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It's time to embrace mobile VDI access

Mobile devices have not taken the thin client market by storm, but they could become more popular as virtual app and desktop vendors gear their products toward smartphones and tablets.

As mobile devices continue to grow in popularity and become more sophisticated, the idea of using them as thin clients is becoming increasingly appealing.

One reason mobile VDI is not all that common is because, traditionally, smartphone and tablet screens were too small and the user experience was poor. Virtual apps and desktops simply were not designed for mobile devices. As a result, users would be forced to constantly scroll around to actually see everything.

Another hurdle was connectivity. Remote users working with smartphones and tablets for mobile VDI access need a network connection, which they don't always have. In addition, users with a weak signal can run into performance issues. Mobile devices are also simply easier to lose or break than a laptop or traditional PC.

Times are changing around mobile VDI, however, and mobile devices are becoming increasingly viable thin client options because of technological advancements and changes in the market itself.

How times are changing

Tablets and smartphones have gotten bigger over the years. The iPhone 4s, for example, had a 3.5-inch screen and the iPhone X boasts a 5.8-inch screen. In addition, mobile device vendors have improved screen resolutions. The iPhone 4's screen resolution was 960 x 640 and the iPhone X comes in at 2436 x 1125.

Beyond that, desktop and application virtualization vendors have made an effort to make mobile VDI access easier. Citrix, for example, refactors apps to enable mobile device-specific features using HDX Mobile. Users can work with device features such as the camera within virtual Windows applications. VMware's Unity Touch Sidebar can help mobile users by enabling them to easily minimize windows or move between virtual apps without ever accessing the Start menu or task bar.

Vendors have also introduced digital workspace products, such as VMware Workspace One and Citrix Cloud, that bring all of a user's virtual and mobile resources, including desktops and applications, into one place while also giving IT enterprise mobility management capabilities.

Citrix and VMware have also taken steps with their remote display protocols -- HDX and Blast Extreme -- to become more conducive to mobile VDI.

Device manufacturers are also hopping on board the mobile VDI train. Samsung's DeX dock, for example, allows users working with the Galaxy S8, S8+, Note 8 or Note 9 to display a desktop version of Google Android on a monitor. The user can then work with his mouse, keyboard and other peripherals as he would on a normal PC. Windows 10 Mobile devices can also cast a virtual desktop or app to a traditional monitor using a USB 3 port or wirelessly via Windows Continuum.

When it comes to connectivity concerns, most mobile devices now feature 4G, and more locations than ever offer Wi-Fi, making it increasingly uncommon for mobile VDI users to run into connection troubles.

Browser-based clients can also make mobile devices as thin clients a reality. All users need is a browser and they can access virtual desktops and apps regardless of the devices or OSes they work with. Browser-based clients simplify management for IT professionals who only have to update the browser rather than users' devices.

Display protocols

Citrix and VMware have also taken steps with their remote display protocols -- HDX and Blast Extreme -- to become more conducive to mobile VDI using adaptive transport.

Adaptive transport helps the display protocol adjust to connection errors and lag before they affect the user by using an algorithm to predict when problems will occur based on the strength of the network. This should create a more consistent user experience even if the user is working on a slower connection, such as 3G.

VMware built Blast Extreme, which is based on the HTML Access protocol, with mobile devices in mind. The protocol uses graphics processing units rather than CPU to process graphics, which puts less strain on a mobile device's battery. In addition, Blast Extreme uses the H.264 video format, which helps it integrate directly with mobile devices.

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