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[qi:043] Everything today is connected. And that may be bad news for that PC sitting on your desk or the high-powered laptop that you tote around on business trips. In an increasingly connected world, where data is just a server request away, the PC needs an […]

[qi:043] Everything today is connected. And that may be bad news for that PC sitting on your desk or the high-powered laptop that you tote around on business trips. In an increasingly connected world, where data is just a server request away, the PC needs an overhaul to stay relevant, so that it isn’t merely a hub for all of your digital devices, but it’s also a contributor to the web and an intelligent orchestrator of the home network.

Last week, I read a story about broadband deployments in Africa that quoted an Ericsson executive saying that broadband should be a basic right, available to everyone to access at any time. Of course, any equipment vendor would say that, but it also happens to be true. Ericsson cites research by ConsumerLab, involving 5,000 Internet users in five countries, of which 82 percent reported using the Internet several times a day. Half of the respondents said having high-speed Internet everywhere was important, while 48 percent agreed a computer without Internet had no value.

What jumped out at me was that almost half of the surveyed population believed that a disconnected computer had no value. That right there drives home how quickly the hardware race that PC makers had engaged in during the ’80s and early ’90s has turned into the broadband race, where value is built on a web platform, not the device. The next-generation companies won’t be those that master the hardware but those that dominate the web, as Google, Facebook and even companies like Spotify or Hunch are trying to do.

And now, as we use web-based services to extend the capabilities of our smartphones and netbooks, I wonder how long we will keep our PC-centric worldview? How long before all devices need a connection? The market has pretty much determined that an unconnected e-reader is a waste of silicon and plastic. I’d argue that an unconnected music player or personal navigation device will soon become anachronisms.

But once devices are always connected, I question the value of a PC for many people. Some people already use their iPhones as their primary Internet connection, and I personally use my iPod touch for most things that I once used my laptop for. (Blogging is the exception.) Right now, the value of the PC for some people is that it allows them to connect to their gadgets. Syncing your iPhone or iPod touch to the PC is an irritatingly familiar task for many, as is hooking your PC to a home stereo system to play your music. The same goes for some mobile phones. But soon there will be a cloud for that. And because we’ll have ubiquitous wireless, we’ll be able to access the cloud whenever we want.

And once we have an iTunes cloud, a personal photos cloud, a contacts/email cloud, etc., then the PC may revert to its role, not as the orchestrator of our digital lives, but as a productivity tool for people who need to create content, play with spreadsheets and crunch numbers. So to stay relevant, the PC has to evolve, not just from a productivity tool, but to a powerhouse of wired connectivity and computing horsepower. We need operating systems that understand how interactive the PC must become and that can integrate things like P2P for delivering large content to the web or around the home.

With a quality broadband network, resilient and dependable clouds, our gadgets and our data can be free to roam from place to place, and from device to device, without those painful PC pit stops. Then instead of an anchor tethering our devices to the home, it can be the platform on which we create and send out our digital selves into the ether.

  1. “The market has pretty much determined that an unconnected e-reader is a waste of silicon and plastic. I’d argue that an unconnected music player or personal navigation device will soon become anachronisms.”

    The example of the e-reader doesn’t fit in with you overall point as 1) it’s not replacing something you do with a traditional PC and 2) its core functionality (storing and reading books) does not make use of internet connectivity and the cloud.

    Obviously everything is headed in the direction you’re talking about, but I don’t think it’s even close to happening. Why? There’s still far too many limitations. You say people are using the iPhone or iPod Touch as their primary device, but you have far more options for streaming and syncing video and music using a PC.

    Saying the cloud will solve that sounds great, but today I can rip my entire DVD collection to my hard drive to any format, access everything through several media applications, play it back in high quality on devices, TVs, etc. High-speed internet still isn’t “cloud-speed” internet — the speed you would need to support the quality/bitrate of large media we have today. And online storage is still a problem too…any free service has serious storage limitations. You already also mentioned the point about the cloud itself needing to be reliable and available too.

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  2. I agree with everything but the expectation that the PC will have a role as a “powerhouse of wired connectivity and computing horsepower”. Cloud-oriented users won’t want to be dependent on a machine that can only be used when they’re at home.

    Even for content creation there won’t be any need for such an anachronism. Creating a spreadsheet, for instance, doesn’t require a lot of CPU power, just a device with a reasonably large screen and a decent input device — a netbook will do fine. Even for something as traditionally heavy as video editing, in a world where video cameras will continuously transmit to the cloud as they shoot, cloud-based editing will become the norm for non-professionals.

    Certainly there will continue to be an important role for heavy-duty local processing — but professional video editors etc. make up only a tiny fraction of the people who have traditionally used PCs. For the rest of us the “datacenter on a desktop” is going away, and good riddance: think of all the time we’ve had to spend getting the things to work and to stay working, and the money we no longer want to spend on expensive hardware.

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  3. Computers will become more specialized and data will be in the cloud. Sit at your multiprocessor PC to play the latest computer game or process that Photoshop image. Use your Google OS on a netbook to access your favorite social network. Send a tweet from a mobile phone. Each class of computer will have it’s place, but the information & data will be available to you from all these devices (in the cloud).

    Ralph (www.tabup.com a great place to have a conversation)

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  4. I seem to be in the minority but I think the Personal Computer is important and will continue to be the primary portal for accessing info. I don’t really believe in the cloud as a primary data store – it is nice to use when convenient but I want all my data on my own system.

    I don’t believe that today’s computers are way more powerful than people need. My computer will never be too powerful. Almost without exception, everybody I talk to says their computer is too slow.

    I also believe that OS matters – many folks say that it doesn’t matter what OS you choose because the browser is the interface. I say bull.

    Sure, I use my iPhone a lot but it is not a replacement for my computer but rather a complementary device.

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  5. A physical station where we do our “heavy lifting” ( formal writing, number crunching, anything that requires extended QWERTY input, etc. ) will remain…

    But the era of having the heavy lifting’s associated data resided locally on one computer is over.

    Everything will be stored in the cloud, securely, and accessed from “dumb terminals”. A preview, albeit not a very good first attempt, is the Redfly Mobile Companion

    http://jkontherun.com/2008/03/22/jkontherun-vi-2-3/

    Redfly’s philosophy just needs to be refined, expanded upon, made to be ubiquitous, kind of like they way public phones used to be – there’s one every few feet.

    The desktop is dead, whether Microsoft wants to admit or not.

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  6. Nice article. At a hospital I consult, we are replacing the VB and .Net apps with a Web-based app that can be accessed by Firefox. And for clients we are looking to use the SmartQ MIDs instead of PCs running Windows. Perfect solution to capturing patient data anytime, anywhere. I feel the PC WILL becoma a dinosaur, primarily because Microsoft will not see the writing on the wall until it’s too late. Devices like the SmartQ and other MIDs (customised to user needs) will replace traditional PCs, or atleast that is what I think will happen very shortly.

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  7. [...] of these examples show off a key tenant tenet of this new web vision: I don’t need to go to the web on my computer — it comes to me on my phone, my navigation device, television or that fancy photo frame. [...]

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  8. [...] mean for vendors such as Intel and ARM. A year later, I asked readers if the desktop had already become a dinosaur; some felt it had while others still saw it as a cheap way to manage home [...]

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