Have you ever sent or received a fax? Me too. About a thousand times I think. Back in the days before email, the fax was the best way to send a document. As late as 2006, I was sending and receiving faxes as part of my job at the car dealership. Despite the fact that everyone had email accounts at that time, our business was still sending and receiving faxes regarding vehicle financing, vendor payments, etc.
Even today, five years later, there are still people using the fax machine daily. It’s an established form of business communication, and despite the rise of email, the fax hasn’t disappeared.
Yet clearly, the days of the fax machine are dwindling. At some point, they will disappear. It’s inevitable.
I talk about the fax machine because I think it illustrates the manner in which desktop PCs will decline. Eventually, they will be overtaken by mobile devices, a.k.a. smart phones and tablets.
1. Tablets and mobile devices are more user friendly. Why sit down at a terminal – or lug around a hefty laptop – when you can pull a device out of your pocket or backpack? While business users will sit down at a desktop terminal for a long time to come, consumers are already showing that they prefer the convenience of a mobile device.
2. Voice recognition software – such as “Siri” on the iPhone 4 or Google’s less publicized system that was available on most Android smartphones years ago (yes, that’s a burn directed at Apple) – makes a keyboard a little less essential. Dictation software like Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking is a viable replacement for a keyboard now, and as time goes by this type of software is only going to improve. At some point, the limited touchscreen keyboards found on your average tablet or smartphone are going to be “good enough” for consumers and light business users when used in conjunction with voice recognition.
3. Touch-screens are vastly superior to mice and touchpads for most consumer-type computer activities. Draftsman and designers will probably use mice for a very long time, but the rest of us will be leaving them behind sooner rather than later.
4. Cloud-based storage and software – such as Apple’s new iCloud and Google Docs – offers the storage and software capabilities most consumers have on their home desktop PCs. Yet unlike a PC, iCloud and Google Docs can be accessed on all of your devices (phone, tablet, etc.) with ease. This facilitates the use of more and more devices, not to mention mobile use.
5. Mobile devices are only going to get more powerful, diminishing the speed and performance advantages of desktops. My G2x smartphone, for example, has a 1Ghz dual-core processor. That’s about as much computing power as you could buy in a reasonably priced desktop a few years ago. As time goes by, the processor power found in a mobile phone or tablet is going to be more and more comparable to desktop PCs.
Frankly, the only reasons to stick with a desktop or laptop are:
- Screen size. It’s still not easy to read or surf the web with a smartphone, but it’s better than it used to be. If smartphone and tablet engineers can figure out a way to make folding or “rolling” LCDs inexpensive and reliable (learn more about folding LCDs), this won’t be as much of a concern.
- Data entry. No way I’m creating and then manipulating a big spreadsheet with a mobile device or tablet. I need arrow keys and a 10key for that.
- Ergonomics. As pointed out in this somewhat flawed article on PC Magazine, the ergonomic benefits of desktops are clear. It’s one thing to use a phone or table to check email, surf, or watch some videos, but quite another to work with one for 8+ hours.
- Power. If you need to have multiple applications running at once, there’s no disputing that the desktops have more capability for you…but for how long? History shows that computer hardware advances incredibly quickly.
So there you have it. For consumers, tablets and mobile phones are the future and desktops are the past. For business, desktops will still be in use for quite a while.
The point? If your business sells products or services to consumers, it’s time to optimize for mobile phones and tablets.
Special thanks to my father for inspiring this post.