Personal Computing – What does the future hold?

What does the future hold?

Recently, as a result of doing a lot of technology related reading (for work), I have started giving some thought as to where we are headed in terms of personal computing.

There is a shift in the paradigm. A change in the standard line of thought. So far, it has been the PC that reigned supreme, and all other computers followed.

But a change started when touch cell phones and especially smartphones came into play. People found that small hand-held devices could provide them a big chunk of what they needed either for work or for leisure.

Even laptops and notebook PCs are taking a hit in that respect, and it’s all a part of a trend that only grows stronger, where global PC sales are going down, while sales of tablets and smartphones are going up.

The world leading brand companies have noticed this trend for a few years now, and their tactic to fight it has been to push forward Ultrabooks  as well as try and sell more all-in-one PCs with elements taken from the portable devices world – such as touch screens. Microsoft lent them a hand in that area by recently releasing Windows 8 and its variants into the wild.

It may be too little, too late. It’s true that there is no real alternative to a big screen and a proper keyboard (even though some other input options are already on their way to the market) when it comes to typing or doing real work. (I type this post on a desktop, simply since it’s the most convenient option between my laptop,tablet,desktop or smartphone)

But what people are starting to understand, maybe subconsciously, is that technology is at a real turning point. We are no longer tied to one option or one solution. With introduction of hybrid solutions such as Asus Padphone 2, people can work with their phone, and also use it as a tablet. Now, what stops us from using our smartphone, and when the time comes, dock it into a smart docking station which turns it into a full fledged laptop or even a desktop? The technology is here to allow this.

I believe that in the coming years, companies that see their PC market share shrinking, will come out with such hybrid solution, because the public will ask for it, one way or another.

The modular solution is the best, as long as you are not forced to make too many engineering compromises along the way.

Currently, smartphones and most tablets are using ARM processors, and desktops and laptops are using x86 processors. This creates a barrier since you cannot run programs or same operating systems on both. But I foresee that this will change. Today smartphone CPUs are already more powerful than the PC CPUs of 10 years ago. It won’t be long before they are close to today’s PC CPU performers.

Also, you can put a low-power CPU in a smartphone, to save battery life and avoid fire hazard, but a complimentary unit will reside on the docking station which will boost performance for when you’re home or want to work at laptop level. It’s all about Lego-like mindset.

Those who won’t adapt, will be gone. It’s a simple matter of time and economic constraints. The world always wanted smaller and faster, but now it also wants Big and useful at the same package deal.

Prices are being driven down by third world countries such as India – they just announced a 20 dollar tablet!

This is ground breaking, as just a few years back, engineers were struggling to build a 100$ laptop for poor country school children. 20$ price tag puts accessibility to computing almost everywhere. It will make it easier for people to survive in an ever more ferocious job market if they have the opportunity to learn and hone their skills from an early age.

But low prices are just a part of the story. You always got more bang for your buck as new generation of computers came along making the last one practically obsolete. Companies are fighting now harder than ever to fend Moore law just a little bit further, and they’re fighting a losing battle.

That’s why Intel took the multi-core road even though people still barely use the extra power it offers (lack of software support which will take a while to catch up).

Today you can see pentium or higher class CPUs in washing machines and refrigerators (those are more justified with the slew of internet supporting units in Japan and Korea). It’s mind boggling at times.

Do you know what really drives the need for speed for computer manufacturers? It has and always have been video games. Without those, people would have stayed with 1990 level PCs and been perfectly happy with them. They did spreadsheets, word processing, and other simple tasks quite well. But the game industry demanded more. More power, more memory, more speed and better multimedia capabilities.

And here is a little taste of the future:

Is it good or bad? It’s neither. It’s supply and demand. If people didn’t need or want to play games, companies wouldn’t race endlessly into the future creating machines that can do unimaginable fits for mere hundreds of dollars. The PC of today is the Cray supercomputer of just a few years back. Where do you think they took multi-core computing from?

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