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The advance of mobile technology is revolutionizing the computer industry. Even giants like Intel and Microsoft are being forced to respond, changing their goals to compensate for continuing consumer interest in smartphones and tablets.
Hardcore PC enthusiasts tend to be disappointed with such devices, but their presence is nothing but positive. Let’s have a look at several ways the demand for mobile devices is pushing laptops to be better than they are today.
When you buy a desktop you have a buffet of options ranging from brilliant high-resolution IPS displays to small and inexpensive monitors.
If you buy a laptop, however, you usually have one choice – a 1366×768 glossy panel with poor contrast and poor black levels. Though adequate, it’s likely to sap some enjoyment from media content. The worst examples endure the screen-door effect, a visible definition between pixels that is all but banished among both desktop monitors and mobile displays.
For years the laptop industry has not addressed this issue in all but a handful of high-end laptops. That will soon change. Smartphones and tablets are using display resolution as a selling point, and laptops will be forced to follow. If they do not, consumers are inevitably going to wonder why a laptop’s display is inferior to a smaller, more portable device and often a less expensive one.
There’s even some reason to believe the change has begun. Almost every laptop over $1000 now offers a 1080p display either standard or as a low-cost option, and a number of laptops below that price now offer high-resolution options. The HP dm4t, for example, can be purchased with a 1600×900 anti-glare panel for $679.99. I think we?ll see 1080p become an industry standard among laptops.
Improved Graphics Quality
Powerhouse isn’t a word typically associated with a smartphone or tablet, but perhaps it should be – at least when describing graphics. Nvidia’s Tegra 3 is already capable of graphics quality that is on par with the most recent generation of consoles and the iPad has been capable of that level of detail since the iPad 2 arrived. The fact that such a small device can render detailed games without bursting in to a ball of fire is amazing.
It also puts laptops to shame. Most of today’s laptops still ship with Intel integrated graphics. Although far more capable than past versions of Intel’s IGP, there is no comparing the quality of graphics on a laptop equipped with Intel HD and the quality available on a high-end smartphone or tablet. The mobile devices win. It’s not even close.
This can’t continue – and it won’t. Both Intel and AMD are putting significant effort into the improvement of integrated graphics. Nvidia, which has always pushed graphics performance as a key feature of Tegra, has been clear about its desire to build an ARM processor that could compete with x86. They will most likely release the company’s first PC processor in 2014 or 2015, and you can bet that graphics performance will be a selling point.
Say Goodbye To Ports
Ports are a major limitation for mobile devices, but they’re an even bigger problem for laptops. It?s no coincidence that newer, thinner laptops like the MacBook Air and various ultrabooks are lacking in ports. There simply isn’t room for them.
Technology like near-field communications remains an infant in the consumer market, but it’s clear that many players in the smartphone and tablet world are eager to see it advanced. Even Intel is on board and has already announced a plan to allow laptop users the chance to automatically enter payment information into websites by placing a supported credit card on a specific area of a laptop.
Wireless devices have already proven that making do with a single port for charging isn’t difficult, and the banishment of ports from laptops will have a number of positive impacts.
The extra internal space available will allow for slightly larger batteries or better cooling. Exteriors will change, as well. Free from ports, engineers will be able to design laptops with heavily tapered or rounded exteriors that reduce weight, decrease perceived thickness and increase rigidity.
No Waiting Around
Waiting is an accepted downside to personal computers. You press the power button – and wait forty-five seconds. You install software and wait five minutes. You move files – and wait two minutes.
All of these issues are related to the speed at which data is moved to and from storage. Mechanical hard drives have been the standard for decades, but they are too large and fragile for mobile devices. Solid state storage is used instead. And that form of storage happens to be incredibly quick.
Apple’s inclusion of solid state storage in the MacBook Air and Intel’s insistence that solid state drives be used in ultrabooks are the first steps towards wide-spread adoption of solid state storage. Mechanical drives will still be around for mass media storage, but it’s likely that you won’t be able to buy a laptop without an SSD five years from today. This will result in more immediate performance, non-existent boot and resume times and faster install/load times.
All Shapes And Sizes
Laptops are becoming thinner and lighter as design possibilities improve. At CES 2012 there were several companies, including Intel, which showed design concepts of various convertible tablets with sliding or swiveling hinges. If you also eliminate the need for ports and mechanical drives (solid state storage is more flexible in how it can be packaged) many of the design assumptions made about current laptops no longer apply.
You should expect to see companies begin exploring potential alternatives to the traditional screen-hinged-to-a-keyboard design. You’ll see dockable tablets, smartphones that plug in to docks, convertible laptops with slide-out keyboards, convertible laptops with detachable keyboards, laptops with multiple displays, and more.
The trickle of revolutionary products has already begun with products like the Eee Pad Transformer and the Motorola Atrix laptop dock. So far, these attempts have been immature, but they will be refined and aided by hardware advancements.
The laptop of tomorrow will be lighter, it will have better battery life, it will be more rigid, it will boot instantly, it will offer excellent graphics performance and have a high-resolution display.
All of this may sound too good to be true. Laptops may have become quicker and thinner over the years, but in many ways the laptops we own today aren’t much different from those sold at the beginning of the decade. It’s hard to believe that so much could change so quickly.
Competition is the key. The laptop itself has not had to deal with a competitor since its introduction. A laptop has always been your only choice if you wanted a mobile computer. That’s no longer the case. Tablets, dockable smartphones and ARM-based PCs are going to turn this stagnant segment into a whirlwind of evolution and revolution.