Over the weekend I got bored and looked over to the shelf where my Viliv S5 has been faithfully collecting dust for me since I got my first iPad. I still remember what a technological marvel it was back when I got it, all the way back in the old days. 2 years ago, that is. Feels like a different century, almost.
I thought it was a pity to leave it on the shelf with nothing do do. With the two batteries I have for it, it is after all a 5-inch Windows 7 PC that runs for 5+5 hours or so. That's not a small feat, even in 2011. I decided to start from scratch, restored the entire partition to the factory image, and jumped onto the Pocketables forums to find out how to get those HID drivers installed to make Windows see the touch screen as a touch screen, not a mouse. Some tinkering, installing, uninstalling and optimization later I had a fresh Viliv S5 in my hands. And then I remembered why I stopped using the thing: you can't really fit very powerful (in Windows-terms) hardware into a 5-inch device. But do you really have to in order to use Windows on your MID?
While I've not used the S5 much in the last year, I haven't been without a touch screen Windows device. I've had two, actually; my iPhone 3GS and my iPad. The reason I count those as Windows devices is Splashtop. Splashtop is one of many remote PC solutions out there, but in my humble opinion, the only one you'll ever need. It just works. On a local WiFi connection, this thing has practically no lagg. Much less lagg than what an underpowered CPU causes the Viliv S5. On video it works even better, being fully capable of streaming both the video and audio with no problem. Assuming that you have a device that has a resolution that a computer can run at (which more and more devices do these days) you can get Splashtop to resize the computer resolution to match your device and forget about scrolling, and also view video that fits your mobile device perfectly. Want to watch that 1080p DRMed movie you bought on iTunes from your new Samsung Note on the couch? No problem, just stream the entire computer screen.
Of course this solution largely depends on a local WiFi connection. While Splashtop works over the Internet and even 3G/4G, the success of such use depends fully on how good the connection is. It's possible to do it though, and I think one of the best examples of that is OnLive, a company that lets you stream video games – that is, the games run on their servers and you just control it and see the image. At some point, I'm pretty sure that this will be the norm for everything. A fast desktop computer at home, and a mobile device to access it from elsewhere.
Until we have a global connection good enough to do that though, there are still other solutions. Powering the Windows side of my Splashtop connection is my only computer that's currently in use, the Asus UL30VT. It's a 13-inch ultra mobile laptop that can run a solid 10-12 hours on battery power, while still having enough power to run things like Photoshop at decent speeds. It's not exactly a new PC either, so newer laptops of the same type naturally outperform it.
That made me think: what if you pulled the keyboard, screen, mousepad and other "useless" pieces off a laptop like that, gave it a 3G connection and a 802.11n local WiFi hotspot? Slip it into your bag, walk out the door, and have Windows on your mobile devices through software like Splashtop. Take the new Samsung Galaxy Note – a 5.3-inch beast of a smartphone with a 1280 x 800 screen resolution and a digitizer pen to boot. Give that thing a connection to a Windows comptuer and you will for all intents and purposes be running Windows at a resolution that is comparable to many actual laptops, have a Wacom-style pen digitizer to accurately navigate and use apps like Photoshop, and all on a device that weighs 178 grams and is less than 1cm thick. The 7-inch HTC Flyer tablet is another example, as it too has that digitizer pen that quite frankly has a lot more uses on Windows than it does on Android. I'm not a big fan of Windows, but even I can see plenty of uses for something like that.
Imagine having a presentation, connection your "bag" (aka the laptop) to the projector, and then move around the room controlling everything from your MID. "Everything" as in the entire OS, not a few remote control buttons. What about on the plane, streaming a movie from your "bag's" 500GB hard drive while leaning back and holding a featherlight device in your hands? No more trying to fit that huge laptop on your lap. Or using Microsoft OneNote, one of their few (in my opinion) actually useful programs. If you're a photographer, there are now apps that let you connect a DSLR to a computer and remote control it, either from the computer or from a connected mobile device – both options would be available to someone running this MID/PC setup. With services like Dropbox you could even take pictures on your smartphone, send them to your "bag PC" and then edit them in Photoshop rather than using some stripped down mobile app. World of Warcraft fan? Quickly pop in and see what's new right from your MID without having to pull out a giant laptop. Windows-only corporate software, CAD software, you name it. The whole point of something like this is to have access to a decently powerful computer no matter where you are without actually having to walk around with a 3 pound laptop in your hands. After all, our backs don't care as much about 3 extra pounds as our pockets do.
Obviously there's a lot of advantages to such a setup, and in the end you'd still have the base OS or your phone/MID/tablet/whatever to fall back on. The UMPC market has sort of died out the last few years as Windows simply cannot run properly on the kind of hardware you can fit into the same casing that we've gotten used to from devices running Android, iOS, WebOS and the likes. Having all the hardware be external fixes that issue, but also introduces new ones. First of all, you would have to carry that extra device. Even without a screen, keyboard and such you would add quite a bit of weight to your bag, not to mention the need for a special compartment that has air vents. Most people wouldn't go as far as removing stuff from the laptop either, so they'd have to deal with that screen being on there – more weight, more bulk. Cost is also an issue. Towards the end of the shelf life of the laptop I have I saw it as cheap as what a 10-inch Honeycomb tablet costs, and that's still quite an expenditure, though you'd obviously get a full laptop as well which doesn't necessarily have to serve as your smarthone's accessory all the time. Also, a $500 accessory on top of a, say, $6-70 0 phone (unlocked) is still nothing compared to what you have to pay to run Windows on a smartphone.
We've seen a lot of concepts that sort of beat about the bush when it comes to bridging the gap between PC and MIDs. I already mentioned the Fujitsu Windows 7 phone, which sort of fails across the board in terms of price, performance etc. The Motorola ATRIX Lapdock turns a smartphone into a laptop, but it's still Android. The Asus EEE Pad Transformer is basically the tablet version of the ATRIX, and aside from also being Android only (though it ships with Splashstop) it's 10.1 inches in its smallest form, which we frown upon here at Pocketables since it doesn't fit in our pockets. Then you have the Asus Padfone which turns a smartphone into a tablet, and to round it all off, the Samsung Galaxy Note which is a smartphone that's the size of a MID but has the screen resolution of a tablet or laptop. All these manufacturers seem to agree that the gap between devices needs to be bridged, but they don't seem to agree much on how.
My idea for a multi purpose commerical solution (i.e. something besides a laptop in a bag) would essentially use parts from all these. I love how the Transformer tablets docks to become a laptop. I love how the Padfone docks to become a tablet. I love how the Fujitsu LOOX F-07C puts Windows back in our pockets. I don't like how these are all different systems.
Start with a base 12-inch laptop. Give it the best hardware you can currently get that will still give the thing at least 8 hours of battery power when you don't have a screen to deal with. Make it run Windows, with that self contained 3G/WiFi hotspot system I mentioned earlier – so that it can be used from anywhere over software like Splashtop. Now, add a dock for a 12-inch Android tablet where the screen should have been, just like the Transformers. Finally, add a slot on the back of the tablet to fit a Galaxy Note sized/specced smartphone. Make each device charge off the bigger ones (i.e. one AC adapter is enough, the laptop can charge the tablet and the phone, and the tablet can charge the phone). What do you have? A 12-inch Windows laptop where you can remove the screen to either get an Android tablet or an Android tablet running Windows wirelessly from the laptop, and where you can remove the smartphone bit from the tablet and do exactly the same thing there. It wouldn't be the cheapest bundle ever, but I dare say it would be a lot more versatile than the existing products I mention above. And probably still cheaper than that Windows smartphone.
The big question is though, would anyone want such a system? More precisely, would you want to carry around a separate computer to give your otherwise featherlike MID Windows capabilities, would you prefer to have Windows on the device itself despite the performance issues and physical attributes that entails, or are you perfectly happy with whatever mobile OS you're currently using? Personally, I don't really know. I use Splashtop quite a bit, but when I do, I'm normally at home or using it over the internet for very quick tasks where I don't require the speed of a local WiFi connection. It's more a matter of me not needing Windows personally though than me not seeing the use of it at all.
So, how about you readers? Have you ever used your MID to remotely access a computer, and what do you think of that as a viable replacement for running Windows natively? Would you ever carry around a computer to access it from your MID, and if so, would you prefer to use an off the shelf computer or a more integrated solution like the one I describe above?