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CES showed that smartphones may be the real threat to the corporate PC

17 Jan 2013
V3's Dan Robinson

A long time ago, in what now seems like a different life, I once wrote a column asking whether PDAs would be able to replace laptops as the main business client for mobile workers in the near future.

This was before Apple introduced its first iPhone device, and PDAs (personal digital assistants, or handheld computers) effectively occupied the same niche that high-end smartphones do today. In contrast, the smartphones of the day mostly had tiny screens (2in or smaller) and were rather limited in capability.

At the time, the first PDAs were coming to market that offered built-in Wi-Fi connectivity and processors above 500MHz in clock speed, prompting me to speculate on whether such devices would soon evolve into something that could be used by travelling executives instead of a laptop.

Of course, that notion was hopelessly fanciful in hindsight, as PDAs ran rather limited mobile operating systems and few were capable of handling complex applications or even being connected to a larger screen that would make lengthy use acceptable for users.

Fast forward to today, and it seems that the concept is finally about to become reality with developments such as Canonical's plans for an Ubuntu "superphone", demonstrated at last week's CES in Las Vegas.

The idea behind this device is that it offers the same kind of features and functionality as any other smartphone, but can operate as a full-blown Linux PC when docked on a desk and connected to a monitor and keyboard.

It isn't the first time such capabilities have been offered, with Motorola notably offering a dock that resembled a laptop for its Atrix smartphone in 2011.

However, the difference in Canonical's case is that the operating system in question is essentially the same Ubuntu Linux as you would see on a desktop or laptop PC, with some tweaks to support touch gestures (and telephony functions as well).

Canonical's vision is that enterprise firms will be able to equip their workers with a single device that can serve as a mobile phone while they are out of the office, and be used to access standard corporate applications when sitting at their desk.

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Daniel Robinson

Daniel Robinson is technology editor at V3, and has been working as a technology journalist for over two decades. Dan has served on a number of publications including PC Direct and enterprise news publication IT Week. Areas of coverage include desktops, laptops, smartphones, enterprise mobility, storage, networks, servers, microprocessors, virtualisation and cloud computing.

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