Oct 29 2012

An Expandable PC

Recently, there’s been this idea that we’re in a “post-PC” era. That the PC is no longer relevant, it’s all mobile now. I’d argue that the most “PC” PC I’ve ever had is my phone: it’s a computer I have on my person at all times. And while I agree that our PCs are now these hand-held devices, I’ve always loved having my monster desktop ready to crunch all computing challenges I could throw at it.

As computers have gotten smaller, we’ve also seen that desktop computer performance doesn’t need to improve any more. When friends ask me what to look in for a laptop, I tell them the processor and such don’t matter; look for battery life, weight, and quality of input devices (keyboard and trackpad). We just don’t need more power to answer our email, click on Like buttons, watch cat videos, and fill out spreadsheets. The power on hand-held devices, however, is starting to reach that threshold where it’s adequate to do everything as well.

So when I see other people mention the same ideas bouncing around in my head, I’m sure we have to be getting close:

Jeff Atwood:

Our phones are now so damn fast and capable as personal computers that I’m starting to wonder why I don’t just use the thing I always have in my pocket as my “laptop”, plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary.

David Pierce:

I can drop my Series 7 tablet into a dock, add a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, and connect a monitor — poof, I’ve got a full-fledged dual-monitor setup going. When I want to go somewhere, I just pick the device up out of the dock, and walk out the door tablet in hand.

This is exactly what I want. I love my smartphone, because it’s always with me. And I love my desktop because it’s so much easier to type on a full keyboard, have decent speakers, and use multiple big monitors. I don’t necessarily need the giant Tower part in the middle1. What if my phone or my tablet was the computer at my desktop, with all the useful peripherals plugged into it?

Microsoft’s Surface and Windows 8 feel like a prime candidate for this experiment. It’s still got Windows, so I can still do my usual work of testing in browsers, writing code, playing with git, and the like. There would be no obstacles to productivity even, since I’ll be using my laptop and monitors. And then, when I’m done, and want to go into the living room, or hang out in Starbucks to get my people dose for the week, I can just pick it up and go.

I realize that many people have been doing that with laptops for years, but I have never been impressed by it. I certainly don’t bring my laptop to the couch to casually use between commercials. And it’s extra space that is needed means I need more space (and a power cord) when I leave the house. Plus it weighs at least double, more like quadruple what a tablet weighs.

The Surface is now out, and while it remains to be seen if it is the right fit for this expandable PC, it certainly looks like the closest product yet. We’re not too far away from a time when tablets replace everything.

  1. I do, actually, since I compile code, and run massive test suites, and I don’t want those going any slower than they do. Plus, gaming. 

Feb 13 2012
Oct 11 2011

The iPad Needs Competition

Apple fans unanimously believe that tablet makers should stop trying to compete with the iPad. They think that instead, tablets should try to fill other purposes, like the Kindle Fire does.

This is a terrible idea.

It would be similar to saying that no one should compete with Porsches, because they already make great cars. There are lots of people who want a quality car that isn’t a Porsche. If no others existed, they would be stuck with either selecting a quality car they didn’t want, or buying a car not built for the purpose they want.

Back to tablets, if the only quality, general-purpose tablet is the iPad, then anyone who wants something different needs to buy a tablet built for reading and games (Kindle Fire) to try to fill his desires of using a tablet to replace his notebook.

In any other market, the notion that there should be only one without competition is non-sense. Why do technology enthusiasts think differently?1

  1. Both sides are guilty of this. Apple fans think only the iPad matters. Fandroids think that Apple devices should die. I personally think both are great, and appeal to different audiences. 

Jan 7 2010

Tablets Will Replace Everything

Recently, there has been a bit of talk about upcoming tablets like the CrunchPad and the iSlate, and whether we need them, how useful they’ll be, or if they’re only use is browsing the web on the toilet. Many people are of the opinion that we don’t need one. Or that only gadget enthusiasts would buy it for couch web browsing. Well, I’ll go out and say it: Tablets will replace everything.

Crazy people think we don’t need tablets

I can imagine something like the iPhone with a much bigger screen being a gorgeous device with great capacity, but I don’t know where I would fit that into my life. […] Another former Apple executive who was there at the time said the tablets kept getting shelved at Apple because Mr. Jobs, whose incisive critiques are often memorable, asked, in essence, what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.

—Just a Touch Away, the Elusive Tablet PC

The Eventuality

A tablet prototype

Eventually, everyone will carry a tablet for all their needs, technological or otherwise.

  • As a phone: We already use programs for telephony like Skype, and others access phone programs using touch screens via iPhones and Androids. If we’re already carrying around 1 piece of technology, why be bothered carrying two. We could talk similar to speakerphone, or an ear piece can easily be worn that will let us talk using the tablet via Bluetooth or some other means.
  • As a computer: Many people use their iPhones to access their e-mail, browse the web, and organize their life. It’s just a plausible on a tablet. The reason for using the iPhone is it’s portability; something the tablet will solve as well. With an on-screen, even typing comments, documents, and the like will be easily and portable.
  • As a reader: Surely, people enjoy reading blogs and their RSS feeds portably, such as on an iPhone. And with readers like the Kindle, we see people enjoy reading books, magazines, and newspapers the same way. It only makes sense to want your one personal device to do both. Another plus: students will forget lugging around text books. The backpack will become redundant. The tablet will let you look at the material for class, and also let you write notes with a touch screen keyboard.
  • As identification: Eventually, we’ll use digital identification over our driver’s licenses (or passport, etc). We’ll have some sort of encrypted file that we can pop open for showing when need be. And likely a way to broadcast it, like the public side of a private ssh key. I would be surprised if we didn’t take it further: our homes unlocking when we broadcast our ID near the door, our cars opening when we’re nearby, and the like.
  • As money: Paper money and even credit cards can be a hassle. Credit cards especially suck at letting us split the bill at a restaurant with 20 people. It’d be to everyone’s advantage if a vendor could broadcast a bill (or a money request), and we could accept on our device. Or if a friend needs to borrow a couple hundred or a thousand dollars. Sure, here you go [press button]. It will happen.