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The Great Battle of Form-Factors

Nowadays there are a lot of talks about the battle between desktops, laptops, notebooks, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and so on. One would call it the great battle of PC form-factors. In reality, it more resembles the great alignment of form-factors as none of them is going to become the dominant and none is likely to disappear completely. Some are meant for creatopm, others for entertainment and third for communication, there is no size that fits all.

Many predicted the death of desktop computers years ago, but even in 2010 there will be over one hundred of million desktops sold worldwide. Notebooks are more convenient to carry around, but desktops offer larger screens, better keyboards, higher performance and other advantages. Those, who use desktops for productivity applications or gaming will continue to do so, even though the share of such people will be relatively low. Those, who use desktops only to check out email or news-papers will cease to buy such computers in the future. In fact, mass desktop as we know it today has all chances to transform into all-in-one PCs a decade from now thanks to availability of powerful, yet low-cost and low-power PC hardware.

 
Desktop of the 21st century. Concept design by Kyle Cherry

Notebook computers exist in many different sizes depending on their usage models. A gamer wants to have a large screen and a powerful graphics chip inside, whereas a traveler prefers light weight, long batter life, maximum reliability and decent level of performance to efficiently run productivity applications. Notebooks that are only used to for media consumption or email checking will likely extinct in the next couple of years since netbooks and tablets will naturally better suit to usage models of their owners. Professionals, who have been using convertible notebooks (tablet PCs) will also most likely migrate to modern slates. In general, the share of classic laptops will shrink, but will not disappear.


Lenovo ThinkPad X301

The netbook is a relatively new phenomenon on the market of PCs. Primarily such computers are aimed at two groups of people: those, who do only basic things on their PCs and any level of performance is good enough for them; and those, who use those computers for Internet-based communications as well as entertainment. The latter category will eventually prefer tablets or even high-end smartphones, whereas the former will keep using netbooks.

Tablets have been around on special markets for many years now in the form of convertible notebooks. They naturally did not become popular among mass consumers due to many hardware and software limitations. However, tablets like Apple iPad or Dell Streak are completely new types of personal computers that do not resemble anything from the past. The main point of modern slates is to consume multimedia content, use social networks and communicate. Nobody will ever position tablets for productivity applications since the lack of hardware keyboard is a major obstacle. Nonetheless, we would we would expect text-to-speech technologies to evolve dramatically in the following years, hence, it will be possible to whisper relatively long texts to slates. Moreover, thanks to evolution of cloud computing technologies, it will be possible to play even the latest video games on a thin handheld device.


RIM Blackberry Playbook tablet

One thing that slate-type PCs will never be able to do efficiently is to make phone calls. As a result, one will not be able to live without a smartphone. Moreover, those, for whom consumption of content is not very important will prefer smartphones with decent screens to tablets. Smartphones of the future will gain a lot of performance and capabilities thanks to rapid development of hardware as well as cloud computing. But given natural interface and screen size limitations smartphones will rather control a dishwasher than assist in actual work.

The next-generations of slates as well as smartphones that will feature multi-core central processing units, high-definition screens and long battery life will impact special-purpose devices, such as portable game consoles, MP3 players, dictaphones, pocket cameras, e-book readers and so on, but not general-purpose PCs. Still, a lot of tasks that are now done using desktops or notebooks will migrate to smartphones or tablets ten years from now. The main question will be is how much performance will be needed locally on a mobile device and which performance-consuming tasks can be "outsourced" to the cloud. 

 
Asus Waveface conceptual wrist-watch computer

All-in-all, there will be no a single device that would be the symbol of the "all-day online computing" era, there will be a wide array of various connected devices instead. Virtually all the PC form-factors that exist today will continue to exist in 2020; moreover, new form-factors are likely to emerge and spread by that time: expect wrist watches with access to the Internet, wearable computers, smart consumer electronics and so on.

 
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