Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Apple moves to lead the next phase of computing

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Over the last few months, Apple has taken the first steps in its move to dominate the next phase of computing – the mobile desktop.

The presence of 64-bit processors in some of its recent releases — both iPads and iPhones — is a significant indication that Apple is gearing up to lead the way again. These processors have about the same level of grunt as today's desktop machines.

Apple was first with the personal computer back in 1977 and intends to stay ahead in every phase of the journey, for as long as it can. This does not mean that it will not be overtaken, just that it will be first out of the gates and leading the race.

Not that this mobile desktop stuff is some new concept. Mark Shuttleworth, the head of Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu GNU/Linux operating system, tried to rally crowd-funding earlier this year to  build a mobile device that could serve as a mobile desktop, but failed to get anywhere near his target. He returned the money that had been donated.

(But Apple is not in any way handicapped by a lack of funds. It is in exactly the opposite situation - it has oodles of cash sitting in its subsidiaries outside the US, money that it cannot take back to Cupertino without attracting the attention of the good folk at the IRS. It can spend as much money experimenting as it wants – and by the way, the iPhone 5C was one such experiment.)

The mobile desktop envisages the use of one device, which is powerful enough to handle most computing needs of the average person. Apple will certainly not kill off its profitable line of laptops and desktops – those who need more grunt than the average punter will need those machines.

Expect Apple to announce, down the line, hardware for docking its mobile devices. Something that has a display, a keyboard and a trackpad, but no storage. That storage will come from the iPhone or the iPad.

Third-party keyboards can be used right now, so too third-party displays. But it will all come together with the hardware from Apple. Apart from a short period, Apple has always controlled both software and hardware for its computing; that trend will not go away.

A user's data will go with the individual. And the mobile devices will not need to keep expanding in size as most of the storage will be in the cloud. The lack of any peripherals — like an optical drive — means that there is one more revenue stream opened.

Plus, the lack of standard output ports — like USB — means there will be additional revenue for Apple as digital media that is consumed will be mostly pay-per-view. The cost per clip will be less, but the volume will be much higher.

One major change for Apple down the line is likely to be the standardisation on iOS for all its computing. The new version of this operating system has departed from the Jobs model – it is not so stylish and does not look as good as it did in the past. But it is much faster and the system feels more responsive. Updates are faster too – there have already been three updates since the release of iOS 7.0.

But it will not be Apple alone that is taking the mobile desktop route. Google will have something in the works soon. So too the bigger Android vendors like Samsung and LG.

Microsoft has already smelt the bacon cooking and released a remote desktop client for Mac OSX, Android and iOS. But it will have to go further if it wants to keep the money coming in.

After its DOS phase, Redmond's cash cows have always been Windows and Office. So it does not seem far-fetched to expect a version of Office for both iOS and Android in the next couple of years.

Personal computing will traverse an interesting path in the next five years.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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