We Need to Give the Industry a Chance to Figure Out Workspace Continuity (or Don't Sleep on Dex)
With the arrival of Samsung's Dex dock solution, the masses have become aware of the notion of docking a phone in order to take advantage of its compute and apply it to desktop tasks instead of solely mobile tasks. And the naysayers have come out of the woodwork to proclaim that it won't work. Truth is, this is not new. Microsoft has had this concept in place since Windows 10 became a thing. Apple uses a thing called "Continuity" to sync up files between an iPhone and a Mac when they are in proximity to each other so that you can continue work from your phone on your Mac. Microsoft has dockable solutions to allow its Windows Phones to connect to a keyboard and mouse and be displayed on a larger display. Heck, back when Nexus phones hosted MHL connections, you could connect one to a monitor over an adapter and HDMI and use it like a PC. While I totally understand when someone judges that the implementation on a given device is not executed well, what I don't get is when someone claims that the concept itself is inherently flawed. I've heard this recently from a few journalists and podcasters, and my perspective is that they are thinking about it wrong.
In most cases, these individuals disparage the notion of trying to crowbar the phone, which is tuned to specific use-cases via its specific form-factor, into applications for more desktop and laptop oriented tasks. This is worrisome, because it means that we've fallen down the sales sinkhole of the manufacturer's that tell us and market to us that a specific form-factor is something that we need and have to have. But I don't know that that should be the case. Should we maybe put a high value on retaining our freedom and considering alternative solutions to a given use-case based on an awareness and consideration of all other available solutions architectures? So while we would certainly use smartphones, maybe it is important that we consider solutions to mobile connectivity other than just singular smartphones? Such as considering whether or not carrying a stand-alone smartphone is a more productive solution than carrying a burner phone and a small form-factor tablet with LTE connectivity? I've been wanting to try the latter but have not quite gotten around to it. My belief in that example being that I can get more work accomplished on a larger screen, but I still need to be able to make POTS-like phone calls. So combo up the almost zero cost of a burner phone to make analog calls, and put my money into an iPad Mini or such with LTE connectivity, the total cost of which is significantly cheaper than buying a single flagship smartphone. And, I believe, that solution yields more capability overall than buying just one of the top smartphones.
My point here is that whenever we express that we require or must have the specific solution that the industry provides us, we cease to consider the other alternatives. And it leads to us becoming slaves to a specific manufacturer's platform. It leads down the path of never considering leaving iOS because of your apps. It lead to people sending off their XBox 360s several times over to move past the RRoD, and never considering just buying a PS3. It leads to people feeling locked in to Macs or Windows and never considering Linux or Chromebooks. It leads to us continuing to pay exorbitant fees to cable providers for channels we will never watch instead of cutting the cord And we waste quite literally years of our lives fixated on a thing that we've allowed ourselves to feel that we can't live without when considering alternatives would have allowed us to move forward.
So here's the thing. It's all just compute. And its the same line of reasoning by which some of the same naysayers have adopted the Cloud. It doesn't matter if it's on your desktop or on a server halfway around the world in that case. In this case, it shouldn't matter if you're interacting with it in your hand or on a monitor; and this applies to opening up our minds to the notion of desktop OR laptop docking solutions. I think of it this way because I focus on the tasks I want to get accomplished, and the lock-in to the form factors is just a thing that the manufacturer's handcuff me into that I have to live with. But there should not be any reason why, a la Star Trek, we should not be able to walk into our tech caves, and via voice tell one device to transfer anything, a file, a partially solved set of equations, control of a service, to any other device. There should be a means for me to allocate the power of my GPUs from one device to another. What we need, eventually, is a universal wireless bus API. WiFi is a protocol that permits the exchange of data packets, but what we really need is a means of wirelessly interfacing compute so that various compute resources can be tightly coupled without a physical connection. But at a less than sci-fi level, smartphones have the same computing power as our desktops of ten years ago; possibly more. And there is no reason why they should not be able to be tipped sideways once we get home, connected to desktop peripherals, and displayed on a larger screen.
These dockable phone solutions, as a bridge to more Okudagram-like compute workspaces, are a evolutionary phase that inches us closer to realizing that Star Trek use-case. It does not matter to me whether I interface with my phone in the palm of my hand or via a keyboard and mouse in a dock, because I don't care about accessing the operating system, I only care about accessing my work. I need the ability to shoot video on the phone, but to then dock it and use a keyboard and mouse to edit it, because doing so with my finger is odious. I need to be able to incubate ideas for articles in the palm of my hand in a note-taking app, but I need to convert it to a long-form post while on a mouse & keyboard. That's best done if I just take the note and start molding it into the article, and, for now, I'd like to do that in a local app rather than the Cloud because its a skosh faster. In this context, which is a framework that formulates 90% of what I do, or want to do, with devices, the form-factor of the phone is less important. The only reason that I use it is because lugging my desktop around would be really hard (but probably very funny).
The evolution that we need is one where these arbitrary lines between workspaces are decoupled from form-factors when it comes to compute resources. Unifying and harmonizing our local compute ecosystems into fewer devices will enable a household capability that will be closer to a single-universal device that more heavily leverages the naked robotic core. And compacting all of your work onto a single device that can be deployed in multiple work-spaces while maintaining your work profile and its associated data and products is a good evolutionary step to getting there. Realize that you don't really specifically need that gaming PC, you really just need access to that GPU.
We seem to always stick our noses up whenever a manufacturer renders a phone docked in a laptop form-factor, or slotted in a tablet housing. But maybe we should think of these as experimental steps to evolving to the ability to put that core wherever we need it and to be unlocked from a manufacturer specified form-factor. Isn't that kind of what Raspberry Pi is all about?
We should be careful of feeling that the industry will have to pry our smartphones from our kung-fu death-grip hands. Because eventually they are going to do just that. And those who have clung to the specific form-factor of the smartphone will have the same difficulty in transitioning as those who clung to hardware keyboards and resistive touchscreens and stylus'. I should know.