Companies could use next-generation smartphones to replace laptops as fully-fledged working platforms with the aid of a new architecture dubbed the Nirvana Phone, according to co-developers Citrix Systems and Open Kernel Labs.
The system, being demonstrated at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, exploits the fact that most of the latest smartphone systems-on-a-chip support high-definition video, which means that they can drive a PC monitor.
A keyboard and mouse can be connected wirelessly using Bluetooth, and a Citrix software module turns the smartphone into a thin client that can front applications running on a remote Citrix-enabled server via a 3G or Wi-Fi link.
The system allows people to use their normal working desktop as if they were working at their office PC, the Nirvana partners say.
OK Labs provides a virtual machine in the form of a software layer called the OKL4 Microvisor, which communicates directly with the hardware and provides a standard environment for software sitting above it. This software includes the Citrix module and drivers for the external keyboard, mouse and display (see diagram below).
As such, Nirvana is essentially a software layer that can be implemented at very low cost on almost any next-generation smartphone, and some manufacturers have already committed to the idea, the partners say.
ARM, MIPS and Intel platforms are supported, and products are expected to be on the market within 12-18 months.
The system is agnostic on how the display should be linked, but it is most likely to use HDMI.
The obvious drawback is that the system requires access to a keyboard and display; the demonstration system shown at a press briefing used the smartphone as a touchpad, eliminating the need for a mouse.
The partners see the system as becoming so widespread that Nirvana work sites will be set up in hotels, airports, internet cafés and train stations.
Rob McCammon, vice president of product management at OK Labs, predicted that Nirvana would become part of the expanded feature set of next-generation phones and would not push their price up.
"It will be available across a very wide range of devices, much as Bluetooth is today," he said.
The advantage for corporates is that they save on the cost of the laptops, and the system is more secure because applications and data reside on the server and not in easily lost handsets and memory sticks.
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