Rethink the smartphone for collaboration or the PC for voice

(Disclosure: Most of the companies named are clients of the author.)

I started in telephony in the 80s at IBM ROLM division and was responsible for the competitive analysis on the PC-based phones that were developed there. The market wanted an integrated offer that combined voice communication with information technology. Despite tools like Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, and efforts like Dell and Microsoft to put smartphone screens on PCs, four decades later we still have to fully embrace the merger.

After the collapse of all computer / PBX companies, the only US company capable of doing so today is Qualcomm. This week the company unveiled on its PC platform, which was designed to address connectivity and battery life, weaknesses that existed well before the pandemic. The company covered the benefits of battery life measured in days, the security and availability that come with an always-on WAN network connection, and the added weight and flexibility benefits of its technology.

Qualcomm has tools like artificial intelligence that could be applied to create an even more compelling solution. The vendor could potentially transform the personal computer into something more in line with today’s needs than today’s PCs by integrating wireless voice communications.

Let’s explore it this week.

Before the iPhone, there was ROLM Cedar

vintage computer and games rolm cedar Computer science and vintage games

The ROLM cedar as shown in the January 1985 issue of BYTE magazine, courtesy of Computer science and vintage games.

While Simon of IBM, released in 1994, is often considered the first smartphone, the ROLM Cedar it preceded it by nearly a decade. Since it was a PC phone, it could be argued that it was actually the first smartphone. It was an unusual and passed on status (PCs were still new then), so only top executives received them. It tended to hang a bit, which is particularly bad for a phone, but it integrated communication methods in a way we still can’t do today and focus groups loved it (when it worked).

It was also one of the first connected PCs, which preceded the widespread adoption of Ethernet, not to mention Wi-Fi, which only appeared years later. But you may get your emails and voicemails on the same screen. You also had the caller ID, which didn’t exist before this, and you get not only the person’s name, but also their title and CRM-like message history (this was even before CRM). Oh, and you could tell if the call you were getting was from inside or outside the company, something you need to prevent a successful phishing or spear phishing attack. All of this dates back to the 1980s.

What made ROLM Cedar possible (and we weren’t the only ones working on it) was that the PBX and IT companies were somehow integrated back then.

The next Smart PC or PC Phone

Today we live off videoconferencing calls, which we generally make from our PCs, but we still receive SMS and audio calls on our phones. Under no circumstances do we automatically get in-depth information about the people we are talking to and cannot easily switch between video conference calls as we can with call waiting on our phones. We have multiple video conferencing clients that don’t work with each other, don’t integrate with other forms of communication, and don’t allow us to seamlessly switch between call types or callers.

But what if they did? What if you created a next-generation smart device, just like that? Lamborghini did it in rethinking the Countach (which just sold out its entire run despite its $ 2.5 million price tag) and created a modern modular cedar? Sure, we’d need a new industrial design, as Cedars haven’t aged well, but the concept is still there.

I wonder if this new PC phone could be a modernized BlackBerry given the security concerns we have now. It could work from the cloud using something like Windows 365, a virtual PC cloud instance, for nearly unlimited compute performance. It could be accessorized with wireless keyboards, mice and monitors when you want it on your desk or use a clamshell keyboard, trackpad and display for when you need something more portable. And it could integrate today’s communication methods, video conferencing clients and CRM databases, along with BlackBerry-level security, to create the professional smartphone for this decade.

In conclusion: the time is now

Just as Cedar was created from scratch in the early PC era to leverage the PBX and PC revolutions, a similar effort focused on video collaboration, cloud services, CRM, security, artificial intelligence and the functionality of the smartphone could give us something unique.

We have the technology; we’re just waiting for a company with IP to put it together and change the market. Someone will understand it. It occurs to me that both Microsoft and Palm cloud made the iPhone first and both had internal efforts to develop their own versions of the smartphone. Both companies had more potential than Apple, but Apple performed.

When it comes to PC phones, the only company with the technology, know-how and deep partnerships to make it happen, however in the US, is Qualcomm. (Elsewhere, Samsung could probably do it, as would Huawei.) On paper, Apple could do it too, but it would make the iPad, iPhone or Mac redundant, and the company’s strategy is to increase the number of products a person buys; eliminating one would be counter-strategic. Qualcomm is a technology provider and is more interested in abandoning and opening new markets, making an alternative mixed platform strategic.

The world has changed a lot since the creation of the PC and the smartphone. The time has come for someone to rethink these technologies in today’s reality of artificial intelligence, cloud, security, and work from home.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.