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Old 02-17-2008, 09:09 AM   #1
Bob Russell
Recovering Gadget Addict
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Posts: 5,327
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Join Date: May 2004
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Device: Note3, MacBook Air
Minidock adds a nice display to your portable device

Okay, so the image is for a video iPod. But it's only $50 at Woot today, and illustrates a new possibility for smart phones that I long for - the portable inexpensive dock. If they can do this for such a low price, why not just adapt it to a smart phone and add the keyboard? In fact, with all the incredible hacks being done on the Asus Eee, I wonder if maybe someone experienced could combine this iPod device with a keyboard component and a custom cable to create a smart phone dock.

Why do we care? Well, what are the primary innate shortcomings of a smart phone?
1) Tiny display
2) Limited keyboard
3) Small battery
4) annoying sync problems
5) Slow and limited web browser
6) Buggy operation

The last two items will basically go away in the upcoming years as progress is made on hardware and software. But how about that. The first three items are solved with a portable clamshell mini-laptop dock. Well, "dock" is probably the wrong word because going forward, the connection will probably be more likely by high speed tether or wireless technology.

Whether you realize it or not, momentum for this type of device is building. There are already quite a few serious rumored and real attempts in the market. And it makes sense. It may make real the dream of never having to sync data again, and being able to choose your form factor in a split second while having the always-present smart phone there when you need it.

Here is a collected list of the related rumors and devices. I hope that both interest and solutions continue to expand as smart phones get better.

#1) Remote Control
First, we know that computer devices that can act as terminals for the smart phone. It is simply a software solution to let you control your USB-tethered PalmOS or WinMob smart phone with your existing laptop (or desktop). PDAReach is a PalmOS solution, and SOTI Pocket Controller seems to be an example of a WinMobile solution.

#2) Foleo
Palm, Inc's attempt at a similar Linux-PalmOS device to do the same thing was the ill-fated Foleo. But Jeff Hawkins, inventer or the Palm Pilot, said it was his best idea ever so clearly he had more in store than the limited functionality Foleo, which never did make it to market. Supposedly, there is a Foleo II on the way when it can share the new Linux based PalmOS with the new generation of handhelds, but there's a new investment group that might have something to say about that, and one can't really tell if Palm is seriously commmitted to it or if it's just a gesture to save face. It could be sort of like when a guy gets humiliated after a sporting contest, and he says "I'll get you next time" when he really means "I'll never pick up a tennis racket again in my life!"

#3) RedFly Companion
The Celio RedFly is creating a lot of buzz. It has some of it's own computing power under the covers, but the user can only use it to control the smart phone. It connects wirelessly or by USB tether, and (with the exception of video playback, I think) it lets you use your Windows Mobile device like a laptop... full keyboard, touchpad mouse, long lasting battery and higher resolution screen. Price is it's biggest drawback right now.

#4) I-Mate Shell
It has been reported that iMate is working on a shell for it's Ultimate line of high powered WinMobile smart phones. As Engadget puts it, it has "1024 x 768 display, larger keyboard, and 80-hour battery. Unlike Palm's charming folly, however, the i-mate shell won't contain any processing power of its own, instead serving more as an extended dock for the Ultimate devices themselves." Unfortunately, those rumors have been quiet recently. Probably because I-Mate seems to have its hands full just getting the smart phones to market.

#5) The Sonic iPod Dock
The retail price was $150, but today I see it on Woot for only $50. That's sure a lot less than the $500 range we have been seeing for companion devices. It has a clamshell form with a screen and extended battery. Add a keyboard with integrated thumbstick and you have something perfect for use with smart phones.

Such a device might need industry standards for compatibility (lest this happen to it), or might have to be tied to a particular smart phone line of products, but the hardware shouldn't be a leap. Even Dell's Axim line has the hardware to provide the external video output. (Based on design documents for the internal hardware, I was even tempted to pop open my Axim x50v and create a custom clamshell myself, but my days of having the time to try that sort of thing are long gone.)

So why aren't docks becoming the "talk of the town" yet? They are still almost completely unknown, other than the Foleo which died a quick death. Businesses should love this concept because it makes enterprise management a lot easier than a phone and a separate laptop. And, personally, I'd love to be able to use my smart phone as a computer. With a better browser capability and strong remote desktop software, I could do anything that I could do on my home computer anyway. Now that's a dream come true!
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