Two key trends underpin the history of computing: decreasing size with increasing power.
In this context, smartphones and tablets have reached a physical limitation. Essentially, there’s no way to make them smaller without reducing the screen size.
While it’s possible that the next disruption in computing hardware will be the removal of the screen altogether (potentially enabled by services like Siri), we could also see a shift in emphasis away from the mobility of computing power altogether.
With mobile devices increasingly used to access data that isn’t native to them, and as more information shifts to the cloud, personal hardware becomes a means to access rather than compute data.
For example, the Amazon Silk Browser utilizes split architecture, allowing some processing to take place remotely via Amazon Web Services. Consequently, the computational power of the device it’s running on becomes less relevant.
Freed from physical limitations, innovation and differentiation could creep back into hardware design (something sorely lacking in the current marketplace). Additionally, lower barriers to entry for manufacturing and the rise of the maker movement should drive increasing customization and personalization in hardware design, mirroring the way apps have given us more control over the software we use.
Ultimately, while the current status quo in smartphone, tablet and laptop design is unlikely to change in the short term, 2013 will give us the first indications of the possibilities for disrupting hardware.