Smartphones are taking over the world–the tech world, at least. The computing buzz these days is decidedly mobile. The question is “where does it end”? Do Smartphones continue their growth until they are the dominant or sole computing platform, or does this trend stop somewhere short of that? Let’s look as some of the factors that will drive the market:
The state of microprocessors used in Smartphones will go a long way in deciding the ultimate outcome of this discussion. We’ve seen similar scenarios to the Smartphone phenomenon before, and history tells us that microprocessors will keep progressing on all three major computing platforms. History also says that applications have always grown in size and capability to take advantage of the increased level of processing power and memory available at a given cost. In addition, desktop PCs (and laptops to a lesser degree) don’t have the extreme power constraints that a pure mobile platform like a Smartphone does. If historical trends hold true, it won’t bode well for Smartphones becoming the dominant computing platform, because PCs will continue to have an inherent advantage in software capability due to more powerful hardware. If there is a leveling off in PC processor capability, Smartphones will have more of a chance to overtake them as the primary computing platform.
Screen size and power consumption are also very important to this argument. Until holograms become standard, screen size will always be an important factor is choosing where to do your computing. This doesn’t bode well for a total Smartphone takeover of computing.
Keyboards are an analogous issue to screens; once voice input becomes standard in the computing world, keyboard size will seize to be an issue, tilting the field toward Smartphones. But until this happens, all but the insane will prefer typing on a PC keyboard over anything available in the Smartphone world (although there have been definite improvements in Smartphone keyboards).
Battery life is also a major driving factor in the capability of Smartphones. While mobile processors and memory will almost certainly continue to provide greater compute capability at lower power consumption, desktops essentially have no power constraints (except for the very green-conscious). Even laptops come with an assumption of working at least part of the time where they can be plugged in. There could come a day where batteries are so powerful and hardware is so miserly in power consumption that battery life is no longer a major issue. Until that day, however, the checkmark goes to PCs.
There are two aspects of software that are important to this discussion. The first is the number and breadth of applications available–the Smartphone category has already blown through this checkpoint. Hundreds of thousands of applications are already available on Smartphone platforms. Smartphones are already in the mainstream from a software assortment perspective. The second question is the sophistication/capability of the infrastructure software available, to ensure whether bleeding edge technology can be used on a platform. While Smartphone infrastructure and tools aren’t t yet as powerful and mature as what’s available on PCs, things are moving fast and I don’t see this as a major issue preventing Smartphone dominance.
New Hybrid Smartphone/Laptops
This embryonic platform holds the promise of being a game-changer in the market, tilting the advantage towards Smartphones as your primary (and possibly only) computer. What I’m referring to is a normal Smartphone “docked” into a laptop accessory shell, providing a larger screen, keyboard and maybe even bigger battery while using the same interface and software available on your Smartphone. This allows all of your files and computing occur on a single device, which would represent a major breakthrough for users. It’s the holy grail of computing. You may have seen ads for one of the early models, the Motorola Atrix “Lapdock”; or heard about the recently announced ASUS Padfone hybrid Smartphone/Tablet. It’s still very early in this segment and definitely uncertain how it will turn out. As in any early market, prices are still high, and the early devices don’t quite work as well as you’d like. But the paradigm is a powerful one. If the companies bringing out these devices stick with it, continue to innovate and introduce next generation devices that meet market expectations, this is a product that could truly be a PC killer. Only time will tell if this category will become the next generation of computing, or peter out like so many other great ideas that weren’t carried out to the required maturity.
I realize that tablets are becoming an important part of the computing ecosystem, but for simplicity I’ve considered them a next generation laptop in the context of this discussion.
I can’t say I know how this eventually works out. If I had that type of view into the future, I’d be in Vegas placing bets rather than writing this article. But using history as a guide, I think all three major platforms–desktops, laptops and Smartphones–will be with us for a long while.
I do think there will be a re-alignment in computing market share among the main platforms. I see desktops continuing a slow decline in share and eventually becoming specialist computers, used only where the ultimate in computing power is required. Smartphones have already staked their claim as the new growth platform. How far this growth goes is the only question. The wildcard is the new hybrid category. I believe that these devices could become the dominant primary computing platform if the hybrid Smartphone/laptop category takes off–which is far from a certainty at this time. If hybrids don’t take off, I believe screen, keyboard and processor limitations will prevent Smartphones from becoming the dominant computing platform anytime soon.
That’s my forecast–what’s your opinion on the direction computing will take? Do desktops eventually go away completely? Are they replaced by a Smartphone/laptop hybrid device? Do two of these three platforms survive, or will all three co-exist in the future as they do now? I’d be interested in your own forecast–leave a comment to further this discussion.
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Marc Friedmann says
As everything moves to the cloud and broadband access becomes universally available, then laptop, tablet and cell phone all become access devices to your account on the web. It will just become a matter of convenience or need as to which device you use or have with you at any particular time.
What about virtual computers??? The ones that appear in the augmented field of view? Then you wouldn’t need even a need smartphon (but it may be powered from a simliar looking device)…it could be a smartphone if you wanted it to…or it could morph into a laptop or a desktop. You won’t need any holograms either…because it will simply adapt to your POV …and you’ll be able to apply skin it to make it look like any computer or device you want and will literally beable to flat in an out of your view as and when you want. The tech is already here…just put it in a smaller form factor with decent battery life…give 5 years tops for the tech to be small enough to do this practically.
People said that the hand written letter would never die because ‘people prefered a handwritten letter as
it was more personal even in business’ that was at the turn of 2 centuries ago. But the typwriter did
take over about 80% of that space – it wasnt popular for the first 15 years of existence then whoosh! Then
came the 8-bit computer and later DTP in the 80’s and eletronic printing press not only did it reduce hand
written content to about 10% but then the typewriter was threatened too. People said that wouldn’t die.
Then came email and then the internet. India and Thailand still use typewirters for legal documents in
court and we still handwrite letters to our loved ones.
So based on this model. The AutoCAD guy will be one of the few DESKTOP PC users left (…along with
special effects creaters, specialist programmers and engineers and enthusiasts) The laptop will probably
start to fade too but it will become so powerful that people will eventually stop using desktop PCs (or
similar future connatations of it) altogether except where imovability actually is beneficial and
advantages (eg security , storage etc.)
Most will be using smartphones to start with to compliment their existing PCs/Laptops. Eventually most
laptops will kill off 80% of PCs because they because they become way more powerful and evetually cheaper
(less materials, lower manufacturing cost). this will kill another 10% of Desktops. The laptop will only
encounter an 80% slam when the next tech arrives like augmented reality computing. Latops will be at 10%
useage, Desktops 1% and the smartphone will be threatened. Then come chip implants or AR contact lenses,
electronic paper, holomorphism, then hard light devices.
Today much less than 1% of communication is handwritten or typed on a typwriter. BUT it still exists! So
does the 8 bit computer – the Educational Computer which is a NES/Famicom clone with a keyboard. Still on
sale today. Also FPGA boards and the MSX FPGA and the Minimig (Amiga FPGA computer) exist for enthusiasts
and people still collect old 8 bits or make their own.
You get where I’m going with this?
It’s not like a domino effect where one device completely kill off the other or a ‘shade and fade effect’
where one device eventually overshadows the other. It’s more like what I call a layered ‘bunt and shunt’
effect. A new technology appears miles of on the horizon takes time to gather pace and slams into the rest
of the carriges of a train. The carriges that have the weakest support are crushed almost out of
existence…but it takes more than one or two slams to reduce it to 1%. But the 2nd ad 3rd slams also
effect other procurser and precursor technologies by varying but relevant amounts. It’s really hard to get rid of the last 1% and may take many shunts to dislodge it off the track completely since it is so compacted or ‘niched’ the last 1% dies hard.