for a Windows computer, one that can be used to fully interact with Windows via the smartphone touchscreen.
These are just a few examples of what I’ve noticed, but perhaps the most obvious one has already come from Apple. At last October’s “Back to the Mac” event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs outlined six different iOS areas that will partially or heavily influence the next iteration of Mac OS X. No, we might not be able to run iOS apps from within the desktop system, but you can expect full-screen apps, a new Launchpad for applications, and automatic save features, just to name a few. I’d actually love to see the ability to run iOS apps within OS X Lion, even though all of these titles are of course optimized for touchscreen interaction.
Why would I want this? Because the mobile apps were designed within the tight contraints of limited hardware resources and small screen interfaces that require user focus. Instead of reading and approving blog comments within WordPress (see disclosure below) on the web, for example, I much prefer interacting with them within the WordPress mobile application. It’s often faster and I feel more focused on the task at hand.
I’ve also long held the belief that Facebook for mobile devices is designed better than the Facebook web experience. And there are countless other examples where the use of a mobile app is simply more enjoyable for me or more effective than a clunky desktop app. Part of that joy comes from the personal interaction through touch on a mobile device, but some of it is simply due to outstanding app design.
My own preferences aside, there’s plenty of evidence to illustrate this paradigm shift. Clearly Apple has seen it and is already working towards it. Surprisingly, HP too is in the mix here as the company has already stated plans to ship Windows computers with the ability to run the webOS operating system before the end of 2011. Outside of those two players though, I haven’t seen many examples that other major players in the computing industry are preparing for this merging of mobiles and desktops. Call it the “post-PC” era if you will, but it could be the next big disruption in both the mobile and desktop markets for years to come.
Disclosure: Automattic, the maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at Tr