Citrix's "nirvana" phone is here in the form of the Motorola Atrix. It's awesome, but not nirvana.

For the past year or so, Citrix's Chris Fleck has been writing about something he's calling the "Nirvana Phone." The Nirvana Phone is not a specific device from a specific handset maker, rather, it's more of Chris envisioning how some "nirvana" yet-to-be-built phone of the future might be used in the context of enterprise desktops, applications, and mobility.

For the past year or so, Citrix’s Chris Fleck has been writing about something he’s calling the “Nirvana Phone.” The Nirvana Phone is not a specific device from a specific handset maker, rather, it’s more of Chris envisioning how some “nirvana” yet-to-be-built phone of the future might be used in the context of enterprise desktops, applications, and mobility. Last week at CES, Motorola announced their "ATRIX" phone, and Chris wrote a new blog post claiming that the "Nirvana Phone is here." But is it really? I'm not so sure...

In this article, I'll talk about what the nirvana phone concept is and why I think it won't have much real impact. Then Citrix's Chris Fleck will share his views that specifically address my concerns. Fun stuff!

What is the Nirvana Phone?

The basic idea is that in the future there will be an “ultimate” phone that will both (1) be useful as a mobile device on its own in the standard mobile ways, and (2) be able to accept a full-size keyboard & mouse and be able to hook up to a standard full-size display, essentially transforming it into a thin client.

The idea is that your Nirvana Phone would contain all the typical phone things like your data, identities, mobile apps, access to your enterprise apps and desktops,contacts, email, etc. Then instead of carrying a laptop with you in addition to your phone, you’d just plug your Nirvana Phone into a keyboard/mouse/display whenever you need to use a real computer. The “hotel cubicles” at companies could provide these basic accessories, as could hotel rooms, conferences, juice bars, etc.

In the Nirvana Phone world, users would still have laptops and desktops for real work, but that the Nirvana Phone would additionally give them the option to travel without their laptops. Ideally the Nirvana Phone would connect directly into a display (via HDMI --> DVI) and either use a USB or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

Chris argues that many industry trends will drive the concept, including office hoteling with companies providing displays, LCD TVs with DVI/VGA inputs, hosted virtual desktops, etc.

Why the Nirvana Phone concept won’t matter

As a geek, my initial reaction to Chris’s thoughts fell somewhere between “Hell yeah!” and “I can’t wait!” But the more I think about it, the more I begin to wonder whether the Nirvana Phone concept will actually matter?

(And to clarify, I believe 100% that the Nirvana Phone will happen. I'm just arguing that it won't grow past the "party trick" stage.)

My main argument against it is that the whole docking / connecting process is too cumbersome, and that by the time that's worked out then all displays on the planet will have the capabilities to run HTML5 browsers and will be able to connect to virtual desktops and apps on their own. After all, just about every new TV already has the capabilities to watch YouTube and Netflix videos built-in, so browsers and Citrix Receivers can't be too far behind. (So in essence, the display becomes the thin client, rather than the phone becoming the thin client.)

If thin clients are a commodity, then why does each user need to carry his or her own? For companies providing hotel cubes, why not just pop a thin client in there that's built for full size displays? Why limit yourself to a phone with a lower resolution display and lower horsepower?

And when your phone is docked, how do you use it as a phone? Do you need to use a headset now? Can you be on the phone and have a full screen desktop at the same time? What happens when you want to go to the bathroom? Do you have to undock your phone and then re-dock it when you get back?

And it's not like the phone is going to have your documents on it or anything. (Even if it does, since phones are easy to lose they're not used as anyone's primary storage location. So you can access your data in the cloud from your real thin client just like you can from your phone.)

I guess my point is that a Nirvana Phone might be nice to have, but I don't think anyone will be able to travel without a laptop because of it. And if/when these nirvana devices become fully featured, by that time every screen you'd be able to use the Nirvana device with will have its own inherent ability to do what the nirvana device can do.

By the way, I still think we're waiting for the Nirvana Phone. The ATRIX is cool, but it only outputs 1280x1024.. hardly a resolution for getting real work done.

You know what? If using the Nirvana Phone means that I need to carry around the dock, a mini-HDMI plug, an HDMI-to-DVI adapter, and a bluetooth headset in order to be able to "dock" with a random KVM in a hotel cube, for all that weight / space in my bag, why can't I just carry around a PlugPC thin client? The plugPC is the same size, but it will also give me the ability to have the full featured Citrix Receiver, 1600x1200 resolution, probably a better experience (since it's built to be a thin client), AND I can use my phone like a normal phone.. i.e. I don't have to use it via bluetooth, I can get up and walk around, etc.



Response from Citrix's Chris Fleck

Brian, I agree with much of your commentary and analysis... except for the conclusion. I concur that at some point in the future, many new high-end PC displays will come with embedded CPUs and internet connectivity, just as TVs are starting to appear today. And yes there will be HTML5 and Citrix Receivers available, so from my perspective that will be a great solution.

However I think that scenario is years away, and even when available they will have a premium price. Then consider that the hundreds of millions of legacy VGA/DVI/HDMI PC displays won't be discarded -- they'll be the ones moved to the guest/hotel cubicles. ;-)

The real debate is timing. Given the availability of the ATRIX now, this device plus a new wave of Nirvana phones will fill a large opportunity before the installed base of PC displays are primarily internet-enabled devices.

Regarding the objections:

  • Docking and connecting is easy, but finding common docks may be a bit of an obstacle. However, cheap HDMI & USB cables are readily available as well as bluetooth keyboards.
  • How do you make a phone call at the same time? It turns out the ATRIX does support multitasking with Citrix sessions, so you can have your phone docked and use the speakerphone or Bluetooth headset for making calls while working on Citrix sessions (even full screen virtual desktops).
  • Why carry around a Thin Client capable device? If you are going to carry around a smartphone anyway, why not carry one that does everything ?
  • Undocking to do something else is painless and completely secure. No need to log off before leaving a public workstation. No need to re-authenticate when you return or move to another station (within session policy limits).
  • The ATRIX output is "only" 1280x1024, and this may be limiting for a power user at home or the office. But while traveling, this matches most laptop capability. Many power users today have more than one PC. The ATRIX wont replace the primary one, but it could replace the second or third... For me it didn't replace my laptop, but it did replace a thin client I kept on my desk for ancillary access when my primary laptop is busy.
  • To clarify the comparison to carrying a PlugPC.. (BTW, I am a fan of the PlugPC but don’t see myself carrying it around.) The ATRIX HD dock is not required to carry around, you can optionally plug the HDMI cable directly from the device to the display. The phone screen becomes a trackpad. For extended use, power is available from the USB plug. Yes that’s another cable, but everyone that travels with a smartphone brings a charger & cable.  For now a DVI adapter and HDMI cable is a good idea to travel with but for a cost of $10 this could easily be made available at random KVM locations as this solution becomes popular. So the Bluetooth headset is the net add longer term (unless you use one already) assuming the speakerphone is not appropriate. So you could carry around a PlugPC and get better video, but that means carrying that unit, plus you need wired Ethernet access and permissions plus power/USB cable. This could work at some locations but is more limiting  than the wireless access from a smartphone that you carry anyway. Plus the assumption is you are buying only the ATRIX, not a smartphone plus PlugPC.

Additional reasons to consider a Nirvana Phone:

Besides the office "hotel cubicle" as mentioned which is a good use case, there are others as well:

  • For businesses that are buying smart phones PLUS laptops for users who don't need heavy local processing or offline access, why not consider just one device instead? The expense of fully managed laptops today also forces many companies to limit who gets the equipment to certain job roles. The Nirvana Phone could broaden the scope to additional roles as well making employees more productive. Plus this could provide a great disaster recovery solution without providing everyone a laptop as some companies do. The ATRIX laptop dock option also provides additional appeal as a laptop alternative.
  • For enabling BYOC, the Nirvana Phone could allow safe and controlled access inside a company campus. One objection I have heard about BYOC is IT's concerns about a foreign laptop plugging an Ethernet cable into the RJ-45 jack somewhere inside and spreading a worm. The Nirvana Phone connection is Wireless only and could be limited to a public access WiFi or just the carrier 3G/4G connection.
  • For travelers only making a presentation, the ability to drive a meeting room projector from a Nirvana Phone would be a welcome option. Even impromptu occasions inside company office meetings, being able to pull-up a slide deck without carrying a laptop around, plug in, and show the latest data is a productivity enhancer.
  • For safe access at Internet cafes and business center PCs, I use these locations for search and surfing but I don't trust an internet café for banking or anything work-related that a keystroke logger could compromise. If I could just use the display and keyboard with my NirvanaPhone there would be nothing to be concerned over.
  • Beyond the thin client capability and it being a high-end smartphone, the ATRIX has another great feature: a large display and keyboard access to local Android apps. This means that any local Android app can show up in a window of the ATRIX webtop alongside XenApp sessions. There are many times I would like to do something  like see an SMS text on my PC display and respond from my keyboard versus poking the smartphone screen.

And lastly... What's wrong with buying something because it's cool? Tens of Millions of us do it! (even when it doesn't make good phone calls...)

If you haven't seen the Atrix yet, here's a decent overview from CES:

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I think the Nirvana phone will prove to be quite useful. I predit that it will be the next iPAD scenario. Over the last year or so the iPAD has been a key factor in companies adopting virtual strategies, they see the iPAD demo for Citrix Receiver and they suddenly "Get it". They probably deploy a very small # of iPADS in the field, but it captures their imagination and drives adoption forward.

For me personally the Nirvana phone will be most useful when you can wirelessly use video, keyboard and mouse in hotel rooms, public areas, etc


I think the Nirvana phone provides for an interesting way to provide solutions for disaster recovery. In many near site and far site DR locations a solution that is cheaper than thin clients can be set up that requires next to zero maintenance and users can carry a device with them that is useful for many purposes hence reducing the chances that they can't find it when it's really needed.


PS- I am very likely going to buy the ATRIX


Slow news day?


If the Nirvana Phone is delivered with a tablet-dock, laptop-dock and desktop-dock, then it will be possible to use the Phone with the look & feel of the device you want to use for the activity you want to do. While you get your business workspace from the Cloud (with the possibility for heavy duty work using a blade pc VDI solution), you always have a secure place for business data while you can use your phone for your personal life. A complete integration of private and work within 1 device. What do you need more?


Is this phone running OKL4's microvisor under the hood as some news articles indicate?

Simon Bramfitt's blog states otherwise.


The question is, is there a reason to carry a thin-client around with you.

If you are hotdesking in a company, they will have clients already there.  No need to mess with docking/undocking a phone.

If you are at a hotel, business center, or other location, they will have a machine with a web browser.  Are you going to unplug their monitor/keyboard so you can use on your phone?  Not likely.

Will hotels/conferences/juice bars start having spare monitors and keyboards around that people can dock their phone into?  Possible but I doubt it.  Instead they will have actual machines so the majority who doesn't have the nirvana phone can actually use them.  And if you want thin-client access just use the browser they already have.




Most companies I have visited have guest offices and cubicles with no thin clients. Many provide thin clients for free seating employees, for them thats a better answer. For those that don't this could be an option. This is not a matter of carrying an extra thin client, just a more capable smartphone that you carry anyway.

I dont trust public PC's for anything that a keystroke logger could exploit.  So if this concept gets popular I could expect hotels/cafes etc to offer zero maintenance displays for guests.


So, this is a dockable Android-based phone with some sort of Citrix Receiver built in. Is this about right? Where is the Citrix vision/IP here exactly? Is it in the fact that native Android apps appear alongside Citrix apps? What is the Atrix webtop exactly? Is it an extension to the Android OS? An alternate shell with Citrix Receiver capabilities?

Just about every electronic appliance today features a docking option for iPods and iPhones. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that the same will very soon be available for Android-based devices.  The phone itself doesn't have to be capable of natively supporting high display resolutions. Once it's docked, an alternate display adapter is provided by the docking station.

I see many benefits to this computing model, especially security. The phone itself becomes the smartcard and can be deactivated instantly in case it's lost. In fact, the phone could incorporate multiple virtual smartcards for use in different environments.

Internet cafes will soon be flooded with smartphone docking stations instead of standard PCs. I do see more potential here beyond the "party trick."


@ChrisFleck  If I am that paranoid about security, I won't use the keyboard either because it could still log every keystroke.  Or I will BYOK (bring your own keyboard) which I already do on my Android device.

The display aspect using wireless HDMI is interesting.  Being able to show a presentation or video from my phone without hooking up anything will be functionality that is genuinely useful (once most displays have wireless HDMI support, that is :-).)  But this just sounds like it was made to show off Citrix Receiver, not a product that will be used extensively in the real world.  Anyplace I would think to plug in my phone and use it as a dumb terminal already has a PC or other (thin) client there, which doesn't require docking or even a phone at all.


I am actually pretty excited about the Nirvana Phone concept.  

As a Federal IT Employee, I am staring at the newly signed the "Telework Improvement Act of 2010" and all Federal agencies are going to have to build telework strategies for around two million employees.   Thin clients are great but keeping track of assets is time consuming and expensive and if this solution allows me to deliver a virtual desktop without procuring laptops or thin clients for remote users, all the better.  Also, this means that an employee now works from home one day a week and is going to need additional equipment or assets that are going to have to be kept track of.  Again, folks seem to reliably carry their phone around also keep in mind, we are talking non-geek segments of the population who actually leave their house without a live IP Address (is any of you ever without an IP Address either phone or computer?)  

If the product works as advertized then I think it is a nice fit into the teleworking/hoteling strategies that will be taking shape for Federal IT in the next few years.  Even the Linux based Thin clients need patched/updated/etc and the Windows embedded thin clients definitely do.  Who wants to add another 1,000-5,000 assets to their inventory?  If your staff formerly worked in one location and now has to work in two locations (home and a hotel cube) this is the most agile way to equip them  in my opinion.  Granted my vision is very simple, deliver the Citrix Desktop and I am less concerned with other features.  

We have heard about the collision course that the smart phone and laptop/netbook have been on for awhile.  I think this is the closest thing we have to that up to now. (Admittedly, I am a bit of a gadget-hater).  Do we NEED a phone/computer?  Well, every Federal Agency has less than 180 days to develop telework strategies for all of their employees and they will NEED a way to accomplish this task as painless and inexpensive as possible.   John Whaley asks a good question (is there a reason to carry around a thin client) for Feds, their may just be.  

Who knows, one man’s “Meh” just could be another man’s nirvana.

Only time will tell,


This is an occasional use case solution to me. Agree if you are using for DR type solutions it may make a lot of sense if you assume everybody has a capable phone which I can rely on and is hard to prescribe to be honest.

@JohnWhaley, if one was that paranoid about security one not use Moka5's Type 2 solution...... But I digress. Certainly the Nirvana concept offers a good security story since the docking stations are dumb and zero maintenance.

@icelus no microvisor. This is just the Android Receiver. I believe the local apps can be run side by side and a native firebox browser is also available.

@edgeseeker don't worry I am sure Quest will copy the idea soon like they do everything else. I hear they are getting into the SSO business now as well with an investment in simplified. I do agree however little to boost about for Citrix since it's just yet more HDX to more devices extending the Windows franchise.

@jmsazboy you don't need a Nirvana phone to do what you are saying. You just need desktop virtualization (don't waste time with VMware as it won't work over real world networks unless you stick with RDP for sucky quality) with a client on a users machine. If you users don't have machines or you are required to certify the client then perhaps.

Overall I think it's good progress making desktop virt more useful on another device form factor. However the assumption is still we will remain stuck in a Windows app world moving forward, for which there are real reasons to believe now that there is real will to move on


I disagree that the "nirvana phone" won't matter. I think this device has filled a previously underserved niche. A highly portable, independently useful device that can be also used in a desktop setting is going to be something many consumers and organizations consider buying. While there are certainly aspects of the device that can be improved upon, I think for a first version this is very good.

The comparison with the Plug is apples and oranges, as the Plug PC is completely useless without accessories. Where as the Atrix is a fully functional smart phone on its own.

The resolution argument makes me smile as I work on a 13” 1280x800 display as my primary computer. Higher resolution doesn’t equal greater productivity.

There is also no access terminal commodity at this point and even if there were, I would feel much more comfortable using my own vs. a public one. Public terminals will go the way of public phones, they will be hard to find and unpleasant to use.

There are several improvements I would like to see in the phone. The biggest would be wireless video to eliminate the need to hook cables (see widi and other new tech) and I think in the next 2-3 years this will be a reality. I also am not a fan of how this phone connects to the laptop. I can imagine trying to use the thing in a crowded area (like a trade show) and someone walking by swiping the phone off the back. I don’t like keeping several hundred dollars hanging out where everybody but me can see it. The phone should dock inside the shell.

All in all, I think dismissing it outright is similar to people against early smart phones saying “Phones are for talking, I can do email on my computer.” and later saying “Why would I send text messages when I can just call?” Different uses for different cases will make smart phones like this a part of the IT landscape for years to come.



I don't know if the Atrix is using the OK Labs Microvisor or not, although I would not be surprised if it is.  Motorola is an OKL customer and used the OKL Microvisor in the Evoke and other handsets. The point I was making was that the Atrix is not using a fully fledged mobile hypervisor capable of running multiple separate OS instances i.e. a personal and a business OS side by side on the same device.

Ping me if you need more detail.




@Appdetective - I think you meant Symplified. (

This is one of the times I happen to disagree with your opinion. As I'm sure many others here will agree, I don't believe Quest is in the business of copying anyone.  If you're alluding to vWorkspace, I think this platform is pretty unique in the way it unifies the various ways in which a desktop experience can be delivered.  Also, Quest's vWorkspace is the first product of its kind to unify RDS, VDI and app delivery.  Besides, everything in it is home-grown, from printing to profile management and what not, obviating the need to go out and buy a million other things.  The built-in automation features are simply unrivaled, and the likes of VMware, Citrix and the smaller potatoes can't help but to copy its features. I was recently told by no other than a VMware insider that VMware is still kicking itself in the butt for not having acquired vWorkspace instead of Quest.

Not sure what your beef is with them. But anyway, let's stick to the subject of this article.


I couldn;t resist:

"Silly Rabbit, *Trix are for kids."...

Here's the thing about the disconnected future - it requires connections. I like the idea of having a powerful computer handset (and I have used Blackberries, iPhones, and Androids) and I like the concept of execution in the Cloud.. but it is simply not human nature to be staring at devices that are 4.3" or smaller. I suspect with wireless HDMI this could be beneficial when all devices support the protocol.. but it has taken Bluetooth almost 10 years to get mass adoption and i am not talking about techies.

The protocols will dictate compatibility and consumers will dictate adoption. Chicken-egg!


@edgeseeker yes I did mean Symplified and a good investment IMO. I have no personal beef with Quest. I've been listening to the infomercial since the Ghostine brothers days and little has happened to win market share and disrupt the ecosystem. They are just not that exciting and people like Kaviza and Verde are more likely to take away share that Quest has. It's true however in what you say that Quest has a good integration story in terms of console but you still have to go and configure all the sub products that you need with it i.e hypervisor, app-v etc, so I see this as more marketing than anything of substance. As for other printing,profile stuff they have, nobody cares unless they use Quest. IMO If I was Quest I would be seeking partnerships with Thinprint, Appsense etc so they can sell more broadly. Don't waste time with RES/Tricerat etc because nobody give a damn outside of a few niche areas form what I can tell. If they really wanted to help VMWare since MS told them to F OFF with Citrix, they should also support PCoIP, or at least see if there is any opportunity. Perhaps they should even think about if there is a way to work with Citrix for a segment of the market and help usage of other Quest portfolio products.  I agree VMW should have bought them a long time ago, but VMW doesn't get VDI is not for the masses in it's current form. They believe server density etc will make it cheap enough for the masses and hence no need for the RDS model and it makes the whole think simpler vs. the cluster F that is Flexcast from Citrix which is 1000000% disjointed in every possible way and complex to deal with for most people. Nobody is really proven with layers so we're left with the Appsence's of the world as the only way to try to drive costs down and consistency across multiple models. Actually if MS wanted to really enter the desktop virtualization market they should buy Quest and Appsense and that would be good enough for the mass market with Quest, drive RDP and Hyper-v with Appsense appealing to the enterprise segment. I guess however MS is stuck in it's own internal mess built it themselves as opposed to just go take over a market while they focus on the next generation Windows. Arrogance and poor leadership. It would be far cheaper way than buying Citrix, but we would still be missing HDX which is the only real value that Citrix brings to the table for desktops, the rest is all BS quality junk for desktops.


If it can directly integrate with contact center type VoIP systems like CUCCE, Avaya, Aspect etc… not extension mobility or mobile agent setups that require an additional PSTN for every user, but more inline with phone proxy for secure communications.

Combined with secure connectivity to your virt desktop/RDS infrastructure and I can see potential.


@appdetective - Those are interesting points that you bring up. I actually recall speaking to one of the Ghostine brothers a while ago who explained to me that their strategy is to align themselves with Microsoft and make vWorkspace more Microsoft-centric than any other VDI product on the market. That, according to him, would give their product maximum visibility and validity in a Citrix and VMware dominated industry. Is this not working out as such? You seem to have more visibility into what's going on out there. I can actually see this strategy executed in the most recent version of vWorkspace, which seems to be pretty closely integrated with MS and noticeably easier to deploy.  What's your opinion? Is Microsoft not showing them enough love?

The printing and profile management features, among others, in vWorksapce are all very nicely integrated. There's no need to seek out partnerships with ThinPrint, AppSense, etc., because none of that would lead to business ramp-up in my opinion. Besides, some of these peripheral companies have problems of their own and are probably struggling for survival. Plus, adding more layers to a multi-layer stack (broker, hypervisor, app-v, etc.) would only serve to make the solution more complex to deploy and manage (multiple databases and consoles),  And I can only imagine the slap on the wrist that a partner like AppSense would be receiving from Citrix if they were to dare and do anything with Quest. By the way, isn't ScriptLogic owned by Quest? What's their market share compared to AppSense's? Why not start there? Incidently we do have a department that's been using it for years, and they think it's great.


@edgeseeker let me put this way. Quest is not Microsoft and can't keep thinking we have a,b,c technology. Nobody cares. They have to get people to pull the solution and that means partners. And guess what if requires set up fees for people then you have a consulting industry....... That's the problem with Quest, too inward focused, they need to extend some olive branches and win partnerships with people who matter in this space. They will fail going it alone. The reality on the MS side of things is, MS knows Quest does not win in customer minds vs. VMW, so they bet with Citrix due to HDX which is key for Citrix.


Actually I think Microsoft can turn this around by playing their embrace and extend trick.

Create a Window Mobile phone with HDMI and USB like Atrix. Enable RemoteFX on it.  Announce that Microsoft will waver the VDI license cost on client when people use this phone as thin client when access Windows running on Hyper-V.

I believe Microsoft should attack mobile market from enterprise space.



Waiving the VDA license cost is not needed on consumer devices since the VDA regulations state that they do not charge for non-corporate owned devices.

Basically the way MS positioned itself with VDA is actually promoting companies to adopt consumerization and the 'BYO' concept.



Thanks for the info. I guess I did not read the VDA license thoroughly.  I think Microsoft has not planed their mobile strategy well.

In my humble opinion, Microsoft should change the VDA license to favor their Windows 7 phone and introduce a phone that focus on enterprise first.