MA­CHINE SMARTS AND THE CON­VERG­ING MO­BILE WORLD

Smart­phones, ph­ablets, tablets, hy­brids, de­tach­able and ul­tra-slim note­books are all blur­ring the lines be­tween tra­di­tional mo­bile com­put­ing form fac­tors. Do we re­ally need this many devices? Will we fi­nally set­tle on one ideal de­sign? What will the fu­tur

HWM (Singapore) - - Front Page - Text by Ken­nyYeo

Th­ese are ex­cit­ing times for mo­bile com­put­ing. In the past, it used to be just note­books, but now smart­phones and tablets are prov­ing them­selves to be ex­cel­lent pro­duc­tiv­ity tools as well. Surely, there were smart­phones be­fore the iPhone, but it was the iPhone that in­tro­duced the con­cept of smart­phones - phones that could do more than merely an­swer calls and text - to a wider au­di­ence in 2007. The iPhone, along with the suc­cess of the App Store, en­sured that it var­i­ous abil­i­ties and ca­pa­bil­i­ties were un­matched by any other phone be­fore it. It even coined the phrase, “There’s an app for that,” that help per­pet­u­ated the thought that there was lit­tle that a smart­phone couldn’t do.

And to­day, that very phrase has never been truer. Mod­ern high­end smart­phones can surf the web with ease, re­ply and com­pose emails, crop and edit pho­tos, and even be used to cre­ate videos. It’s truly re­mark­able when you con­sider that just years ago, you’d need a proper note­book or desk­top ma­chine for do­ing th­ese things.

The next log­i­cal step in this evo­lu­tion would be to in­crease the screen size and this was what hap­pened in 2010 when Ap­ple re­leased the iPad. It ran the same iOS op­er­at­ing sys­tem as Ap­ple’s smart­phones and was in essence a larger iPhone. How­ever, all that ex­tra dis­play real es­tate made a big dif­fer­ence. Text was eas­ier to read, videos were more en­joy­able, and the on-screen key­board was also larger and eas­ier to type on. The tablet was dubbed as the ul­ti­mate me­dia con­sump­tion de­vice.

See­ing the suc­cess of tablets, Sam­sung de­cided to merge the two form fac­tors to give us the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, ar­guably the first de­vice that sparked the cur­rent ph­ablet phe­nom­e­non. On hind­sight, the ph­ablet made per­fect sense as it com­bined ev­ery­thing users liked about smart­phones with the larger dis­play of tablets. Even Ap­ple, who had ini­tially main­tained a po­si­tion that it would not make larger smart­phones, even­tu­ally con­ceded and made its first ph­ablet - the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus in 2014.

Fast for­ward to 2015 and we are be­gin­ning to see the next step in the evo­lu­tion of mo­bile com­put­ing. Thanks to in­cred­i­ble ad­vances in mi­cro­pro­ces­sor tech­nol­ogy, we now have smart­phones that will fit into the palm of our hands and yet have the same amount of pro­cess­ing power as a desk­top from years ago. A great ex­am­ple of this is Mi­crosoft’s new flag­ship Lumia phones - the Lumia 950 and 950XL- which boast of a new fea­ture called Con­tin­uum that turns it into al­most full-fledged PCs. This is a tes­ta­ment of the re­mark­able pro­cess­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of to­day’s phones.

As phones be­come larger and pow­er­ful, tablets are be­gin­ning to make less sense for con­sumers. While Ap­ple is still the run­away leader in the tablet busi­ness, sales have been dwin­dling for the past cou­ple of quar­ters. Re­cent stud­ies also show that the most pop­u­lar iPad to­day is the iPad 2 from nearly five years ago - ac­count­ing for over about a fifth of all iPads sold. The next most pop­u­lar Ap­ple tablet on the list is the four year old iPad Mini.

In or­der to rein­vig­o­rate sales and re­new in­ter­est in tablets, Ap­ple re­leased the iPad Pro just a cou­ple of months ago, call­ing it the tablet that can re­place your note­book or com­puter. With a 12.9-inch dis­play that ri­vals most Ul­tra­books and its A9X pro­ces­sor which is said to be more pow­er­ful than 80% of all por­ta­ble PCs shipped in the past year, the gi­ant tablet is ar­guably more adept than most tra­di­tional note­books at graph­ics in­ten­sive tasks such as video edit­ing and com­puter-aided de­sign.

On the other hand, Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face tablets have been very suc­cess­ful in their own at­tempts to blur the lines be­tween tablets and note­books. Thanks to the touch-in­put friendly de­sign of Win­dows 10, the Sur­face Pro 4 works fine as a reg­u­lar tablet; but at­tach the Type Cover key­board and it turns into a very us­able note­book. It even runs full-fledged Win­dows 10 like a proper note­book.

But wait, note­books are not go­ing out with­out a fight, and to­day’s note­books have never been slim­mer and lighter. Case in point is Ap­ple’s new 12-inch MacBook which weighs just 920g and is just over 13mm thick at its fat­test point. Th­ese note­books are giv­ing tablets and de­tach­able/con­vert­ible note­books a run for their money be­cause they are su­per por­ta­ble and ar­guably more prac­ti­cal and func­tional. But per­haps the best ex­am­ple of a note­book that wants to make tablets re­dun­dant is the Mi­crosoft Sur­face Book. It is for all in­tents and pur­poses, a note­book, one that even has dis­crete graph­ics; how­ever, its dis­play de­taches and turns into a Win­dow tablet. It truly seeks to of­fer the best of both worlds.

The fact of all th­ese de­vel­op­ments is a clear sign that form fac­tors for mo­bile com­put­ing are con­verg­ing. Phones are now al­most as large as tablets, while tablets on the other hand are grow­ing larger and are ri­val­ing tra­di­tional note­books for both dis­play size and func­tion­al­ity. Mean­while, note­books are also be­com­ing in­cred­i­bly por­ta­ble whilst re­tain­ing much of their orig­i­nal func­tion­al­ity.

And at this point, it doesn’t seem like a sin­gle form fac­tor will emerge vic­to­ri­ous. Diehard note­book users are re­luc­tant to give up their key­boards for the flimsy ones of de­tach­able note­books, while tablets power users can­not bear the thought of car­ry­ing some­thing as bulky as a note­book. And then there are those who can­not stom­ach the thought of car­ry­ing a phone that won’t fit neatly into their pock­ets. How­ever, with pro­po­nents of all form fac­tors con­stantly push­ing the bound­aries of what is pos­si­ble, who knows what the fu­ture might hold?

"Th­ese de­vel­op­ments are clear signs that form fac­tors for mo­bile com­put­ing are con­verg­ing. Phones are now al­most as large as tablets, while tablets on the other hand are grow­ing larger and are ri­val­ing tra­di­tional note­books for both dis­play size and func­tion­al­ity.”

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