Sunday, June 10, 2012

Will Mobile Devices Ever Replace PCs?

In his famous post titled Dawn of a New Day, the departing Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie has outlined his vision of the ‘post-PC world’. Those were bold words from the executive of a company that has made a fortune selling software for PCs. Many have since latched onto the idea of a post PC world, an idea that got a huge boost when Apple launched the iPad. Many people quickly concluded that mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets will eventually replace the PCs - the desktops and laptops.

Photo: Lubor Ptacek
Today, however, the prevailing notion is different. There is an understanding that computer use-cases vary widely between content creation and content consumption and most people argue that they prefer creating content on a PC while the mobile devices are well suited for content consumption. People usually say that the keyboard is too small to type longer passages, there is no mouse and the screen real-estate is too limiting. As a result, most of us use both PCs and mobile devices today.

So what is the future going to look like? A post PC world as Ray Ozzie predicted or a world in which we will continue carrying around multiple devices including a laptop?

Well, I’d argue that all the technical limitations of mobile devices today are just temporary. Most iPad users already use a keyboard for extensive typing and it is just a question of time before Apple adds a mouse or a mouse-like pointing device. The screen size limitation is rapidly going away with the ability to add an external monitor which is also possible today. Alternatively, a pico projector provides another way to get a big-size screen for mobile devices.

The software for content creation is increasingly becoming available on mobile devices. Apple’s office applications such as Pages, Numbers, or Keynote are well adapted for mobile content creation. Even Microsoft is now rumored to be releasing Microsoft Office for iPad later this year. Similarly, Adobe now offers Photoshop Touch and Autodesk provides AutoCAD WS for mobile devices. Content creation software for mobile devices had to be adjusted to the different operating systems and different way of interaction but there is no reason why content creation wouldn’t be possible.

Yet even more innovation is coming that will make the distinction between PCs and mobile devices irrelevant. The data input is becoming less textual and more, well, human. Voice recognition and verbal controls are becoming useful. Apple’s Siri and Nuance’s Dragon Naturally Speaking are only the beginning. The gesture technology is also becoming more sophisticated. Innovations such as Microsoft Kinect are showing the way of interacting with computers via full-body gestures. Either way, it doesn’t matter whether the computer is a desktop, notebook, game console, or mobile device.

Our habits and skills will also become a factor. We have all been conditioned to use the QWERTY keyboard and learning a new way of interacting with computers may feel difficult. It is quite likely, that a new generation of users will emerge who will be trained in new skills which will make some of today’s constraints obsolete.

Ultimately, I am confident that mobile devices will replace PCs. But those mobile devices may not look quite the same as the ones we use today. The software and hardware will be more powerful and user friendly. And we will see a plethora of add-ons which will expand the content creation capabilities - I wrote about some of the amazing accessories back in December, 2011.

Today, when I arrive in my office, I don’t work on my laptop. Well, I do but I plug it into a docking station which adds a full-sized keyboard, a mouse, a monitor, a camera, and a set of speakers. Why should I not be able to do the same with my smartphone? I am convinced that the day is coming when we will have docking stations for our tablets and smartphones and we will use them as our primary content creation devices.

Mobile devices will replace the PCs

...and our carry-on bags will be a few pounds lighter!


  1. "Well, I do but I plug it into a docking station which adds a full-sized keyboard, a mouse, a monitor, a camera, and a set of speakers."

    My iPhone 4s has a compass, GPS, NFC coming soon as well as a camera (video and still picture) and external speaker. For $75 I can get a bluetooth speaker and keyboard and mouse that magically works with my iphone computer, just like my car does, or use AirPlay to control my TV and remote computers. The iPhone is a PC. Full stop. The question is whether I still need a *Windows* PC in order to be productive at work. For now, I think the answer is yes. In the future, cloud computing will be the processor and storage for my profile (data, music, video, effectively my digital/serialized brain). Siri will interact with my data in the cloud as events happens to me locally... PC isn't dead but few people really need them for pedestrian uses (including general office work).

    1. No chance...

      The cloud will not offer all the processing power you need at work, and the actual usability of such scenarios is already proven in history with our use of mainframes...Im sorry but the few tasks that can be performed on a phone OS are far too limiting for any business user who has many more requirements than surfing the net, creating a doc or two and checking mail...

  2. Im not sure we will ever see a Post desktop day. The point is many business users require the additional power that a full blown desktop hardware can deliver, and as that improves we will continue to push the boundaries of what we can process / compute on those devices. Desktop PCs are here to stay, though their role will be greatly reduced.

    Where we are a Post desktop world is for people who use desktop machines to simply check the odd email, surf the web and perhaps create the odd document. These users (mainly consumption users) have never needed the processing power of a fully blown desktop machine, so now they have the option with mobile and tablets to use a computer for what they want without paying higher prices and without the hassle of needing to turn on a desktop machine which is stored in a seperate room...

    Tablets I feel have a massive role to play, though they wont replace the desktop, I strongly believe they are on route to replace netbooks, laptops and even ultrabooks. Esepcially when tablets become more powerful and provide users with real flexibility in being able to do all their work on those devices. For example, there is no point in me owning an iPad because it simple doesnt allow me to do the things I need to do from it if i need to do those things. Sure its great for consumption, but for 60% of my other tasks it simply cannot deliver. Tablets that provide those capabilities will gain a strong foothold in the marketplace, and they will be the ones that lead the charge in replacing netbooks, laptops and even ultrabooks...

    Its a real possibility with Windows 8, which will be interesting...As for post PC, that sentance doesnt make sense, especially as PC means personal computer, which includes a mobile, a tablet, a laptop and a desktop....Post chance, post laptop, not too far away...

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  4. I agree with this article in its entirety. It's not happening today, and it will happen for most users before too long (I.e. those who only have a laptop and/or pc gamers) but, for those who are either enthusiasts or seriously need the processing power (servers are just an example of something that can always use more processing power..) but as mobile tech improves it won't be uncommon to have a singular device with accessories such as a full docking station, you set your phone in it and a mouse keyboard and bigger screen are all connected to this dock, and your off with your singular device in a much more productive environment.

    I'm actually on my android device right now writing this, and I have no trouble. I actually don't like the voice recognition software, for when you stumble over your words, or if you need to think for a second, or if you need to be quiet, or for application developers, odd chars. I've become proficient with the virtual keyboard, as long as there is a buzz with each stroke.

    Now that my rant has gone on long enough, I leave with one last statement, I still have my laptop, I still use it a lot. The day is coming where we don't need the laptop anymore and unless your an enthusiast or server manager, you will only need your mobile device.

    Have a good one!