Computers used to be Goliaths requiring so much space that an entire building could only hold one or two.
Now our computers are so portable it’s easy to forget that you’re even carrying one in your bag.
With tablets and mobile devices on the rise and getting more advanced every day, we can’t help but wonder what the future looks like for the personal computer.
We reached out to several people in the tech scene to solicit their opinions.
There’s lots of talk about tablets, the MacBook Air, and freight trains.
I would say that hardware is going to disappear as computer power stops being the limiting factor, meaning that every device you have will be internet-connected and has access to your data. All you need is a login mechanism (i.e. NFC on your phone and a secret PIN number) and you're ready to go.
If a major shift in personal computing is imminent, we almost definitely won't see it coming. For a great example, time-travel back to 2009, ask people about the future of portable computing, and listen to them tell you all about netbooks. See if they mention the word 'tablet' even once.
I suspect that at some point in the next decade, tablets and laptops will more or less merge. You'll have a device that can be used as a touchscreen tablet, but can also be propped up and used with fully virtual inputs -- meaning they will be projected on a surface in front of you by the device itself. Further down the road I fully expect everyone to have their main computer on them at all times.
The devices will shrink until, ultimately, there will be no need for the traditional idea of a personal computer at all. All of your data and computing power will be in the cloud and it will be accessible from many places, and easily manageable with a few gestures.
I'm hoping that once the access to realtime, personalised information and social networking is completely ubiquitous, people will feel less compelled to direct their eyes downward towards a device and will instead be freed to look up and see what we've all been missing during the past few years of technological advancement.
I think we can look forward to watching the PC evolve to become more like mobile devices with longer battery life, instant-on capability, quicker flash drives and eventually touchscreens. As some have said, post-PC does not mean sans-PC.
When it comes to sweeping changes, we've already seen one -- the majority of average users are using laptops instead of a desktops these days, and the laptops just keep getting smaller and smaller.
I don't see tablets like the iPad necessarily catching on as people's 'main' computing device, but devices like the MacBook Air, the Asus Transform, or other high quality netbook-sized devices could really explode in a way we didn't expect. We're obviously seeing new interface tweaks (like full-screen apps) and usability improvements (multitouch gestures), but more or less a lot of the same paradigms -- physical keyboards, point-and-click, etc.
I think the future of the PC is the tablet. While I don't think that desktop and laptop PCs will rapidly decline in computer market share within the next 5 years, I think that mainstream computing will mostly be conducted on a tablet in that timeframe. At this point, with over 100,000 tablet apps and the full web, there isn't much that you can't do on a tablet.
The future of the PC will be much like the future of the freight trains.
I just got back from GE's 100 year old locomotive factory in Erie, Pennsylvania. The folks at GE have perfected the locomotive -- the trains are energy efficient, safe, have high tech power management and logistical systems. It is an old technology that has advanced incrementally over many years and incorporated new technologies along the way. But these massive machines still look and feel like a train engine and most people don't think of trains as 'high tech.'
The same will happen with PCs. They will get better, faster, more energy efficient and move closer and closer to becoming the 'perfect' PC. As the PC is perfected, it will no longer feel like the centre of high tech computing. The novelty of new devices like iPads, smart phones, and AR devices will take the spotlight. We tend to forget about most technologies just as they attain their perfect form.
While mobile operating systems continue to get more sophisticated, PC operating systems will get more simple, to the point where the two worlds will meet in the middle somewhere to create consumer-level devices that are easier to use than ever but still powerful enough to get some proper work done.
The future of the personal computer is the 13' MacBook Air. I don't think I've ever seen a more perfect piece of hardware.
Even though I've shifted plenty of usage to my iPad, I'm not convinced my physical keyboard is going to go away entirely anytime soon, and the 11' seems a little too small for everyday keyboard usage.
A recent Baird survey found that only 6% of consumers believe they have no need for a PC thanks to tablets. I think this is going to change, but mainly because the line between PC and tablet will be blurred significantly as 2012 rolls into 2013. The current crop of consumer tablets, iPad included, lack utility in many ways. Led by Microsoft's Windows 8 platform and new functionality in Apple's future operating systems, I think we will finally start to see the convertible and dockable tablet form factors become capable, affordable options that will eventually replace the notebook PC as we know it today.
If personal computers are thought of only as data storage devices and tools for accessing the Internet, then they might be seen as tools that will quickly become obsolete.
For me, however, they have always been more than that, and until I can just as easily build a powerful presentation, make complicated photo edits, or create hand-designed elements for a website using a mobile device or tablet, a personal computer is probably going to stay part of my technology portfolio.
I think iOS, Android and such are clearly the future. Windows and other desktop/laptop computers as we know them today will be gone in 5 years.
Personal computers are going away. And that's because they're going everywhere. We're rapidly approaching a time when computers are built into just about everything. We'll still have screens and keyboards and all kinds of tactile input devices. But as we're able to cram more power into ever smaller spaces, the stand-alone tower as we know it is barreling towards the great recycling bin in the sky. (Or more accurately, China.) Laptops aren't terribly far behind.
I work on a bunch of different devices, from big computers to small computers and phones and tablets. And everything is in the cloud.
With everything in the cloud, the devices in front of us only need to be these thin clients that can browse the web. So the nature of the personal computer is changing to be one where connectivity is paramount and hardware specs aren't.
I am convinced that multitouch gestures will represent an growing percentage of future interactions versus the mouse click. Lion is only the beginning.
I think we'll see screens and peripherals simply be vessels for our phones and mobile devices -- just picture walking up to a display on a desk with a keyboard, placing your phone down, and instantly being able to work as if you had an actual computer hooked up. As soon as you walk away, all of your data goes with you.
I think that's the future.
Computers will be tiny, portable, and everywhere. You'll wear them. And they will communicate with each other more than they'll communicate with you.
You won't just have one 'computer.' Most devices will be computers, and the way they interact will be the new computing experience.
User interfaces will evolve from pointing devices to touch to voice-activation. Someday, perhaps, they'll even understand your thoughts.
The most important developments will be more efficient batteries, faster, more effective mobile broadband, and business models for connectivity that make sense.
The future of personal computers will be how they become more personal. How the hardware, software and even operating system reflects the person and their personal use of that computing power.
Most of the focus going forward will be on mobile devices, but I think it's hard to argue that the PC won't be with us for a long time to come. Even though most of the innovation will be with smartphones, tablets, and other connected devices, we'll still see a few new tricks from PCs. My guess is that over the next few years they'll be more intuitive, gesture-driven, and context-aware.
They'll get faster and thinner, and less and less people will buy them.
Also, their windowed interfaces are going to start to look as old to people as DOS does to us today. Mice and their required interface elements -- scroll bars etc. -- are going to feel as clunky as tabbing through tables of text once we are all used to touch.
These computers will be used by people who need their power and features. Everyone else will use their phones and tablets.
I fear for the future of the PC. The whole of consumer tech seems to have embraced the idea of autopilot computing: we've traded our freedom of choice for hollow devices coated in black lacquer and chained to strict software repositories and restrictions. If we dare defy the manufacturer by running unapproved software, we risk remote deactivation and draconian litigation.