System Reset! The future of portable computing

The future of portable computing is: smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger. System Reset explores portable computing, the good, the bad, and the pretty, as laptops and desktops merge with smart services in 2017.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one major trend emerged: CES 2017 foretold a world of portable computing, no longer defined by "desktop", "laptop" and "mobile", but rather merging these three into one theme: portable computing.

Desktops are becoming smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger.

Laptops are becoming smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger. Mobile phones are becoming smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger.

Desktop computers

Step back in to 2014, 2010, 2000, 1995. Desktops were large, white boxes, that made fan noise, processor noise, hard drive noise, lived on or preferably under your desk, connected to a 1995 CRT monitor, a chunky keyboard and mouse, and a large noisy printer. The back of your PC was full of ports - one for each purpose, and a few extras that most of us never used. We had separate ports for printers, mice, keyboards, SCSI drives, sound cards, serial peripherals, power, and monitors. If you had a 100 megabyte Iomega ZIP SCSI floppy drive, you were ahead of the curve.

Today's desktop computers are... laptops in disguise. Unless you need a seriously-powerful PC for work or content creation, you can now live your desktop life with a small, light, smart, strong Mini Desktop - like the HP Elite Slice - with a luxurious large screen monitor.

Even if you do need the power of a full-fledged desktop for video editing or photo artwork, you're not tied to a large white box anymore. You can choose between a sleek and stylish black Mac Pro, or an Intel Xeon powered solution like the HP Z2 Mini compact workstation.

Laptop computers

Step back in to 2014 or even 2010, and your laptop was a large, thick, heavy, hot, piece of Windows plastic or Apple aluminium. You carried a heavy power brick, your battery lasted 4 hours, and you carried with you every port you could need, from wired Ethernet to as many USB-A's as they could stuff along the side. Your DVD drive was useful and let you play CDs and install software, watch movies, and burn backups.

Today's laptops are smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger machines with thin profiles and stylised surfaces, made from carbon fibre, aluminium, copper, magnesium, or, if you're unlucky, strengthened plastics. Laptops have fewer ports: sometimes just one port, like the 2012 MacBook 12-inch - it had just one lonely USB-C port that handled power, data, video, sound, and connecting external devices. Other laptops today give us two or even three USB-C ports, and you can still sometimes find HDMI, USB-A, and an SD card slot here and there.

Mobile phones

Your mobile phone in 1991 was the size, shape, and weight of a brick. Your 1996 mobile phone was probably a Motorola flip phone. Then Apple gave us the first iPhone and we wondered how we would live without a physical keyboard on our phone.

Today's mobiles, from Apple, Samsung, Google, Motorola, and others, are mini computers wrapped in a touch screen, with a headphone port (if you're lucky) and a power/data/accessory port. Mobiles are smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger than they were as recently as 2014.

Merging the Desktop and Laptop

In 2017, we will see the merging of the desktop and the laptop. Current desktops will use laptop parts and live in a small pretty box on your desk, like the HP Elite Slice or the Mac Mini. They are small, quiet, utilitarian, with a small set of ports, and employ USB-C for expandability. They will be connected to a large screen monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer, and offer a range of productivity options. In 2018 and 2019, even these sleek desktops will be uncommon or no longer exist.

In late 2017 or early 2018, the laptop will take over as the king of the hill for 97% of everyday people. You'll have a small, light, smart, powerful, laptop in your bag, bring it home, and plug in one USB-C cable that will connect you to power and two-way data. The other end of the cable will connect to the back of your large screen monitor, which itself will be a hub, with a number of USB-C ports to connect your new 2017 model backup hard drives, cameras, phones, and smart accessories. Other computer gear will connect wirelessly via Bluetooth (keyboards, mice, beacons), or WiFi (printers, scanners, cameras).

What about the other 3% of people? The computer professionals, video editors, photo editors, music producers, IT nerds, and power users? Again, the monitor will be central to the IT universe, such as a powerful All-In-One computer (think iMac or Lenovo) with expandable/upgradable graphics and storage via USB-C add-ons, and an upgradable processor and RAM via an Intel Compute Card brain replacement.

Ports are going away

Ports are merging too. USB-C can do everything, including power, data, video, sound, Thunderbolt, and more. The only other ports to survive beyond 2018 will be HDMI and a lonely desktop-bound Ethernet port.

During 2017 and by 2018, all new electronics will be fitted with either a USB-C port or WiFi. No more adapters! Printers, scanners, cameras, sound cards, headphones, webcams, external hard drives, and the cable from your computer to your phone will all be USB-C. Other devices like networked printers and storage systems will connect via WiFi to your network.

Ports on mobile devices are going away

Even the ports on your mobile phone are going away. The trusty headphone jack will be replaced by the new generation of wireless Bluetooth-5 audio. The power port will be replaced by wireless inductive charging or wireless transmitter charging.

Even your favourite Lightning port on your iPhone is going away, to be replaced by a magnetic adapter to connect to your car and Lightning-enabled accessories. Your phone can already sync wirelessly over Wifi for software updates and backups.

Merging of the Laptop and the Mobile Phone

In 2017, we will see more and more overlap of laptops and mobiles, moving toward 2018, when your mobile phone will be the brain, and the "laptop" will be a brainless accessory giving you a larger screen and keyboard, an extra battery, and a few more ports. This device already exists - the HP Elite X3 Lapdock.

You wont need a $1000 phone and a $2000 laptop; you'll carry a $1200 brawny brainy phone and a $199 brainless lapdock.

Merging of the Desktop and the Mobile Phone

This will take a little longer, starting to emerge in late 2017 and in full swing by mid 2018, the desktop will disappear, replaced by an even more powerful series of mobile phones that are actually full computers in a handheld device.

Arrive home, place your mobile on a charging pad or dock, and your large computer screen lights up, connecting to the brain in your phone, connecting a keyboard, mouse, pen, printer, external storage, webcam, and more, all while charging your phone battery. Your phone is the PC's brain, and the monitor is your hub, connecting all your other devices.

The future of computing is smaller, lighter, smarter, stronger.

Less ports: only USB-C, HDMI, and Ethernet

Less cables: only USB-C HDMI, and Ethernet

More wireless: AC WiFi, Bluetooth 5, Bluetooth Low Energy, MiraCast, AirPlay

More power: USB-C chargers, docks, wireless charging pads, wireless power transmitters

More magnets: magnetic attachments to replace ports on mobile phones, such as USB-C and Lightning

What about the Operating System?

There will be four operating systems: Windows 10, iOS, macOS, and and a merged Android-Chrome OS.

Windows 10 will run on phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and ultra-mobile devices.

iPhones and iPads will run iOS.

Apple laptops and desktops will run macOS.

Android and Chrome will merge to become one unified operating system.


So, the desktop will merge with the laptop. The laptop will merge with the mobile. The mobile will become an ultra-mobile, and the ultra-mobile will enable a lapdock for mobility and a desk-dock for productivity.

The UltraMobile will be the one device you always carry with you - a phone-sized full-powered computer, with a touch screen and no ports, continuously backed up to the cloud.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas

XYZ Media Group

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