Dock Your Smartphone?

March 31st, 2017

As I wrote in Wednesday’s column, the brand spanking new Samsung Galaxy S8 will be able to connect to a regular PC display and input devices. So you have an interesting slant on a 2-in-1 device — perhaps.

This will be done courtesy of something called Dex, a dock, costing $150, to which you can connect the phone to perform this feat of legerdemain, or at least connectivity. According to published reports, Dex will feature two USB ports, plus connections for HDMI and Ethernet. It will even have a cooling fan to help keep the S8 from running too hot as it delivers a pseudo desktop PC experience.

Well, at least one that puts Android on your desktop, if that’s what you want.

Now all we have are photos of what this scheme is supposed to look like. But it appears to feature a more traditional PC taskbar, and your apps will simply scale up to the larger display. The idea is not unique, but what the fawning articles about it fail to consider is that blowing up an app, designed for a smartphone of five or six inches, to a full-sized PC desktop is going to look downright absurd. They be stretched out with tiny interface elements appearing really large. What a waste of space!

While Apple has more than a million apps that are optimized for the iPad, apps customized for Android tablets are not so easy to locate. Even then, would an app designed to look best on a 7-inch or 10-inch screen really shine on a 27-inch computer display?

I’m assuming here that the graphics hardware in the S8 will manage the task of handing a resolution of 2960 x 1440 pixels regardless of display size. But to put this in perspective, a 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display has a native resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels. But its predecessor had a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution. Allowing for a wider aspect ratio on the S8, the picture that is better than Retina quality on a smartphone would be similar to a standard resolution PC display when scaled up.

If you can live with that, I suppose it’s OK.

But it sort of reminds me of the WebTV concept or the computer interfaces that allow you to push your PC desktop to a large-screen TV. It doesn’t look right.

I suppose you can imagine Samsung’s product designers, desperate to add features to the S8 that the next iPhone won’t have. So maybe someone, or a group of designers or marketers, decided that, since a flagship smartphone should be capable of performance close to that of a mainstream notebook PC, they should devise a way to project the desktop to a PC monitor with a standard mouse and keyboard. It’s a perfectly normal practice. I’ve connected my MacBook Pro to projection devices to do presentations before an audience.

In such cases, however, I’m using a computer operating system that’s designed to work with displays of many sizes, and apps will scale according to the resolution setting. Apps will therefore run efficiently. But not so with apps created for smartphones. So this may be one of those things that sounds good on paper, or in a PowerPoint presentation, but doesn’t translate so well to the real world.

To be fair to Samsung, I suppose it’s possible for app developers to take the hint, and if this scheme takes off, compile special Dex optimized versions. The fact that there aren’t many apps designed for Android tablets, however, makes me skeptical that such a thing will happen. I suppose some people will buy it, try it with their existing PC desktop components, and stick it away somewhere. Or if they buy a Dex dock with a display and input gear, they’ll just return it in disgust.

As to other S8 attempts to beat the rumored iPhone 8, Samsung’s choices may sometimes make a little sense, even if they aren’t terribly practical.

So with rumors that Apple considered — and abandoned — a curved edge-to-edge OLED display — Samsung went with it even though it’s of questionable value. There’s also facial and iris recognition, features that the next flagship iPhone may also include.

But Samsung continues to stick with a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, even though that feature has been criticized for being awkward to use. Or maybe they hope the other security features will make it unnecessary, although there’s a published report that someone was able to bypass facial recognition with a photo. But you also have to consider a user clumsily reaching for the sensor at the back of the unit, accidentally touching the camera lens next to it. So after you actually get the thing to recognize your fingerprint, you’re probably forced to wipe the camera lens before using it.

It will be smudge city!

Now I suppose some might suggest that Apple build an iPhone that runs both iOS and macOS, and switches to the latter when docked to a mythical Mac converter. If you have a “fat” app, it’ll scale up appropriately. This might be considered logical in light of the feeling that Apple is doing iOS-things in recent macOS versions anyway. It might even happen someday, a true all-purpose mobile computer that can be used as a proper desktop.

Someday, but not now. Maybe not ever.

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