Dual-core/quad-core, 16GB, OS9.2, etc etc … sounds like I’m talking about my recent laptop purchase but I’m not. These are standard specs for smartphones all of us are using today. The power of mobile phones has increased so much that it’s the only device we NEED to run our daily lives, although that’s not really practical based on usability. Let’s face it, we’re accustomed to sitting at a desk with larger screens and a keyboard. Slowly we’re getting used to working away from our desks, but we still like our big screens. That’s why Apple created the iPad – give us a gadget we can use in a form factor we like. Thank you Apple! (insert exaggerated sneer). What’s wrong? Now I have to pay for a third dataplan (one for my phone, one for my home internet, one for my iPad) and the other hardware vendors are releasing similar tablets following Apple’s lead. The hardware model is broken.

In my past life, I use to work at a semiconductor company running a product line selling Ethernet controllers into the large PC manufacturers (all the typical names). These PC manufacturers would promote their platforms to IT teams using TCO, or Total Cost of Ownership. Their TCO included upfront hardware costs plus support, lifetime upgrades, maintenance, etc. This way IT teams could really understand the budgets required to change out their platforms from one vendor to the next. Using this PC example, I decided to do a rough TCO analysis on my personal mobile computing comparing 5-years ago to today. I used overlapping 5-year periods and then generated a yearly TCO cost. Here’s what I found…

My mobile computing TCO has increased over 60%

I’m a tech geek and like leading edge technologies but counter that by being somewhat cheap in my spending habits for non-essential items. 5-years ago I had a laptop that I would upgrade every 2 years, a BlackBerry I would upgrade every 2 years, and 2 dataplans (home, phone). My average yearly TCO was $1,940. Comparing that to today, I still have a laptop that I upgrade every 2 years, a smartphone I upgrade every 1.5 years, a tablet I plan to upgrade every 2 years and now 3 data plans (home, phone, tablet). My average yearly TCO has skyrocketed to $3,140. Wow!  This was eye opening… I pay how much??? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of mobile computing but it’s clear the current hardware model is broken.

There must be a better hardware model

Recently I played with the Motorola Atrix and it’s innovative accessories like the laptop dock. I’m not the biggest fan of the Atrix itself but it really got me thinking about how mobile hardware needs to change. Is there a model that can reduce my TCO?

I only want one dataplan and one processor in my life

The phone I carry is that one device I must take everywhere. It has the processing power and internet connection I need. Why do I need something else? Oh yeah, usability like I mentioned earlier. Looking back 5-years ago, I had the same issue with my laptop. When I was at the office or at home, I would dock it to use an external keyboard and monitor. These were basic accessories I would purchase to enhance my use of the laptop that didn’t need consistent upgrades like my laptop since they had no real processing power. We need the same strategy for the phone. I want to use tablets and laptops but treat them like “monitors” to harness the processing power and internet connection of my phone. The phone would simply “dock” with the tablet or laptop for me to use as I please. I can choose different form factors as I please and won’t be tempted to consistently upgrade them since they are just passive devices. I would then upgrade my phone yearly to get the latest processing power and data speeds.

Reduce mobile computing TCO by 50%

In my proposed hardware model, I would have a top-of-the-line phone I upgrade every year, one dataplan (phone), and “docking monitors” I purchase as needed (that won’t require constant upgrades similar to my desktop monitor today). My average yearly TCO drops to $1,620. Now that makes more sense to me.

I really hope hardware vendors go back to their PC computing roots and take a hard look at TCO for mobile computing. The current model is broken and I think vendors are too busy being distracted by Apple’s marketing madness instead of defining a real strategy. It’s time for fundamentals again. Motorola is showing signs of hope encouraging me that other vendors will follow. Or at least I can dream.

If you want to see the assumptions from my analysis or more details, please leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to respond.