Will iPhones replace desktops?

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.

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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, iPhone, iPad, Laptops, Mobility

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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49 comments
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  • interesting..

    this is an interesting issue but i don't think we can get a clear answer.. if in the future our netbooks will be replaced, it most certainly won't be by the current design on an smartphone..
    badescuga
  • In the end

    I could see some sort of smart display that can expand, so you can pick the size of the screen while on the go. No reason why something like that couldnt exist.

    When you get home you dock it with a monitor, but are you joking by saying it will be via cables? Ofc it will be through wireless or bluetooth nfc or something like that.

    Would be the perfect device.
    danjames2012
    • Docking

      I know this does not fit Apple's model but I always thought they should have made an option to take your iPhone and put it in a larger display to make it an iPad. I mean they are essentially the same thing at the core right with the screen being the primary difference. The large screen could include a battery for extended us and use the apps and processor of the iPhone.

      Of course doing something like that would eliminate the need for people to have multiple devices with multiple data plans.
      bobiroc
      • docking

        Didn't really mean a detachable screen, but somehow built into the device, sort of like a slider keyboard, but say a screen that slides out and expands the current screen, if phones keep getting smaller but same technology, there is no reason why you couldnt have say 4 screens within a phone that slide out and snap into place at touch of a button.
        danjames2012
      • You can already do that with AirPlay

        Check out the mirroring article on this blog <a href="http://iphonetipsandtricks.lookitupforme.com">iPhone tips and tricks</a> http://iphonetipsandtricks.lookitupforme.com
        jv4blog@...
  • RE: Much as I like my iPhone, I can do very little real work on it.

    Weren't you just blogging on how iPads will replace desktops in like 5 years. The iPhone and iPad are pretty much the same with the biggest difference between the two is the screen size and apps written to take advantage of the iPads increased screen size. So by that logic if you can do so much more on an iPad with a 9" screen imagine how much you can do on a desktop with multiple 20"+ screens.
    bobiroc
  • Seriously?

    I don't know if these blogs are supposed to be intended to taken seriously. Right now, I am typing this on an laptop running Windows 8 consumer preview. I have 5 IE browser tabs open, 8 Firefox tabs open, and 6 Chrome tabs open. I have Microsoft Office running, Outlook, Skype, Pidgin (IM), and Adobe Pro all running.

    On the Metro interface, I have Wordament open, the Kindle App, USAToday, and the Mail app all open.

    Call me in 5 years when the Ianything can do that.
    retnep
    • What's Your Number?

      So I can call you right now?
      cartman00000001
      • True, but all but the single seen one stop!

        If retnep had indicated that more than one was visible at the same time, then you would not have that excuse to link up.
        Patanjali
    • i have 50 apps opened in my iPhone 4s...so what????

      The only reason iPhone cannot be used as pc is because the display is small....ITs power is the same -almost- as the iPad 2. Same processor, same memory. same GPU. ITs only the CPU run a bit slower because of the battery....

      In a couple of years you will be able to make lot of things on your iPhone....

      Are you running a PC? What a bore....Nobody was getting pcs this christmas...People wanted their money for a new iPhone, or a new iPad or a new samsung galaxy...

      A new pc can wait until next year....the pc is getting the new "fridge", or "washer machine". Everybody has one at home but nobody spend much time thinking about it....
      zdwater
      • Samsung want them to be that too

        Commodity items.

        As for iOS running on more powerful hardware, unless it allows true multi-tasking of user apps, the only way to use the power is to run A powerful app.

        However, allowing true multi-tasking immediately reduces the simplicity of iOS, making it less appealing to noobs.
        Patanjali
  • WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP!

    Last weeek it was would tablets replace desktop PCs...and now this?

    What the heck are you smoking? Or are you simply at a loss for things to write about?
    IT_Fella
    • The lessons of history . . .

      IT_Fella, the incumbents have always scorned the new entrants, until their lunch was eaten. 20 years ago notebooks were a tiny fraction of the market, underpowered and overpriced. Today they are most of the market and growing faster than desktops.

      And now iPads are growing faster than notebooks. They'll expand the market, but some of today's notebooks users are moving to them, and more will in the future as their functionality improves.

      For us power users who need a multi-tasking OS and a lot of screen real estate that won't happen. But most people aren't power users and ease of use trumps multi-tasking.

      That's how these things work. Always have and always will.
      R Harris
  • Will iPhones replace desktops?

    Nope for the same reasons the iPad won't replace the desktop.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Same argument as tablets

    Same discussion. Heat and power issues will probably always keet phone computing power at least a decade behind desktop tech. So I guess as long as your OK using horrifically dated tech to do your work on then sure phones have a chance. You seriously want your employees work productivity dependent upon comparatively expensive phone tech rather than cheaper desktop tech? IMHO the smart business money will stay on the desktop for the forseeable future.
    oncall
    • Take a look at iPad 3

      Apple took the A5 chip, added some memory and boosted the GPU to quad core. What happened? Heat dissipation. Heat means wasted power. That is probably part of the reason why it needs bigger battery (the retina screen is another).

      Now, either Apple and Samsung goofed with the design of this chip OR this is what happens when ARM designs are pushed to the limit.

      Maybe today, an iPhone 4s could do a lot of low power tasks most office workers usually perform on their PC's, but as the years pass, we will need more power. Intel chips keep pace, will ARM chips?

      If the future is pocket PC's in the form of a phone that we plug into hardware on our desk, that sounds like the Motorola Atrix. They showed us the future and few liked it.
      mstrsfty
      • Pixel pushing generates heat

        Basically, heat is generated when transitioning between logic levels (in the analog zone), so more transitions per second, or more transitions in parallel, makes for more heat dissipated.

        So more pixels and more GPU cores means more iPad heat.
        Patanjali
  • There's more to consider than just processing power

    There is also form factor, you are not going to do your daily job on a 5 inch input/output device. And there is software, the iPhone (or any phone, really) OS and software just isn't quite robust enough at this point to replace the desktop just like that.

    Now if you attached a large monitor(s), then a keyboard and mouse (or some other pointing device) to this then perhaps you could do away with the large box. But you'd still need the software development to allow for the kind of applications desktop user need and expect in addition to keeping the touch mobile apps. That's certainly doable from a technological standpoint, but someone has to develop it. Perhaps if Windows 8 is a success others will follow and make operating systems that can handle both a desktop environment and a touch mobile environment, but it's far too early to predict any success in that area. And I don't see Apple going that direction by themselves. Why would they? They want to sell more hardware, not less.
    Michael Kelly
  • I've often thought a dock would be ideal

    When you get home, put your smartphone into the dock and you get a mouse and keyboard friendly UI displayed on your 24" monitor.

    The more I think about it though, the more I realize that while this would have been a good solution 10 years ago, it is no longer a good solution today. Why? The cloud.

    The truth is that that the data stored locally on your computing devices are no longer the master copies of the data you need to do your work. The master data lives in "the cloud" and can be accessed by any device you want. I don't need to do my bookkeeping locally on my iPhone and then figure out a way to access that local data on a 24" monitor. I use the Mint client on my iPhone, the Mint client on my iPad, and the browser on my laptop. The data is what is important, not the device and the data is easily shared across devices, no docking required.

    I have a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop. I use all 3 on a regular basis. I have access to the same data on all 3. I have absolutely no need to dock anything. I just pick the right form factor for the current combination of job and location.
    toddbottom3
    • What about multiple 24" monitors

      NT
      bobiroc