With an Advanced Smartphone, Do You Even Need a Computer Anymore?

We live in an interesting turning point within a turning point. The wave of digital technology and computers still hasn’t settled down and developments are being made every year (if not more often). And within that, we now have smartphones, which are effectively a blend of a computer and the cell phones before them. It’s been a transition that has been step by step, but it feels as though there is little that a smartphone can’t do when compared to a computer.

This begs the question: with smartphones and computers being expensive, and smartphones being as advanced as they are, do you need a computer anymore?

The answer is a bit more complicated than a simple yes or a no. It varies from person to person. With that noted, let’s get into it:

For Professionals

Starting with people who absolutely need a computer, we would like to note that professionals definitely still need one. If you’re a programmer, you won’t get nearly as much done on your smartphone as you will on a desktop or laptop. People who work with spreadsheets or word documents constantly like many of us will not find the screen space on a smartphone sufficient. Even if a smartphone can run everything adequately, you need space to work. There is a clear advantage to having an ultra-large monitor or a multiple monitor setup. This is especially true if a position involves comparing different sets of information or multitasking. 

There’s also the matter of the keyboard. A computer doesn’t need to have a keyboard to be called a computer. Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find one without it. The on-screen keyboard on most smartphones might be good enough for sending messages back and forth, but it’s not nearly enough for advanced writing or content creation. This article was not written on a smartphone keyboard but instead on a desktop keyboard. 

On the more advanced end of things, some researchers need a lot of processing power to run models and create 3D images. The amount of computing power needed in some cases would all but melt a smartphone, even as advanced as they have become. People in those positions are likely not even reading this piece, as they have rightfully dismissed the question at this point.

Whether solutions will be made for these obstacles remains to be seen (though there will certainly be attempts). We will be discussing some ideas later in the article.

For Students, Gamers, and Hobbyists

The line between a professional and a student is a thin one indeed, and in many cases they may be doing the same tasks, depending on the student’s field of study. Even in high school access to a computer or laptop is expected for many, as typing up documents for papers is a necessity. And while the stereotype is that teenagers and college students are constantly glued to their phones, in truth they need computers for a better study and work environment. They need a keyboard and screen space as much as anyone else, and their college or high school may not provide them with one in a cubicle. They will need computers.

Similarly, people who might have a vested interest in their hobby that’s related to computers or requires one will find themselves limited without one. You can edit photos on your phone, but not nearly as much or as efficiently as you can on a desktop. Digital artists can only do so much on their phone, but an art tablet connected to a computer will be a much better workspace. There are plenty of other examples that fit the bill.

Hardcore gamers are a whole different category with the same result. Good luck convincing them that they don’t need a computer, and they would have a point. The cutting edge of gaming will always be on high-end PCs, if not occasionally next-gen consoles that are the gaming equivalent to those devices. That is not to say that mobile gaming is not advancing or unpopular. It is just that people interested in PC gaming will not make the transition to mobile gaming (or only mobile gaming). Some things you want to be able to play with either a keyboard and mouse or controller instead of a touchscreen. Additionally, the playstyle and mechanics of mobile games are vastly different than popular PC games.

For the Average Person

Yet what about everyone else, people who do not need an advanced computer for work or study and generally do not go on the computer for all their entertainment needs? People who have a work computer that stays at the office? For these people, the answer is not so clear-cut, and their current computer might be their last as far as something they need.

If you consider yourself the average tech user or even someone who doesn’t use it often, the best frame of reference would be to notice how much you use your computer compared to your smartphone, and the same for those around you. Could you realistically go a week without touching your laptop or desktop, using only your phone and other devices instead? What do you even use your computer for now? These are helpful questions to ask yourself, and you can use them to guide you towards a final decision.

As we’ll explore later, plenty of people get along without a computer, or with a minimal amount of computer access or usage. They might need to know someone who has one, but the tools are in place for these people to be fine for the most part without such a device. The same programs that once assumed access to a computer are now assuming access to a smartphone, and there is a mobile-friendly version of most major websites.

However, the ongoing pandemic did change things a little bit. More people were on computers or devices, and thus they become more necessary. A computer felt more necessary to be connected to people or enjoy things. While smartphones could do a lot of that, a computer does it better for long periods and is more stable. Some peripherals can help split the difference, but not everyone has them, know they exist or have them on their person regularly.

Compared to Laptops

The main competition to talk about is laptops, being more popular than desktops in recent years. Everyone likes the idea of taking their computer around the house and working as they please, and laptops have enough variety and power to handle most needs of the average person. They can still be enhanced with peripherals, and people can do most basic tasks on them. And with recent OS improvements as well as some improved hardware, the high-end laptop is hardly much different from an average desktop.

However, the most advanced laptops are still far ahead of smartphones, the ultrabooks have both the keyboard people want with most of the portability that people who work on the go need. They might be phased out once smartphones get a little better and can provide for faster typing and more productivity, but currently, they have a cemented place in the tech world.

Yet what is interesting is that many laptops and even some desktop setups have taken some cues from the world of smartphones. Touchscreens have become common if not the norm. The design often uses icons in a similar style to phones (remember Windows 8?) and there are options to make this more or less the case.

Looking at the market share of all three devices, smartphones have the edge and are increasing their share over time (if slightly).

Compared to Desktops

The differences between a smartphone and a dedicated desktop computer are a bit more pronounced, being devices with more dedicated uses. A desktop, being larger and stationary, can go all-in on the processing power, storage, graphics capabilities, and more. A desktop, with the proper components, of course, can handle the heavy-duty tasks that professionals, gamers, and intense hobbyists might demand of it. It can support multiple monitors and as much screen space as someone might need. 

In short, if you need a desktop in your life, a smartphone cannot reasonably replace it. And while smartphones will eventually improve to the point where they equal today’s desktops (they’ve already equaled the desktops of the past), desktops won’t stop improving. Desktops will always be the top machines for work, gaming, and providing the best picture and most space possible. Outside of this, there are some of the same issues when comparing laptops and smartphones.

Matters of Portability

You can’t carry around a desktop, and a laptop usually requires a special bag unless you have an especially small laptop or want it to eventually take a spill onto the pavement. The smartphone might not be as powerful as other devices, especially for an equivalent price, but what else can you fit in your pocket?

And speaking of portability, it should be noted that the smartphone has already replaced many of the other devices that people would carry around on them or in their car. A camera isn’t necessary for the average person anymore. A smartphone can ask as a basic flashlight. Many remote controls have been replaced by a smartphone (more on this later). Things such as pocket calculators are all but a thing of the past. Many GPS devices, PDAs, and more are no longer sold in your average tech store. It’s possible that computers partially reach the same conclusion, though certainly not to the same extent for reasons previously specified.

Matters of Screen Space

Speaking of the limitations of the smartphone, most of what we’ve talked about so far has come down to screen space. The processing power of a smartphone is becoming ever more impressive, to the point where we can start to think about how much more it can do and whether basic apps are a concern anymore. Modern features require modern processing power, but smartphones can keep up with optimized apps. If people keep upgrading their phones (and they are), then people will stay caught up.

There are hopes that we will see expandable, rollable, or stretchable screens in the future, but the hopes are limited to the screen size of the modern tablet, not the 30” screens used by a dedicated monitor or multiple 4k screens. 

When will smartphones be able to keep up? Perhaps when they can project images or some great new innovation comes along. Until then, better screens will strictly be the realm of the standard computer.

What About Tablets?

What about splitting the difference between a smartphone and a laptop in the form of a tablet? Many people proclaimed tablets as the future. However, as the years have gone on, the role of the tablet has seemed to solidify as something of a secondary device. Everyone needs a smartphone for its ability to call and text, but the need for a tablet is not nearly so high. They’re great for reading and a few small tasks, but they are hardly a replacement for everything else in your life.

In short, tablets seem almost separate from the conversation, to be something that we may use but is hardly necessary for modern life. A smartphone can do everything it can and more already, it just is a little smaller.

The Cloud and Helpful Technologies

So, we’ve talked a bit about what smartphones can’t do on their own, but what if the results could be delivered to the smartphone without the smartphone having to do them? That’s what the cloud is for. As 5G makes its way into the mainstream and there are fewer issues with a potential connection, people can rely more on cloud technologies for their everyday needs. Many already so do by habit or automatically with some of the apps they use. 

Cloud computing can take care of most of the problems caused by limited processing power, and in theory more efficiently. Instead of relying on your processor to handle it, why not let a dedicated server do so? There is an expense to that, but that must be weighed against the time it would take your own device to handle it, buying your own additional processing power, and the peace of mind you get.

Similarly, the benefits of cloud storage are well known. Extremely large files and backups of whatever you need can be stored offsite to keep them safe. There are some concerns about the security of cloud storage, but there are safer options than others, and there are similar concerns about keeping sensitive data on a personal device. There is no need for a massive hard drive when you can few just a few dollars a year for 1TB of storage.

However, nearly all cloud technologies require a good and stable internet connection, and there might be limitations with it in some parts of the world. Even the United States doesn’t have the universal coverage required in the more rural areas of the country. However, this is rapidly changing, and both WiFi and data coverage are becoming more ubiquitous, no matter where you are

There’s also the matter that other devices and appliances around our homes are becoming more connected, and can now do some of the things we would expect a computer to do. Smartphones, with the help of apps, are universal remotes to our daily lives, able to do everything from starting our car to getting the coffee machine going in the morning. Doing so on a computer isn’t so easy, making smartphones more of the central device in many people’s lives.

Docking Stations for Your Smartphone?

Docking stations already exist and are helpful for laptops and even some tablets. In short, they easily allow for more connections, peripherals, and more. It allows for a laptop or more mobile computers to have more ports, capabilities, and more (it can vary greatly depending on the dock).

With this in mind, why do we not consider a docking station for a smartphone? There are already ways to connect a smartphone with other devices and create a strong, direct connection. Why not add more functionality and power to the dock, and have the smartphone act as something of a key where you keep your own information? It already exists in basic forms, and all that’s needed is a better market for it and a greater performance boost to justify its existence compared to other options.

Furthermore, what about a future that is somewhat decentralized when it comes to the hardware but your smartphone is the key to personalization and power on the docking station? What if connecting your smartphone effectively loads a profile on the docking station, allowing you to keep working anywhere and everywhere with one? This could very well be the future of internet and computer cafes, and even a replacement for the desktop (though this may not be for some time). With cloud technology, we might see a seamless transition via accounts from smartphones and other devices to general use laptops and desktops.

Are People Going without Computers Already?

The answer is unequivocally yes. In China and a fair number of other Asian countries on the rise, many people are going without a laptop or traditional computer and instead just working from a smartphone for all of their internet needs. If they use a computer for work, one is provided for them, though many people wouldn’t need a computer for work with their jobs. Smartphones are more commonplace, considered the default, and computers are more specialized.

However, it should also be noted that these countries may still have places where computers are available, and there are cultural differences and infrastructure to allow people to be fine with just smartphones. It’s not uniform, it can vary from region to region, and it can change. But it is possible, and we will have to see whether the trend continues among these populations or they get computers in addition to their smartphones as more reasons to arise for them to do so.

Are We There Yet?

While we’re talking about a fair number of amazing technologies and while there are many arguments for the idea that the smartphone will take over everything, there is still much to do. You may be wondering whether the potential to only have a smartphone is on the cutting edge, or available to the average person?

In truth, we are just there, but the processes and infrastructure certainly haven’t cemented themselves yet, and the market is still adapting to new technologies. The pandemic stirred up a lot when it comes to what we need and what we are looking for. Remote work is the new norm for a lot of people, which means work computers are either brought home or need to be bought to properly keep up with the grind. They are outright necessary for school still, alongside a smartphone for older students who need to communicate with others.

Yet when will we see a world where we consider smartphones optional? It will be some years still, if ever. It will not be a dramatic shift where people throw their laptops out of their computers, never to be seen again. It will be a series of small decisions by people realizing they don’t use their computer anymore nor need one. They won’t bother to replace their old laptop and instead focus more on their smartphone. It will start with the people who need it least and go on from there. New technologies and options will be there to pick up the slack. 


The future is always an uncertain subject, but it is an interesting one. And when it comes to smartphones, which have advanced so rapidly already, the future is ever more uncertain. Still, improvements are coming and they are certain, and the line between the average laptop and the smartphone is blurring constantly. We hope you have a better understanding of what you need and what’s to come, and we hope that you are better able to make the right decisions regarding your technology in the future.