Netbook and Mobile Handset=Phlaptop

Why can't we be one?
Why can’t we be one?

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Where are netbooks taking us? Where are mobile handsets taking us? Smash! As they race toward each other for an eventual love embrace, the mating of these two devices will result in the perfect marriage of full browsing and VoIP telephony. Performing the ceremony will be Father Wireless F. Broadband (f as in free).

A friend of mine in the mobile computing business calls them `tweeners’ whose categorization plays perfectly into the hands of Twitter. Another term is Phlaptops (phone + laptop = phlatop).

He also calls it the “sub-kilogram wasteland” which is littered with failures like the Apple Newton, slim tablet PCs and pagers turned into computers. “They look really sexy on the shelf and fit in the inside pocket of a blazer, but you can’t do serious work on them. You scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll. They’re infuriating.”

So what has to be in place before we see the perfect union of mobile handset and ultra portable notebook now known as the netbook? Well, it won’t be perfect because light and portable always exact trade-offs from the functionality of their bigger cousins. Compromises are fundamental to engineering, but a company will figure how to mitigate the tradeoffs and get rich in the process. That’s a fact.

Bu first, connectivity must go way down in price or even be free. Now, wireless broadband costs $60 a month which in this or any economy is a lot. My friend likes the Kindle connectivity model where the device is always connected with book sales paying the freight (Amazon says it “may” charge for browser connectivity).  Who or what will pay for netbook connectivity isn’t quite clear, but my friend is intrigued  by a Google AdSense-like model where access to you by advertisers pays for it. Details are not clear on how that would work, but you can bet it’s being worked on.

He envisions a “dumb pipe” with intelligence and apps on on the user devices helping to keep cost down. Of course, he would see it that way because he works for a computer company. Conversely, the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world want the intelligence on the network which benefits them. It boils to how and who will make the money when we all our calls are make from a PC (indeed thos morning, I did a GMail video chat with my son who is in Europe. To me, that  should be the future of all telephony.

For now and probably well into the future, the carriers will have the upper hand. Think about it: residential Internet via cable has generally held steady at $40-$45 a month since it debuted in 1995. For sure, it has not gone down in a market which cries for competition but usually results on one or two major players per region. And no one I know gets it for free except at work where the employer pays. The dilemma for the carriers is having so many sit on the sideline because wireless broadband is too expensive.

As for the device, the Kindle at 10.2 ounces might give us a glimpse of what a tweener would look like. Why couldn’t the Kindle be a fully capable browser and phone? Or will the smart phone get bigger and more capable and move into the sub kilogram wasteland? Smartphones will be come half the size of a netbook. Indeed, Nokia’s CEO said in late February that it is considering building netbooks and that he sees the of PCs and cell phones within five years. He would only say if they are working on it!.

As I know more about these budding efforts, I will be sure to pass along what I know. My friend says not much will happen this year because economy is so punk, but 2010 could be interesting.

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