Smartphones can do more now than ever before, but can your phone also be your computer? We've been speaking to Vodafone's resident futurologist to find out.

ubuntu phone pc

If there’s one person at Vodafone to speak to about the world of tomorrow’s tech, it’s Patrick Harrison-Harvey. He’s the man who sees all our future phones before anyone else, so when he predicts the future, you know he’s on a pretty good footing. Previously, Patrick’s told us about the future of phone screens, mobile platforms and wearable tech, but now it’s time to go further into mobile’s forthcoming evolution.

 

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We want to know if we’ll ever be able to take our phone out of our pocket, connect it up to a screen and use it as our PC in a day-to-day way. Are the laptop and desktop’s days numbered? Time for Patrick to reveal all…

Ahead of their time

A few years back, Motorola released the Motorola Atrix – an Android phone that slotted into an empty laptop case, and that could also connect up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, to become a fully fledged computer whenever you needed it. It was a brave idea, but one that never really captured people’s imaginations in huge numbers.

“Various people have tried that idea,” Patrick tells us. “Asus, for instance, have their PadFone devices where you can slide a phone into a tablet for that big screen experience. The Motorola Atrix was a bit clunky in terms of how you connected it all together. For it to work you’ve got to keep it simple and really slick. You need to not have to carry around extra parts like wires and docks.”

So is the concept dead in the water? Not quite. “There’ve been statements from Ubuntu saying they’ve got four ‘household names’ lined up to provide the hardware for their smartphones,” Patrick tells us.

atrix dock

If you caught our chat with Patrick about the future of mobile platforms, you’ll have seen that Ubuntu is a name that’s about to break onto the scene in a big way. It’s low-cost, it’s open source and, importantly in this case, it has the ability to turn into a fully-fledged desktop operating system when it’s connected to the right kit.

Could it be the centre of the mobile phone-turned-PC revolution? Patrick thinks the time’s certainly right:

“I think it’s worth trying again because we’re at a cross-roads on home PCs at the minute,” he tells us, “and it’ll be interesting to see where that market goes over the next couple of years. With tablets becoming more prominent, most people don’t really need a home PC.

“If you have a tablet for light browsing, you might have a phone like Ubuntu that can do the middle ground and high-end PCs for professionals, which means that low end netbooks and laptops begin to fade away.

Recipe for success

It sounds like a promising idea, but there are some fundamental problems to overcome before your phone can become your computer on a full-time basis:

“For it to work, you’ll need something that you can wirelessly connect your phone to a monitor, such as Google’s Chromecast. With WiFi speeds increasing that should be doable,” Patrick says. “It’d be good to be able to link your phone to a screen while it’s still in your pocket.

“It’d be good to be able to link your phone to a screen while it’s still in your pocket.”

“Then you just need to solve the keyboard problem; you don’t want to have to carry one around with you! You can get keyboards that fold up quite small, but that’s still not ideal.” And the answer to that is pretty futuristic: “There were concepts a few years ago of keyboards that would project out of a phone and onto a desk, and then register your fingers pressing the buttons,” Patrick says.

That technology exists today, but – while there’ve been rumours of phones adopting this tech for a while now – it looks as though the portable, projected keyboard is still confined to separate devices like the Celluon Epic:

 

 

Whether all that will come together in a single device any time soon remains to be seen. “I’ve yet to see anyone apart from Ubuntu making real headway,” says Patrick, “but I’d definitely like to have a go with something like that.”

Are you waiting for the point where your phone can be your PC too? Let us know in the comments section below.

More futurology: Patrick’s seen what’s coming, and he’s revealed all to Vodafone Social. Check out the future of phone screens here, the future of mobile phone platforms here and the future of wearable tech here.