Calling all Geeks. So, let\’s start a Kickstarter

Arguing, as you never should, from the specific to the general there\’s a product that I think the market needs. And I have a feeling that it wouldn\’t be all that hard to do: either that or it\’s impossible. And it is the sort of thing that Kickstarter seems to enjoy funding.

So, can we have a go?

The basic idea is something similar to this. But much simpler.

They\’re building a little laptop which you slide your phone into. The phone then becomes the processor, memory etc. The laptop gives you a (small) screen and keyboard.

I know very little about the details of tech. But I assume that this does mean that it is possible to take off the phone video and input devices etc. Must be: they\’re plugging the phone into an external keyboard and screen. And to use those external devices to instruct the processor on the phone. So this must actually be possible.

But: why do this with a poxy little screen and laptop keyboard? Why insist that people have to buy that poxy screen and keyboard at all?

Instead, just make the magic little box that allows you to attach any screen, keyboard, mouse etc to a phone?

OK, not any. I can imagine that iOS would be different from Android. Or Windows.

But basically a pretty simple piece of kit. A bit like a USB extension slot thingummy. One wire comes out of the phone into the thingy. Into the thingy you can plug VGA, HDMI, USB (for mouse and keyboard) and whatever else. Printer maybe? Which is USB these days isn\’t it?

The phone itself can, as above, be the trackpad.

Inside the phone we\’ve got a processor, an OS, RAM, Wi-Fi, quite probably a direct internet connection over wireless. All we\’re doing is adding easier input options and a larger screen.

Shouldn\’t this be simple enough to do? Something that can be sold for $50 or so? A gidget that turns any smartphone (OK, any Android or iOS) into a reasonable fascimile of a low end desktop with a $10 keyboard and a $50 screen?

Ish-ish, you understand.

Can anyone tell me how difficult the electronics/software of such a thing would be? Would it be just hammering together some standard parts?

And the other thing is, who the hell would want it? Which is where I\’m arguing from the specific. I would certainly want one. And I\’m also convinced that in the medium term this is where computing is going to go. Everyone\’s going to end up with just one processing unit. Which is, at times, just a phone. At others a smartphone, and at others the processing engine for the laptop/desktop.

There will be some people who require much greater ooomph in their computing. But the basic PC stuff migrates onto a phone style processing box. And those requiring more ooomph are those we would currently describe as using \”workstations\” (ie, graphics, heavy music editing, CAD etc) while the rest of us use \”phones\” instead of \”PCs\”.

So, Geeksters out there. How tough would a little box like this be to make?

28 thoughts on “Calling all Geeks. So, let\’s start a Kickstarter”

  1. You have heard of RaspberryPi one presumes?
    Uses one of those smartphone processors to do exactly this. And costs 25 quid, rather than whatever horrific price a smartphone is.
    Bought one couple months back & it now runs the media centre. Video to monitor via a HDF connection or ordinary TV.

  2. Its already been done by Asus a few years ago – didn’t really take off because its too messy!

    I understand what you are looking for, but if you want it to be a success, it needs to be easy, not involving carrying stuff around that you don’t need all the time, just in case etc.

    Can I suggest a mobile phone with a nano projector and a laser virtual keyboard?

  3. @FOul
    Have you actually ever used a laser virtual k/b?
    If you haven’t I have one you can have, gratis.

  4. If you have Apple, then you can use bluetooth for keyboard and an Apple TV to receive video over wifi. My whole flat works like this.

    A wired apple connector to VGA or HDMI is about $30.

    There must be Andriod equivalents.

  5. I think the market’s going the other way Tim. Why have only one computer that tries to do everything when you can afford, thanks to Moores Law, to have multiple devices for different uses and processors embedded in anything that needs to be smart?

  6. @FOul
    Why bother when you can buy a roll up flexi k/b for 10 bucks?
    And I presume Tims point was to not carry the stuff about. That version’s called a laptop.

  7. The sticking point is that you need a phone that can do MHL and USB OTG at the same time. There’s not many of them at the moment.

  8. There’s a bunch of ways to get what you want, Tim.

    I don’t think the technical aspect is all that challenging (a fairly good general solution might use VNC over a dedicated WiFi link, for example). It’s the marketing side – unless you can sell a ton of them, they’re not going to be as cheap as you’d like and you’re not going to make any money at it.

    I think everyone agrees that something of this sort would be useful, but everyone has a different vision of what that would look like. Getting people to pay 300 euros (say) for something that isn’t a complete computer, but makes your phone easier to use, seems like a non-starter given the price of tablets.

    In terms of portability it would be no less inconvenient to carry around than your netbook, probably not a lot cheaper, either (because the screen is expensive).

  9. Unless the manufacturers have deliberately crippled the phone, all you need is a USB to USB-micro adapter, in most cases. Anything that connects to your PC via USB ought to have everything needed to connect an external keyboard.

    In the cases where USB isn’t an option, a bluetooth keyboard&mouse should be fine.

    There have been various ideas along these lines around for a while – since at least the first gen PalmPilot over a decade ago – and they haven’t been very popular. I suspect the main problem is that by the time you’re carrying a full-size keyboard and mouse, you might as well just carry a small netbook/laptop. Cost isn’t an issue, in almost all cases, since anyone who can afford a high-end smartphone could afford a laptop and cheaper phone instead.

    The one thing that’s a real sticking point is actually the larger screen. Most phones aren’t yet powerful enough to drive a larger display. On top of that, phones’ processors are optimised for portability and long battery life rather than power, and aren’t quite powerful enough yet to really do a good job emulating a PC.

  10. It seems to me that all you end up with is a normal PC with a shitty processor. CPUs are cheap, especially if you don’t want the bleeding edge. You may as well just have this machine with a decent processor in it, and not bother using your phone in it at all.

  11. No idea, meself. So asked someone who knows….
    ‘Tims idea… I get it, I don’t like it. To me it’s an old fashioned solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. I can already send my ios screen to a TV with an Apple TV, Samsung and Android have something similar, I can connect a keyboard with Bluetooth. Then there’s tablets and the new large screen mobiles that are appearing… The biggest disruption to this idea though, is what an interface is. As voice becomes the predominant interface in the next few years, keyboards, mice, etc wont be needed anyway.

    Having a device to “dock” another device into seems 10 years late…

    Having said that… Who knows what people really want… I suspect to build it would be quite easy, technically… To make it something that is desirable would take a lot of product development or a superstar product designer, and a lot of iterations and user testing… Big cash.

    Just my 2p. Hope all is well.

    So there.

  12. TheJollyGreenMan

    If you check the mark-up of an iPad, you will see that Apple makes them for about US$60-00.

    Now you have to cover your R&D, marketing, Climate Change, and various other departments and add that onto your price.

  13. Dave: You missed the “screen” part. The HDMI adapter and USB host both use the same port.

  14. Matthew>

    Phones capable of offering proper HD video are still unusual, as far as I know. For what we’re talking about, video over USB would be fine. I’m not really up on the latest phones, but I don’t believe (m)any of them offer any form of video-out at all, so you’d presumably have to hack something up for Android to do it over existing ports.

  15. Having looked at it, I’ve ended up pledging for the Casetop. The problem with your suggestion Tim is that there’s more active electronics in there than you think. It’s not just a generic screen and keyboard. A big battery backup for the phone is worthwhile – with a magic interface box you’re still running off the phone battery, yes? Ok, the screen would probably be plugged in separately, but it’s still not going to last very long if you are doing anything processor intensive. Give me something that can sustain itself, without external power, for 30 hours and still leave your phone fully charged and I’m in.

    To me, this looks like a good bit of kit in itself, and given their aim is to work with as many phones as possible, a good concept.

  16. Further to that – screen size is a utility/power trade-off. Ok the screen is small, but that adds to the mobility, and the battery life. I’d much prefer this to being tethered to a full size monitor and power outlet via a dongle. For what you can reasonably do with a portable, slow compared to a dedicated computer device, you really don’t need a 20″ screen. Unless the docking station adds processing power, in which case the “generic screen and keyboard” argument just ran away again.

  17. Things are moving so fast. Today’s solution will soon be history.
    Phone ?? Why ?? Already a dinosaur concept.
    Video VIOP to superspecs will be here any minute.

    As to cheap lean computing, a cloudy chromebook costs less than a smartphone already, running on an ARM chip used in many phones.

    I agree that input interfaces are long overdue for a revolution.

  18. Peter, if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

    Things don’t move that fast. It took at least twenty years (counting from the Apple Newton to the iPad) for tablets to catch on. Which I knew was a done deal as soon as I saw someone pulling up construction drawings on a building site on one.

    But it took a long time. You’re going to wait twenty years for the successor to the smartphone?

    Video VIOP to superspecs will be here any minute.

    I have no idea what that sentence means.

    As to cheap lean computing, a cloudy chromebook costs less than a smartphone already

    And doesn’t fit in your pocket when it’s not a computer. Comparing apples with oranges there.

  19. Video VIOP to superspecs will be here any minute.

    I have no idea what that sentence means.

    I think he means people will use Google Bins as videophones, at least until they realise that it’s not much use being able to see the wall the person you’re talking to is looking at, and you’d rather see the person that you’re talking to.

    At which point, people will sell special Bin Stands, so you can put your Google spectacles on the desk, pointing at you, and then you can talk to them, except they won’t look at the specs on a stand, they’ll look at a monitor, so it’ll be like talking to somebody who’s ignoring you, at which point everyone will realise that they’re a fucking stupid idea and go back to handheld devices.

  20. Matthew L is has hit the nail on the head. It’d be hard enough to do this (/properly/) for one specific model let alone in a phone-agnostic way.

    Of course, I suppose one could sling something together that would look like it’d work, but would probably stay in the box after the first usage. That’d still make (some) money, right?

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