Progress on smartphones and tablets which are touch and gesture enabled are moving so rapidly that laptops and PCs are in danger of becoming redundant. Well if not redundant, consigned to specialized development tasks. What has happened is that woefully untapped need for touch-enabled computing has been explosively released first with the iPhone then Android smartphones followed by the keyboard-less iPad and an upcoming flood of additional smartphones and tablets throughtout the next 2 years.
Clearly bright, portable and touch easy to use has won the day for many computing users.
The problem for PCs is that a monopoly by Microsoft has taken its Joseph Schumpeter toll. Microsoft demolished GO and Pen OS in the mid-1990s and then simply sat on touch and stylus based technology. Redmond’s efforts were very conservative and did not meet the need for a touch screen, a wider range of gestures, and the inclusion of sensors that could detect the orientation of the device. Also light and bright technology, although picked up in netbooks, has not been emphasized in PCs.
But the critical form factor pioneered by iPhone and the Apple iDevices was to go keyboardless.
Okay, not a keyboard-less but a software GUI keyboard. Apple rightly assumed that the software-touch keyboard would be good enough for the new wave of Web 2.0 and iOS4 based apps. But what is waiting in the wings is a laser-projection keyboard and/or voice command recognition systems which can support faster input. But mobile device developers have to be careful. Any new input device will have to be small, light and not drain the batteries – one day battery life is also a key attraction of their new devices.
Finally, its worth emphasizing the key roll of the Web and Internet in the runaway popularity of light-weight, touch-enabled, portable devices. RIM has profited handsomely by serving those needs with a throwback device – a fat-finger defying keyboard and slow arrival to touch+gesture enabled phone+connection device. We call it a connection device because only RIM so far has invested in the server-side driven push technology that gets messages and emails out to Rim devices in a timely if not instantaneous fashion – no need to constantly check back.
So PCs and even netbooks got caught out a)first lacking a PDA-form factor staying light weight and bright for a full days work; and then b) not fully supporting phone connections and c)finally being derelict on becoming even easier to use with touch and gestures. The writing was on the wall when Redmond stopped all Web development for 5 years from 2001 to 2006 [no functional upgrade to IE6 browser] and, except for Skype, ignored phone connections. PC vendors have been asleep at the switch to touch+gesture. So now Acer, Dell and HP among other PC vendors are racing to catch up with their own smartphones and tablets – and they are hedging their bets. They are going Android, Meego, WebOS – not exclusively Microsoft Phone 7. And that is “deserting” of microsoft is based on survival – Microsoft Phone 7 is woefully behind.
This will mean an explosion of Web apps that work best on Android and iOS4 – not MacOS/X nor Windows nor Linux PCs that do not have touch sensitive screens. A key indicator of this switch in emphasis is what updates Apple brings to its own laptops and PCs. My guess is that Steve Jobs will delay bringing touch screens to the Apple desktops and laptops. Apple has extended much effort [including cutting off Adobe Flash, Java, and other code generators systems] to set up a closed and highly profitable iOS4 ecosystem. iOS4 has a big first starter lead over everybody else. When will Steve “let in” MacOSx users with full touch+gestures based screens in the future? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile the timely arrival of Microsoft Phone 7 goes “hardcore” – no vacations for many Redmond developers. And the whole PC World is turned upside down and keyboard-less [for the time being].