No walls, mobility and modularity

AMD blogs: “I can envision a future where we carry around a personal module and when we get close to any display, we can easily interact with our content and communicate with our loved ones. We are a ways off from that future. It will be driven by powerful CPUs, GPUs, APUs, wireless, HCI and software. There will be interim steps, of course, and I like to stay close to the bleeding edge as it is one of many indicators of where we are on the evolution. In this modular and extensible context, I’ve looked at the Motorola LapDock, the Motorola HD Multimedia Dock, and the Motorola Xoom as a notebook replacement.”

The Author of the article, Pat Moorhead connected a BlackBerry PlayBook to a Samsung 21.5” LED Display, Apple Wireless Keyboard and Acer Ferrari Bluetooth mouse. You can see the setup here.

Overall Pat had some good things to say about the PlayBook as a modular device, but it appears that we have a long way to go before tablets like the PlayBook, iPad and Xoom can function as a real productivity tool. “I was not nearly as productive as I could have been on my notebook or desktop computer. Not even close. The biggest productivity sucker for me was the difficulty in tabbing back and forth between web tabs followed by the lack of responsiveness on web sites followed by the waste of white space on the large display followed by the lack of an integrated mail and calendar solution. If I compare this experience with the other modularity experiments I have done, theAtrix Lapdock still comes out on top and that wasn’t even very productive. I am not going to ditch my laptop or desktop any time soon.” Although I suppose it depends on your definition of productivity, but for me productivity goes beyond surfing the internet, playing on Twitter and reading my email. Basically I feel the same way as the author. I no longer use an iPad because it simply didn’t meet my needs. 

With that said I believe that we’re headed for an environment where the new model for tablets will eventually take the place of desktops, laptops and netbooks for most of our computing needs. As Pat says “I can envision a future where we carry around a personal module and when we get close to any display, we can easily interact with our content.” That would be something. Simply walk into an area with monitor, keyboard and mouse, pair them to your tablet, sit down and go to work.

This model fits nicely with my vision for cloud computing, however we need a few things to happen first.

  1. We need to find a way to always be connected. I know that wireless connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous by the day, but we really haven’t reached the point where you can give up desktop storage. I’m not sure I want to ever completely give up the desktop storage model, but we certainly need continuous connectivity to enjoy the full potential of mobility. To that end, companies like AT&T, Verizon, etc need to stop charging folks for multiple data plans when one will do. People should be allowed to tether their devices without fear of the data police coming down on them. You can read more about my thoughts on the subject here if you like.
  2. Better native browser on tablets. The iPad has a really crappy browsing experience. The Xoom isn’t much better. I’ve only played with the PlayBook briefly, but found it to be better than the others, but still not perfect. According to Pat Moorhead “the BlackBerry PlayBook has the best native web experience in a tablet.” As we move away from the old fashioned desktop model browsers will become increasingly important.
  3. Universal office suite. Like millions of other people I use Microsoft Office for nearly all my document, spreadsheet and presentation needs; right or wrong makes no difference. Devices like the iPad, Xoom and PlayBook still have difficulty handling these file types. The inability to easily move presentations to the iPad was the primary reason I decided it wasn’t for me. It was possible, but it required a lot of work. Why would I go through the trouble of “forcing” a presentation onto a tablet when I could simply deliver it from a laptop or netbook? Here’s what Moorhead had to say about the PlayBook: “Of all the tablets I have used, including iPad 1, iPad 2, Xoom, Galaxy Tab, Archos 5 IT, the BlackBerry PlayBook most properly read MS Office documents. It wasn’t perfect, but it was closer to the “real deal” than any other device.” We’re getting closer, but still not there.

Ultimately devices like the PlayBook, iPad, iPad2, Xoom, Galaxy tablet, etc were not designed to replace desktops, laptops and netbooks, but it’s the natural progression of things. As we continue down the path of mobility and modularity we may actually see the vision of the tablet preached by Bill Gates back in 2001 – “The real value of the Tablet is that it makes it possible for knowledge workers to bring the power of the PC into more places than ever, and they can do it right away, with the same software they use on their office PC or laptop today.” Maybe not exactly the same software, but certainly the same productivity. All we need now is a little imagination and some good old fashioned innovation.

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