Robert Cringely contends that nearly all of us are on our next-to-last PC – a hardware category he reckons will be dead in about five years, or 1.5 PC hardware replacement cycles. He makes some interesting observations on the history of technology life cycles, noting that more often than not a particualr technology will find its greatest success being used in ways other than were originally expected.
He also qualifies that fifteen years from now we won’t be able to function without some sort of machine that has a microprocessor and memory inside, and while we probably won’t call it a personal computer, that’s essentially what it will still be.
Cringely says a trend toward more mobile devices has been clear for years with notebooks having long since caught and passed desktops in the market share stakes, and a significant compromise they imposed us was smaller screen size. He notes that he writes today mainly on a 13-inch notebook, which replaced a 21-inch desktop, but he doesn’t miss the desktop because the total value proposition is so much better with the notebook, and he wouldn’t go back to a bigger screen, because it would mean scrapping his mobility, and that dynamic is now entering another phase with the ascendency of smartphones and tablets, with desktops and even notebooks on life-support attributable to corporate buying policies, hardware replacement cycles, and inertia.
It’s pretty hard to dispute these observations. I think most of us have downsized the screens we conduct our digital lives on in recent years, and there doubtless is inertia over the sort of hardware we’re currently using. In some ways it’s sort of a reverse evolution – for example, 15 years ago I was surfing the Internet on a 9.5-inch display PowerBook, and now I’m doing a lot of my surfing on a 9.7-inch iPad, albeit at a higher display resolution. My last anchor Mac (possibly to become and obsolete concept) system upgrade was from a 17-inch laptop to a 13-inch laptop. I’m of mind that Microsoft’s new Surface tablet computer points to where PC form factors will be headed over the next interval.