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Smartphone as a Computer Part III

Apparently some quarters read incredulously my post about “Smartphone as a Computer” within Donna Dubinsky’s podcast last week so I thought that I should back up my claim with a little more information and also clarify that the time frame for this to happen is still realistically 2 to 5 years away.

First of all let’s look at the main elements of the PC:

  • Processor
  • Operating System
  • Storage
  • Cooling Fan
  • Memory
  • Monitor & Keyboard
  • Broadband Data Connectivity (external)

Did you notice that aside from the cooling fan all of the elements that make up a PC are already on our Treo!  The main distinction currently remains one of speed and size which make a PC ‘better’ and there is indeed a significant and undisputable ‘gap’ with the performance of a smartphone such as our Treo.  Additionally, a 2.5 inch wide screen with a 320x320 resolution will evidently never be quite a match for a 14 or 15 inch one commonly found in laptops.  Nevertheless, this ‘disadvantage’ may soon disappear.

If I told you that you might one day be able to buy a ‘laptop shell’ (below) in which you can insert your Treo and run applications from it or the web would this change your mind?


If I told you that you could connect your Treo to any TFT/CRT monitor or even a TV and run any standard Windows or Linux applications would this change your mind?

Well, the fact is that a company has already helped us to concept-proof and validate these ideas with the development of a sub-$100 PC which is powered by a cellphone chip such as the one on our Treo.  I didn’t know it at the time of writing my previous post but a Business 2.0 article outlines how my friend Rajesh Jain’s venture Novatium has developed the Nova NetPC which accomplishes all of these feats.

Running Windows or Linux, the Nova NetPC provides access to applications such as MS Office, Outlook, Thunderbird, IE and Mozilla as well as streaming audio and video and VoIP among others.  Broadband connectivity is delivered via wired DSL.

However, while the Nova NetPC does use a cellphone chip it is not built to be used as a cellphone at all but instead is housed in a tiny silver-and-black box about the size of a fat paperback roughly 3x the width, 2x the length and 3x the depth of our Treo and looks very much like a small PC (right).

In both the case of the Nova NetPC and our Treo data connectivity is essential.  Currently our Treo connects at an average speed of 70kbps depending on the wireless network and the Nova NetPC will likely connect at 1 to 10Mbps via a wired network.  However, here again there will be massive changes in the coming years.

For starters, our next Treo will likely be EVDO-capable which will raise our wireless data connection to 3G speeds ranging from 220kbps to 534kbps – a 3x to 8x improvement.  Nevertheless the New Scientist reports that NTT DOCoMo in Japan has already demonstrated 4G prototypes capable of delivering “data at 100 megabits per second on the move and at up to 1 gigabit per second while static” a rate that would allow “an entire DVD to be downloaded within a minute” wirelessly to our Treo.  Such a 4G network could become commercially available within 5 years.

With such wireless data speeds the whole notion of remote storage and applications delivered over the web become entirely feasible thus reducing the need for large on-board storage and fast processors on our Treo as most of these can be provided by the remote network.  At any rate, in five years the storage provided by a single SD card should approach 32 to 64GB and the chip powering our Treo may be as powerful as that on current laptops.

Some people may still doubt that smartphones such as our Treo will become the future PC but for my part I am getting increasingly excited at the possibilities and opportunities which every day are getting closer to reality.

Dubinsky Podcast: The Evolution of the Smartphone [Treonauts]
Nova NetPC [Novatium]
4G prototypes reach blistering speeds [NewScientist]
The Next PC Revolution Will Be Televised [Business 2.0]
Treo PC & TV: The Race is On [Treonauts]

Treonauts have no doubt about their future

Posted by Andrew on September 6, 2005 at 02:32 PM

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Tracked on Sep 6, 2005 10:59:51 PM


by A. Davis | Sep 6, 2005 9:10:54 PM

Actually, I don't think we're too far from having a Palm/Smartphone-type device replace our computers. I'd give it about 10 years, but only cause it takes cellular providers so long to get faster connections rolled out. Interestingly, I've spent the last week or so journaling my attempts to use only my Treo instead of my laptop. You can read it here...


by Cripple | Sep 7, 2005 8:40:04 AM

My first IBM desktop was a XT with 640k memory, no hard disk (just 2 floppy drives) and CGA monitor. Compare a Treo to that. :)

Hmm... What about a Treo with a built-in Virtual Laser Keyboard. For the Screen either a mini projector (to project to your desk partition rather than a whole wall) or a rollable screen http://www.polymervision.com/Technology/downloads/Index.html
Then we'll need a real multitasking OS (go PalmLinux).
We hear lots of advances in Storage and memory, and WiMAX is quite close to becoming a standard.
All these things I'm talking about are already existing or almost ready for market. It could be done in less than 5 years. Probably in 2-3 years.

by antmelnat | Sep 7, 2005 4:42:01 PM

Funny, your mock-up of the Treo being inserted into the laptop slot looks a lot like how my old REX device would be used to sync up with Outlook via the pc

by Louis Meierer | Sep 7, 2005 5:36:45 PM

by Steve Packard | Sep 7, 2005 8:49:06 PM

How do I become a contributor to treonauts? Like…How would I be able to write some of their main-page articles? Is there any way to join the team?

I bought the Treo 650 as soon as it came out. I had a Treo 300 before that. My Treo is completely decked out with Bluetooth headset, screen protector, keyboard, 2gb SD card. I’ve used GPS with it. So, I am completely up to date with hardware.

I’m a beta tester for MobiTV. I have all the software you could everwant for the Treo. Everything from NesEm, to Causerie to firepad to mmplayer to pockettunes to treoguard and much more. I’ve tried lots of other software for the Treo and I try to keep myself as up to date as possible. I intend to buy the Wifi sled shortly and a treo 700, when it comes out.

Therefore, I consider myself well qualified to write for this blog. Is there any way I could do so?


by Andrew | Sep 8, 2005 5:44:38 PM

Steve - thank you for your interest in writing for Treonauts.

I am always looking for interesting points of view from passionate and knowledgeable people and will gladly consider them for inclusion here.

Please select an application, service or accessory related to the Treo to write about and send me a copy of your review to [email protected].

Cheers, A.

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