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One device for all tasks: when will it emerge?

It would be nice to think that some manufacturer, somewhere, would this year come up with a device which makes it possible to manage most, if not all, of one's computing needs from that single device.

Most mobile phones these days have enough power to handle most of the tasks we do on laptops or PCs; all that is needed is a monitor, mouse and keyboard on one's desk and one should be able to connect using either wires or else wirelessly.

The one thing that is preventing this happening is the fact that any manufacturer who wants to bring to market a device that will meet these needs will have to cannibalise one of its own product lines.

Take Apple, for instance. Any of the recent iPhone models has sufficient grunt to serve as a workstation. But Apple has not bothered to do anything in the direction of making it workable because that would mean selling less iPads, MacBooks and iMacs.

There is no guarantee that the idea will catch on and lead to mass sales of iPhones. Even if it does, what would Apple do with its other product lines?

With Microsoft, the idea has gone a bit further. The company has technology called Continuum which allows a Windows Phone to project its image on a monitor. One can use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard as input devices through an adaptor.

But one piece of the puzzle is missing: where do you find a Windows phone these days?

Again, Microsoft has recently gotten into the hardware business and its Surface line of hybrid notebooks is an attractive one, at least from the hardware side. So again, we have a company that will not push the idea of having a small device to serve all the average person's computing needs; that would again mean cannibalising what looks like a profitable line of hardware.

With Linux, only the people at Canonical have looked in this direction. Last year, an over-the-air update to the Ubuntu phone made it possible for the phone's display to be projected on a monitor or TV using a wireless display adaptor that conforms to the Miracast protocol.

But the Bluetooth implementation on Ubuntu Phone is flaky in the extreme and shows no sign of being fixed soon. Given that, connecting Bluetooth input devices to the phone is a hit and miss exercise.

One can use the phone's display as a touchpad and the phone's keyboard will show up when needed, but it is a very small keyboard and not everybody has such nimble fingers.

After that one OTA update, Canonical has been silent about the use of the phone as a single computing device, so one has to assume that there is no push to make the whole thing work properly. Many of the initiatives taken by Canonical are for show, nothing else.

One is thus condemned to wait, seemingly forever, for the day when a single device meets most of one's computing needs. One would need an upstart to try something like this. Anyone who does, can count on one thing: the old guard of the technology industry will unite together and try to run the newcomer out of town.

The bottomline, otherwise known as dollars, pounds sterling, roubles, or rupees, will be protected at any cost.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.