The Android platform has potential. I've seen the excitement about the new Droid devices and they look good enough to maybe replace my P1i - which I think is one of the greatest mobile phones ever, but only after it's hacked, unlocked and heavily customized because the default firmware is practically castrated by the telcos. The first thing I wanted to know is - is there a ssh client for it. Apparently there is (though rudimentary) so the next question is - what about VNC client? Yes, there is one, but then I remembered that I would also like a VNC server...
The quality of "productivity" applications like these is very open-sourcey, in the negative way - the apps seem hacked up, rudimentary and sometimes barely working; it's still a long way to go. But that is not what I would like to write about now - I would like to write about how I dislike laptops.
Laptops, even netbooks, are really clusmy devices. The only sensible way to use them productively is by sitting at a table, a mode of use which mimics desktops. Of course, there are circumstances when this is necessary but not always and, I think, not for me. I have two laptops - one a somewhat big 15" HP business model and another a 9" netbook, and if I ever need to carry a computer with me, 95% of the time I will bring the netbook, simply because it is lighter and more convenient to carry. Even so, it is too often too heavy and too inconvenient, because to carry it I need some sort of a bag, and I don't really like carrying a bag the whole day.
What I would like is to have a mobile phone that replaces the netbook and possibly also the bigger laptop, and I think it is technologically possible, only yet unexplored by companies that could produce such a thing.
Here is a scenario I'd like to do with the mobile phone:
- Connect to a network via the cell phone network or WiFi
- Start an application on it, like ssh client or a light-weight word processor (think "AbiWord" not "MS Word"), do something in it, but not close the application
- Go to the office, use rdesktop or vnc to connect to the phone and continue working on whatever I started using a proper keyboard and mouse, disconnect, go somewhere else (to lunch, home, whatever), continue working on it, etc.
- Have the phone OS automatically synchronize my files on the phone with my home or work server and/or desktop (my "working set" of documents - i.e. without multimedia files - is around 2 GB which is trivial to maintain on all current devices)
- If I work on a document and need a more complex application, close the document on the phone, then either connect to the phone as a "network drive" from a desktop and use a "big" application on the document or use the autosync to work on the document from the desktop and have it mirrored on the phone
The reason all this is possible is that we all know it is possible since we have worked productively (e.g. with Win95 and MS Office 95) on machines with 256 MB of RAM and 8 GB hard drives. A 1920x1080 video framebuffer, which would be needed to work comfortably on the phone when connected to from a bigger, desktop system, needs only about 8 MB of RAM, and with a bigger screen all of the fancy animations that are visual cues to make a small screen comfortable to use are not needed.
I really want to seamlessly use same application (the same process in the OS sense) from both the phone interface and a bigger, full-screen interface. In the latter case, my desktop will be a sort of dumb client (or a "terminal") for the phone.
I do not expect to play games on the phone, especially not in the desktop resolution, and I do not expect a behemoth application like MS Word on the phone. Unfortunately, todays Open source applications are way too bloated for something like this. KDE and Gnome both have really gone over the edge and OpenOffice was too big and monolithic for its own good even before it got open sourced. Firefox is also too big but fortunately, WebKit looks good enough. There are also examples of small Office-like application suites that are usable.