PCs

Mac laptop and desktop death watch unwarranted

Mobile computing options are definitely on the rise, but reports of the death of the laptop and desktop are premature. Erik Eckel explains why.

I regularly read headlines announcing the days of desktops and laptops are numbered. They are not.

Just last week I attended a presentation in which technology providers demonstrated impressive telephony performance using iPads. Some providers feel such innovations are necessary because desktop and laptop computers are going away and users may soon no longer even possess desktop or laptop computers.

Why the laptop and desktop death watch?

A few years ago Apple shortened its name, officially removing Computer from its moniker. Some observers believed the move portended the end of Mac desktops and laptops, with the firm instead dedicating efforts to iPhones, iPods and other devices.

There's no denying demand for mobile computing technology, which typically leverages smaller, more portable formats such as smartphones and tablet computers. Apple's helped rewrite mobile computing rules, and sales of such devices continue skyrocketing, and for good reason. They are, indeed, changing the way we all work (and play). Apple's iPad almost single handedly terminated the short-lived netbook fad, too. Such is the power of effective mobile computing platforms.

It's not over yet

But while many believe the smartphone and tablet popularity will be the end of traditional Mac desktops and laptops, the logic just doesn't hold. Both business and residential users will continue possessing the need for full-sized keyboards, terabytes of storage, local availability of large data files (think photos, video, audio files and databases, among others), and more power and performance than mobile platforms reasonably deliver.

Most users, an absolute vast percentage in my experience supporting hundreds of businesses, remain dependent upon a "mothership" laptop or desktop? Why? Traditional laptops and desktops are required for long term file storage, database-driven applications, proprietary software use, workstation-level performance capacity, file storage, email archives, video editing, audio production, graphic design, large-format publishing, and numerous other tasks.

I've heard for years that smaller more lightweight systems would be the end of desktop computing. Thin clients had their shot. They failed to kill the traditional computer. Anyone who thinks thin clients are still going to take the world over (in our lifetime) by moving everything to the cloud is mistaken; clients still possess demands for other localized file stores and performance capacity that thin clients and most mobile devices just can't match.

Screen size is another limitation. The majority of businesses my firm supports have migrated users to operating multiple widescreen displays. Multiple external monitors and high-powered graphics processors, not too mention considerable processing capacity (and quite a bit of electricity), is required to power such setups. Your phone isn't taking those tasks over anytime soon. Trust me.

Apple's investments continue

New iMac desktops confirm Apple's commitment to desktops, as do continued efforts to engineer workstation-class performance and cutting edge display technology in MacBook Pros. The popularity of MacBook Airs, meanwhile, further exemplifies the demand the manufacturer receives for full-form systems packed into a more portable form factor.

Just recently Apple even announced it will begin manufacturing iMacs in the United States. Global firms don't look to reposition investment unless they have larger and well-considered plans. Consider GE as an example.

Certainly, the mobile computing platform is going to continue to grow in importance. Apple is going to plow continued investment into smartphones and iPads. But I'm confident it's a safe bet Mac desktops and laptops will continue to be available, and in demand, for decades.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

16 comments
pragmatechie
pragmatechie

D'you think consumers and corporations exist to cosy up to any harebrained schemes of Microsoft, Google, Intel and the like or the reverse? just reminding you, they are here because of consumers, not the other way round. Just because some play with technology, confuse gadgets with lifestyle (or life, even) get new toys every year and subsidize Microsoft and Google's shareholders, fine, but one shouldn't expect most people and organizations who insolently only need tools of work to follow suit. To do 99% of productive office work these days one only needs a 5-6 year old desktop, XP and Office 2003. Desktops disappearing, ridiculous. I'm sure these notions are all the rage on Apple and Microsoft's shareholders bi-annual newsletter, but spare the rest of us! we have work to do. Let us know when there's actually something that helps us do more in less time.

anil_g
anil_g

I was repeatedly shot at in flames for articulating this view, in Tech Republic, a few months ago. Of course iPad is not going to replace desktops and laptops. iPad doesn't function on it's own. My guess is Apple DESIGNED iPad to not function on it's own, so they can continue to sell laptops and desktops as well.

jqbecker
jqbecker

Desktops may still be around for a bit longer, but ultimately are doomed, except for very specific niche markets. I project about 4 years, so 2017 is probably the end. I wish it were not so, but it is inevitable. Consumers are now driving the market, and they don't want a desktop. Desktops are: Huge energy hogs - strike 1. Slow to boot vs. tablet - strike 2. Not mobile - strike 3. All these factoids added up means death knell for 90% of users. What will replace the Desktop? Not a tablet, not a laptop - it will be a combination of the Cloud and/or home private cloud storage, plus a device that can access the cloud. Take a look at the new NAS devices on the market today - they all have private cloud capability. Why carry all your data with you on your device? With private cloud, you only grab what you need. More to the point, all the new NAS boxes have streaming capability - and nearly every consumer entertainment device has streaming built-in. That is the future, like it or not. If you don't like it, you'll have to build your own desktop, provided you can get the parts.

ssscal
ssscal

The real enterprise players are Apple and Microsoft with Appstores. Their models are almost identical a) walled garden app stores b) plugin free browsers So we may have HTML5+JavaScript as only open option. If Apple and Microsoft kill Flash & Silverlight and may even bring new desktops into appstore then desktops may become large tablets with keyboards! Windows 8 Surface may be cause of "death watch" apprehensions?

suzgruba
suzgruba

I totally agree that the predicted death of Mac desktops and laptops is unwarranted. I would extend that to PCs. I just recently bought a Desktop PC for my home use where I use it for photo storage and editing as well as document storage. I have a desktop PC at work, Chromebook for email and web browsing at home and of course my Android Smartphone.

SKDTech
SKDTech

That fadwas already on its way out before the iPad was announced. Although some would consider the Macbook Air to be a netbook. Nice to see a writer who isn't jumping on the mobile device takeover bandwagon.

jqbecker
jqbecker

pragmatechie, I respectfully disagree. Certainly professionals like yourself will have a desktop nearby for a long time. But alas we will be the minority - if you look at who is buying technology these days, it is tilted to the consumer. Take a look at Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc. They all have reduced the number of desktop models recently. Consumers want simple and mobile, desktops are neither - and sales are way down. One logical alternative for consumers with mobile devices: a NAS box with a private cloud fills the void - easy to set up, multi-terabyte space, streams to any device, plus easy-to-configure private cloud out of the box. Iomega, Buffalo, etc. are all getting on the bandwagon. Their mobile device does not hold much data, so they can just use their private cloud to NAS at home, and have all their stuff whever they go. Provided they have internet connection, that is.

hartiq
hartiq

That is sort of how I've been using my home desktop for about ten years, maybe more. Ever since I bought my first laptop for the main living room the desktop unit has been the scanner, printer, video-storage and file processor while the smaller mobile units were access and consumption devices. I still need the desktop unit as the "mainframe" of my house but you are correct in that I am using mobile kit more and more often. I am, for example, typing this on a notebook - I find tablet and pad virtual keyboards too small for my clumsy fingers. I suspect the main house computer, the desktop, will be needed as a warehouse for some time. And, of course, gamers and programmers and other top-end users will need them for some years. There you go: an analysis of the future of desktops and I didn't mention *any* specific company. TR could do worse than use this as a template for future articles. They could also do better, but they won't.

DWFields
DWFields

That is, until desktop computing is fully migrated over to our HDTVs. Not everybody games on a console or does photo editing on a laptop; there are some tasks that simply need a larger screen dedicated to computing which, while an HDTV can do it, they're actually too big for individual use. Desktop computing will be around for a long, long time. The form factor itself will likely change many times before optical displays are no longer needed.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Unless Microsoft goes the way of locking their system down to absolutely prevent any apps from being installed from any source other than the Appstoreit still isn't the death knell. Third party developers and development houses won't stand for it and if MS has 2 brain cells left to rub together then they aren't going to go out of their way to piss off them off. Microsoft got to where it is today by providing a platform which everyone else was allowed to build on without having to go through them to publish their software. Burn that bridge and we may actually see the "Year of Linux."

DWFields
DWFields

After all, Javascript has become the leading road for malware infections behind Adobe Flash.

DWFields
DWFields

That wouldn't exactly say the fad was already on the way out. However, while the netbook was intended as a more highly mobile version of the laptop, it was just grossly underpowered. The iPad made mobility much simpler and easier to use.

jqbecker
jqbecker

hartiq, I should have explained better. I currently use my desktop as you do: a "main storage unit" and I access it, copy files, run applications, etc. from whatever location I happen to be. But I had to set all that up myself, ie: ports through firewall, dynamic DNS, etc. What I should have said is that mainstream consumer NAS devices now have Private Cloud capability, that requires almost no configuration by purchaser. That will make it easy for average home consumer to set up. No desktop needed in that situation. There may still be desktops in the future, (I did say "almost dead") but they will be rare, and expensive.

DWFields
DWFields

While they do use an app store even to offer software for the Mac computer, at least for now you can install third-party software from any source either online or through external devices. However, it may become necessary to eventually lock down all external software sources simply to block the plethora of malware trying to hijack your PC/Mac.

hartiq
hartiq

They did it with a big, ugly, stupid, malware-ridden robot but it came back from The Deeps with all its demented delusions (the AI version of malware) intact. Big-dumb-robot World never seems to have heard of anti-malware suites. It's a pity the motor-car robots don't have access to Mr. Goldblum's Mac based virus. Maybe they haven't heard of Macs? And why is the title of this waste-of-space article "Mac laptop and desktop..."? Could it possibly be merely a cynical attempt to attract the Apple people who would have ignored any article ostensibly about Wintel boxes? Not one statement in the entire article concerning the future of laptops or desktops was specific to Apple's products. Leave off the word "Mac" and I'd guess TR would have lost a lot of click-through money. I remember when it wasn't *all* about maximising profits, when a TR Pro membership was useful for more than being sold browser toolbars. I've hung on to mine so far for the residual benefits that almost outweigh the mass of adverts. When I clicked on the email linkie to this article I was hoping for some actual information about Apple's products and why they were most likely not about to be swamped by other PCs. Maybe even something about new Mac Pros and how they fitted into the future of computing. I really should have known better. "Mac, iPhones, iPads : is sugar good for your teeth?" Not funny, but neither is it more cynical and stupid than many recent TR article titles. I don't think I'm suited to this bizarre, hyper-commercial world. I'm obsolete.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Malware is a fact of life. To lock down a system in such a way that there is no possibility of malware making its way onboard you would have to unplug all external connections, melt it down into slag and then dump the molten lump into the Marianas Trench. If a user can make any changes to the system, it can be infected. If the system can't be infected it also can't be used.