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Could the iPhone 15's USB-C port drive device consolidation?

With the coming of the new iPhone with the USB-C port, organizations might look at this new compatibility feature as the impetus for some changes to their device policies.

We've all seen technologies that appear just long enough to stir up discussion, only to disappear into the background noise shortly thereafter.

Once in a while, there might be a breakthrough that renews the excitement. You might see something new and thrilling with cold fusion or superconductor technology, but only for a time until it disappears again.

For end-user computing (EUC), the technology that fits that description the most -- the cold fusion of EUC, if you will -- is the Nirvana Phone.

This time around, the catalyst driving the renewed attention is the iPhone 15 and its transition to USB-C. Switching to USB-C has opened up universal use cases that once relied on adapters to leverage Apple's proprietary Lightning port, if they existed at all. Here are some of the most intriguing aspects of this:

  • USB-C can now be the single cable needed for an end user's devices.
  • Apple iPhones can now be used as a power bank to charge other devices.
  • Data transfer between devices is easier without special cables.
  • Transfers to external storage is simple.
  • Peripheral support, such as keyboards or ethernet adapters, and connection to TVs and computer displays are easier.

It's those last items -- peripheral support and connection to TVs and computer displays -- that are responsible for the renewed discussion around Nirvana Phone. But before we get started there, let's take a walk down memory lane.

What is the Nirvana Phone?

The Nirvana Phone concept started in 2011 the way most things do when a desktop virtualization person sees a new kind of device: They try to turn it into a thin client. In this case, it was a powerful smartphone called the Motorola Atrix coupled with Citrix Receiver. When plugged into a dock that broke out the phone's connectivity and enabled the device to connect to a keyboard, mouse and monitor, the Atrix became a thin client.

I won't venture a guess as to whether the Nirvana Phone concept will take off this time, other than to say that this is likely the last time it will flare up.

At the time, the convergence of a smartphone and a desktop client was significant, and the use cases for a truly portable, "follow-me" desktop for the masses was very interesting. However, as with many technologies, the Nirvana Phone ended up being a solution looking for a problem. Users wanted their phone to be their phone, and no amount of Bluetooth headsets or other peripherals would help the concept find widespread usage.

As phones became more powerful, more users adopted smartphones. The phones themselves became a significant part of organizations' EUC strategies. The Nirvana Phone concept would flare up from time to time, but it never really got back to the level of enthusiasm it first saw.

Today there's a spark, but is there a flame?

The renewed interest in the concept of a single, consolidated device that can do everything predates the release of the iPhone 15. In fact, research by TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group published in 2022 indicated that there was significant interest in "a solution that allows employees to use their smartphones like, and potentially as a replacement for, a full-featured laptop/desktop via a docking station that projects the elements of a digital workspace to a monitor and can support a physical keyboard and mouse."

A graph showing a high level of interest in a Nirvana Phone-type universal device.

While that's a mouthful, it leaves no room for ambiguity. Ninety percent of respondents noted that they were interested or very interested in such a device!

It's no surprise, then, that the iPhone 15's adoption of USB-C could be seen as the final step to making this a reality. Citrix's Chris Fleck, creator of the term Nirvana Phone, has already posted a video using a simple USB-C to HDMI connector to demonstrate the functionality. Sure, Android devices could do this already, but what organization would adopt a technology that only half of their devices could use? With the iPhone 15, organizations can use the same cords and the same tech for all devices and all users. It might take a few years to transition all devices to USB-C compatible models, but there is a day in the near future where all users will have the ability to use this functionality.

I won't venture a guess as to whether the Nirvana Phone concept will take off this time, other than to say that this is likely the last time it will flare up. Never has there been an environment as conducive to a use case like this. This is an environment where the phones are powerful and in everyone's pocket, most of an end user's digital life is conducted on the same device and desktop virtualization is in widespread use as a core component of a hybrid workspace. Because of that, I could absolutely see it catching on.

For me, I think I still want my phone to be my phone.

Gabe Knuth is the senior end-user computing analyst for TechTarget's Enterprise Strategy Group. He writes publicly for TechTarget in addition to his analyst work. If you'd like to reach out, see his profile on LinkedIn or send an email to [email protected].

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