Linked by Howard Fosdick on Mon 27th Aug 2012 13:53 UTC
Editorial The dream of inexpensive computing for everyone has been with us since the first computers. Along the way it has taken some unexpected turns. This article summarizes key trends and a few of the surprises.
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RE: Everything can be a computer
by hhas on Mon 27th Aug 2012 23:35 UTC in reply to "Everything can be a computer"
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The article's emphasis was on 'personal computing' rather than every possible application of compact/low-power/special-purpose computing, so I can see why the author didn't get into embedded applications.

That said, you're very nearly onto an extremely significant point: the trend is definitely away from owning one big general-purpose box to owning a heterogeneous collection of small, specialised devices. Which starts to look more like the traditional embedded ecosystem in its general philosophy, only with one huge exception: ubiquitous integration. The real trick is going to be in getting all these user-oriented devices to integrate seamlessly and securely, so users can mix-n-match services and access their data from multiple devices at any time.

On a purely hardware level I can imagine, say, Apple producing a smart TV that can also do casual gaming a-la iPhone, waiting a couple years till that's well established and then releasing a snap-on box that boosts it up to full-blown console level, making it both a desirable 3D gaming platform just as the traditional console makers are falling asleep at the wheel again, and providing enough functionality to do general computing (e.g. run a copy of Word) as well, allowing it to do triple duty as an iMac-like PC as well. And neither device would require much internal storage, because users can either keep all their data in iCloud and/or on a local turn-key Apple 'iHub' NAS (a much more flexible successor to their rather old-fashioned Time Capsule back-up system). And then all this stuff is going to happily chat with your iPhones and iPads, and even MacBooks if you still bother to own those. And even that only scratches the surface of what might appear in future.

Essentially, personal computing is now entering a post-scarcity age... at least where hardware is concerned. Consumers can now afford to buy a specialised device for each class of tasks they regularly perform. Each device will still retain some general-purpose capability (e.g. you can type a letter on an iPad or smart TV; mostly it'll just be slower if you don't purchase a keyboard as well), but for its optimised purpose each one will really shine - certainly much brighter than the traditional general-purpose PC which does a bit of everything reasonably but nothing brilliantly.

The real challenge will be on the software side - getting every device talking to every other device with zero hassle and zero configuration/management costs for the user will be no small practical feat. The basic concepts needed already exist in isolation, but fusing them into a completely successful mass-market solution will be a non-trivial task.

Hopefully this is something the author will explore in future articles; looking forward to them already.

(Full disclosure: While not really a true nerd/geek, I do still keep my very first ZX81 up on my cupboard shelf.;)

Reply Parent Score: 2

zima Member since:

Seems like that "ubiquitous integration [...] mix-n-match services" doesn't really work out in your envisioned future scenario, limited only to buying into Apple ecosystem ;p

(and generally, it might be a rather western perspective of things to come - so not really the most common one)

BTW, in a few short years we should see the next generation of consoles ...and actually, one present console maker seems to be much closer to that "ubiquitous integration" vision than anybody - Xbox360 works with any TV (not only Apple snap-on box + Apple TV), can stream media from a PC on home network (or even, IIRC, play contents of plugged-in iPod?), access many 3rd party services / streaming TV, and use various touchscreen devices (NOT limited to those with an MS OS: ...working with any iOS or Android device one might already have) as a sort of remote, game/app controller, or 2nd screen showing stuff related to a TV show.

PS. You might keep that ZX81 around, but when was the last time you switched it on? ;p

Edited 2012-08-28 09:56 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 4

hhas Member since:

I said I can see Apple doing it; reinventing entire markets to suit itself is something they've gotten rather good at. I didn't say it was desirable for the rest of the industry to sit on their behinds while Apple eats all their lunches. ;)

Of course I'd like to see open protocols for everything, so users can choose the devices from the vendors they want. The internet itself is the greatest example of open interop, and it didn't get that way by vendors playing silly buggers over closed standards. A rising tide lifts all boats. OTOH, individual vendors like Apple and Google will no doubt be looking to tilt the field in their own favour if they can, because that's just business.

Alas, my cheap-ass crystal ball only shows where personal computing will eventually be at, not the exact route it'll take to get there or the precise form it'll take when it does. I suspect much will ride on other vendors not just waiting for Apple or Google to tell them what to copy...

Reply Parent Score: 1

bassbeast Member since:

Actually what I'm seeing is everyone and their dog and their dog's squeaky toy have one or more x86 systems now and the things last so long there is just no point in buying another one before they break.

I mean what is the average user doing that won't work just fine on that Phenom I X4 desktop or core duo laptop? Nothing, not a thing and those are 6 year old chips.

So what I'm seeing is people buying these other machines to go WITH, not replace, the machines they already have. A perfect example of the "average user" is someone like my dad. 2 desktops (one at work, one at home) plus a smartphone and until he ran over the dang cord and cooked it a laptop, which he is planning to get a tablet and use that instead of the smartphone for the web because "the screen is too dang tiny". His GF has 2 desktops he had me build her (one in the living room for her, one in the den for guests and grandkids) and a netbook that she prefers over her smartphone, again screen size.

As you can see computers? Tons of them, more cycles than they know what to do with, but things like tablets fit different niches so those like dad will get one for sitting on the couch and checking his email while the commercial is on. Heck this is why I always keep a couple of late model P4s at the shop, that way even the poorest person can easily have a PC if they want one. Computers are everywhere and all these new forms are just filling niches that x86 didn't fit into well, that's all.

Oh and I agree with the author, netbooks aren't going anywhere as customers love the size and easy of carry. The 10 inchers might go though, as I see more and more heading for the 12 inch which seems to be the sweet spot for ultra portable netbooks.

Reply Parent Score: 2

zima Member since:

Last I checked, there are ~1.3 billion PCs for ~2 billion PC users - a little less than "everyone and their dog and their dog's squeaky toy" or "Computers are everywhere" (and people with 2-3 PCs of their own are nowhere near average ...but I suppose such whims are what brings this insanity, and generally resulting in )

Meanwhile, there are more than 5 billion mobile subscribers...

Whatever the reasons for those differences (costs being of course a large one, but in a broad sense: "even the poorest person" absolutely can't easily have a P4 PC, if only because of the cost of electricity - not in a 'how much a kWh will cost me?' way, more like 'what kind of fortune for bringing a semi-reliable mains electricity to my home?'), large part of humanity is clearly more receptive to smallish, relatively inexpensive, mobile, battery-powered devices. And I suppose that large Android phones (but without the silly price premiums such models command now in the ~west) might become a dominating form of ~tablets of sorts - or "personal computer" (hey, we reinvented what that means few times already, really) - in the next decade or so; hardly a niche.
(also "Connecting the unconnected" section)

Reply Parent Score: 2