October 16, 2013

Phones, Tablets And Post PC

The modern smartphone is a pocket computer. Let’s just get that out of the way. For some reason, the whole Post-PC thing have been entirely focused on tablets, when all smart mobile devices should be implied and considered.

Here’s an example: A relative of mine just bought an iPhone 4S, and a 11″ MacBook Air. She’s happy with both, but wonder what she need the computer for, really? What she should get is an iPad, at least when the apps and web services (banks and government mostly) support it all the way. They might already. Funny thing is, to her the iPhone 4S is almost a valid replacement to a computer. Next year, the iPad will be that replacement, because the parts of the infrastructure that hasn’t caught up with the times yet will have by then.

Think about that for a second. An older person, not an Apple fanboy or a techsavvy cord-cutter, thinks that a smartphone is a valid computer replacement. That’s very much Post-PC.

Soon to be replaced... Photo: TheNixer (CC)
Soon to be replaced… Photo: TheNixer (CC)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the smartphone lately. By smartphone I mean an actual smartphone, not a lowend thing that pretends to be smart, but really is dumber than the feature phones of yore. Real smartphones, like the current iPhone models or highend Android, or even top tier Windows Phone, I’d imagine. My thoughts are centered around the iPhone 5, because that’s what I have at the moment, and the release of iOS 7 has played its part in making me think about this. Because although iOS 7 isn’t without its flaws, it really makes the device stand out even more, with its crisp retina screen and easily accessible settings. It’s the little things, as it almost always is. I just like to use the bloody thing.

And you know what, I could probably get away with doing a lot more things using only my iPhone. After all, most of my emails are sent from the iPhone, I write a lot on it already, and it’s my always present assistant. Much like the iPad works as an excellent tool for writers (see my ebook The Writer’s iPad), the iPhone could get away with the same. I did actually hook it up to my bluetooth keyboard the other week, when I stopped by the office with no other tools available, and I got a lot done. Granted, almost everything was writing in one way or another, and the main difference between the iPhone and iPad (which is my primary tool some days) is screen size. Most apps I use are universal anyway, so I’m only wrestling with a smaller screen really.

Isn’t that amazing?

The Ubuntu Edge project was (and is) interesting for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is that it’s in part a traditional computer by design. Hook it up to a screen, connect a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and there’s your Ubuntu workstation, ready to go. I kind of want that. It bothers me that I can’t have it, and the sole reason for this is that the app developers (no matter the mobile OS you prefer) haven’t opted to supply it to me. There’s mirroring functionality to be made, the support’s there, and if you look at the Apple ecosystem, it’s already being implemented for a minority of apps. Mostly games for now, and that’s where it’ll start, especially now that there’s support for game controllers. We’re getting there, slowly.

My smartphone is a computer. There’s no doubt about it. At times I think that this is a bad thing. I can work anywhere I am, because I’ve got all my files accessible through Dropbox, iCloud, or one of my own servers. Everything’s synced and ready to go. Got a few minutes? Answer an email or tweak some code, it’s all there if I want it to be. Just like Twitter, Facebook and similar time-thieves.

Perhaps it isn’t such a good thing to have your computer in your pocket at all times after all. We’re not really there yet, not for all of us, but consider a future when you really do just connect your smartphone to a workstation and are ready to go. You’re carrying your computer, as some already are with their tablets, at all times. You can work at all times.

It’s much like working from your home office, and that’s not for everyone. Some of us will walk past that door and think that “hey, I’m just gonna take a look at that thing” or “I really should be working” or “if I put in a few hours now I’ll be ahead”. So you work too much, too hard, and while you might be productive, you’ll never really reap the benefits since there’s always something more, something else. Home offices are great, but they’re a potential trap too. Some people will never be off work if the only thing stopping them from being in their natural work environment is a door.

Or pulling a computer out of their pockets. Incidentally, the tablets are a greater threat to this sort of behavior, I think. After all, it’s more likely that you can get a lot of work done by using just your tablet, than just your phone. The need for docking to a larger workstation is no doubt larger for the latter. For some that’s moot, because if you spend your days writing emails, tweaking spreadsheets, analyzing, communicating, researching, or similar activities that can work OK on a smaller screen with the proper app tailored to it, you’re less likely to feel the urge to hook up to a workstation. An art director or developer will need the screen real estate sooner than people working with text. I’m writing this on my iPad mini with a bluetooth keyboard, in my couch while listening to vinyl. The MacBook is on the kitchen table, but I see no reason to use that instead. That’s the sort of decisions that’ll creep into the daily life for a lot of people when the phones and tablets become computers – work tools – in their minds.

There are pros and cons of our pocket computers, and the vast majority’s unstoppable realization of their existence. Being able to act quickly in a crisis is no doubt positive. The freedom of location that the tools provide, in an even larger extent than the laptops have, is also a good thing. Knowing that you’ve got everything you need to work will add to stress and health problems for some, and that’s bad. This, not considering any form of radiation that we won’t know the effects of for years and years yet, is the big problem. Take it from someone who’ve been working more than most, dictating the circumstances: It’s not easy to have this freedom and to balance it well with body and soul.

Which isn’t to say that I’m not hoping that the current MacBook I’ve got, a lovely 13″ retina MacBook Pro that’s the best laptop I’ve ever had, is the last one I’ll own. Freedom over all, and for putting words in a row, for developing sites, and doing the odd light image processing, then I really don’t need the monster on my kitchen table. I just need a slightly more versatile iOS device. It’s probably an iPad for me, but the Ubuntu Edge concept has its advantages and it’ll fit some better.

The only thing that’ll be tying me to the coach will be the vinyl player and the Bowers & Wilkins speakers. They won’t fit in my pocket anytime soon.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.