The computing industry is going through a mobile revolution as svelte, powerful, and power-sipping devices are freeing users from their power cords. On the heels of the smartphone, notebook, and netbook booms, tablet computers are changing the dynamics of the computing industry. And now we have ultrabooks emerging, combining some of the best attributes of tablets and small form computing devices. Innovation will not stop until we achieve a computing continuum with multiple, interoperable devices optimized for specific uses.
Yet, the success of all of these devices has to do with taking full advantage of recent trends in computer design:
- TREND #1: User Experience Design Processes – Be they desktops, laptops, or servers, computers have traditionally been designed as general purpose computing platforms. Increasingly, however, the design of computing devices and components is being guided by User Experience (UX) design research in order to better understand user expectations and behavior and deliver devices that match them. Most major tech firms employ UX researchers today, including Apple, Intel, Google, and Microsoft.
- TREND #2: Integration of Computing Components – Chip companies have been moving toward increased integration of components since the first days of the industry. AMD, Apple, ARM, and Intel have all been pushing more components (Central Processing Units, Graphical Processing Units, Memory, Input/Output interfaces, etc.) on the same piece of silicon. These integrated designs reduce the cost, size, complexity, and power consumption of systems while increasing performance per square inch of silicon, which makes customization for specific user experiences more feasible.
These trends represent the future of computing, and they are helping the industry create incredibly powerful and portable devices that are easy to use and inexpensive to own. In order to meet the evolving needs of users, computing devices (particularly mobile computing devices like tablets and smartphones) are becoming more like consumer electronics devices than traditional general purpose computers. The trade-off is that these devices are less flexible than a general purpose computer. Apple’s iPad, for example, does not perform some traditionally basic computing operations, nor does it allow you to easily swap out the graphics processing unit (GPU), the memory, or the camera the way you can on your desktop PC.
While some have raised concerns about these tradeoffs and what they mean for competition and openness, those fears have proven to be overblown. First, both of these trends are proven to improve the experience for users and to lower costs. Second, the increasing popularity of devices like the iPad and Kindle demonstrate that many customers are comfortable with making these tradeoffs. Third, competition in the chip market is evolving as Apple, Intel, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung, and others are increasingly competing head-to-head with fully integrated system-on-chip designs. Finally, the reality is that an increasing number of customers will own a multitude of interconnected devices that they use for specific tasks and environments. Despite the recent success of more specialized devices, general purpose computing platforms will continue to play a large role in the computing landscape for the foreseeable future, ensuring that those customers who demand that ultimate level of flexibility will continue to have the option.