I'm putting a prediction down in writing. The conversations that got me thinking started sometime in the last couple months, about the time that non-geeks started succumbing to the frenzy surrounding the new iPhone. Because I've been such a fan of Apple products and have been a consistent early adopter of new devices, my circle of friends often ask me what is coming next.
I've had a theory that has been developing slowly but has been reinforced quite a bit with the stuff that Apple and other companies have rolled out over the last few months.
Here it is:
I think that the computer workstation will be completely redefined and reinvented within the next 2-3 years. I see an inevitable move away from the devices we call "computers" as the center of digital life. The smart phones in our pockets are beginning to rival the power, storage capacity and speed of our desktop devices. While this idea isn't new, and was even alluded to in Apple's event back in June, I don't think that the idea of a bunch of interconnected devices is the real natural evolution of things. I'm not sure that we need both. Aren't the CPUs in each of these separate devices doing pretty much the same thing? It is the interface design that is unique. Remember when folks used to carry around a PDA, Cell Phone and an iPod? One for Calendar and address book, one for making calls and another for music. When I first heard about the iPhone it seemed like such an obvious idea. This feels really similar.
Imagine having a device in your pocket with a Quad core processor, 2-3 gigs of RAM and an always-on 4G data connection that rivals the speed of wired broadband. When you want to do more traditional tasks like writing essays, entering data or editing photos, you plug into a dock and have a full desktop solution with a high-resolution display, keyboard, mouse/trackpad and peripherals. All of your data, preferences and interface work can be cloud based, and available from anywhere with the option of physical backup for more sensitive stuff. When you are done, you just undock, put it in your pocket and go. One interface optimized for more traditional desktop tasks, another for mobile use, all in one device that is always with you.
I do think that the desktop devices we use now will have a place as workstations in business offices and with folks that will need even more power and memory than can be contained in a phone or small tablet sized form factor. Obviously, a dedicated tower will be a better fit for things like video editing, audio recording and publishing.
At the real core of this is the feeling that the real power of these devices isn't in the cases that contain them, but in the way that it can become a part of the user. The smartphone is such a personal device in a way that computers often aren't. Why go to the trouble to sync multiple devices if you can just take a really powerful core with you that replaces all of these separate tools? In other words, you use the interface that you need at the moment without having to think about whether the one that is optimized for this particular task contains all of your data.