Friday, October 15, 2010

Desktop, laptop, handheld: a liberating tech evolution

I am old enough to call a Sinclair ZX81 my first computer. It was a small, flat, black slab of plastic with a membrane keyboard and a weird piggybacked block sticking out of its rear. This block was the memory extension that gave the 8bit computer a whopping memory capacity of 16Kb.

How things have changed. And they are about to change again: we're moving into the handheld age. Computers are becoming truly pocket-portable while remaining fully functional. Add screen agnostic connectivity and the work and play computing device can be carried in our pocket anywhere we go. The one remaining issue would be the input device. It is hard to keep a device truly portable and make it so that typing a 1500 word piece on it can be done comfortably. But I have no doubt that out of the box thinkers are already working on that. Input systems like Swype are an indication of that.

Processor speed is also lagging a little still. But remember the early laptops? They were hardly more than a pocket calculator in a barely portable box with a screen the size of a postage stamp and a whopping big battery. Not anymore, they are sleek and run as fast and as smoothly as all but the fastest desktop monsters. Monsters that only 1% of the population really needs anyway. Already 1GHz snapdragon processors are the norm in smart phones. Multi cores are coming and so are GHz bumps. Count on it: within 5 years a handheld computer is as fast as the average laptop is now.

What will this enable us to do? Will it change our world?

You bet it will. Where laptops and desktop computers are still something of a special item which the average person has to switch on with a degree of conscious choice, the handheld device, i.e. mobile phone, is switched on and used almost without thinking about it. It is much more an extension of our body.

Also: for the average person buying a desktop or laptop computer is a once in a couple of years occurrence. Again a much more conscious decision. Mobile phones are replaced much more often and easier, especially when contracts are involved. This is going to become even more noticeable when the cheaper strata of the mobile phone market becomes populated with smart phone like devices. Something that is already happening. The 'trow away' or 'burner' phone will become powerful enough to do much more than just call and SMS.

The phone is with us at all times and it has penetrated every demographic layer of the populace. These devices becoming more powerful will have a much greater impact than making the desktop or laptop computer more powerful.

Mobile phones, excuse me, handheld super-computers, will detach us from wires attached to walls, wires that keep us in our seats all day. Where the smart phone is still an 'also have' device the handheld computer will become the only computing device we need, freeing us from our desks at the same time.

My latest book!

1 comment:

  1. All in all, time well spended here.