All the buzz lately in the PC industry has been about the raving success of the netbook. As of today, netbooks are the #1, 2 and 3 best selling items in “Computers and PC Hardware” on and comprise 11 of the top 15 spots. Indeed, netbooks are fundamentally changing the way people are thinking about computing today. The implications of this dramatic shift have been chronicled in many a blog and articles from PC Magazine to the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps a more interesting question, however, is “Where do we go from here?”

The answer may be closer than we think. Microsoft recently applied for a patent on a “smart interface system” that allows you to dock your smartphone and use it as a PC. Once docked, your smartphone would have access to peripherals such as a monitor, keyboard, mouse, Ethernet connection, USB hub, and printer.

A smartphone as a computer? Some may scoff at using a device that still struggles to make a basic phone call as a central CPU, but the truth is that we’re not that far away. Phone processors today rival those of computers from only a few years ago. With processing speed continuously getting faster, the price of storage becoming cheaper, and cloud computing becoming more prevalent, it’s not so crazy a notion that our mobile devices will be the personal computers of the future and our connection to full-blown PC applications, our friends, and the online world.

The applications for a smart interface system range from a mobile computing device for office professionals, to a portable entertainment system for consumers, to distance learning devices for children in developing countries. The system could even feature a smart interface to determine what profile to use based on the configuration of the peripherals attached. Says the patent: “By detecting one or more of the externals systems the smart system can automatically select the user profile to employ.” For example, if a mouse and projector are set up, the profile could be set to work presentation mode. If a TV and surround sound system are plugged in, the profile would switch to home entertainment mode.

Below is a diagram of how such a system might look. Welcome to the future of mobile computing.

The future of computing