The idea that a business traveler would someday carry his or her desktop and applications on a small device has been around for well over a decade. Of course, back then, small was brick-size, and the notion was that the user would then be able to plug this device into a screen, keyboard, and mouse wherever they landed.
The concept was considered daring because it was making the outrageous assumption that computing devices were going to get small enough for a user to carry them comfortably while remaining powerful enough to hold and process megabytes of data.
[ For a look at the best mobile apps for the iPhone, see "iPhone applications get down to business." ]
Of course, the idea that there would need to be a screen and keyboard awaiting them at each stopping point was testament to the fact that folks couldn't foresee that these tools could be miniaturized as well.
Today, the idea is a reality, but it is no longer the size of a brick. Furthermore, remote connection back to corporate applications -- a concept never even considered at that time -- makes this new reality even better. This device is now called a smartphone.
But what of the problem of a decent-size screen and keyboard without which applications on a smartphone are quite impractical? At last there appears to be a solution. Our traveler can now carry around his or her own screen and keyboard. And if you guessed netbook, you're wrong!
The name of the device is RedFly by Celio, and it comes with a 7- or 8-inch screen, an 8.3-inch keyboard, two USB ports, Bluetooth, and 8 to 10 hours of battery life that, when connected, actually charges your smartphone while you work.
All RedFly does is duplicate what is on your cell phone. It has no application processor, operating system, or storage. There is a small kernel OS, on a Xilinx chip, that enables RedFly to establish a connection with the cell phone and then port the video from the smartphone over to its screen. But there is no need to synchronize data or duplicate applications.
The display is not derived from screen scraping. The display is enlarged to 800 by 480 pixels from the typical 2-by-2-inch smartphone image using compression technologies that enable RedFly to take hundreds of megabytes of data and pass it over either a 800Kbps Bluetooth pipe or a 2Mbps to 3Mbps USB connector. In turn, the USB connection can be used to plug in a thumb drive that will show up on your cell as another drive.
It currently works with Windows Mobile, but at CES, Celio unveiled an Android prototype, and we can expect to see support for other OSes roll out over the coming months.
Two models are on offer: the $199 Model C7, with a 7-inch screen; and the $299 Model C8N, with an 8-inch screen, media port, and NTSC/PAL external video.
What is still in development is the ability to take some video formats from the smartphone over to the device. But that is coming, too, Kirt Bailey, CEO and president of Celio, tells me.
Bailey believes that the smartphone will become the ubiquitous mobile computing platform, not a notebook or netbook. And of course, if that happens, he believes RedFly will grow right along with it.
There are some stats that seem to substantiate Bailey's optimism. Currently smartphones are outselling notebooks by about 1.5 times. And for all of the reasons we already know, such as Moore's Law, increasing memory capacity on smartphones, the decreasing cost of flash, and technology such as Microsoft RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) for terminal services, and Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop already running on smartphones, it makes sense.
XenDesktop and XenApps client and server software gives remote users access to all Windows and Mac applications on a cell.
Bailey sees other areas of growth beyond smartphones. For example, a small RedFly ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) integrated into your car could talk to your cell phone, allowing you to use the phone GPS system for navigation and to put up a travel map, plus contacts and calendar, on the auto LCD, all while using an interface you're familiar with: your own cell phone.
It also has a cost advantage over a netbook, which requires a company to budget in an additional $70 for each employee for a 3G data card. Your company is already paying that for the cell phone, and no one is going to give up their cell phone even if they have a netbook, but the reverse may prove to be true.
At some point, if Bailey is right he may attract competitors, but at the moment, I could find none. The closest thing is a software utility from MotionApps called mDesktop. It puts smartphone functions on a desktop screen.
In one sense, the success of RedFly depends more on the current and future capabilities of the cell phone than on the business smarts at Celio. If the cell phone becomes the single most important computing device for remote users, then of course RedFly goes along for the ride.
But if looked at from the other side, RedFly is not a passive participant. Rather, RedFly is the device that will allow a cell phone to become a business user's single most important mobile computing device.