The second technology is called Mobile High-Definition Link, or MHL, which is a mobile audio/video interface standard for connecting portable electronics devices to high definition displays. This is an important spec that is supported by dozens of industry companies and is already deployed in more than 100 million smartphones. Silicon Image is the major company producing specific MHL chips that go into televisions, home cinema systems, and all types of mobile devices.
At a meeting at Silicon Image recently, I learned about the newest MHL 3.0 spec and special chips in development that have some unique yet undisclosed features. Still, execs assured me that with these MHL chips in a smartphone and something like a laptop shell, all MHL 3.0-based smartphones would be powerful enough to turn an MHL 3.0-compatible laptop shell into a real laptop delivering a true PC experience.
In fact, at least two of these types of products are already in the works. Last fall, Korean Telecom announced its Spider Laptop shell that can connect to an Android smartphone. It uses an MHL 2.0 cable currently but I assume it will upgrade to MHL 3.0 when it comes out later this year. At the moment, it uses its own Android phone for the connection, but it has plans to support other Android phones over time.
Samsung is also working on something like this, using the Spider Laptop reference design and tying it to the Galaxy S III smartphone. Both versions use an MHL cable from the smartphone to the Spider Laptop for power, but they could just as easily create some kind of MHL dock or even build a dock into the Spider Laptop.
If MHL 3.0 is as powerful as has been suggested, and it really could deliver a true laptop experience, this could have major ramifications for the industry as a whole. Keep in mind that the smartphone has all of your personal data, personal UI, and personal apps; all you would need is to have this laptop shell, or a desktop monitor connected to a MHL 3.0 docking stand to mirror all that is on the smartphone. While standalone laptops powered by their own CPUs and GPUs won't go away, a new computing paradigm could emerge in which the smartphone actually becomes the centre of our personal computing universe.
Instead of building a pricey laptop, various vendors could create laptop shells like the Spider that have some basic technology and a power supply which can receive what the smartphone sends to it. Perhaps they could have some internal storage or just an SD card slot to boost what can be stored on the laptop shell itself for future use. Depending on the costs of screens, these laptop shells could be priced as low as £100, although most likely in the £150 range in the near future. Even more interestingly, since the shell does not have to sport a lot of technology inside, it could be relatively thin and light, although in some models it would be nice to have an extra battery in the shell to extend its longevity.