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What Ever Happened to ‘Device Convergence’?

A single device that could work in that many different modes would be a real game changer

I'm sitting here at yet another user group meeting... perhaps you've seen me at one or at TechWave, or perhaps you have seen pictures of me at them on Facebook. I've got a laptop propped open where I'm usually working on some pet sample code project. Next to it is my iPad in its case/stand with an external keyboard where I'm taking notes on the event for my WordPress blog and perhaps sending out Twitter updates. Next to that is my Android smartphone so I can text message, go on Facebook, and take still photos of the event. And somewhere in the general vicinity is the Panasonic Lumix camera I'm using to record video of the event in case I need to refer to it later to clarify some of the notes I'm taking on the iPad. Finally, if I'm lucky, I've got a multi-outlet strip running to a nearby outlet so I can keep all these devices powered up.

Sometime later I get back to my office where I'm working primarily on my dual monitor desktop unit, but the iPad and the smartphone are still open on the desk as well. It gets worse when I get home where the dual monitor desktop has been replaced by two laptops and four monitors, and my iPad and smartphone are still at the ready.

Amidst all this I start wondering: "What ever happened to ‘device convergence'?" I seem to have ended up with more devices, not less lately. I keep thinking that what I need is something like the Asus PadFone (http://www.asus.com/Mobile/PadFone) on steroids. The PadFone is an Android smartphone that plugs into a "station" that converts it into a tablet. What if we took that a few steps further? What if the phone/tablet could plug into another stand that would make it a full-fledged touchscreen laptop? I'm thinking the difference between the tablet and the laptop would be more hard drive space, extra memory, a full keyboard with pointing device and perhaps a larger monitor. What if that all could plug into one more station that would make it a full-fledged desktop with an even more powerful processor, still more hard drive space, the standard ports and expansion slots.

Theoretically, you could use the same device for home, office and while on the road. The ultimate BYOD. I suppose in some high-security environments there might be some concerns about what employees are taking home with them on their devices, and both security (encrypting and locking or even wiping the device remotely) and backups would be crucial to prevent a disaster if somebody were to lose their device. For those trying to maintain some kind of work/life balance, perhaps the device supports virtualization so you could keep work files and apps totally separate from your personal stuff.

Of course, one problem with this idea is that I don't want to use the same dumbed-down interface on my desktop that I started with on my phone. Conversely, I don't want to use my desktop interface on my phone. So the device would need to support multiple operating systems depending on the form factor it was operating in, or a single operating system that could switch interfaces based on the form factor.

That's when I had an epiphany. Windows 8 might actually make sense. It runs on both ARM and x86 processors. It has desktop and Metro (mobile) modes. It includes virtualization. Perhaps Microsoft is thinking ahead to a time when we don't need an operating system that can deploy to different devices, but an operating system that can deploy to a single device that has a number of different form factors.

I hope so. And I hope that if that's the case, the device they are targeting appears soon. Frankly without something like that I'm not expecting Windows 8 to have much market penetration. I don't think it's compelling enough as just a mobile operating system to seriously compete with iOS and Android. Very few of the new features I believe are compelling enough for desktop users to differentiate it from Windows 7. I suppose, as they did with XP, they might simply make Windows 7 unavailable for purchase shortly after Windows 8 is released and essentially gain market share through new machines and upgrades from XP. That's why I'm not that concerned at the moment whether PowerBuilder supports Windows 8 anytime soon. Until and unless Windows 8 achieves a significant market share, there's little reason to support it. However, a single device that could work in that many different modes, equipped with an operating system that would adjust for those modes, would be a real game changer.

More Stories By Bruce Armstrong

Bruce Armstrong is a development lead with Integrated Data Services (www.get-integrated.com). A charter member of TeamSybase, he has been using PowerBuilder since version 1.0.B. He was a contributing author to SYS-CON's PowerBuilder 4.0 Secrets of the Masters and the editor of SAMs' PowerBuilder 9: Advanced Client/Server Development.

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