Monday, December 3, 2012

It’s Only a Matter of Time, But Some Predict Mobile Technology Will Render Laptops Obsolete

Even though tablets and smart phones are being distributed at rates higher than ever, many people still turn to their laptops or desktops to complete time-consuming tasks, such as computer programs, books, and essays. The main difference between all these devices is the ease of typing on a computer that iPads and iPhones don’t provide. For this reason, quick, recreational tasks are perfect for mobile devices, but it can be very frustrating to attempt to use them for long periods of time.

A main difference between the two types of technology is the keyboard, which allows longer pieces to be written on laptops and desktops.

            The reality is that right now, the lack of a keyboard on smart phones and most tablets makes it hard to produce content, such as essays, emails, and long blog posts. Unless an iPad user buys a keyboard to attach to his or her device, typing up these things can be a pain, as usually people only type with a few fingers on mobile devices. Also, people often associate these new devices with recreation, using them for quick Facebook or Twitter checks when they do not have much time to sit down and get serious work done.

From Phones review
           University of Maryland graduate student Nathan Jurgenson, who has been researching mobile devices for a few years, believes that all of these devices (smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktops) will start to look more like each other in the coming months and years. He says, “It’ll be a more fluid spectrum between the smaller devices and the larger devices, instead of these very discrete categories that we have now.” I think we are already seeing the beginnings of this trend with the Microsoft Surface, which can either be attached to a keyboard or used like a tablet. Dr. Benjamin Bederson, computer science professor, agrees with Jurgenson, saying, “With wireless and detachable keyboards and lighter and smaller laptops with touchscreens, it is really more of a continuum of designs than two completely distinct types of computers.”

Smart phone sales outpace those of tablets, laptops and desktops, and that trend is expected to continue into the near future.

            New research done by Canalys found that, for the first time, in 2011 more smart phones were shipped than personal computers (including laptops, desktops, and tablets). The report was that 488 million smart phones were shipped, compared with 415 million PCs. These results are expected based on the fact that much of the globe has yet to join the web, but many of these places are using cell phones. “Many people, especially in the developing world, have ‘leapfrogged’ the wired internet and the desktop computer,” Jurgenson says. “[They’ve] moved straight into mobile devices as their first entryway into the internet.” The belief is that if and when the two-thirds of the world that is not on the internet start using the web, it will be through mobile devices and not through traditional laptop computers or desktop computers.

Mobile devices, though, do not lend themselves very well to creation or production of books, long articles, or computer programs, or the editing of audio and video.

            Even though handheld devices can do so much and are so convenient for us, there are still some obvious benefits to sticking with computers to do complicated tasks. For example, tablets are able to shoot videos pretty well, and the quality of the videos is not too much worse than that of a video camera. Obviously, there is a decline in quality but not enough to make shooting video on a tablet worthless. But as for editing videos and editing audio clips, the iPad doesn’t have nearly the capabilities that a laptop has. 

            In the same way, software developers and computer programmers would never be able to do all of the writing and testing of code with the same effectiveness on a phone or even a tablet as on a computer. For these tasks, people like to have the control that computers offer, not the convenience of handheld devices.

            For these reasons, it will take time for mobile technology to fully surpass traditional devices for every task; tablet producers will definitely have to think about how they can make it easier for users to type for a long period of time or write and test a long program. The Microsoft Surface seems like a good start, as it provides not only the convenience of a tablet, but also the vast capabilities of a laptop when the user needs it.

            If Apple comes out with a product similar to the Surface, and I do not see why they wouldn’t, it would further this merging of different technologies that Jurgenson and Bederson pointed out. Companies will always be trying to create better devices, but for the next couple of years at least, a blend between the laptop and tablet could be the direction in which much of the world decides to move.

                With these new blended technologies, some experts are predicting that tablet sales will outnumber those of traditional computers and laptops by 2016. The feeling is that today’s population, especially in the United States, is much more concerned with convenience than performance. Ultimately, experts believe, handheld devices will be small, convenient and easy enough to substitute for the laptops of much of the population.

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