Where will the desktop go?


I think it is only fair to say that mobile music is now getting to real mainstream status. Without a doubt the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad have made this a reality, and long may it continue.

But that made me start to wonder about some of the things that Apple said at their last big announcement. They said something like they were now a “mobile devices company”. So what does that mean?

Sure they have changed the mobile phone world in a big way and I’ve no doubt that they’ll continue to innovate in that space, even bringing out features and functionality that other devices have had for years and calling it innovation by doing it differently and in a more user centric way.

I’m sure that we’ll see further innovation in the iPad device category, as it has already seen a flurry of innovative audio and music apps arrive in just a few weeks.

So where does that leave the desktop? You may or may not agree that Apple’s desktops and laptops haven’t seen a huge amount of innovation in the last year or two, but I don’t think that they’ve managed to sustain the innovation in their hardware or OS.

When they introduced the iPad it was brought to us as a middle ground between the phone / handheld and the desktop / laptop, but for some time there hasn’t been the same level of theatre around any enhancement to this part of Apple’s inventory. In fact even processor upgrades are launched without a media event at all now.

So what will they do to become a “mobile devices company” and make that a reality? Will we see some form of multi-touch come to OSX? That sounds just too simple and straightforward and doesn’t make that much sense with the current form of laptop and desktop. Where will they go with the MacBook and MacBook Pro?

In my opinion these are areas that need some real innovation from Apple to take OSX and the accompanying hardware somewhere truly new. I have no idea what kind of innovation that might be or what it will look like, but I’d like to think that Apple won’t take their eye off the ball to the extent of letting OSX drag behind the rest of their business.

Ideally I’d like to see some real innovation to bring devices and platforms together to make real sense of having three devices (iPhone / iPad / desktop), not just a back up and sync via iTunes.

As ever I’m more than interested in your views of where things might go and how you think the “mobile devices company” should innovate.

7 comments

  1. I rarely use my desktop for anything. I'm only on it when I have to print something, burn something, or use iTunes. I'm in full support of this mobile “Renaissance”, let's call it. I've always been a “less is more” guy and like things simple and to the point, that way I can get results as quickly as possible. The iPhone does so many things so well in this manner.

    I think Apple though needs to give us more freedom with these mobile devices. I realize the simplicity and the “let me get that for you” mantra is what drives their revenue but giving us the option to do things ourselves won't hurt that. Some say they don't wanna open the phone because it'll enable users to dig too deep and screw up the phone. I don't believe that's a valid excuse for their tyranny and they should stop underestimating us. I believe the iPhone's success was built off the backs of developers and not really Apple and I like to think it would be wise not to alienate. However, despite Android expanding rapidly and all the freedom it already gives, devs still flock to iPhone so Apple can pretty much do as they please and nothing will change.

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  2. The desktop/laptop is digging in for the long haul. I don't think we'll see any revolutionary innovations in this area besides a continued increase in processing and GPU power, memory and consequent increases in the power and capabilities of creative and productivity applications. Why will the desktop and laptop stick around when we have iPads and other netbooks? Productivity — iPads and netbooks tend to fail when you try to push them very far or very hard. And some people do need to use computers to get things done. The iPad and other netbooks are severely constrained platforms. Some of those constraints are imposed internally through design and intrinsic platform control. Some constraints are consequences of physical limitations of the devices. Sure netbooks and tablets may get better and productivity may improve. But will the netbook/tablet niche ever catch up with the productivity afforded by desktop and laptop systems? It depends on the applications.

    There are several schools of thought on what may be shaping up to be a race between traditional desktop creative and productivity apps, webapps and mobile apps. Perhaps that's a discussion for another day.

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  3. Hmm. One thing I've personally noted is a change in my own “wants”, away from the device that does it all and back to the multiple devices that do it best. So I've come full circle I suppose.

    If I was, for example, writing this on my iPhone it would have taken me about 4 times as long as it has on my laptop. However, if I'd decided, “I know, I'll check out Palm Sounds to see what's new and maybe post something” there's no way I would have reached for the laptop. I could have struggled through posting on the iPhone way before the laptop had even decided to finish coming out of hibernation!

    So for me, innovation should come from making what we already have even better. In all honesty I didn't want the iPad – I wanted an Apple tablet running OSX. Of course I now “want” an iPad, but it would probably sit unused most of the time – too big to fit in my pocket, too “not running a desktop OS” for doing my work stuff.

    So I want a laptop that's a convertible (to a tablet format). I want it to be as light as a feather. I want it to run at near desktop speeds. I want a multitouch capacitive screen with Wacom digitiser for accurate work. I want a massive battery life. I want multiple OS boot options. I want literally “instant on”. I want a screen resolution that lets me run work apps (unlike most netbooks I've tried). I want it as sexy as the iPad.

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  4. I expect multitouch screens will appear in future OS X devices. It's a logical next step. More people will want it after years with iPhones OS devices, especially the iPad. Some changes will be needed with the hardware. Maybe the computer guts, connectors and optical drive will be in one unit and the screen separate and free to move around.

    Already there are applications that allow you to use an iPad to control a Mac or as a second display for use with a Mac.

    I expect exciting developments from Apple in computer hardware and OS X.

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  5. They're not going to go anywhere, they're desktops!! get it? 🙂

    But really, I doubt studios would start using less powerful machines just because they're portable. They don't need portability in this context, and there's many other contexts where portability is not necessary.

    But this article is not really about “the desktop”, more about “Apple's desktops”. I still use a desktop with software like Cubase and complex sequencers, and Apple's influence on the computer as machines was much smaller than they would like us to believe, while they sold 30m iphones, Nintendo sold 150m DS, but we are led to believe that Apple sells more devices.

    So the question really is, since Apple is not really about computers anymore, how long will they produce desktops?

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  6. @Richard: wait a minute, have we seen a really radical departure – aside from better screens, better form factors, better processors, better graphics, always in iterative, evolution generations – since the original PowerBook? Apple's first hinged laptop was the real breakthrough. In terms of weight, dimensions, and basic ergonomic layout, a modern MacBook Pro is *exactly* the same fundamental solution. (Of course, that also suggests it was a pretty good solution!)

    Apple isn't abandoning its highly-lucrative computer platform any time soon; I don't think it's even worth considering that.

    At the same time, I'm going to go out on a limb and say Apple *isn't* going to do a multitouch laptop any time soon. It appears they view touch input as inseparable from the iPhone software ecosystem. And in fairness, even the PC vendors have struggled to figure out a way to do this category.

    The big tug-of-war now appears to be between slates (without keyboards) and tablet/convertibles (with keyboards), at almost every size above a phone (7″, 10-13″ netbooks, and 13″-15″ laptops).

    But I think companies less rigorously ideological than Apple may try the whole range, from general-purpose computer capabilities to slimmed-down systems like Chrome OS, just to see what sticks.

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