The Superbook is a shell that turns your Android smartphone into a complete laptop. It may well be all most people need as a computer, and it may well be what we have been waiting for.
Thirty years ago there was an article in the Harvard Business Review about how the portable phone would change the way we work, titled "Your office is where you are." Ever since, I have been looking at how the office and the way we work have been changing, to the point that we can almost do our jobs on our phones, and joke that Your Office Is In Your Pants. Chris Mims predicted this a few years ago about the large phone (phablet, as they were then called before everyone just started calling them big phones):
I’m willing to bet that Phablets are going to be the PCs of this decade. They will become the default computing device of most of the developing world, and a surprising proportion of those who live in rich countries will eventually sign on, as well.
Andrew Jiang believes this too. He and his team at Andromium developed an app that makes an Android smart phone output look very much like a desktop environment, and just announced the Superbook on Kickstarter. It is essentially a “dumb terminal”- a notebook without a processor but with a keyboard, battery, trackpad and display that will sell for 99 bucks.
Some reviewers have complained that the specs on the display are a little wanting, but Andrew tells TreeHugger that the Superbook was designed to be affordable and that there was lots of interest from developing countries like India and South Africa, “places around the world where people are already using their smart phones as their computers.” It doesn’t have a fancy docking station like the DOA Motorola Atrix or the current HP Elite X3; the USB ports are universal and will connect any phone.
One of the reasons that phones don’t work well as computers is that many of us in the copy and paste world need to have two windows open at the same time. You can’t do that with Apple IOS on the phone; you can with Microsoft Continuum and HP’s new phone (Shown here on MNN) but nobody is buying windows phones. Andrew notes that it is hard now but by the time the Superbook delivers, Android N will be out and will allow multiple windows.
Andrew says that their app, Andromium, is essentially Android Continuum, letting you work seamlessly, going from phone to notebook. In fact, they are more interested in the software experience than the hardware, and would happily work with any company that wants to build products that run on Andromium.
But it is clear that the phone is where things are happening. Andrew:
Our phones are going to get increasingly better, and our laptops, eventually will not be able to catch up with them. The upgrade cycles are faster, and as you upgrade your phone, you are automatically upgrading your Superbook.
Then there is the issue of the $99 price tag on Kickstarter. There are so many horror stories, most famously that silly cooler, where the price was below the cost of manufacture. Andrew isn’t worried; they have checked it out pretty carefully, and this is different.
Most hardware companies make their money off the hardware that they sell. We’re basically running this a bit above cost. The whole point for us is to get as many units out there as possible. The more units that are out there, the bigger our user base and the easier it is to get developers to build software around it, let me tell you, it’s not the hardware that’s the limitation to using your smart phone as your entire computing environment, it’s the software.
The Superbook opened on Kickstarter at 11:30 Eastern on June 21 and by 11:40 had reached double its target; I suspect that the Andromium team may be on to something here.