The Nirvana Smartphone as a PC , Thin Client , Desktop Appliance … 

As Smartphones become more capable, and fast networks pervasive, plus now with Virtual Desktops going mainstream ( like Citrix XenDesktop ) , the practicality of using a Smartphone as a laptop/desktop alternative is closer than ever. The use case’s for this model are many fold. It’s is not intended to replace a PC or laptop ( at least initially ), rather the early adopters of this “Nirvana” Smartphone would likely already have a laptop for work and a PC at home. The general use case’s revolve around enhanced mobility with broader access to applications and desktops. So even though most users already have access to apps and desktops from PC’s and laptops, most of us would prefer to travel locally ( including the inside the office ) or on selective trips without a laptop if it was practical.

So what is missing from today’s Smartphone’s in a single device ?
Video-out –  A few Smartphones have video-out like the Nokia N95 but the resolution is limited and it has no pointing device support. Some PDA’s ( HP and Dell Axim ) have better screens and resolution with Video-out but they are not phones and are still too big. The upcoming i-Mates promise this functionality… we’ll see. The iPhone also has some video out capability but it’s still too limited. The resolution needs to be capable of 1024 x 768 to satisfy most users.

Keyboard & Mouse –  The Smartphone user input options continue to improve, however to do “real” work a full keyboard and mouse will continue to the requirement when stationary. Many Smartphone’s today do have bluetooth which can work fine for this scenario. Some new portable keyboards are making this more realistic as well.

Docking Station – This scenario works best if there is also a Nirvana docking station that recharges the phone at the same time as providing the VGA video interface and USB hub. The ” Nirvana ” Smartphone ideally would provide USB host functionally  vs. USB slave that many have today. Additional / alternative functionality for the docking station include VGA/USB passthrough – so the docking station can plug into a home PC and use the same monitor and peripherals, as well as audio in/out for headsets. This docking station would also need to come in a portable dongle version as well as stationary.

Industry trends that are also working in favor of this scenario

Free seating / Office hoteling is a growing trend for mobile workers that occasionally work in the office. Today many cubicles already have a monitor for a laptop hook up, they would just need the docking station and keyboard to provide a full desktop experience. Similarly “real” hotels have office facilities with printers and monitors, they just need a “Nirvana” docking station to complete the solution.

LCD TV’s are now pervasive and many have VGA and multiple Video inputs. This opens up hotel rooms, kitchens, family rooms, etc.
LCD’s in general are getting cheaper and pervasive. They are showing up everywhere; cars, picture frames, book readers.

Digital Projectors – most conference rooms are already equipped and portable projectors are getting smaller and cheaper.

Virtual Desktops – Like XenDesktop … hosted centrally but available everywhere.

Remote Desktops – Like GoToMyPC … remote desktop connections to home or office PC’s.

Application Virtualization – like Presentation Server .. apps hosted centrally available from any device.

Web based; apps / storage / photos / social networks – more and more of digital life ( work and play )  is available from any device on the web.

Consumer driven use cases

Most device companies we speak to about this concept are interested in the idea, however many are clearly driven by the consumer use cases vs business ones due to the huge volume that the cell phone market drives today. The assumption is that Smartphone’s will continue to improve and excel in handling voice, video, music and cameras, but here are some additional consumer use cases that could exploit the unique features of the Nirvana Smartphone;

Web enable all the TV’s in your house – most new LCD TV’s are VGA capable but normally are only connected to a cable box and DVD player. Simply adding the Nirvana docking station would provide web connectivity without all the other complexity required in today’s configurations.

Video conference from your TV –  add a camera to the front of the Smartphone and use the TV to view and communicate with others doing the same.

Photo / Video Playback many cameras already offer viewing from a TV, the Nirvana Smartphone will carry your photos and videos that could be viewed full size from the Smartphone Video-out to any LCD monitor or TV through the Nirvana docking station.

So how long is this going to take ? Why has this failed so far.

It’s easy to project everything is going to be possible in the far future; wireless video, virtual keyboards, rollup video screens, etc. However, I am more interested in the next 12-18 months, the technologies to build this Nirvana Smartphone and use it as a Desktop Appliance are all available now, it just needs a leading device vendor to put together all the parts ( and embed some Citrix SW.. ).

So far there have been a few attempts to build full PC functionality into a Smartphone/PDA however they all come up short ( too big, too slow, too expensive ) because they try to replicate a full PC in a small device. Instead, if device makers can assume that a remote virtual desktop is accessible with all the apps you need and full size keyboard+mouse+monitors are readily available and connectible, then the Nirvana device could be built at a reasonable price, fit in your pocket, and provide the freedom to leave your PC or laptop at home.

Related links

Update : What is a Nirvana Phone video post

Adam Marano’s search for the Nirvana Device posts from CTIA 2008

The Viewsonic ViewDock with an iPod looks like a perfect combination, unfortunately it still needs a PC to run and view.

John Dvorak’s PC week article from 2003..

Nokia N95 TV-out feature review.

i-Mate 8150 with VGA out on youtube.

The RedFly Mobile companion announced at CES.

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