The future of PCs

A while back I wrote a post on the death of the computer chain store, and I speculated a bit on where the PC was going:

The PC business is definitely going through a transition. Somehow I think the future of the PC is your mobile phone…or maybe your TV. It will practically disappear. In some ways this makes sense, but until the I/O interface is figured out so that people can actually use it in a sophisticated way the prospect makes me cringe.

I remember thinking about how the “mobile phone” would take over the PC’s functions. I wish I had written this in my article, because it’s less credible for me to talk about this now. I honestly did think about this at the time. What came to mind was “projection”, that the small computer you would wear would somehow project a screen onto a surface (so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the small screens on mobile phones), detect your finger movements for manipulating objects on the screen (in place of a mouse), and it would project a keyboard onto a surface so that you could type on a keyboard “anywhere”. You wouldn’t have to carry a physical keyboard with you. It would detect all this through one or more cameras. I thought of the “computer you wear” as the phone you carry with you. Well, a young engineer at MIT, Pranav Mistry, came up with such a thing. Only it looks more like a necklace. He calls it “Sixth Sense” (h/t to Tammy Bruce). I’m not taking credit. Obviously thinking of it and implementing it are very different. Implementation takes more skill and effort. Take a look:

Mistry takes it farther than what I had thought of, integrating physical objects and media into the digital world, and vice-versa. It is a further optimization of the idea of computing = digital media, though my hat’s off to Mistry for doing it in a very innovative way that gets us beyond having to use armatures to manipulate digital stuff. Now if we could just integrate programming into this new idiom somehow… Hmmm. Some new ideas are percolating up…

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3 thoughts on “The future of PCs

  1. For a couple of years now, I’ve been advicated universal docking stations for smartphones/mobile combputers that pug up via USB, recharge them while they are plugged in, etc. My vision is that the apps and OS would be aware that they now have a screen, monitor, and mouse available to them and shift on-the-fly to a UI that uses them. The docking station could also provide network connectivity, in scenarios where that makes sense (like a locked-down network which only accepts wired connections). The trick to making this reasonable really is getting a universally acceptable docking station, though.

    J.Ja

  2. I see your point, but I find it hard to believe that the multifunctional device presented at TED is actually showing where is the IT heading in the near future. It is unlikely that complex applications, used in research, scientific work, graphic design, video and audio manipulation, data storage and analysis (in specific fields, such as economy, biology and other applied sciences) could be easily “updated” and adapted to work on mobile devices like your phone or the device presented above. The PC era may be at most at its peak, I do not think it is coming to an end.

  3. @katchja:

    Who said anything about IT? I was speaking in the context of multifunctional computers that ordinary people would use in their lives, not just for work. Mistry did show a scenario that seemed to acknowledge the need for interfacing between the personal device and a “work” desktop computer. I think there are possibilities where such a personal device could be used for work, though it’s possible that there are limits that would not make it a complete replacement for desktops/laptops. Fine by me.

    At this point I see it as a possible replacement for the current smartphone configuration, as well as the personal laptop.

    Cheers.

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