The future of the PC

It has been estimated that in around a decade or so, desktops, laptops and tablet computers will be obsolete. Perhaps in the future we will think back to the day when we took delivery of that cutting edge piece of ‘must have’ computer wizardry and cringe at just how limited it really was.

I remember buying a Casio digital diary sf-4000 whilst at college back in the late eighties or early nineties and what a piece of kit it was!

The features of the sf-4000 were:

  • Telephone directory: Enter the first letter of a name to recall the name in an instant (Initial Search). Data is sorted automatically in alphabetical order.
  • Schedule keeper: Keep track of appointments by entering the day, month, and year.
  • Memo function: Store text data such as price lists, airplane schedules, movies schedules, concert schedules, anniversaries, and more.
  • To do list: Keep track of daily tasks, checking off items as you complete them.
  • World time: Find out the current time in virtually any location on the globe.
  • Secret memory area: (The James Bond button) The secret memory area keeps personal data private. Once a password is registered, data is locked away until the password is used to access the secret area.
  • Alarm: A message appears and a buzzer sounds when a scheduled appointment time arrives.
  • Currency conversion function: Instant conversion between two monetary units.
  • Metric conversion function:  Conversion between metric units and another measurement unit.

As you can see from the list above, this was a very mediocre little gadget that had a rather short life at the forefront of technology. Digital organisers were entirely superseded by Mobile Phones and PDA’s.

What about the laptops and desktops?

Desktops and laptops having already started to become less relevant and will soon be consigned to the depths of the loft to gather dust. Already many attic rafters are straining under the weight of a huge collection of outdated monitors, screens, printers and enough computer cabling to sink a battleship. We just can’t seem to bring ourselves to get rid of them!

How many parallel and serial connector leads are stored just in case, when no modern system would accept them? How many floppy discs and drives are kept for the same reasons? It’s laughable when you consider that for £3 these days, you can get a 4 gigabyte flash pen that will hold roughly the equivalent data of 2,800 floppy discs.

Enter the smartphone!

It appears that the one thing that is likely to be around for the foreseeable future is the smartphone.

Over the last five years or so, the smartphone has proved that they are a very capable device. Smartphone’s have also been getting smaller as their computing power continues to grow. OK, there are the odd exceptions like the ‘Phablet’, a cross between a mobile phone and a tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Note series are a shining example, but on the whole, Smartphone’s are getting smaller. Quite a few Smartphone’s are also about as powerful as a desktop or laptop PC. In a few short years, everything you do on your laptop now will be easily done on a smartphone. So why do we continue to use a laptop?

The only really convincing argument to stick with a larger device, such as a desktop, laptop or tablet, is the actual interface. The keyboard is still the best way of inputting data, and some things simply cannot be performed on a small smartphone screen. But is this situation likely to change any time soon?

In a word, yes! In just the last few months, Apple and Google have made giant leaps in improving their voice recognition software and it has finally reached the stage where it can replace keyboard input. In the next few years, who knows what technology could reach a maturity level that deprecates the conventional keyboard?

Keyboards are one thing, but what about the display side of things? With innovations like Google Glass, that effectively vibrates bones in the head for audio instead of headphones or speakers, wireless contact lens displays that send images direct to the eye, and e-ink displays such as used in the Amazon Kindle, all threaten to replace the traditional old concept of a solid, immovable screen being at the centre of our interaction with multimedia.

In the next few years, any viable reasons for keeping a laptop, desktop, or tablet, will become very slim indeed.

Life with just a smartphone

Imagine if your smartphone was your only computer. You would always have your computer with you. All of your documents, pictures, games and apps, would always be safely in your pocket, ready to access at any time. If you want to check your messages, if you want to watch a TV show on the bus or train, or edit a photo, it’s all possible.

If you find you do need a large screen, a keyboard, mouse, and some beefy speakers, then you can just plug your smartphone into a docking station. You may have one at home, in the office and they might eventually be located in town centres at various points. Better still, with wireless networks, a physical docking station might not even be necessary.

So what will become of the PC?

Many critics of the ‘death of the PC’ theory are pretty quick to point out that there are just too many things that PCs can do that the alternatives can’t equal.

In a world where Smartphone’s are king and extra connectivity is provided by docking stations, wirelessly or otherwise, there really is no lasting hope for the PC. Effectively, a smartphone is just a really small PC.

This isn’t to say that larger general-purpose computers won’t live on, though. At least for the foreseeable future, there will be limits to just how much processing power can be squeezed into a smartphone, and there will always be people who need or want faster computers to speed up what they’re doing. Instead of desktop PCs, though, the gap is likely to be filled by cloud computing.

Eventually, it will seem ridiculous that computing had once meant sitting in front of a desk or laptop. In short, anything more than an implanted interface in the brain will seem archaic. We will all be wondering why we ever thought that the tablet would be the next big thing, and are likely to go the same way as the poor old Casio digital diary that was mentioned earlier.

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