Posey's Tips & Tricks

What Does the Future Hold for PCs?

Brand loyalty will give away in favor of ubiquitous devices from multiple makers that perform similarly.

Most mornings, I wake up and then spend a few hours working in my home office until my wife wakes up. This morning, however, I had someone at my house repairing the air conditioner and could not confine myself to my office because I needed to be available in case the repair man needed me. As such, I hung out in the living room answering e-mail and reading tech blogs on my phone. Later, after the repair man left, it dawned on me that I had a very productive morning even though I had not so much as touched a PC. This got me thinking about the PC's future. Are we really living in a post-PC era, as some claim?

On the surface, the answer to this question would seem to be a resounding yes. After all, PC sales are only a small fraction of what they once were. Some of the major electronics retailers don't even sell desktop PCs anymore. Even so, I think that the PC still has its place.

There is an old saying that you should always use the right tool for the job. I think that this saying has merit regardless of the job type. Tablets and smartphones are great for handling lightweight tasks, but they are not my device of choice for content creation. For example, I once wrote a book chapter using a Surface tablet's on-screen keyboard. The device got the job done, but the task would have been much easier with a real keyboard.

The concept of using the right tool for the job can also be applied to laptops. Because my air conditioner needed repairs, I worked outside yesterday with my laptop. Even though Windows laptops and desktops have similar hardware and can run the same software as one another, I found that I was less productive than I would have been if I had been using my desktop PC. The reason for this is simple. There is only so much space on a 15-inch monitor. My desktop PC is attached to multiple, large format displays, which means that I can have more windows open and on screen at the same time than is possible on a laptop.

Please don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that desktop computers are always the right tool for the job. They aren't. After all, there is a reason why desktop computers are far less popular than they once were. Although desktops certainly have their place, so do laptops and mobile devices.

I won't pretend to have a crystal ball that lets me peer into the future, but my guess is that hardware devices will eventually become almost completely irrelevant. Let me explain what I mean.

At the risk of making myself look old, I have to confess that I was a child of the' 80s. Back then, there were huge differences between computers. Sure, there are differences in hardware platforms today, but the differences are less significant than they once were. iOS and Android tablets, for example, might run different operating systems, but can do basically the same things. Back in the '80s, things were different. Back then, the PC was largely a business machine. You could get games for the PC, but the graphics were terrible (usually four color, or monochrome). Gamers tended to flock to computers such as the Commodore 64 or the Amiga, which had better graphics and infinitely better sound than the PCs of the time. And, of course, there was also the Radio Shack Color Computer, which was the low-budget computer of the day.

Back then, most of the computer enthusiasts were super passionate about their platform of choice. There were regular debates about which was better: PC or Amiga (or some other platform). To many, the choice of platform was a matter of pride.

Today, there tends to be much less emotional attachment to hardware platforms. Sure, there are some rabid Apple fanboys out there, just as there are Android and Windows purists. However, most of the people that I talk to don't really seem to be dead set on using one specific platform. They might use an iOS device, for example, because that's what their friends use, or because the guy at the cell phone store pushed them into getting an iPhone.

My point is this. Every hardware platform that is available today has its own nuances. There are things that I can do on my Surface tablet that cannot be done on an iPad. Similarly, there are things that the iPad can do that a Surface tablet cannot. By and large though, the devices that are available today have very similar capabilities. A YouTube video, for example, is going to play just as well on an Android device as it does on a PC, Windows Phone, iOS device or a Mac Book.

My prediction is that in a few years, the device itself won't matter much. The best analogy that I can think of to illustrate the future role of devices is that of the television. Suppose for a moment that you wanted to watch your favorite television show. The show is transmitted by your cable or satellite provider. It doesn't matter what type of television you watch the show on. My grandparents still use an old CRT television and can watch the same shows that I can watch on a much more modern TV. In essence, it is the content that matters, not the device. The cable or satellite company neither knows, nor cares what type of TV is being used.

This is the same direction that I see the tech market headed. Eventually, I think that people will select devices based primarily on form factor. Every device will offer the same basic experience, but the device's form factor will determine what types of work the device is most suitable for.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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