Will iPhones replace desktops?

Summary:If you believe Moore's Law still has legs - and I do - it will only be a matter of time before an iPhone-sized package can deliver more computing than most people need. So it's bound to happen, right? Nope.

Adam Leventhal, a co-inventor of DTrace and part of the Sun team that created ZFS, tweeted a response to last week's When will iPads replace desktops? asking: "in your model, why would it be an iPad that replaces the casual user's desktop and not the iPhone?" I responded with a joke, but then he pointed out the iPad ". . . has nearly identical internals, just with more glass."

Moore's Law Adam is correct, if Moore's Law allows iPads to replace desktops, it will someday allow iPhones to replace desktops as well, even with the usual inflation of user wants and software bloat.

Will we cruise into the office and plug an integrated Thunderbolt/power cable into our 64bit octocore iPhone 12S and start punching out the work on dual 30" monitors and a deskside 40TB array?

It could, i.e. technically, happen, but it won't.

The 10 year plan I didn't have an opinion about this when Adam asked the question. But then I started considering the possibilities.

The easiest way to predict the future is to look at the past. Notebooks have replaced much of the desktop market - notebooks are 2/3rds of the Mac business, for instance, and keep gaining share - which says that people's needs are being met by systems much less powerful and hefty than the average desktop today.

Gordon Bell, now of Microsoft Research, once noted that a new computing paradigm appears about every 10 years. Mainframes in the 50s, minicomputers in the 60s, PCs in the 70s, notebooks in the 80s, PDAs in the 90s and smartphones in the '00s.

The fundamental reason is Moore's Law: we're able to pack useful amounts of computing and storage into smaller packages. And every decade someone does just that.

The explosive growth of the iPad - 3 million in 1 weekend! - suggests notebooks are now overshooting many users needs. So what happens when 2020's New-for-this-year iPad overshoots user needs?

The Storage Bits take The user interface and its most important component in mobile devices - screen size - rules. In a recent study, NPD In-stat, found that screen size is the leading indicator of how tablets are used.

Screen sizes from 3.5" to 7" are primarily entertainment devices for on-the-go consumers - a market In-stat expects to shrink over the next 5 years. Larger sizes offer more flexibility: people can see and do more with more screen real estate.

Thus while the 2020 smartphone will have the power of many of today's desktops, it won't have the interface that makes is usable for current desktop tasks when it isn't docked. If you're using it for work, you'll want a screen of 8-10 inches.

Flexible roller-shade displays could change form factors, but until people get hi-res eyeballs, the minimum size useful for work isn't likely to change. Smartphones won't replace tablets, let alone desktops.

Comments welcome, of course. Much as I like my iPhone, I can do very little real work on it.

Topics: Hardware, iPad, iPhone, Laptops, Mobility

About

Harris has been working with computers for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 in companies large and small. He introduced a couple of multi-billion dollar storage products (DLT, the first Fibre Channel array) to market, as well as a many smaller ones. Earlier he spent 10 years marketing servers and networks.... Full Bio

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