Photo: Flickr / sokole oko
Apple’s new MacBooks represent a nice step forward in the personal computing world. The Air is as light as can be, and the Pro boasts a better-than-HD screen.But what comes next?
We asked 15 tech hotshots what the future holds for the personal computer.
As the PC gets more like a mobile device, it inherits the characteristics of an app console. Like they did with smartphones, consumers will continue to choose the computer that is more capable, and that's determined by a company's media ecosystem of apps, books, music and so on. And because of that the future PC market is looking to have a smaller number of serious contenders: Apple, Microsoft, perhaps Google. Will Facebook or Amazon make computers? That would be interesting.
I said before that I didn't see tablets like the iPad necessarily catching on as people's 'main' computing device, and that things like the MacBook Air, Ultrabooks, and the Asus Transform are going to probably be more popular. I still think that's true, but we definitely are starting to see an even bigger shift toward tablet-like devices. Microsoft's newly announced Surface, while I can't say anything to its usability, bridges the gap between tablets and laptops even more. Not only does it have a more usable physical keyboard than, say, the iPad, it's also one of the first modern tablets to have a full desktop OS running on it--so people who need to use apps like Microsoft Office can do so on their tablet. While It's hard to say whether it will be easy or whether people will actually do this, it does represent a big shift that I think will play out gradually over the course of time.
Regardless of whether people are switching to laptops, tablets, or a hybrid-like device, it's very clear that the desktop computer is all but extinct for the average user, and portability is king. Hardware has reached the point of diminishing returns where even the thinnest laptop can house hardware capable of doing more than the average person needs.
I think the future of the PC is the tablet and touch. While I don't think that desktop and laptop PCs will rapidly decline in computer marketshare within the next 5 years, I think that mainstream computing will mostly be conducted on a tablet after that timeframe. At this point, with over 200,000 tablet apps and the full web, there isn't much that you can't do on a tablet. From video editing to emailing to making slide presentations, many people could essentially conduct all their computing from a device like the iPad.
I think that the PC as we know it today will stick around for coders, website managers, and people in similar realms, but soon enough I think the tablet could replace those operations as well. I think desktops will lose marketshare first, then the laptop. Right now, the popular tablet size is between 7 and 10 inches. In the next 5-7 years - or even sooner - I think we will begin seeing tablets with much larger displays; perhaps 15-17 inch screens. Larger tablet screens will make room for more powerful and capable apps, further lessening the need for the current desktop PC in the future.
It is looking more and more like hardware and software will be made by the same company.
Also interesting: at the end of the Steve Jobs biography, Jobs says that the auto industry is a precedent for integrated design. And more and more, Apple is feeling like a big auto company in the hey day of the auto industry. Huge manufacturing and design, products people love, and a valuation multiple of a mature company.
Last year I spoke about the convergence of the traditional desktop with the mobile, and already that's becoming commonplace. Microsoft's Surface devices blur the lines between a tablet and a full-fledged laptop and they could be very common indeed by the end of the year -- at least, they will be if Microsoft has anything to do with it. Windows 8 also shows this strongly, a very traditional desktop operating system that's been heavily retooled to make it more finger-friendly.
But, that also demonstrates the pitfalls that companies are going to need to avoid as we make our way toward this beautiful co-mingling of the mobile and the 'PC.' From what we've seen of Windows 8 so far (and we've seen a lot), Microsoft is trying to push things too quickly, making sacrifices on the desktop to make life better on tablets. If the market's shift toward mobile computing continues to accelerate that could look like a genius move, but by alienating even its core users Microsoft might be giving them one final reason to switch to another platform.
Looking further forward, the future of the PC is total transparency. Projects like Google Glass will stop augmenting reality and become a part of reality. We won't have multiple devices managing multiple sets of data we'll simply have data. How you get to it will soon be so pervasive that choosing connected devices will be less like buying a car and more like buying a faucet.
Keyboard and a screen are still necessary for me to get any real work done. I still take my 13' MacBook Air wherever I go, though I'm starting to get really jealous of my girlfriend's 11' Air. I've also been taking lots of meetings with people doing the iPad + keyboard case setup though I haven't tried that route yet as it still feels much easier to multitask on OS X vs. iOS.
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.
I really don't have any clue but I guess gestures are the future. Something between an iPad and what Oblong Industries is doing -- manipulating all data with your hands.
The future of the personal computer is going to be an extension of you. The ability to not have to worry about files, or syncing, or information, but to be able to access it from anywhere and from any screen at any time. It will also start to become more of a personal assistant than computer, presenting you with options based on previous information about yourself over time. The personal computer will be intimately more personal.
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.