New Technologies Could Turn Mobiles Into Rivals to Laptops

Posted by: Olga Kharif on January 25, 2005

As cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) get smarter, the talk is that many users might opt to carry them on their business trips in lieu of laptops. Until recently, though, such a move had seemed highly unlikely: Can you just imagine typing a memo — even a one-page one — on a cell phone? New technologies, such as a laser keyboard and special software, could change that, however.

The first, $199 laser keyboard just became available from a company called Virtual Keyboard. Here’s how it works: You attach an add-on that’s about half the size of a mobile phone to your cell phone or PDA. The device then projects a virtual keyboard, the size of a standard keyboard, onto a flat surface in front of you. Check out a picture and a review on Tom's Hardware Guide; the device seems pretty cool. And lots of other companies, such as Siemens, are expected to come out with their versions of laser keyboards soon.

The cell phones’ and PDAs’ feel and functionality should soon improve as well: Toshiba, for one, has just developed special software allowing users to remotely control their PCs and to recreate their PC desktop environments on their mobiles. That way, you won’t have to delete that pesky e-mail again when you get home, after having already junked it on your mobile. You’ll be able to find that file you created yesterday right there, in the left corner of your screen. You’ll also be able to switch on your PC remotely, with your mobile. According to this article in Computerworld, the software is due out in March.

Now, wouldn’t a cell phone’s small screen size limit its use? That could soon be remedied as well. Companies such as Philips and E-Ink are working on foldable plastic displays. Likely to become available in a couple of years, these could be unfolded to double or triple an existing cell phone display’s size. Or, perhaps, a cell phone’s screen could be projected onto a nearby wall.

The bottom line is, lots of the today's phones’ limitations can be – and will be – overcome. And in the future, many users will use cell phone and PDAs instead of laptops.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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