Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Future of Laptops

As many tech-gurus had foreseen, the launch of the iPad has resulted in an upheaval in the personal computing world. Steve Jobs has hit the bullseye for the 3rd time in a row. iPod, iPhone and now the iPad. He has changed the landscape of the industry for the 3rd time within a decade. Just like the iPod and the iPhone completely changed the way electronics manufacturers looked at portable music players and phones, the iPad has resulted in a mad rush between computer manufactures to come up with a competing tablet PC. I remember a Steve Jobs interview in early 2007, when he had predicted that the future belonged to post-PC devices. We now know what he meant.

The iPad has shown that tablets can be a great medium for content consumption; Games, Movies, Music, Internet. But they are not a very convenient instrument for heavy duty content creation, authoring like documents, creating presentations, editing images etc.. So while the iPad can be a fantastic addition to your personal electronics arsenal, it cannot replace your good old laptop (at least now now).

But if I were a computer manufacturer today, I would be seriously planning for that day. The question I would ask is, in what way is the iPad better that the laptop computer I have been manufacturing over the years? I guess the answer is simple -
1. Touch screen interface
2. Portability and weight
3. Integration with Apple's other typical wizardry like Apps Store, iTunes etc.

Really, that is about it.

While other companies cannot do anything about #3, #1 and #2 are not so difficult.

#1. Touch screen interface is becoming more and more commonplace by the day. Apart from most smartphones, even digicams and handycams have touch screen interfaces these days. I will put my neck on the line and say that the day is not far when all laptops will have touch screen interfaces. It will not take Apple and Android long to create OS versions that support touch screen interfaces for full fledged computing devices like laptops. Microsoft will soon jump into the bandwagon (copying others as they have done for decades) with a Windows variant. I believe that within 5 years or less, most laptops will run touch screen interfaces like the one seen in the iPad or other tablet PCs being launched today. The days of the trackpad are numbered.

#2. This is even simpler. Laptops are getting slimmer and slimmer by the day anyway. More processing power is being backed into lighter and more portable machines all the time. Within 5 years, all the computing power in a top of the line laptop can be compressed into a device of the size of an iPad.

Now for the things that a laptop has that the iPad does not -
1. Full Manual Keyboard
2. Other peripherals like CD/DVD/Blur Ray player, USB, Webcam etc.
3. More computing power

#2 and #3 are no brainers. They can be easily possible going by the same logic as I highlighted in the previous paragraph.

#1 can either be achieved with an add on keyboard (as is already available with the iPad) or a slide out keyboard. Just like slider phones have slide out keyboards, a tablet PC can also be designed to have a slide out keyboard what can be used for full speed typing. This would convert an iPod like tablet into a complete laptop.

Here are a couple of photos from the recently launched Blackberry Torch.

As you can see, RIM has tried to bring the best of both worlds into this phone - a full size "iPhone like" touch screen interface and a full blackberry keyboard.

I believe that laptop manufacturers can easily take a cue from this and come up with a similar design for a laptop in the near future. The 13 or 14 inch laptop screen could be made touch enabled and powered by any touch based OS like Android or a Windows variant. A keyboard could slide out from from behind when required, and be tilted and fixed at an angle to the screen to convert the tablet into a functioning laptop, with all the associated bells and whistles.

Hence, I believe we are not far away from the time when a laptop and tablet PC will cease to be separate categories of devices, but merge into a super-tablet genre. What has happened with portable music players and phones in the recent past will happen to laptops and tablet PCs too.

1 comment:

Nikhil Kulkarni said...

You are Bang on! And most of this convergence is already happening ... for example Windows 7 has a touch-screen support version ..

Similarly flexible keyboards have been in the market for years are now quite cheap ~$10 / Rs 450.

I am sure the convergence is right round the corner - but i dont think its apple which will lead this. Just like Apple created the first GUI for PC users but it took M$ to commmoditize the GUI and take it to masses, it may take others such as Google (Android) to take convergence of Tablets & Laptop to masses.