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The smartphone that turns into a laptop

The Superbook, ergonomics and the future

The Superbook (shown above - image from Andromium - http://getsuperbook.com) is a curious and novel device being launched on Kickstarter by Andromium. Essentially it is a laptop 'shell' which you can plug your Android phone into, and which becomes then your interface with your phone. You can then use your phone through the laptop, so yes, your phone essentially becomes your laptop, with an adapted interface more suited to laptop style use.

What's the point? This is likely to be the reaction from some folks. And when I first saw it, part of me thought the same; - "okay so that's clever but do we really need it just, why?"

In answer to this, the first clear standout reason is that turning your phone into a laptop gives you significant ergonomic advantages if you need to do sustained work while you are out and about. Basically what you are doing with the Superbook is giving your phone a nice big screen and an external keyboard - and if you want to add a mouse then all the better.

I can sort of do this already, right?
Although you could achieve some of this with the set-up shown below (smartphone in a stand and external keyboard and mouse), because of your phone's screen size - which is designed to be held closer to your eyes - you will probably end up leaning forward to read your screen, which will end up hurting your neck and/or back. It would also be frustrating and stressful if you were doing anything that needs a larger screen area - e.g. working on a large spreadsheet. So the Superbook has clear ergonomic advantages over the 'assembly' shown below. That is not to say the example assembly below is bad or wrong, it's not, it's still better ergonomically, for sustained work on a smartphone if sustained work is unavoidable.
Hang on - why don't I just take my laptop with me then?
Fair point - here are a couple of reasons:
  • This device means all your locally saved information is centralised on your phone rather than spread confusingly between phone and laptop. Sure with cloud-based working this is maybe not the strongest benefit but for some people, depending on how they work, it could make more sense.
  • It is inexpensive - it is hugely inexpensive compared to a decent laptop, so it saves you money from the outset and if you drop it, leave it on a train etc. it is not the end of the world.
These are just two key reasons I can think of off the top of my head. Mobile working is such a varied activity with so many different needs and drivers that there could be all sorts of other more subtle and specific reasons why the Superbook makes sense. But of course, there will also be people for who this does not make as much sense as a laptop. It's a case of horses for courses, but this is definitely a new horse!
Can I make the Superbook even more ergonomic?
Absolutely - you can add a laptop wedge stand to lift the screen up and help reduce strain on your neck. Don't angle it too much though, a keyboard slope of about 12degrees has been found to be the best compromise (if you go too steep it's great for your neck but your wrists and shoulders might start to suffer). You don't need to use an off-the-shelf wedge type stand to raise the back of your laptop, a few books or magazines, or your power pack will do just fine. Remember also that you can measure the angle and fine-tune it with your smartphone!

Crossing the Rubicon - the blue-sky bit
Ergonomics aside something was still needling me about this product, something I was missing. Then it came to me. This product is significant because it crosses a threshold - a rubicon if you will! - it draws a clear line in the sand saying - the smartphone is your primary computing device. The smartphone is no longer to be considered as an 'add-on' to the laptop. Nope, the other way around now - the laptop is now secondary, an ergonomic bolt-on to the smartphone. This product represents a real shift in how we use and how we interact with our devices, and in particular how we do mobile working.

The Future - 'Personal hubs' - Phones are "so 2016"...
The future with devices such as the Superbook is that our smartphones become very clearly our key computing device. For many mobile workers this is already the case, and the Superbook gives them an inexpensive solution to the ergonomic problems of doing large amounts of work on a smartphone. Part of me wonders if this will happen to such an extent that even the term smartphone will become obsolete, we will have our devices that we think of now as our phones, but they will effectively be our 'personal hubs' (to coin a phrase!). With the internet of things, wearables and so on this really is already happening. Our phones because of their convenience and portability are our go-to device. Again, this is illustrated in sales figures with tablet sales plateauing and smartphones ever increasing sales, with people attracted by larger screens.

Will we 'get it'?
Leaving the soothsaying aside and getting back to the Superbook, it will be interesting to see if this device catches on and people 'get it'. I can certainly see how it would be useful to many mobile workers. To me it looks like a valuable addition to the options which mobile workers have, to set up and work more ergonomically.

Now then, if there was one for my iPhone.... hmm..... Android users get all the good toys!