Is this photo representative of the “new PC”? ie a phone that is your PC/tablet all in one?
Brief history: Prior to the 1990s mainframe computers still filled huge air conditioned rooms and the personal computer was a large box and screen for your desk. For the next 20 years the PC’s appearance changed little but computing power increased rapidly. In 2006/7 the first touchscreen mobile devices (phones) were introduced with mainstream market acceptance, these were not full computers but the innovation of their touch screens and small size attracted consumers and let to a consumer driven ‘touch app’ revolution. Meanwhile the PC decreased it’s size but only to touch tablet size ie 10-13″ and the phones increased their size but only up to 5-6″. Would they converge? Business users needed full software but personal users loved their smaller touch devices. Clearly these two markets, the traditional PC business market and the new touch consumer app market were on a collision/convergence course but to date, this has not yet entirely happened. Why?
In short, full PC hardware has simply not been able to be miniaturised enough to be put into a phone or miniature form factors and this has allowed the huge growth of mobile operating systems such as Android and the pioneering iOS because these OS can run on the less powerful and smaller mobile hardware.
Clearly though it would only be a matter of time until ‘full PCs’ caught up with mobile devices and were able to be sufficiently miniaturised so as to be used in the same form factor as the leading mobile devices. As 2016 comes to an end, we are on the cusp of this new era where full PCs can now be fabricated in the same form factor as current mobile phones and tablet hardware! What does this mean? Well it should create a huge new commercial IT market, the next huge paradigm shift for both the PC and mobile markets and the biggest since the introduction of touch screen mobile devices in 2006/7.
What then is the future for the mobile OS, surely it only had a role whilst full OS were confined to ‘larger’ hardware. Now that full OSs can be run on the same miniature mobile hardware too, which OSs will business and consumers use in the future?
Self evidently, it would seem that the full OS has the strong advantage here due to its power and capabilities. It can ‘dumb down’ and skin itself to look simple like a mobile OS or it can display all its ‘full OS’ power eg run mobile OSs in virtual machines. Surely this is the most compelling image in the power play battle between the mobile OS and the full OS? The full OS screen running several mobile OSs at once? Surely full OSs must prevail in the longer term, just on the basis of its relative power and capability advantages alone?
So now that full OSs have come to compete in the miniature hardware space, once again we ask, what is the future for the mobile OSs? Perhaps these mobile OSs will keep moving down the miniature hardware food chain to Iot, automobiles and automation or perhaps they will grow and evolve and try to compete with the full OSs? If their strategy is to grow, they are a long way behind with poor windowing, relatively poor multitasking and no great solutions for running legacy ‘full OS’ software etc. The challenge is apparent, will mobile OSs rise to it? Instead, perhaps, the days of the mobile OS may be numbered, the mobile OS always seemed to me to be like an ‘Asphalt 8’ racing car, speeding down a long cul de sac at break neck speed with the driver looking in the rear view mirror…. Just a matter of time.
Of course, the crystal ball is never entirely clear and there may well be twists to come in this story before iOS and Android roll over and hand their market share to Linux, OSX and Windows but ultimately, business, not consumers, will decide the fate of the mobile OSs from the 2010s era, consumers may be a large and profitable market segment but perhaps their voice is too fragmented to lead long term trends? This job will be left to business.
In 2017, we may well see the first serious market penetration of ‘full OS’ phones and this paradigm shift in the mobile phone market will probably cause a major shake up for the mobile OS industry. No longer will phone users be constrained to ‘basic apps’, they will be able to use their phones to do any computing task at all.
So, what will the PC of the future look like? It will probably look a lot like your current phone, the only difference is that it will probably be running a ‘full OS’ and that you will ‘cast’ its display to various larger sized ‘panels’ when you want to benefit from a larger screen.
What will the tablet and laptop of the future look like, probably just like they do now but the computing power will come from your phone, not the device. Perhaps the phone will dock inside/on top of the device or connect/cast wirelessly from your pocket.
Office users will simply plug their phone into/onto a docking station (for convenience, peripherals and charging etc) and the screens and keyboard/mouse around them will come alive with the ‘full PC’ experience. Business will embrace this technology massively and will either embed these micro PCs inside panels for their staff or they will issue phones to their staff and these will serve as their one ‘multi-purpose’ IT device ie phone, tablet, notebook and PC – all in one. This technology is almost here today with Continuum for Windows Phones and the long awaited Surface Phone is expected to extend this functionality further in 2017.
Will the Surface Phone be a full OS phone and will ‘full OS’ devices start to spell the end of an era for the mobile OSs with Android, for example, just becoming another ‘app for windows/linux’ or will the mobile OSs reinvent themselves into full OSs over time?
Only time will tell.
One thing I am sure about is that the PC is both dead and here to stay. Long live the PC.