As I was graduating from college, one thing became apparent: Desktops were going the way of the dinosaur. Laptops were going to replace them. Why shouldn’t they? I mean, you can actually take a laptop places. It can do everything a desktop can do, but in a portable way, right?
Well, laptops have displaced desktops as the most common form of personal computing (at least, I believe so). Yet… desktops are still around. In large numbers. And they aren’t going away. It’s likely that they never will. Why not? Because they serve a valuable purpose as work machines. The work station I have up stairs? Laptops can’t do that. Multi-monitors, large monitors, a more workish environment that requires no set-up. Even if a laptop is more flexible, there are a number of things that are easier to do on a desktop than a laptop. And given how cheap both are, it’s easy to have both. And so while the laptop has thrived, the desktop has remained and appears as though it will remain indefinitely. Why wouldn’t they?
With this in mind, my head boggles any time anyone talks about the post-PC world. A few years ago it was smartphones that were going to replace PCs. Now, tablets. Okay, tablets with keyboards, maybe. So sort of laptops. There’ll be a merger. Something will surely happen to kill off the PC, right?
No. Not at all.
Just as was the case with the smartphone, the notion that we will settle on any single device is very short-sighted. Why should we? Different tasks beg for different tools. Sometimes you need to sit and work. Sometimes you want to sprawl on the sofa and write a blog post. Sometimes you need extra monitors, sometimes you want to be comfortable. Sometimes you want something you can take with you, sometimes you want something that fits in your pocket, and sometimes those things don’t matter and you want performance (and the desktop will always rule over laptops, tablets, and smartphones over performance). This notion that we will end up settling on a single device implies a degree of scarcity that does not actually exist. Now, more than ever, we can afford a desktop and a laptop and a smartphone and a tablet. We can cut out this one or that one, and few will have all four, but there’s not much reason to believe we will all cut out the same ones.
Ironically, the thing that is going to make this easier is actually the thing that leads some to say that the future is going to not be a PC one: cloud computing. I am actually skeptical of the extent to which we will ever move completely to cloud computing, but it does make switching between devices easier. Which not only means that we can do more on our tertiary devices, but also means that we can use these devices in complement with one another.
I was first told about “cloud computing” when I was in college. It wasn’t called that yet, but went by the less marketable name of “Dumb Terminal.” Which was the belief that in the future, computers wouldn’t actually be anything but terminals into larger and more powerful machines. It took fifteen years, and it’s still not happening quite like it was supposed. Why should it happen? Our individual computers now are just as powerful as the mainframe they would have been connected to 15 years ago. Given the constant state of advancement, there’s no reason to outsource what our computer does. At least, not completely. Enough, though, to make owning lots of devices easier. As Americans, we like to own stuff.