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The future of personal computing

This post is co-authored by Hemantkumar Jain who writes on the shoOOonya Blog.

Personal Computing is probably a word from the 90s, not quite apt for the post iPad era. The reason we use it though is because, this post starts with a recap of a discussion from 2006.

As the news spread about Flipkart.com and its affiliate Myntra.com moving to mobile only websites - our minds went back to a discussion we had in 2006 which started at Hemant's apartment in Geneva and continued for next 5 days through our train journeys across Switzerland. The 80GB iPod had just been released, and Hemant mentioned that at the end of the day, the iPod which fits the pocket had hard drive space and a processor. So all we needed now was to load a light weight OS on it, connect it to a monitor, keyboard/mouse and you have a personal computer ready.

Today, the relevance of the personal computer is almost lost in context of tablets and mobile phones. The question is - will this 'mobile-only' trend sustain itself - especially given the wide variety of uses we put computers to today. The next generation of users is far more mobile-friendly and mobile-addicted than laptop/computer; quite a large majority of them practically use the phone for everything and don't use the laptop at all unless they already have one due to their work or they have one in the house. There are few of the mid-generation though who are more comfortable with the larger screen space of the laptop/desktop but they may be a part of a large dwindling minority.

To be frank, the Flipkart / Myntra news is misleading; portals might still continue with 'websites' but they might morph into HTML5 sites which are mobile browser compatible. What portals may want to do is to make even the desktop site resemble the mobile site rather than have two versions. This will not only help bring a consistent experience to customers across platforms, but also save costs of developing and maintaining two versions. It is entirely possible that the formal 'announcements' from Flipkart / Myntra are clever marketing ploys to stay in the news.

However, one cannot deny that mobile is a force to reckon with - most of the India's online retailers, including Snapdeal and Amazon, get a majority of their traffic from the mobile. Even those who are 'laptop native users' prefer to consume content on mobiles or tablets. Laptops / desktops are easier for work that involved editing/creating content including 'small editing' such as writing this blog post.

On the longer term, we think, desktops will surely disappear. Laptops have already been replaced by tablets as far as CxOs are concerned. With time almost all general purpose users might migrate to tablets. But in all probability these tablets will be dual avatar - they will transform into laptops when docked into a keyboard station realizing that the user now wants to do an editing/creating job and not just consume content. This is exactly the vision we discussed 9 years ago on our Swiss Tour.

As an exception, special purpose desktops may still survive for the next decade or so - for people such as designers or other craftsmen who need a magnified viewing experience. But within a decade, new technologies such as expandable screens may also emerge so that these users dock their tablet into a device which expands the screen of the tablet into a mega size screen.

This means that, the next wave of specialized hardware will be various types of special purpose docking stations. Simple ones which have only a keyboard and power supply for general users and special purpose docking stations equipped with controls such as expandable screens, stylus controls, eye movement detectors, even Braille readers/writes or motion detection technologies.

All data now anyway resides on Cloud - the day isn't far when we will stop having hard disks which contain our data; the primary purpose of hard disk will be to run the OS. Solid state hard drives will become a norm as far as end user hardware is concerned - the only place you will find disk drives is where cost of storage needs to be lower i.e. Cloud data centers.

So the second place of innovation in hardware will now be in the Data Center space - this will have all the innovation aspects of today such as energy saving, improving CPU utilization and even redundancy controls, but a lot of incremental innovations such as more reliable disks or better data packing density will become essential. Data center business is soon going to be something that big Industrial houses need to enter if they want to stay relevant in the market - the likes of Reliance Industries (RELIANCE | NSE) in India or GE (NYSE) in the US need to get into this business as early as possible. Data centers are the next utility wave like Power of 1900s or Communication technologies of 2000s.

Image credits Jose Antonio Suarez Estevez via flickr.

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