4 min read

Mobile phone is half the PC

Prof. Sadagopan has an interesting take on how the mobile phone is evolving and how he views its relationship with the PC:

In the GSMA World Congress in Barcelona during Feb 16-19, 2009, Acer (the laptop manufacturer) launched four (mobile) handsets under the brand name “Tempo”
Last week Nokia talked of linux-based Laptops to be introduced in the market soon.
What will be interesting is the fulfillment of my “dream wish” – seamlessly integrated PC and Smart Phone. Let me elaborate.
I find my mobile phone substitute half my PC functionality, but only half. Half the time I use my PC for writing; but even during my writing, I need to check Wikipedia, IIIT web-site, my blog site … so I need communication function. If only the PC and Smart phone can act seamlessly, it will be great. I pick up my long mails on PC without I having to connect. I can Skype or call using my PC; I click the pictures with my mobile phone camera, but I need not have to “synch”‘; I need the screen of my PC to view my pictures. Similar is my need for “seamless” synch – addresses, phone numbers, appointments. Also I need not worry about Internet connection in hotel rooms (and the rip off the hotels do) as my PC will instantly connect
It is the same with phones a decade back; we all loved our reliable “black” phone; will work even in UP with terrible power supply (as the phone draws power from telephone exchange); it could hold for 2 hour call even. Of course, we all  had our “cordless” that let me pick up the phone in my bedroom or walk around the lawn with the phone in my hand; the two phones were “identical” for me; the same number, but allowed me to choose the function in the context; why cant PC and Smart Phone do the same? Let the PC be my reliable “base set” and the mobile phone my “cordless”. No need for add-ons.

I’ve been trying to articulate how my usage and behavior has changed these days because of a new phone, however I wasn’t able to put it in the right words; thankfully, Prof. Sadagopan puts it across succinctly.

Let me give you an example. If there are articles I want to save and read later whenever I have time, I add it quickly to Instapaper using their bookmarklet and then their application on my phone automatically syncs via the Internet. It’s simple, works fast, and is a no-brainer.

This may not seem like a big deal, but this has actually helped me in an emergency situation in my last trek. I had saved the phone numbers of the nearest hotels via Instapaper. Without that, we would have not known what to do with an injured friend, stuck in the middle of a forest at night with 3 torches for 11 people, with no houses closer than 3-4 km,  and not easy to see where we are going which means anybody else could get injured easily as well. Phew, what a situation to be in, and yet this “half-PC” mobile phone helped the situation. We were able to get a jeep guy to come immediately and he told us the location to come to which was less than 1 km away, the friend was taken to the hospital, stitched up in the head and a cast on his fractured hand. Thankfully, the whole situation went smooth.

Of course, you can argue that I could’ve just saved the numbers manually. The point is that I saved the page only because it was a one-click operation. There is no way I would have anticipated that I would need the phone numbers of these hotels because we planned to stay in tents in the hill and we never planned to visit the hotels. It’s like why would you save the hotel numbers in Malaysia if you only intended to stay in Singapore. But yet, if it was simple and fast, you might just do it.

There are more uses for this “half-PC”, for example there is a wide range of things it could do when you’re on travel like instantly telling you phrases in a foreign language, helping you to catalogue details of the trip such as what are the flight or bus timings, etc. and even helps you figure out where you are by showing your location on the map (again, this feature has been surprisingly useful to me in the recent past).

All this is possible because the phones are so advanced these days, and most common phones 2-3 years from now (cough Android cough) will all have the same facilities, not just the high-end ones.

And this brings me back to Prof. Sadagopan’s wish, which I simulate by syncing data from the computer to a central website and back to the iPhone. For example, my tasks are on Remember The Milk and their uber-awesome phone application stores it on my phone, my contacts are synced from the address book to the phone, my appointments are on Google Calendar, and so on. These days, I don’t even read the oh-so-negative newspapers, I just read the stuff I’m interested in on Google Reader on the phone while I’m having breakfast. The mobile interface for GReader is so easy to use that it’s addictive. As for the icing on the cake, I’m still using the WiFi network, so I don’t have to worry about the currently exorbitant GPRS tariff when I’m at home or office.

Notice that all the data is shared equally, but the functionality is split. I do mostly lookups, reading and minor editing on the phone, but do the major manipulation / heavy work on the PC. That’s why the term “half-PC” makes sense.

I never used to pay attention to the “phone is the screen of the future” mantra, but now I’m beginning to believe it.