The Cell-Phone Aware PC May Be a PC-less PC

Mike Egan @ Computerworld makes the case for PC’s to be smarter, with improved awareness of cell-phones, which means of their owners.

PCs would benefit greatly from awareness about the location of the user. Is she sitting in front of me? Is she out of the building? Imagine if your PC performed routine maintenance, or kicked into security mode when it knew you weren’t around. Since we take them wherever we go, cell phones are ideal devices to inform our PCs whether we’re in the room or not.

We like to set up our PCs just so, with color schemes and specific files and applications we like to use. Imagine if our phones could carry sets of configurations around and magically transform any PC we happen to be using into one set up just like the computer at home or in the office.

We work on documents, then go home and work on them some more. Why don’t phones automatically carry the latest version and upload it to whichever PC we’re using? Why do most of us still use e-mail for this?

A recent Gartner study discusses similar concepts named “Portable Personality Solutions.” Whether the media is thumb drives as in the Gartner study, or cell phones as in Egan’s vision, the core idea is the same: your preferences, your “digital personality” is always with you in your device, and is uploaded and downloaded wirelessly and automatically to whatever computer you want to use.

I like the concept, but it involves unnecessary steps: far too many uploads and downloads, a sure sign that it’s based on today’s computing model, instead of tomorrow’s. I laid out a similar but more far-reaching concept last year:

  • the mobile phone brings the connectivity, browser and some personalization
  • the actual work devices are the cheap displays, keyboards easily found anywhere.
  • the apps and data are on the Net

Can you spot the key difference? There is no computer. Yes, the PC is gone, the display and keyboard are there for convenience reasons (who doesn’t like large displays?) the mobile device can do the minimal processing I need since the heavy workload is carried in the Cloud. Granted this is not the solution for 3-D Modeling, Video Editing and the like, just for regular productivity work, which is what most of us use computers for anyway.

Now, to be fair, this is not really my concept, I was just interpreting Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu’s personal computing nirvana vision. Recently he developed his vision a step further (actually, it’s not him dreaming further, it’s the technology that advances fast):

Given how mobile phones pack a whole lot of functionality in a tiny package, I have wondered if the ideal server farm is just tens of thousands of mobile phones packed together. It seems to me that the semiconductor technology behind mobile devices is far, far more power efficient than the stuff that goes in servers. Partly it is a backwards compatibility issue, with servers having to run code written all the way back to 1980s, while mobile phones simply didn’t exist that far back. Partly, it is also a function of how traditional client-server applications were architectural monoliths, compared to the deeply distributed “service-oriented architecture” that is common in web applications today.

With mobile phones approaching very respectable CPU & memory capacity, packaging them together as a server cluster makes a lot of sense. Linux can run on almost all of the modern CPUs common in cell-phones, and the mobile version of Java seems actually well-suited for server use, particularly for deeply partitioned, distributed applications. Lightweightness is actually an advantage in server software, just as it is in mobile software.

I wonder how far-fetched this vision is, but have to say this former Qualcomm engineer who just spent a few millions of dollars to create two data centers which will soon provide automatic failover might just know what he is talking about… smile_shades

Update: “Spanning Sync” Charlie is thinking along similar lines: Will Your Next PC be an iPhone?

Update (4/13): Is it Time For a Portable Dumb Terminal?