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Tuesday, 26 January 2016 16:54

PC is about personal computing – not form factors (part II) Featured

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The traditional Personal Computer BOX market may be declining but at least one company, Lenovo, does not care. It is betting the future on flexibility. We need more vision like this.

Gerry Smith, Lenovo’s Executive Vice President, says the company is putting a lot of investment and engineering into multi-purpose devices.

“We’re actually combining our PC and our tablet business together right now. If you look at the whole detachable PC market, it’s actually growing. Our goal is to look at the whole PC usage model and we will develop devices across all of that,” he said.

Smith’s sentiments are spot on – it is not about form factor – it is about the personal computing function be it on a desktop, notebook, tablet, hybrid, smart phone, via a dock (like Microsoft’s Continuum), a dedicated IoT device, games console, and smart devices like a TV, fridge or a connected home.

Lenovo is showing some serious ‘design cred’ with its new Helix hybrid tab-book (very Surface Book like). Its Yoga 900 laptop (very HP Spectre x360 like) covers the four-in-one market well. An interesting Yoga Tab 3 Pro has a novel stand that doubles as a wall hanger. It even has models with inbuilt Pico projectors.

Smith says, “Let the customer decide. I think the market is going to grow, and it’s just a matter of offering a wide range of different innovations. It’s an entirely new market, so we are looking at managing that whole portfolio of products and there are some parts of it that are in decline, there are some parts that are high growth.”

And the PC industry agrees – the beige box and heavy notebook are things of the past. I recently wrote an interesting article on the shrinking PC market titled ‘I don’t care about the shrinking desktop PC market – nor should you’.

For the past few years’ the focus of innovation has been about reducing costs – faster, cheaper and better. Devices can get smaller, storage can move to the cloud, distributed computing across devices a reality, and all we are still to solve is that damned power cord issue. I say bring on cold fusion, Dilithium crystals, flux capacitor, hydrogen power, or Tesla’s dream of transmitted power.

There has been little done however about new form factors, let alone integration and convergence with different devices and functions. Until now.

The next five years will see functions like telephony, health, fitness, environment, entertainment and virtualisation all converging into one IP connected, personal computing device. Where is Doctor Who’s Sonic Screwdriver/Dark Glasses?

Currently the PC market wants detachable computers – rather tablets with detachable keyboards. Tablets will get larger, come in a variety of sizes, and get cheaper – the dumb PC monitor as we know it is doomed. That detachable trend will continue as more get used to touch devices but ultimately it is about touch, voice and gesture – not the keyboard and mouse that will all but disappear in the next five years. That is why advancements in Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri et al are so damned important.

One thing is for sure – until we have neural and optical implants we need a screen we can see and interact with. Energy sipping OLED screens will replace LED/LCD but more importantly FOLED (foldable, rollable and mouldable OLED) will replace that. The next iteration of OLED is transparent OLED screens built into walls and furniture like desks – wirelessly connected to personal computing devices. Later light emitting OLED will begin to replace other light sources.

Technology advances have enabled the initial adoption of Microsoft’s HoloLens computer – a fully-fledged, wearable, Windows 10 computer as part of an augmented reality computing experience. Augmented reality will flourish because it can actually remove the need for a screen. “Computer show me a 60” screen and open today’s news.”

Its widely accepted that ‘smartphones are the PC of the future’. I suspect that statement is wrong. Personal computing ‘black boxes” – ultra small, pocket sized devices that last days, weeks or months on a charge and use advanced Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to a range of wearable devices like wrist sized screens, flexible roll out screens, voice control, glasses, VR and Augmented reality and more – are not far off. Intel’s Compute Stick or NUC are two early examples of this possibility but we need more innovation there.

Ubiquitous, free, broadband internet in most parts of the world, especially business and tourist locals will be the norm within the decade – if not sooner as the always connected expectation grows.

Why does a PC have to be defined as an object instead of what it can do?

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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