When Will Smart Phones Overtake Laptops?

The market is just starting to explore cell phone accessories that bridge the gap between the small phones we want and the email and text creation experience we need.
Posted February 20, 2008

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle

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I’ve been taking some long hard looks at the next generation laptops from Apple, Lenovo, and Toshiba. The Toshiba R500 was an amazing product, very light, very portable but also prohibitively expensive. The Apple Air was more attractively priced but came with some severe limitations. And the latest, the ThinkPad X300 from Lenovo, appeared to be “just right,” in terms of feature mix particularly for a corporate market. But with the iPhone winning the Datamation Product of the Year, you have to wonder when we’ll have true convergence.

Back in the early 1970s when the cell phone was born they weighed nearly two pounds, and cost in today’s dollars over $17K (using this inflation calculating tool). And still three million folks bought them. Kind of puts the whole iPhone sales number thing in perspective, doesn’t it?

These first cell phones didn’t do data at all, had horrid connectivity, and seemed to come from the “bricks are attractive” school of industrial design. Using VOIP, the latest and most advanced of the new laptops, the X300, is actually a better phone than this early cell phone, it costs 1/5th as much, is a full-fledged laptop – and is one hell of a lot more attractive.

Of course, it isn’t like cell phones haven’t evolved as well. The iPhone is 1/30th the price, can do an amazing number of the things the ThinkPad can do, and fits in your shirt pocket. But you still can’t live off of it, or off of its more corporate-based competitor the Blackberry.

Trying too Hard to Make One Device

Many of us, and particularly me, tend to be gadget freaks. We really like the thing that seems to do everything from cleaning floors to making Julianne Fries, even though we probably know it won’t do either of those things particularly well.

The Swiss Army knife is the perfect example of something that does a lot of things marginally (and it might be the reason why we don’t have that many multi-function products). Cloths Washer/Dryer combinations generally sucked, Toaster Ovens weren’t great toasters or ovens (but many people bought them regardless), Boat/Cars tended to sink and crash, and Car/Planes have been measured in the reduced life expectance of their drivers/fliers.

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In the end, we want a phone that is small and portable so that it goes wherever we go and we don’t have to lug a big piece of hardware. On the other hand, if we are typing or browsing the web we need a keyboard that allows us to type comfortably. A lot of the focus, until recently, was to build these ultra-light laptops with screens approaching 10 inches, and smart phones like the one I use (the HTC Advantage) have been starting to drift upwards of 5” and trending toward the size of that original bulky Cell phone. Should you answer the phone too quickly you are liable to knock yourself out given the size and weight of this puppy (actually you use a wireless headset, but you get my point).

In addition, while the iPhone is a cool phone and has a great browser, it sucks – and I mean really sucks – for email and texting. But, should you put a keyboard on it, it will get much heavier and be something in line with the HTC Tilt, which while more practical, isn’t as attractive as the iPhone. (But I know a number of folks who prefer it because they can get their company to pay for it and it does email vastly better).

No, the best near-term attempt at an all-in-one device will likely be the HTC Shift, kind of a mini-tablet. But its phone capability is iffy and we’re back to a device that may be too small and too large.

(I’ll provide a full review later in the year when this product comes out.)

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