Using an Android Smartphone as Your PC

February 8, 2012

I don’t remember exactly when I first thought of this idea (your phone being the only computer you need), but I know it was many years ago, probably before Android was on the market. Imagine using your phone/mobile computer everywhere, because it’s always with you, and coming home, putting it on the desk, and boom – it connects to your desk’s monitor, and then you start using it as a PC. This future seems increasingly more likely thanks to Android.

I knew this is getting closer to reality when dual core ARM processors started appearing and when Motorola launched their laptop dock thing, where you can put your phone inside and the “laptop” (well more like a shell in Motorola’s case) would run on the phone’s hardware. It was the start of something interesting, but far from an ideal implementation.

One of the wrong things with it, is that it ran two operating systems in the same time, and a dual core Cortex A9 at 1 Ghz is barely enough to run a full OS at reasonable performance, let alone two. It would’ve made a lot more sense to continue to run the OS on the laptop display. Honeycomb was out around the same time, and Motorola was the first to use it. So I wondered why couldn’t they just use Honeycomb for the laptop, not as a separate OS, but just as the UI for the laptop?

Perhaps Motorola preferred to just sell another device instead of making the phone work with everything, or perhaps Google wasn’t ready for that kind of movement, but I do believe Google made Honeycomb (and now ICS) the way it is because they envisioned some kind of future of hybrid devices, where Android might even end up on laptops or similar devices.

My ideal vision of the future is to have Android use 3 different UI add-ons, so when you have it on your phone it automatically uses the phone UI, but when you connect it to a PC monitor or such, you should be able to select the tablet UI for it, and when you connect it to the TV, you should be able to pick the Google TV UI for it.

The codebase is the same, just the UI needs to change, depending on the form factor of the device. Ideally, you’d have one UI for everything, and while I’m sure Google will continue to try and make them as similar possible, I don’t think that’s ultimately possible. You can’t have the exact same UI for everything, because each form factor’s UI can be optimized to work much better for that specific form factor, so instead of having a mediocre UI for everything, you’re better off having the best possible UI for each scenario.

Perhaps just as important as having these UI’s is being able to do all this wirelessly. Needing separate cables, sometimes different cables for every device, is just way too cumbersome for something like this to become mainstream. It needs a wireless technology can can seamlessly connect all these devices on the spot. Bluetooth can’t be it, because it’s way too slow. Wi-Fi is also a bit cumbersome to use like this, but something like Wi-Fi Direct/Wi-Fi Display should be the future, and I think very soon we’ll start having access to that kind of technology.

So the only other part of this is for Google to enable Android to change UI’s based on what’s connected to. The sooner they forget the idea that ChromeOS is  their *only* OS for laptop/PC monitors, the better. ChromeOS might still thrive in parallel with Android for some very niche markets, but I wouldn’t want them to slow down Android’s potential because of it.

Android has a unique opportunity here that neither Microsoft nor Apple have. Microsoft can’t use WP7 in the same way, because they have a totally different OS that they are pushing for PC’s, and they have a different OS for Xbox. So they can’t make everything work through WP7. Apple is closer in a way to Android, but they have such strange display ratios that might make the transitions look awkward - 3:2 for phones, 4:3 for tablets, and soon probably 16:9 for TV’s, while pretty much all of Android’s resolutions are somewhere between 16:9 and 16:10. It might be a lost opportunity for Google to not do this as soon as possible.

A video on using Galaxy Nexus as your PC through MHL (where obviously the tablet UI would make much more sense):

Comments

  • http://gadgetstip.com/ gadgetstip

    WOW !! This is really cool . using phone on monitor is great

  • ST

    Very interesting use case indeed. I was thinking the same when testing an Asus transformer prime with a keyboard dock. I think the experience would be better with the option to change the UI to tablet style when using an external monitor. Also the release of Chrome for Android could make Chrome OS obsolete. Making Android a one stop shop for most of my computing.

    • CN

      I agree. Chome OS is dead, the same way a dedicated google TV OS is dead. Android can do all of those things.

      • Anonymous

        As opposed to dead wouldn’t it be better to fold all those efforts back into android and make it that much more robust?

  • Ed Mcgraw66

    Wow. That look really good. I to agree with you Google should have different UI’s for different product devices. The monitor will have the desktop version of android on it, and when connected to the phone, it just has to rearrange the information from the android phone to fit into the android desktop version. Maybe Google is already planning this. But you should send that video to someone over to Google maybe by Google+. Just to make sure they thought of everything. I got excited looking at that demo. Good job.

  • Ed Mcgraw66

    Thinking about it a little more. Google could make a small device in which you can dock your android phone to. This device has the Android desktop version in it as well as Chrome OS. Why not have the best of both worlds

  • AppleFUD

    The only real problem with Android being your “main computer” is that Android requires a computer with a real OS on it in order to do anything with it–you know, backup the entire phone ;)

    Google needs to make Android completely independent, like a real OS.

    • Zoki

      WTH are you talking?There is already Android OS for PC.For a long time…

    • Mack LeKnife

      You can already backup the entire phone now. I just switched from my old Thunderbolt to a new HTC DNA, turned it on and all of my apps compatible with Jellybean were automatically there and upgraded. Since all of my contacts, music and documents are in the Google cloud they were also there. The only thing I had to do was re-authenticate some of the apps. In addition I use Lookout and was able to backup and restore images that were outside of this configuration without any problem. Android is a real OS btw.

  • http://twitter.com/afghanbacha420 Afghaner

    Future of Android!
    Press like if you want as your Operative System!

  • Junk

    lcd density changer would be good here

  • http://www.technologyslice.com.au/ Technology Slice

    As smartphones get more powerful this will be a better idea. At the moment they aren’t fast enough.

    • Mack LeKnife

      The HTC DNA has a quad core and is the fastest phone I have ever seen or owned and is actually doing a great job with this sort of configuration.

  • Richard

    Apple’s never ending quest to extort money from it’s users will eventually be their downfall. An Android device with be my next upgrade. Thanks so much for the videos! Very enlightening.

  • Alexander Gillum
  • Fino

    Ubuntu for android?

  • Joe Rosevear

    This is great. Thanks for the presentation. I would like to do something like this. A lapdock would make this portable, but standard keyboard, mouse, monitor are fine. Now take it one step further. Can one phone boot more than one drive?. In a PC a CD can supply a kernel, initrd.gz and drivers allowing the normal boot to be redirected to another drive. Are the booting instructions in the phone on the micro SD chip? A solid state drive (SSD) could contain an alternate operating system.

  • http://twitter.com/highdefreak highdefreak

    somebody may think you are nothing but a fandroid but i am getting even more inspired to use my next smartphone as my PC after reading this article! thanks.

  • Mack LeKnife

    Just got a HTC DNA with the quad core and Jellybean for the reason you presented here. I am already a big user of Google Drive and Google Docs and moving information to others with MS Office has been no problem so I am with the Google solution. In addition I do java and web development and am experimenting with browser/cloud based IDE’s…when I find a solution that is satisfactory I will be able to move 100% to my phone being my computer. I have FTP and SSH clients already working on Droid and have been able to administer my Linux servers for a few years now from the phone. I am happy to see you and others who already had this vision and have worked with it, this is the near future not the far future. Thanks!

  • Paul

    How about the Sony xperia ion with its smart dock? It is very nice. I would like to do the same with an iPhone. And with a Panasonic phone with link to cell option, i have a complete solution.

  • RHD

    Putting Chromebook features into a ‘Chromephone’ would be very useful. Dock it to a big screen + k/b at home … and use it like a PC. I’d love to replace my Mac + Win7 + iPad + phone with a single device.