October 1, 2012
MG Siegler writes:
The PC is over. It will linger, but increasingly as a relic.
I now dread using my computer. I want to use a tablet most of the time. And increasingly, I can. I want to use a smartphone all the rest of the time. And I do.
The value in the desktop web is increasingly an illusion. Given the rate at which these mobile devices are improving, a plunge is rapidly approaching.
Don’t build an app based on your website. Build the app that acts as if websites never existed in the first place. Build the app for the person who has never used a desktop computer. Because they’re coming. Soon.
Realize that MG Siegler is a journalist, and a TechCrunch air-quotes journalist at that, so he's well versed in hyperbole. You might say he's a billion times better at hyperbole than the average blogger. In his own way, he is a creator, I suppose: he creates hype.
But he's not entirely wrong here.
I've noticed the same pattern in my own computing habits. As I wrote in The Last PC Laptop, it's becoming more and more difficult to justify any situation where a traditional laptop is your best choice – even a modern, svelte, fancypants laptop.
Desktops, on the other hand, are perfectly justifiable. That is, if you want three monitors, eight blazingly fast CPU cores, 64 GB of memory, and fire-breathing multi-GPU configurations. If you need absurd, obscene amounts of power, a desktop computer is the way to go. And it's probably cheaper than you think, because desktops are all built from the same interchangeable pool of parts. It's also a lot more fun than laptops, because willingness to tinker combined with lust for ostentatious power is the essence of hot rodding.
And it is freakin' awesome.
But even as an inveterate PC hot-rodder, I've noticed that in the last few years I've started to lose interest in the upgrade treadmill of ever faster CPUs with more cores, more sophisticated GPUs, more bandwidth, more gigabytes of RAM. Other than solid state drives, which gave us a badly needed order of magnitude improvement in disk speeds, when was the last time you felt you needed to upgrade a powerful desktop or laptop computer? If I dropped a SSD in it, do you honestly think you could tell the difference in real world non-gaming desktop usage between a high end 2009 personal computer and one from today?
Because I'm not sure I could.
Imagine the despair of a hot-rodder who regularly sees the streets awash in boring Chrysler K-Cars and Plymouth minivans with more ponies under the hood than a sweet custom rig he built just two years ago.
I think we're way past the point of satisfying the computing performance needs of the typical user. I'd say we hit that around the time dual CPU cores became mainstream, perhaps 2008 or so. What do you do when you have all the computing performance anyone could ever possibly need, except for the freakish one-percenters, the video editors and programmers? Once you have "enough" computing power, for whatever value of "enough" we can agree to disagree on, the future of computing is, and always has been, to make the computers smaller and cheaper. This is not some new trend that MG Siegler revealed unto the world from his journalistic fortress of solitude.
We've already seen this before in the transition from mainframes that fit in a building, to minicomputers that fit in a room, to microcomputers that fit on your desk. Now we're ready for the next stage: computers that don't just fit in your lap, they fit in your hand
. The name of the game is no longer to make computers more powerful, but to radically reduce their size and power consumption without compromising the performance too much.
I mentioned how boring the performance scene has gotten for laptops and desktops. It's so boring that I can't be bothered to dig up representative benchmarks. Let's just assume that, outside of SSDs, there have been at best cost-of-living inflation type improvements in desktop and laptop benchmarks since 2008. Now contrast that with the hyperbolic performance improvement in the iPhone since 2008:
In case the graph didn't make it clear, in the last four years of iPhone, we've seen a factor of 20 improvement in Browsermark and a factor of four improvement in GeekBench. In the smartphone world, performance is – in the worst case – almost doubling every year.
Ironically enough, these results were printed in PC magazine. I'd like to draw your attention to two little letters in the title of said magazine. The first one is Pee, and the second one is Cee. That's right, PC Magazine is now in the business of printing the kind of smartphone performance benchmarks that are enough to make any hotrodder drool. What does that have to do with PCs? Well, it has everything to do with PCs, actually.
I have an iPhone 5, and I can personally attest that it is crazy faster than the old iPhone 4 I upgraded from. Once you add in 4G, LTE, and 5 GHz WiFi support, it's so fast that – except for the obvious size limitations of a smaller screen – I find myself not caring that much if I get the "mobile" version of websites any more. Even before the speed, I noticed the dramatically improved display. AnandTech says that if the iPhone 5 display was a desktop monitor, it would be the best one they had ever tested. Our phones are now so damn fast and capable as personal computers that I'm starting to wonder why I don't just use the thing I always have in my pocket as my "laptop", plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary.
So maybe MG Siegler is right. The PC is over … at least in the form that we knew it. We no longer need giant honking laptop and desktop form factors for computers any more than we need entire rooms and floors of a building to house mainframes and minicomputers.
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Posted by Jeff Atwood
I've been hearing this a lot recently but I still don't see it. Smartphones and tablets are great for browsing the web or when you're out and about, but I'm never going to want to write documents or code on them. If I'm on a business trip it's a laptop I need, not a phone. While the majority of casual users may well switch to mobile devices there will be a need for laptops and desktops for power users for a while yet.
My kids are six and three. We have a PC in the house and until very recently I assumed that as some point in the near future we'd get another PC for "school, games and stuff".
Only, in the last 12 months I've come to realise that we probably won't ever buy another PC (much like your last blog post) and that my six year old son, already a fiend on smartphone and tablet, may *never* own one. What will his school require him to do on one in four or five years time? Spreadsheets?
Now the only question is do I get him his own iPad or Nexus 7 for Xmas?
Curiously, the friday a girl on a shop, after knowing that I am a software developer, asked me what will be next big thing in the field. And I said something similar, using your mobile phone as your main computer, connecting it to a couple of external devices (screen, keyboard, maybe a hard drive)...
Even more, in the future is even possible that the phone is another external device, and the core of the system (with your data, etc) is an even smaller device...
The improvements on the mobile phones in the last 5 years has been absolutely astonishing...
Get him a surface tablet and hopefully he would be able to do some useful content creation.
Well, like you, I'm a professional but I don't know how I could get rid off of my laptop for work? What are your suggestions about that?
I owe a Samsung Galaxy S3, and I agree, it's monstruously fast. But still, I do not see myself developing things with it :)
"I don't just use the thing I always have in my pocket as my "laptop", plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary"
How do you do this with an iPhone?
As for your argument - I have an iPad and a win7 laptop. No SSD yet - I couldn't afford an SSD large enough. Next time... But I can't use a desktop - I live on the road. I can finish reading my email on my iPad before my win7 laptop (loaded with database servers) is ready to start responding. But I can't do enterprise app development on my iPad, and I think it's going to be a while ;-)
I belong to that freakish 1% who need to run VMs, Visual Studio and some heavy-duty software so I may be biased but the PC is not over because current tablets and smartphones are great at consuming stuff, not creating. To create you still need a PC.
Yes, for the average user the definition of PC has changed and Windows 8 is an embodiment of that change. So don't say that the PC is over; say PC has evolved!
That's why I am so anxious to see Ubuntu for Android (http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android) come true in one of the next phones. This would be the ultimate mobile device, where you don't distinguish between being on the road and being in front of a keyboard/monitor any more.
MG Siegler is very much wrong, and its got nothing to do with how powerful PCs are - the problem is that PCs have mice and keyboards where phones and tablets dont (unless you want to be this guy)
I challenge you to write your next blog post (including research, image editing, uploading - the lot) on something that isn't a PC.
Sure tablets are great for browsing the net or checking e-mails from your sofa, but once you try to do anything more complex you find that touch screen interfaces alone simply aren't as good as a keyboard and mouse for the vast majority of tasks (maybe they will be in the future, but they aren't there yet)
plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary.
What we need are devices which connect effortlessly to authenticated devices like keyboards, displays, mice, printers, and others which for ergonomic reasons can't be made part of the "hub". Current hardware is more than capable of this, but it would require vendors working much harder on interoperability.
The PC has its place. It's mainly for creating mobile content though. In terms of consumer products, it's hard to compete with mobile products, you're right though. It will become harder.
I'd say the future is more about semi-wireless personal area networks with hot-swappable generic computing devices and high-bandwidth cloud usage. Ugh, what a buzzwordy sentence. But, anyway, your choice of interface will be much less fixed to your 'main' computing device; everything will communicate with everything else.
This is kind of a matter of semantics. I come to work and sit in front of a screen and a keyboard all day, I go home and do much the same thing. I used to have a high-end Dell portable with a docking station and that was great. Now there's a tower next to my desk. But I'm still in front of a screen and keyboard. What's changed is that now I can put my work computer in my bag and one day I'll put it in my pocket, but the desktop workstation is here to stay.
Screen, Keyboard, Mouse combination in which you plug your smartphone for its processing capabilities to create a desktop experience. Inevitable?
The world of the desktop is already radically different than it was a few years ago. Apple really started this trend with the iMac, but the brick and mortar stores are awash with these fancy new "All in One" computers that are still sporting Intel i5-i7 processors. That's about as powerful as my current gaming rig, made out of mobile components, lacking a giant tower, and using a fraction of the power.
What a world.
I would say the era of the typical user is over, not the PC.
What will change is a segmentation of the majority of users who consume their 180 characters of content, and users who actually use technology to create. In other words, those of us who develop technology will have to consider different kinds of users in a wider context (if we don't already).
CAD for example is increasingly relevant and becoming even more resource-hungry. Content creators for that space aren't going to move away from desktops.
I defy the average consumer to model their kitchen (realistically & with some precision, not blocks in Sketchup) on a tablet. Now, if we have a greater merging of more input devices with tablets, then we may see something more interesting.
I still think that tablets are often too small, and until the current crop of technologists & designers are retired with arthritis & myopia, they won't appreciate how challenging tiny buttons and tiny (relatively speaking) screens can be.
I must admit that when I bought my PC, it was 2009 and I've spent two months of my gross salary on monster-PC. I did upgrade it a few times since then, from Vista to Windows 7, 24 GB RAM, Intel Qeon Quadcore, 1.5 TB harddisk, NVidea with 1 GB of RAM and lots more. But then again, I use this system to render my own artwork, which requires a lot of processing power. And, as a software developer, it's also a very practical system to do my work. Actually, it's powerful enough for me to even combine those two tasks! And these tasks are where PC's will still be needed.
But then again, I also have a few mobile devices. A phone with Windows Mobile which I use to call people, a small tablet with Android 2.3 which is nice to read ebooks from, a bigger tabler with Android 4 which I bring with me on the road so I can browse anywhere and a netbook with Windows 7 and touch-screen for experimental purposesn. I also have a 20-inch laptop but that's a bit of an antique, older even than my desktop. Still works fine with modern software, though. And I have two mini-desktops and one is my webserver and the other a test-system for development. (And backup server in case my webserver breaks down.)
Thus, I am definitely not an average user. And most readers of this blog aren't average users either. The "mundanes" don't want no more desktops, no more PC's. They want tablets that they can bring with them, that are completely wireless with a touch-screen and a nice bag to carry it in. So yeah, I can see how the PC is disappearing, becoming less and less interesting for the mundanes while the experts still need them...
I fear sooner or later, the prices for desktops will rise to a point that even experts can't afford them without looking for cheaper mobile alternatives.
That moment is not today, though...
I have a desktop PC, Macbook Pro, and an Ipad.
I highly doubt i'll ever upgrade the desktop, and it will eventually become a file server of some description. The Macbook Pro will eventually get replaced by something like a Macbook Air, as i want the full blown OS experience whilst on the Road. My MBP is a pain to carry around everywhere.
I could potentially imagine a scenario where i would only carry around a tablet, a foldable keyboard, and something to connect the tablet to a screen, and all my development would be done via remote desktop or something.
I'm amazed how many of the people posting comments here are saying that tablets aren't the future because they can't do your their job on the tablet that exists today. This being a product category that didn't even exist three years ago.
Reminds me of the description of the original iPod: "No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame."
I'm a programmer and can't really see myself working full time on a tablet. For a start a 10 inch screen just isn't big enough. But I can see it as useful for a lot of people. At home I use my iPad more often than my laptop. I even went away on a three month holiday, taking just and iPad and Bluetooth keyboard. Didn't miss having a laptop at all.
This area is so new that who knows where it will go. As far as I'm concerned, this is the first major development in PC's for at least 20 years.
I'm cool enough with using devices for most things until I need to create something. Then I want a chair and a keyboard at the right height. I don't much care what that keyboard is connected to, though, as long as whatever it is keeps up with me.
The only way smartphones will replace laptops (or desktops) is if they become powerful enough to replace them. Do children need a PC? No, but the _vast_ number of working adults do, and will continue to need them in the foreseeable future.
I'd grant that mobile device usage is increasing at a great rate, but if anything is going to replace the desktop, it'll be the laptop. Mabye in 20 years we'll see mobile devices getting powerful enough to dock to a full size keyboard and monitor (make no mistake, people want and need a full size keyboard and monitor), and then to run spreadsheets, photoshop and other applications. But until then they'll be an accessory.
For consumers, maybe, although as my eyes have gotten worse my screens have gotten bigger. But I don't envision 50 million office workers tapping away on their smartphones any time soon (actually, what I *do* see is those 50MM office workers using a only fraction of their desktop PC's, while the "big data" jobs get the rest).
"In case the graph didn't make it clear"... neither of the two y axes on the graph are labeled, and the ticks on the right-hand axis don't even line up with the grid lines. Both are linear at least, and as such I'd have put the Geekbench increase at about 11.5 times from earliest to latest data points.
So yeah, not at all clear to me, but at least you have a pretty graph for people to skip over. Everyone likes those.
Imagine, managing that site with a tablet. You're confortably sitting in the sofa doing this and that and, suddenly you get creative.
But to express this idea damn... You'll need a mouse and then keyboard and... Shoot ! A bigger screen on a table and a real chair to sit on :-))
Or you can do all this with a stylus pen. Your choice.
The time of persons who only have a mobile device has already arrived. There are loads of kids who have an iPhone but no computer. Just the other week a career counsilor told me that they have to move back from online tests to paper&pencil because, kids don't have computers anymore, they only have phones. I told her to make mobile apps instead of moving back to P&P.
I agree, to some extent. Last year, I thought of a scenario I would like to see as a reality: your phone holds all the documents, code, pictures, ... you care to have. It has a basic computing package: a small, reasonably high res display; a decent CPU and GPU; a usable amount of RAM.
You come home, arrive at work, you drop it into a desktop docking station that provides extra memory, a replacement CPU & GPU (same instruction set, different performance), and you're good to go. You could have tablet and laptop docks as well, much like the ASUS PadFone and Motorola Atrix, but with a decent software and some standardized hardware interface backing them.
Also, I'm not sure if performance is still leapfrogging as fast as that graph seems to indicate, or maybe the software is not taking advantage of it. I bought an LG Optimus 2X about 18 months ago, and I am yet to see a phone that is overwhelmingly better in terms of performance. The only thing I miss on that phone - as a phone, not a desktop replacement - is a good keyboard.
Perhaps this new generation of 2GB memory phones with quad-core Cortex-A15's will make a convincing upgrade, but I'm not sure they need to be, until phones can grow beyond their current physical size constraints.
I'm hoping for a stable port of Synergy to Android because it would be very useful if I could interact with my tab using the same keyboard and mouse that I use with all of my other machines.
I'm not a big gamer, my typical usage is editing code, browsing sites that are mostly text and usually have a few SSH client windows going in the background. If a tablet could be connected to two larger independent displays, I'd consider using one. Any compiling I do is usually done on a remote server anyway, so I don't really need the power of a bazillion cores at my disposal. What remains is app availability - I need to have an editor I like, a terminal emulator I can deal with and the other creature comforts that make my laptop feel like home.
If anything, this would be a hardware possibility way before it was a software possibility. Even if I _could_ run dual displays on an iPad .. neither IOS nor Android is the picture of my ideal work or development environment. Well, I don't know if I can say that with 100% conviction because I have yet to try IOS6, but I'm pretty certain I could not put up with it as my primary (productive) computer from what I've seen.
Desktops are perfectly justifiable for software developers and will stay that way. Hard core gamers are (for now) still stuck to powerful desktop machines but that may likely change with more powerful tablets and new command interfaces and sensors.
But developers will always use desktops or high-end notebooks (for those of us that are on the move most of the time).
Unfortunately this means that desktops (may as well come packed in a very small form factor) will likely get increased prices due to less demand while tablets will be dropping it considerably (which is basically happening these days already).
Try again when text entry is a solved problem on a tablet. Until then, they'll be little more than tools to mess around on the internet and post shitty comments on Youtube - and that won't be replacing "gettings things done" (and, thus, computers) any time soon.
(Physical add-ons don't count. The Microsoft Surface is maybe the first that tries to fix this.)
I'm typing this on my Macbook. Why? I don't think it's the peripheral problem. There are plenty of bluetooth keyboards out there that support my iPad. I prefer my Macbook (or my Windows 7 in a VM) because stuff is a lot more customizable and open on PC's then they currently are on mobile devices (at least in the Apple universe). For example, just try to run an extension on Chrome for iOS. Heck, try to view the source of a page on an iPad. It can be done, but is complicated. I'm not sure how much this affects your average user, but lack of extensions, lack of real multitasking, and a bunch of other little things still makes me prefer my laptop for many things.
I also agree with you. The PC hardware is becoming irrelevant because is very powerful for many tasks and people also doesn't seem to bother if they have the latest.
Outside people that work with computers and requires, keyboard, large display and mouse (not your readership), the tablet usage is only increasing and many are claiming that the tablet is their primary computer
This whole "tablets are for consumers, PCs for creators" meme is ridiculous. Next they'll be claiming you can't create on paper because it doesn't have a keyboard. Yes, they have constraints that PCs don't have; but that doesn't prevent creation, it just changes what you can create.
@Justin: in that comic, the guy seems to have ended up in the same place. Except with his new setup, he can actually get up and take the screen with him as a tablet. Which is, in my opinion, a major improvement and something I've wished for long a time, as a 12" laptop user. In fact, that's what made me so excited about the "Touch Book", which was a laptop/tablet hybrid, which is a model I hope will become more common from now on.
For people claiming that tablets are just too underpowered, that's true for now, but I think that's a shortsighted view. As the supply of fast, reliable mobile Internet increases to meet demand, the concept of "augmented capabilities" will become more and more common.
As an example, check out how the Kindle Fire can do its rendering either locally or on Amazon's servers, dynamically. This model can be extended, allowing resources to be allocated in real time depending on the needs.
This has existed for years for e.g. programmers, who often have a much more powerful "build server" that complements their workstation, but I expect this to become much more common and transparent to the final user.
Just because one stops needing to upgrade something, it does not make it obsolete. It often means the technology has simply matured.
That would have happened whether or not tablets and smartphones turned up on the scene. The speed of desktop computers reaching an adequate point for users has absolutely nothing to do with smartphones or tablets.
They are a separate technology.
Once it was suggested that laptops would replace pc's. Didn't happen. Then tablets. Hasn't happened. Then smartphones - hasn't happened.
These additional devices have not replaced others. They have become additional devices.
The argument that a technology becomes obsolete when it stops needing to be upgraded.. or because other devices are being used is a weak one.
Put your desktop in the bin and try to make a living in IT. You won't. And if you think that day fast approaches, then develop or focus your career entirely away from desktops..
99% of us won't make that bet.
Hey tablet, hey cell phone, give me:
- 20-30" display
- Hard disc big enough for all my needs
- Fast and reliable internet no matter where and when
- Mouse and keyboard support or anything even remotely as intuitive, precise and reliable
- Surround sound (5.1 or 7.1, surprise me)
- Decent performance / cost ratio
Can't do? See you in 5 or 10 years!
Add to this the notion that effective virtualization is becoming more and more realistic via a cloud service, and we will likely end up with tablets/smartphones as the predominant "personal" computing device, and possibly what amounts to almost a dumb terminal on our desktops, for those occasions when we want additional screen real estate and a desk-top environment.
Additionally any of those three device categories could access a powerful-but-cloud-based virtual machine which will, in the very near future, possess most if not all of the performance characteristics of our current desktops. The only bottleneck at that point will be network throughput.
PC has always stood for personal computer. It's only the media (and people who derive their computer knowledge from the media) that has oddly conflated PC with a Wintel desktop. Video game consoles, laptops, tablets, and cellphones are computers that you own and only you use therefore they are PCs. It's always about the intended use of the PC. Flops/cm^3 is increasing but the human finger is not decreasing in size; tactile feedback has not become obsolete; and large screens are more useful than small screens. Desktops will always have a place in this world not because they are more powerful but because they offer a superior working environment.
"The only way smartphones will replace laptops (or desktops) is if they become powerful enough to replace them"
What does that mean? My iPad is substantially more powerful, and higher-specced in every regard (RAM, disk space, processor speed) than the laptop I had 10 years ago, and I got plenty of work done on that.
The only thing preventing me using the iPad as a laptop replacement now is the lack of good text input, and the unavailability of certain categories of software tool, either due to the way the OS is designed or App Store policies (both of which I agree with btw, at least in principle).
Apple (and to a lesser extent, everyone who copies them) are trying to gradually grow tablets and smartphones to the point where they can replace PCs but without going through the same malware and usability growing pains that PCs suffered the first time round.
It will take time to figure out how to make tablets as useful for general-purpose tasks as a laptop is currently without sacrificing the inherent no-instructions-needed usability that they have now, but we'll get there. It's a user interface problem, it's certainly not a performance problem.
I have always preferred desktop PC's when it comes to my home computer and still do for gaming/writing code.
I am in the process however, of selling my house. Due to de-cluttering I have sold my powerful desktop PC and for less than I paid for that; bought a gaming laptop. In the past I would have never bought a laptop for gaming as they couldn't put out the same power per pound (I'm English ;)).
You might say this isn't relevant to the article in the sense I'm still using a "PC", true but it does show how I've downsized a bit. I'll still be getting a desk and dock to use mouse/keyboard/speakers when I move house though.
Now onto the more relevant part...
I have a smartphone but no tablet, I use my smartphone for about 80% of my internet browsing, 99% of my email and all sorts of other internet related stuff.
I can't however connect my phone to a mouse/keyboard/speakers/monitor and fire up my MMO game of choice. I also can't see myself writing code on a tablet/phone. Until my phone or tablet (when i eventually get one), can perform the above tasks then for me at least the PC isn't dead.
As some earlier comments on this post state however, for the average user then with a tablet they can easily do without a PC for the most part. I do think there are still some improvements that need to be made there for tasks such as the use of office suite software. The PC will still be the device of choice for Gaming/CAD/Rendering work and anything else resource intensive for a while yet, so becoming more of a niche rather than dying.
I think the big surprise is that computer enthusiasts managed to persuade the rest of the world for so long that they needed computers designed for computer enthusiasts.
It was a neat trick, because it brought computer prices down and horsepower up for us. But it foisted viruses and way too much complexity onto regular people. Lots of the articles here on Coding Horror are pointing out specific ways in which things that computer enthusiasts are fine with are utterly unsuited for the other 99% of users.
As far as the mainstream goes, iOS-style devices are a no-brainer.
I really enjoy you Atwood, but for some reason I was surprised at you having an iPhone. It honestly made me a little sad to read that you were willing to wait for over a year for 4G because you had to wait for Apple to finally put it in their phone, along with every other technology that Android makes available as they become available and not just when Apple makes it friendly enough for my grandma to use. You're a PC hotrodder, and you'd choose these devices over a Razr Maxx or the Galaxy S3?
You read like a really smart individual, I didn't picture you being yet another Apple Kook-Aid drinker.
All the "you can't create on a tablet" stuff is FUD. There's a distinct tradeoff there, but it's not impossible. SunVox/GarageBand/Music Studio (depending on your preferred genre) all run on iOS devices. I can "do work" via Prompt from an iPod Touch, though it is painstakingly slow, and an iPad+keyboard makes it 90% as fast as a real desktop because all the compute resources are spent remotely.
I'd agree that there are limits to what a tablet/phone can provide (ArtStudio, even with a smart pen on the newest iPhone, is never going to touch the capability of PhotoShop on a contemporary x86+GPU with many times the RAM) but it turns out that limitations can enhance creativity. Like, say, if you decided to build a phone that was all touch screen....
DIY-ers, gamers and life-long technophiles like myself (that have been at a terminal long before the rest of the world jumped on the bandwagon) will ALWAYS want the most powerful computing platforms that our budget allows.
Your argument is invalid... But it will be nice weeding a decent percentage of people out of our circles. There are clearly too many assholes in our kitchen, nowadays.
I'm eager for us to get to the world where we can carry around our processor (and memory + data) in our pockets, and plug it into different peripherals based on our needs and location.
Capi hit on this above with mention of Ubuntu for Android ( http://www.ubuntu.com/devices/android ). Asus has also taken a very good-looking jab at the problem with the PadFone ( http://www.asus.com/Mobile/PadFone/ ).
I still use Desktops and Laptops plenty (Laptop for digital DJing, Desktop for everything else) and I don't have a tablet, but I do agree with the upgrade commentary - I built my desktop PC to a fairly high spec over 5 years ago and I haven't done anything to upgrade it in that time other than to chuck in a bit of extra RAM and some hard drive space. I'm currently considering an SSD addition (for the OS and main programs) and a Graphics Card upgrade to handle the latest games slightly better, but for day to day use it still performs absolutely perfectly. Common PC spec has definitely outrun the requirements for most common uses by a long chalk.
Good luck productively programming (with test suites, build tools, etc) on your ipad.
Good luck playing high-end games on your ipad.
Good luck playing any RTS or FPS on your ipad.
Good luck reading anything for more than an hour on your ipad.
Fine, let's have a device the size of a cigarette pack that holds all the computing power. But then I need a trackball to relieve my "mouse elbow," a keyboard because my business is editing tech docs, and TWO monitors (big ones) because I'm webmaster for a small private school in Palo Alto and a bunch of yoga-related sites. And I'm never, ever on the road. (Sorry, but the library is just too noisy to work efficiently.) Despite the obvious appeal of tiny devices that can do many things blazingly fast, there are task for which they will always fail, fail, fail without an adequate human interface.
I don't like using tablet computers because I hate smudge marks on the screen. I'd much rather use a desktop or laptop anyday. So short of having fingers made of microfiber cloth, I think I'll have to stick with the desktop.
Brilliant! Microfiber cloth gloves for OCD tablet users who like sparkling screens. I've gotta get on that.
Just a couple of days ago, I was wondering this exact thing. What is needed to enable tablet to be used as a desktop, and I have pondered (from a programmer's perspective) over, and found couple of things:
1. A flawless speech recognition engine
2. Making use of 1, a programming language that lets you speak your code ( i am talking about syntax being speakable/readable )
Also, another thought was, instead of thousands of programmers writing cutting edge code (for the purpose of high performance) why not invest in electronic engineers to make computers quicker? Have we hit the limits of speed of computing yet?
Mobile devices are becoming more mainstream, but they still can't compete with pcs on their power/life ratios. As mobile devices become stronger, batteries get drained faster.
I have a Galaxy s3 and I love it. I'm a ui designer and app developer, I'm also a gamer. Those are three activities I do not want to do on a mobile device (except maybe very casual gaming). Laptops can match some of that power, but the cooling solutions are often not as good as what you can put in a PC.
Smartphones and tablets are booming because they are very casual friendly to the public and good for entertainment, but word processing, 3d modeling/rendering, animation, video editing/rendering, design, programming, and heavy gaming need the power of good cpus/gpus and with no interruption in battery life.
I think that until there is a mobile device with the power to match PCs (but not drain the battery), PCs will be here for a long time.
In terms of building web apps, that's why responsive design is so big now. To address the variety of devices connecting to the internet. Mobile devices and stationary devices have always survived different purposes, and perhaps always will. You have to have a mobile phone anyway, so smartphones are a great investment. Tablets on the other hand are more niche. But you wouldn't replace your computer with your phone, and for some of those same reasons, you wouldn't replace your computer with your smartphone (maybe for the least complicated tasks).
Atwood clearly says that there is a small group of people for whom a phone or tablet isn't good enough ("except for the freakish one-percenters, the video editors and programmers"). Why do people keep commenting that programmers still want desktops and laptops?
I could use a computer with iPhone 5's specs as my main "device", but I'd miss desktop software and an external display and a keyboard much more.
No-one was writing blog posts like this before iOS. There's no reason why something like that couldn't happen for desktop computers, and it's too early to say that they're over.
I hit the end of the yearly upgrade cycle back in 2003. That's the year I put together a P4 based (screaming fast at the time) machine. That'd be the one I'm still using today! There just isn't any *need* for more power driving me forward. Sure, I added more RAM, updated a video card, and replaced (with larger faster) failed hard drives. However, the core system *still* is plenty fast enough for all my work and play needs. No problem using it as a coding platform and even does flight sims with plenty of FPS!
So, upgrades to my PC are basically dead (at least until I can't get repair parts). However, the tablet/smartphone is not a replacement. I've tried them. I have a couple. They sit in a corner and collect dust, basically unused. They do not solve any of my problems as a software developer.
The cloud is the new PC. So no, you're wrong, the race **will** continue. The race never stops or even slows down, it just shifts into a different plane (I like to think about it in terms of the number of transistors involved in a given computation).
But you're absolutely right, the actual device you use to get to your data and computations **will** become smaller and more diverse.
I purposefully avoid using the word "screen" here because it's not about the size of the screen.
I respectfully disagree, Jeff, for one very important reason: interface. Although a tablet is a 'natural-feeling' interface, it's not an optimized one. It's neat to be able to swipe your fingers and make things happen, but that's nowhere near as efficient or precise as a mouse and keyboard. Mice and keyboards, with their multiple buttons, make (near) full use of the 'bandwidth', if you will, available through the fingers. The tactile feedback mechanism, absent on tablets, allows a decoupling of input and output. Tablets are interesting and useful in many situations, but I find that I can't stomach the accompanying reduction in power of the interface. In many ways, that link is the slowest one in the chain now that computer hardware has basically exceeded all other needs. (Try playing an FPS for an hour on a tablet and tell me it's not worse than a mouse and keyboard!)
Stephen Schaal, name a single Android phone a year ago that had decent battery life? I'll wait. Hint, the Maxx has not been out for a year, and that was a phone that was only on one carrier. You Fandroids are even more horrible than the iSheep were back when they were a niche product in the early days of the Internet. The Galaxy S3 was released with LTE in June... a full three months before the iPhone 5. The S4 devices were the first Androids on more than one carrier with a 28nm process LTE modem that didn't kill battery life and require a giant battery like the Maxx. I'm always amazed the Fandroids make that comment like sheep and don't mention the entire truth on why battery life was crap on early LTE phones. It's BSing of the highest order, and it ignores the technical facts they claim to treasure. This is why technology is hard to use for many people, because it's geared to those who think they're smart about tech, but they're really not.
I wonder how many tech bloggers talk to people outside their demographic bubble. It was always bizarre reading articles about how the Mac was taking over, with the only basis being "because every laptop at my Silicon Valley coffee shop had an Apple logo." I wish I were making that up.
Now it's the desktop, even though everyone I know still uses their desktop regularly. Most run Windows 7. Even if the desktop is truly on the way out, technology will find a way to loop back around to it, much as it has for the mainframe.
The move from PC to mobile is kind of like the move from hotels to those tube-sleepers in Japan. We'll be fully "there" when a lot of people, for (relatively) low cost, at least in good climate areas, have a tube for night, mobile computing for the day, perhaps telecommuting with office on park benches, crowding into Starbucks when it rains (which it does in Southern California, as I experienced my only trip to LA), and it's a TV for evening too. The neo-homeless. Still, I figure most will have a house and...a pc, with mobile being a "second" computer, or computer for the kids or whatever
No... no it's NOT over.
A NEW form-factor is NOT the end of existing form factors.
Not EVERYONE who has a computer will buy or even CARE to buy a smartphone.
Ugh, the idiot doomsayers have now jumped to the tech realm. *facepalm*
" Our phones are now so damn fast and capable as personal computers that I'm starting to wonder why I don't just use the thing I always have in my pocket as my "laptop", plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary. "
Tell me that when this devices, as well as laptops, last more than a year or two. The duration of laptops is so predictable ( that is, they broke after a few months once the warranty expired ) that I decided to buy instead a desktop for heavy use.
"What do you do when you have all the computing performance anyone could ever possibly need, except for the freakish one-percenters, the video editors and programmers?"
"Not EVERYONE who has a computer will buy or even CARE to buy a smartphone."
But do you have reason to upgrade your computer anymore?
Thr Achilles heel of tablets (and even more do for phones) is input. I guarantee thst I can type faster and more accurately on a physical kbd than any but the most adept on a virtual kbd -- and WRT voice input, don't make me laugh! I'm "using"top-tier voice recognition s/w with one of the highest-rated mics, and it's like hunt-and-peck typing in terms of speed and dictating to a not-too-bright 10-year-old in terms of accuracy.
Nothing will pry my physical kbds out of my hands until it doesn't entail a 90% reduction in speed and accuracy. Oh, and auto-spell-correction? fuhgeddaboudit. No better than voice recognition.
P.S. Previous comment written on a tablet. I just can't be bothrred to try to clean up every bit of slop the virtual kbd lays down, and on a real kbd I'm obsessive about accuracy...
Bigger desktop form factors are generally easier to repair and cool better. IMO one of the problems with laptops was, and is, a lack of good cooling, they get too hot. Laptops are harder to repair, and fail more frequently. Also I find my HTC Evo and incredible pain to use, but this seems to change between vendor's, my samsung was not.
I think this is why the makers of Ubuntu have been trying to get their system to run in parallel to Android phones on their hardware. Imagine the phone you carry around being able to be dropped into a docking station and run 2 monitors and a keyboard/mouse on a full desktop OS.
I definitely need two or three monitors to get my work done, but increasingly it doesn't really matter what form factor of device is plugged into them. One of my monitors is hooked to an E350 desktop case that could just as easily be an android device, as I mainly use it for logging into other systems and web browsing. Another monitor switches between being a secondary for a PC and running various console devices.
Small form factors are great for computing on the go and do a decent job of consumption. It will take a break through in interfaces and input controllers before we can actually be productive with a phone, but really its just air keyboards and projection onto the air to make a decent workstation. Or we just plug it in. Phones are still a very long way away from the performance of PCs despite their Mhz and core counts but CPU core power consumption is gradually decreasing to meet them
But people keep saying that current desktops are so fast that people can do anything on them but its simply not true. Imagine I gave you 100,000x the computing power, you and I would find new novel apps involving progressively smarter and more capable learning software. Algorithms we currently run in the "cloud" would be executable on the local machine at a lot less expense. The software you find on PCs today is what will run, there is after all no point writing a program that needs a computer that has computation power far in excess of what one can make.
What we are seeing is the end of the Mhz race as single threaded performance crawls to a meagre 10% gain every 2 years instead of more than 100% every 2 years off the back of Moore's law. Further to that the core explosion stopped at quads because no one could utilise the additional cores and the memory bus couldn't keep up. Modern CPUs are a cache with a small bit of logic on the side that represents the cores.
The tech industry is finding one way it can go is smaller and less power consumption, so they will pursue that until it too stops scaling. But don't misconstrue the hardware scaling crysis for a lack of need for the performance, we can always do cleverer things with more performance, its still a concern we have to think about constantly as programmers.
You notice how MG doesn't have comments on his blog? That's probably because he doesn't want anyone to call him out for hyperbolic crap. :)
Tablets and phones really are great computers for couch consumption. I don't really care for iOS (bigger Windows 8 fan every day), but I'll freely admit that my iPad is a great device for catching up on RSS feeds and Web browsing. Like others who have commented here, I still need a "real" computer to write code, a novel or edit photos. I'm also thankful that I can do on a light and powerful 13" MacBook Air.
Where I really think that Siegler is wrong is this nonsense about apps. I so wish that Steve Jobs would've stuck to his guns (or not lied) about the Web being the app on the iPhone. So many apps could just as easily exist as browser-based apps that worked on every phone. The more apps there are, the more closed systems that come on line that you can't use (let alone discover) without downloading it and hoping it runs on your model of phone. Apps don't have hyperlinks to share with your friends.
Portable devices such as tablets and smartphones are great for consuming web content. But, they are absolute crap for creating content.
I have an Ultrabook and absolutely love it.
The battery lasts a loooong time, it's super light, it has a large screen, a keyboard, multiple USB connectors, an SSD, wi-fi, and runs all of my Windows applications. I'm able to run Office, Visual Studio, Paint.NET, and SQL server.
You can give up your PC if you want. But, I'll be happy to keep mine.
And, don't forget...
You can't build an iPad app with an iPad.
If I dropped a SSD in it, do you honestly think you could tell the difference in real world non-gaming desktop usage between a high end 2009 personal computer and one from today?
Yes. But I'm a developer, and I notice my build speeds.
(Plus, gaming, which you explicitly bracket.
Gaming is real stuff - even for people who don't buy $600 video cards.)
Also, Paul Keeble said: Further to that the core explosion stopped at quads because no one could utilise the additional cores and the memory bus couldn't keep up. Modern CPUs are a cache with a small bit of logic on the side that represents the cores.
Did it? Last I checked both AMD and Intel ship 6-core designs, and Intel has 8s as well. They're expensive and mostly aimed at the server market, but it sure seems like the idea that nobody could utilize them, or that it "stopped at quad" is untenable, given that people keep buying them and thinking they're using them pretty well...
Memory buses also keep getting faster.
Can you give us a source for the idea that most of the content of a modern CPU die is cache rather than cores? It sure doesn't look that way from pictures of, say, an Ivy Bridge i7...
In a word, Nope.
Again you've missed the ball here Jeff.
It's a fairly easy ball to miss though. Yes the devices are becoming more common and PCs are becoming less common, but this has nothing to do with the PC and everything to do with who /was/ using the PC. For the past 20 years it has been everyone from every walk of life. You want to view the web? use a computer. You want to chat with your friends? use a computer. You want to write an email? use the computer. You want to watch a video? use a computer.
Most of those people now don't need a desktop computer to do any of that, and they have no need for anything else.
But now I will make a very important distinction, a desktop is a PC, a small computing device that is for personal use.. is a PC.. Most tablets and phones are NOT PCs, in fact most people don't even own them in reality. Sure they paid for the software and hardware, but they are licensing it. That iPhone you got? You are licensed to use the software on it, but if you go grab an android, you cannot then carry that license over and install the same software on the android device, you have to re-license it.
Many games I play I buy once, and then play on linux, windows, and mac... because I have a broad license. You are buying in to the gated community that is iPhone or android. It is not a personal product, it is a licensed gateway to your software. There are ways around this, jail breaking, rooting, and what not... but these are hacks, and difficult for the average person. Most of these people will never even know what they are giving up.
The PC isn't dead, but it does need to catch up. Some day soon I'm sure we will have PCs we can assemble, just like our desktop, made from smaller components that we can swap out at a need. Where we can choose to put ubuntu, windows, iOS, Android, or whatever else on it we want... At least that is my hope... And we can take it with us where ever we go, then plug it in at home or work to our docks.. with large storage systems and co-processors. Drop your tablet in, and suddenly you have a full on desktop, as powerful if not more powerful than we have today.
I cannot write without a keyboard, I cannot do my 3d design without a mouse. PC is not dead. But I do hope it is changing.
@BoltBait: "You can't build an iPad app with an iPad."
You almost can with a network connection and a VNC client for the iPad. A Mac somewhere running Xcode is still required though.
Or if your app fits into the model of one of those online services, you can build something via their web interface.
Pretty soon there will be a way to at least edit the user interfaces on an iPad, since that's the most logical place to do it. Xcode/InterfaceBuilder was necessary because the iPhone/iPad didn't exist yet. Now it's a legacy app.
SSH/VNC/whatever does not count, that still requires a desktop. :P
I wonder what either you or MG Siegler worte your blog posts on? I hope it wasn't a PC?
That is so sad!
Back in the days I started with computers, there were 2 kind of computer-people:
1 - "users" (developer, graphic artist, musicians)
2 - "lamers" (most of them gamer, just "consuming" software, usually games)
We never respected gamers as they were for cheap thrills and never respected the machines or the software which empowers the users to GODs (yes we were god on these machines!). They switched platforms as fast as something new was around(later mostly consoles: NES, SuperNES, Saturn,Playstation, etc. )
Now, with the advent of tablet/mobile computing peple can be breaked down in 3 categories:
1 - developer creator of software, a highly specialized task usually only applicable in a small niche
2 - creators (graphic artist, musicians)
3 - lamers (all people who are just consuming: facebooking, bloging is also part of this category)
Nevertheless these 3rd category thinks it is somekind of "IT-Professional" or "digital native" or such kind of nonsense.
But they are still the lamers from before: changing the platform without participating to anything but consuming software(nowadays called "apps")
Tablets and Smartphones are like gameconsoles: you are in a walled garden, a golden cage.
That is not what our fathers(eg Steven Levy, John Perry Barlow, Richard Stallman, Jerome H. Saltzer, David P. Reed, David D. Clark. and many more) had fight for!
So even the most tech-savvy people throw away decades of war against big corporations to embrace the brave new world in a golden cage.
This is the future?
This is the end of independent software creators.
Linux created on an iPad?
GNU created on an iPad?
anything platform independant created on iPad?
You buy a cheap piece of silicon with hard coded functions embedded deep in proprietary. Not quite the same as you have standing on your desk:
A universal computing machine under your own power,
I do not start with environmental concerns (compare usage of average phone to a computer/laptop)..
Pffft! Wake my up when it's possible to use high-power 3D modeling apps like Blender on a smartphone or tablet.
(Rolls over, goes back to sleep.)
I would consider my wife as a 'typical' user. She plays games on facebook, sorts and manages our many digital photos using Picasa and the general windows folders, futzes around with Word and Powerpoint when creating flyers for our son's birthday party etc. etc. Try doing any of this easily and intuitively on an iPhone or a tablet - you can't. We had a netbook that I got for free - she hated the small screen. We have an iPad and yes it's convenient for doing email and some web browsing and also playing particular games - especially when we were travelling - but nothing comes close to the flexibility, performance and ubiquitousness of a desktop/laptop.
Is the 'big' PC dead? Not by a long shot, they are designed for different purposes. Tablets and smartphones were designed for convenience, and until I can have the same hard drive space (or cloud storage that is as easy to access and has the same price ratio as a big HDD), the same flexibility, the same performance and the same ease of use on a tablet as I can on a desktop then it's not going to happen.
Why do millions of corporate users around the world still use desktops/laptops? Because of flexibility and low cost - a basic desktop with Win7 for a corporate is roughly the same cost as an iPad - and can be locked down, admin-ed, networked and managed much better than an iPad or other tablet.
Yes there are some business and corporate users that do everything they need to on a tablet. But is the desktop dead just because of a small few who say so? No.
Also I call shenanigans. So many of your posts Jeff in the past have how you've been excited about new PC technology - screens, HDDs and SSDs, graphics cards etc. But now you're saying it's all pointless? Who is paying you to write this stuff?
Phones, tablets... those are devices used to consume content, not create it. I see myself do it and most of my friends. Im in my early 20s. We look at these things on our mobile devvices and then beam the contents to the laptop or desktop for later. I do it so much. I will read my forums and then write my reponses at home, on my keyboard evven though it is broken. Motorola is ahead of the game. They saw this trend coming, but the problem is that no one wants to carry that stuff around. That the phone doesnt really switch into a desktop mode that operates differently in any way. This part of the device would just need to be publicly available at cafes and hotels and such, but even then, the multitasking we are used to is still not great on these devices. Bottom line, I work retail and sure I sell more cell phones than laptops and desktops (and one phones makes the store more profit than all pcs combined), but they arent going away, people are buying them for creation, some even for consumption. But yes, basic specs were good enough a few years ago. Now it is all about responsiveness.
I don't have a desktop anymore. Not that I don't want to have one. It's just that my priorities have shifted. I still love how I can modify a desktop to have more of this or more of that easily (and maybe more cheaper?), especially the video card coz I like to play games (but don't have much time now because of a busy work sked). However, laptops are more mobile. I can't got around town with a desktop. Laptops have become more powerful over the years too.
While tablets and smartphone are supposedly "convenient", I still hate browsing sites through these devices. For me its inconvenient. It's lacking a lot of things that I can do with a proper keyboard, mouse and at least 14" of screen.
I am so incredibly sick of hearing people make these speculations. As we speak I'm writing this comment on my iPad 2, I wish I was in the other room on my desktop. Logging in to post this comment via Facebook is reason enough for me to want to be on a different device. The fact that advances in ARM powered devices are currently out pacing traditional computers doesn't really mean very much. The desktop computer will surely see another period of rapid performance increases. Besides that this idea of using a tablet with an external keyboard is just plain stupid. I have that and I also have a MacBook Air, I strongly prefer the MacBook Air. Why would I want my keyboard to be detached (just makes it a pain to carry) when I can have it connected to the computer? Not to mention touch screens will never be nearly as effective as a mouse, I find myself frequently deleting an entire sentence because its easier than actually selecting the position I would like edit. The mobile and desktops markets aren't in equilibrium right now, they're going to move back towards desktop dominance.
Although the idea of connecting a screen and keyboard to a smartphone to work on is a neat concept, it's not practical yet and I'm not sure it will ever be worthwhile compared to simply getting a separate device. At the moment, you can get an On-Lap 13" screen that you can connect to a smartphone with MHL cables - but it's a clunky set-up, and at $199 you're already paying as much as the Nexus 7.
If external screens can combine high-quality, low price and easy connectivity, it might catch on, but at the moment the technology is too clunky and the saving in price not enough to make it worthwhile.
"the future of computing is, and always has been, to make the computers smaller and cheaper."
I disagree with this assumption. My statement would be:
"the future of computing is to make the computers more affordable and more usable".
People want as big a screen as they can get, and if interfaces get too small UX suffers. Go into a (successful) electronics retailer. People aren't buying tiny screens, they're buying the ones that offer the best balance between large size, image quality and economy.
People love when their smartphone of choice gets a bigger screen because it becomes more usable.
Consumers do want the hardware to be invisible, or as close to invisible as possible, but for many, the optimal experience is still not a handheld one.
And then there are the other arguments about general purpose computing.
You know what my big problem is? For gamers, PC is not dead! You can't play games like Skyrim on a tablet or a phone! I don't know if you ever will.
Of course, if all you do is go on the internet, go see your e-mails, yeah, a tablet or a phone will do.
But if you're a developper/programmer, a gamer, PC will go on...
You're forgetting one little, tiny detail: all the content for tablets and smartphones (movies, television shows and ads, apps, etc) is PRODUCED ON DESKTOP COMPUTERS. As long as that's the fact, we'll keep using a huge amount of PC's. I think that what you are meant to say, is that from a consumer standpoint, the PC era is over in the sense that the media content and activities are done via tablets and smartphones. That's is true. So, as long as you're not involved in any kind of productivity area that involves PC's (I work on film editing and 3D design) and you only consume content instead of creating in, well, you're nice and tidy on a tablet and a smartphone.
This matches a trend I've noticed lately. Less and less, "can you fix my computer" is the follow up to "You're a computer guy right, ...". Lately it is "I got a new phone and can't get my email working on it", or some other feature. At least in those cases if I feel like helping, they have the phone with them, and I don't need to visit their house, or troubleshoot over a phone.
"My iPad is substantially more powerful, and higher-specced in every regard (RAM, disk space, processor speed) than the laptop I had 10 years ago, and I got plenty of work done on that."
You answered that one yourself: IPad = outdated performance
Well, I love my work laptop. Combined with a docking station at the office, I get the advantages of a desktop + I bring very easily my work stuff with me at home where I can decide to work on the laptop or plug other devices to it. I don't see how it could be replaced by a tablet. So casual PC for casual users may be dead soon, but developers and other geeks/nerds will still have a use for it. No ?
Its amusing to witness the arrogance of many here.
The simple fact is that the vast majority of people don't code. They don't do statistical analysis of big data. They don't edit movies. For these tasks - use the appropriate tool to complete those tasks. Which is typically a desktop or high end laptop. For everyone else - a tablet and/or a smart phone will work just fine for their work and play.
I now return you back to your echo chamber and fake outrage.
@BoltBait: "You can't build an iPad app with an iPad."
Not true: http://twolivesleft.com/CargoBot/
CargoBot was written entirely with Codea, a Lua IDE for the iPad. I've used Codea to teach my nephews programming. (And by "teach" I mean "show them the demo apps and let them play all day." They weren't interested in theory.)
I wouldn't recommend it without a Bluetooth keyboard, and even then I much prefer a desktop environment-- mostly because you can't get a Bluetooth Kinesis keyboard. Oh, and getting files moved around in order to build a standalone app is a pain, but that's because of Apple's policies.
Dear Jeff Atwood --
One could not be more wrong if one were to say something like "I think we're way past the point of satisfying the computing performance needs of the typical user".
The words "lack of vision" and "imagination-less" come to mind.
Come on, man-- Really???!!! You, of all people, said that?
No, I am not going to argue the point because the chasm between your view and mine is just so wide on this matter, well, it is just going to have to be another grand statement from my view to counter yours.
OK, so here's one-- It is WAY more likely than not that the computing power of machines will never be sufficient for the needs of humans.
Humans have virtually limitless potential and, inasmuch as computers can serve that potential (and it can), the role of computer is virtually limitless-- which means we are likely to always benefit from faster, smaller, better, smarter, computers at-large.
BTW, the "death of PC" is an old red-herring-- it has been Larry Ellison's battle-cry for a long time... http://news.cnet.com/ellison-resurrects-network-computer/2100-1001_3-233137.html ...and guess what?
"(...) desktops are all built from the same interchangeable pool of parts (...)"
Being a white-box junkie all my life, this is what matters the most to me: in the journey away from the desktop we've lost the very foundation of what was the real engine behind all the progress and technological advance for so long...
I guess pure marketing and consumerism are supposed to take over that role, but I can't help imagining how that could change when I see projects like the Raspberry Pi and others like that.
Just remember what Apple (and NeXT and others) hardware was in the 80's... most of it custom. Apple only survived by commoditizing its own hardware. Now I see no way to commoditize the components of these new devices, being as they are so tiny and differentiating themselves on shape and size, constantly.
I want my white-box desktop... I want to tinker, to have myriad of choices for every single component, and I want to be the one who replaces the parts. And I want the barrier to create a newer-better component to be as low as possible.
Tablets/smart phones are terrific travel computers and offer a convenient way to browse, play games, maybe listen to music and podcasts and so on. This works of course only if you really don't have to be productive and if you don't mind tiny text, funky behavior sometimes, difficulty printing (ipad), inconvenient data entry, no flash, and so on. And in the case of Apple tablets, if you don't mind being tethered to a company of control freaks.
For me I'll take my tablet when I travel. But I will continue to use my laptop in my recliner sipping my morning coffee watching the sunrise. For people who have to be productive or serious gamers, they will undoubtedly continue using desktops computers or full function laptops.
Beepers, pocket organizers, PDAs, WebTVs, Email stations, handheld PCs...
I've seen a lot of these gadgets come and go. Mostly, they suffered from very limited utility, poor interfaces, and lousy proprietary software. And they were easily rendered irrelevant by cheaper, better PCs and the wide and growing pool of available software.
I find that my tablet falls into that category. It's theoretically more powerful than the desktop that I used a few years ago, but in reality can't do a fraction of what that desktop did. It's crippled by an awful UI and a comically limited OS only capable of running little toy apps but not real software. Android's more open than Apple, but it's still more like a limited capability game console than a PC.
There are a few needs that a gadget like that could conceivably fill quite well, though, if they get the form factor and UI right. MP3 player replacement, Ebook reader, text messaging device, and phone. Unfortunately smartphones and tablets aren't really that good at those things. A flat slab of plastic with some glass on it is nowhere near as easy to use as a phone-like phone. A glossy color screen is notably inferior to an e-ink reader for ebooks. I don't really like text-messaging on my flip-phone, but it's easier and more convenient than it is on a smartphone.
I expect sooner or later we'll see a really good mobile device, probably within my lifetime. I envision a PC core box that you carry around in your pocket, which can be interfaced wirelessly through whatever peripherals happen to be around (speakers, phone, keyboard, mouse, hard drives, joysticks, monitors, TVs, or e-ink screens, etc.) But I'm not holding my breath. Or ditching my PC.
In the meantime, I expect that PC prices will continue to undercut the high-end tablets and smartphones, while PC software continues to improve but apps for the mobile devices stagnate at the limits of their utility and interface.