Tech Smart: One device to run them all

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 10

When I recently came across a graphic clearly illustrating the rapid pace of computer technology’s twin progressions of increasing power and decreasing size, it sparked an image in my head of where all this could lead and ways the even more powerful and compact computers of the not-too-distant future computers might be put to use.

When I recently came across a graphic clearly illustrating the rapid pace of computer technology’s twin progressions of increasing power and decreasing size, it sparked an image in my head of where all this could lead and ways the even more powerful and compact computers of the not-too-distant future computers might be put to use.

This striking graphic simply placed the technical specs of the still almost brand new iPhone 4 side by side with the specs for the once state-of-the art iMac Bondi desktop computer from just 10 years back. In just about every category the pocket-sized iPhone blows away its desktop ancestor, with screen resolution the only stat category where the iMac can claim victory, and even with its huge advantage in terms of screen real estate, its resolution win is by a fairly slim margin.

On the other hand, the iPhone boasts twice the processing power, four times the RAM and even more room for storing data. All of this is packed into a solid machine that easily fits into a pocket, and although some people might forget, can also be used to make phone calls. Oh yeah, it’s also available at about half the price as that iMac of yesteryear.

What a long way computers have come in this century’s first decade.

Emerging landscape

It’s an impressive display of computer power that the latest iPhone can boast of, but of course desktop and laptop computers of today are far more powerful than their smartphone kin. However, think back to computing just a few years back. That old iMac may look dated, but it could do amazing things back then and truth be told is still powerful enough for many computing tasks.

Sure it’s fired up descendents can accomplish far more in less time, but those desk space monopolizing machines may not represent the future of mainstream, and even business computing. Whether it’s Apple’s flagship device, its Android competition or any of the other pocket-sized computing systems currently available, the populace clearly wants the mobile access to information and entertainment available via smartphone technology.

Having a computer in your pocket with access to the entire Internet from almost anywhere is an incredibly convenient and powerful thing. Personal computers really took off alongside the growth of the Internet, and now everything they used to be counted on to do can be accomplished with a system that is easily held in one hand.

Smartphones are now spawning slightly larger, but still conveniently portable relatives in the form of tablets such as the iPad and its growing number of competitors. These machines provide all of the power the smartphones offer but with a larger screen to play on. For many the added landscape makes them far more useful for business purposes, but that’s not to say smartphones will give way to tablets as computing’s future. If the computing power within smartphones can be connected to larger screens and other input and navigation devices it will create a once unbelievable combination of system power, portability and convenience.

Lessons of little things

At Apple’s latest press event (and yes I know many people are tired of hearing about things from Apple and really dislike the company, but it’s impossible to overlook the company’s trendsetting ways in the computer landscape) the company announced the next generation of its desktop operating system. Rather than expand on the desktop systems people have been using for the last few decades, this new system will actually be incorporating elements from the operating system Apple developed for their smartphones and tablets. That says a lot about what the company thinks will be the future center of the computing world.

The touchscreen navigation and app-based approach to accessing and working with information and content that are at the heart of mobile, smartphone computing are going to be integrated into the desktop and laptop environment. No, computer users will not be touching the screens of those machines, but rather they will be using touch-enabled mice and trackpads and multi-touch gestures to interact with their machines.

The larger size of desktop and laptop systems enables them to be far more powerful than a smartphone, but a majority of computer users do not come anywhere close to pushing the limits of their state-of-the art computers with the tasks they put them to. Those machines have power to spare, and if the path illustrated by the previously mentioned graphic continues to be followed, it won’t be too long before some of that surplus computing power is even available in pocket-sized devices that may or may not continue to double as phones.

A vision of the future

With all this in hand, it’s not hard to imagine that we are only a handful of years away from a world where our main computers fit in our pockets and go everywhere we go. These devices could have the processing prowess of today’s desktops, plenty of on-board room for data and with cloud-based services easily accessible, virtually limitless (and constantly backed up) data storage.

The computer you use to manage your business could be on hand at all times, and while working on a pocket-sized screen is less than ideal, it would be very simple to allow these systems to connect to larger screens, wireless keyboards, and because they are likely natively touchscreen in design, larger trackpads. This could mean one computer that manages business data, handles CAD/CAM design duties and provides limitless entertainment could be on hand at all times. Running a lab from anywhere would not only be possible, but possibly the norm.

Powerful, portable, versatile, connectable and always ready, the future of computing may seem small, but at least to me, it seems very attractive.