As far as I’m concerned, no one has completely solved the problem of delivering all the on-the-go computing capabilities I need in a truly portable device. You may have experienced this yourself, if you’ve tried to use your laptop in a cramped space (say, the backseat of a car or the front row of a press conference) or tried do any extended writing on your smartphone. Now virtualization companiesĀ Citrix andĀ Open Kernel Labs are tackling this problem with a new concept they call the “nirvana phone.”

The idea is to really make your phone the center of your working life. Of course, for many people that’s already the case when you’re away from the office — for example, on my iPhone I’ll often read and send email, participate in the VentureBeat chat-room, and check the latest news via Techmeme and Google Reader. But if I want to do anything more serious, I need to unpack my laptop, because the iPhone’s screen and keyboard are too small. With the nirvana phone, however, I can use my smartphone for casual computing, then also plug it into a keyboard and a monitor, so I could access all the applications and data on my phone while avoiding the drawbacks of a tiny device.

“What we envision is a scenario where a company can manage applications and virtual desktops from the data center and from the cloud and not have to worry about the endpoint devices, ” said Chris Fleck, vice president of community and solutions development at Citrix. “We want them to have full control, but at the same time we want employees to have the freedom to use the devices that they want to choose.”

Citrix and OK Labs are virtualization companies, not device makers, so they’re not actually building the nirvana phone. Instead, they’re releasing the basic architecture of the phone here, and they hope to make deals with manufacturers to create these devices using their virtualization technology. They describe the nirvana phone as a smartphone plus a full-sized display, plus a keyboard and mouse, plus a virtual desktop, plus OK Labs’ mobile virtualization. Broadly speaking, there are a number of improvements that must be made to existing smartphones before they can become nirvana phones:

  • Enhanced graphics capabilities, so that a phone can not only send video out to an external screen, but can also offer that video at a resolution that doesn’t look totally horrible on the larger screen.
  • The ability to connect the phone to a keyboard and mouse using a Bluetooth or a docking station.
  • A Citrix receiver to securely access corporate applications and data on the mobile device.

There are some drawbacks to this idea — for one thing, it requires the near ubiquitous presence of screens and keyboards, which isn’t universally true. But that may change over time, and I’m guessing this may already be a good fit in specific industries and companies it may be close in specific situations and industries.

Meanwhile, Citrix and OK labs aren’t the only ones looking at these ideas — Google evangelist Don Dodge told me the idea of a phone as your core computing device is part of the search giant’s vision of the office of the future, though he didn’t say that this was part of a specific product roadmap.