There have always been those naysayers who couldn’t see the true potential of the personal computer. Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM in 1943, has been attributed with the quote, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Whether or not poor Mr. Watson said it, the fact is that the idea has been proven wrong over and over again. Nearly three quarters of homes in the United States today have a personal computer.
Yet, there are some signs that suggest that the days of the personal computer may be about to decline. While no one’s suggesting they’re going to disappear tomorrow, here are some reasons to think that their days might be numbered:
- The ready availability of WiFi. While those who predicted that most areas would be covered by some sort of municipal WiFi service seem to have missed the mark, the fact remains that there are very few places you can’t connect to the Internet. Every McDonalds in the country provides free WiFi access, for example. There are literally hundreds of thousands of access points across the country, specifically designed to offer connectivity to just about any kind of computing device except for a desktop.
- The proliferation of smartphones. As of 2011, half of all cell phones in circulation in the United States were smartphones. That means more than half of the devices out there on the market are capable of accessing the Internet and of doing many of the things that a desktop computer is designed to do. While smartphones are limited in what they can do because of their size, they provide users with many of the basic functions that they used to rely on their PCs for, such as email, social networking, and more.
- The rise of the tablet. The iPad took the world by storm, and with each new generation continues to do so. Meanwhile, Android-based tablets are steadily gaining market share, as well. Tablets pose an interesting competitor to the desktop in that they don’t have the size limitation of the smartphone. When paired with a Bluetooth keyboard, tablets can be utilized to do much more, such as word processing. Even advanced functions like photo editing have found a place in the tablet realm.
- The advent of cloud computing technology. In the IT world, cloud computing has been around for quite some time. However, it’s only in the past year or so that it’s made inroads in the consumer marketplace. Cloud computing is, in the most basic sense, accessing applications via the Internet rather than running on a local computer (e.g. a desktop) or even on a local network. Cloud storage solutions like Dropbox have grown exponentially in the past year, and more such solutions are on the horizon. The thing that makes cloud solutions so attractive is that they can be accessed from multiple devices – smartphones, tablets, PCs, and more – and don’t rely on a single hardware.
- Advancements in home theater technology. Today’s “smart” televisions can do more than simply show you whatever broadcast signal it happens to be picking up. They can stream television and movie shows via a wireless Internet connection. Some have built-in USB or SD card ports for plugging in removable media. Most have an interface for your iPod or MP3 player. Some include the ability to play Blu-Ray. One of the newest trends is the HTPC – the so-called “Home Theater PC.” This is a computer that you plug into your PC, just like you would a video game console. You can then use your TV as a computer. As we see home theater technology consolidate more and more, it’s likely that we’ll start to see televisions with built-in computers, allowing you to run some version or another of Windows, further reducing the need for a desktop PC.
Now, to be sure, these trends don’t mean that the desktop computer is going to disappear tomorrow. In fact, there are a number of high-end applications that can only be run on a computer with the kind of processing power typically reserved for a desktop.
That said, our other devices are becoming more and more capable, thanks to embedded processor technology. Over the next few decades, it’s likely that we’ll see more and more applications and functions based in the Internet, and we’ll continue to use any number of devices – from smartphones to tablets to TVs and even PCs – to use them.
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