Reading this article in Computerworld prompted me to chime in.
The gist of the article is that PCs as we know them now are gradually becoming obsolete and replaced by tablet-like terminal devices.
The writer, Mike Elgan, of course has a point insofar as the two worlds, desktop and tablet, are certainly converging. Tablet features, such as touchscreen operability, are making their way into desktops, and desktop computing power is making its way into tablets.
The article is a bit of a troll, though. On the surface it seems to suggest the death of PCs (read: desktops) but if you look at it closely, it talks about the majority of consumers gradually switching to tablets for everyday information consumption AND tablet features (mostly the ease of deploying and getting rid of applications) coming to desktops.
Tablets are for consumption, desktops for creation
Yes, tablet-like devices are perfect for content consumption. As long as you’re reading stuff, watching videos or listening to audio content, even a small device is sufficient.
Even Elgan doesn’t deny that hardcore content creation will require powerful desktop equipment. My subhead above is a direct quote of one of the commenters on the article. Very true.
Perhaps the most interesting sentence in the article is this:
As an increasing number of consumers embrace iPads and other tablets as their full-time computing device, they’re going to want bigger ones for the desktop.
That is clearly a point well made. The keyword being ‘bigger’. As long as humankind is limited by its ability to see and the size of its hands, there’s a limit to how small devices can be made. We are reading news about credit card size, fully functional computers, but the user interface still needs to conform to human physiology.
Time for prediction
So where will computer development be heading a few years from now?
I’m not a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination, but my guess is that Elgan is right about the convergence. The future computer that will cater for both creation and consumption of content will probably have these characteristics:
- 10–12″ screen (aging population can’t use much smaller, device requires sufficient width for nearly-full keyboard—see next point)
- slide-out keyboard (analogous to QWERTY smartphones today)
- tilt-up screen (also like some of today’s smartphones)
- very thin and lightweight alloy casing (MacBook Air type)
- powerful combination of processor speed, RAM and flash HDD
- WLAN/WiFi capabilities built in
- 3G, 4G (or whatever is state-of-the-art at the time of launch) telephony capabilities
- applications available on-demand (much like Apple Store) and installed/uninstalled very simply
Another alternative might be to go the route of what Motorola introduced with its Atrix smartphone:
- smartphone with a high-end processor
- dockable to a terminal with screen, keyboard and local storage capacity
So in a way we’re talking about the rebirth of the netbook, wouldn’t you say?
Price will always be an issue
From the technology point of view, I can’t see any reason why such devices couldn’t be available within a couple of years. The price, however, will have to match the market’s expectations.
For a device like I outlined above to become popular among the masses, I think its price can’t be much more than $300–400 initially. The challenge, therefore, is who can produce it in that price bracket? We will probably see, at least in the beginning, telecom operator subsidised packages with minimum contract length. (And lots of jailbreaking advice on the net.)
A writer myself, I would heartily welcome such a device. How about you? Shoot back in the comments!