What the post-PC PC of 2025 will be like

What the post-PC PC of 2025 will be like

Summary: Here I gaze into my crystal ball and pen some thoughts on what I think the PC - or, more accurately the post-PC PC - of 2025 will look like.

TOPICS: Hardware

2025 is a little over a decade away, and while I firmly believe that we will still be using PCs in ten years, they will be radically different to the PCs that we are using today.

See alsoOnly Microsoft can save the PC

The PC industry is in trouble. While people are still using PCs more than ever, they're not buying as many new PC as they once did, and are instead choosing to make their existing hardware last longer so they can spend their money of shiny gizmos such as smartphones and tablets. This is causing grief for PC makers, but I believe that this precipitous fall in sales will force the PC to evolve into a new device – the hybrid post-PC PC.

The problem as I see it isn't that people haven't fallen out of love with the PC, but instead they've fallen out of love with the PC form factor. While most users haven't figured it out yet, the fragmentation – of data, user interface, and user experience – that shifting out attention between desktops, notebooks, tablets, and the ubiquitous smartphone has caused is the primary reason why people are turning their back on the PC.

The PC is a device that comes with decades of legacy attached, ranging from the way it looks and works, to the way that we interact with it. And while OEMs have shown themselves to be willing to make small tweaks to the PC form factor – think ultrathin systems and convertibles – but much more work is needed.

The fundamental difference between the PC – both desktop and notebook – and post-PC devices ultimately comes down to how people interact with them. At the heart of a PC are a physical keyboard, a largish screen, and a pointing device, while post-PCs devices have a software keyboard, smaller screen, and your finger is normally the pointing device. What I believe will happen over the next few years is that post-PC devices will evolve to become the brains for the next generation of PCs.

Silicon technology has already moved on to the point where we no longer need a huge box on our desks to power a PC – although some OEMs till like to cling to this idea – and the guts of even quite high-end systems can be built around the display. Given that performance is increasing and component size is decreasing, it makes sense to take this one step further and make the brains of the PC – the CPU, GPU, RAM and so on – small enough to carry around with us.

Imagine sitting down at your desk and your keyboard, mouse, and display connecting automatically to the smartphone in your pocket or tablet in your bag – or perhaps connecting to both simultaneously. Wireless and battery technology ten years from now will be able to offer the wireless bandwidth and power needed to pull this off without needing a kludge of wires to connect everything up.

The only cabling would be for power for the screens and peripherals, and wireless charging would keep even that clutter down to a minimum.

Also, for those times when you are away from your desk, you'll be able to connect your portable device to TVs, both to be able to work or just to display content.

Our PC – along with our data – will be with us all the time, not on a desk in the office or at home.

Storage will be made up of a combination of the flash memory built into the smartphone or tablet, external storage wireless devices, and cloud storage. All of the storage will be seamlessly accessible to the user, with the line between local and cloud storage, as well as different storage devices, being a thing of the past. The PC thrived during a time when people were device-focused, but the shift to post-PC has made us more data-focused, which is where the real value is.

I see notebook systems also well on the road to extinction by 2025, with them being replaced by convertible devices that can switch from a tablet into a notebook. The model for this is already here in various forms, and millions of tablet users have already kitted out their devices with keyboards to take on the role of notebooks. The keyboard on the 2025 version may have double duties and be used as the desktop input device too.

Where does all this leave operating systems? I think that the distinction between a desktop operating system and one designed for mobile will evaporate, and instead we will have a single unified platform that will adapt to the configuration it is being used in.

Needing different operating systems for different devices is an example of legacy thinking in action, and as the power and performance of smartphones and tablets continue to increase, this will become unnecessary.

When in 2025 we look back at the desktop and mobile operating systems of today, the notion of having a separate platforms on devices that do essentially the same thing will seem as odd and archaic as needing both DOS and Windows on a PC seems to us today.

But not only will we get to enjoy the benefits of dumping the distinction between PC and mobile devices, we will also benefit from improved security and reliability thanks to having been freed from decades of legacy code. Too much of our computing world revolves around the Win32 API, and it increasingly being shown to be unsuited to the tech world we live in today.

What I don't see changing much over the coming decade are input devices. As cool as Minority Report hand-waving or Iron Man voice control looks in the movies, neither come close to the efficiency of the keyboard and mouse, and they have fatal ergonomic and privacy issues making them non-starters. I have no doubt that voice recognition in 2025 will have improved beyond our wildest dreams, and that it will be offered as a secondary input system, I can't see it replacing out hands.

I'm certain that desktop PC and notebooks will still exist in 2025 – it's quite possible that some systems in use today will still be going in a decade much in the same way that some people are still running PCs from the early 2000s with Windows XP on them – but they will be niche.

Don't think things can change this much in a decade? Consider that the iPhone appeared on the scene less than seven years ago, while the iPad isn't even four years old yet, but think of the monumental impact that these devices have had on the consumer electronics ecosystem. A decade is a long time, and more than enough time for the PC as we know it today to be transformed into a hybrid, modular system that's based around post-PC devices. 

I don't see the evolution I've outlined above as a matter of "if" but of "when." I've picked 2025 as a nice round date, but I firmly believe that given the direction technology is headed, and the way that things are coalescing right now that we might have much of this in place far sooner than that.

We could have the post-PC PC of 2025 as early as 2020.

Topic: Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • One aspect of the genius of Steve Jobs

    was that he was able to take a complex idea like PC/Post-PC and distill it down into its essence phrased in an easy-to-understand way.

    Here's how Jobs described post PC: Cars vs. Trucks. Some people will always need a truck. For people who only want a car, now they can buy one.

    This paradigm will not change in the future. You will still have cars and trucks, and a very few people who like the El Camino, a bizarre attempt to put a truck into a car.
    • El Camino wasn't a "bizarre attempt to put a truck into a car"

      And I think that's were many of you have an issue - you don't understand why it came into being, and for who it was designed for. Obviously, they didn't have you in mind when they did, they had those that needed more then a car, and less then a full sized pickup.

      Same with Hybrids and windows 8 tablets. It's geared towards those that need more then a simple little tablet, but not quite needing a full blown desktop.

      Though I remember people sure early on arguing that an SUV was "a bizarre attempt to put a truck into a station wagon".

      So in reference to Steve jobs, guess you and him weren't quite right on that "car and truck" analogy....

      Look around - seems there was a need after al, wouldn't you say?
    • It's funny

      It's funny how "post PC experts" can get hypnotized by what Jobs and Cook say and then they all go and drive their SUVs or minivans that are neither trucks nor cars.

      You don't need to wait until 2025 to use what Adrian described so well. It started with the "pad phones", but they didn't do well for three reasons: weak CPU, phone UI and no compatibility with legacy code. Today (not in 2025, today) you have tablets like Dell Venue 8 Pro and ThinkPad Tablet 8 that can do pretty much everything that Adrian described. Yes, there are a few kinks, and certainly a larger battery, more storage and a faster CPU would help, but these tablets are already usable. A couple more iterations and they will be very good.

      It could take until 2025 or maybe even longer until all of the legacy "win32 API" will be forgotten. The main reason for that is not that the new APIs cannot be invented (there is plenty of that happening), it's that users, especially in the business, cling to the code that they have. Sometimes they can't even recompile it, much less redesign.
      • Win32 isn't legacy

        it is the true underpinning of all activity in the Windows userland. Even Metro is not a true subsystem, as OS/2 and POSIX were. It is utterly dependent on and runs on top of win32.\

        The WinRT APIs are not powerful enough to displace win32, and they're too sandboxed. As long as real computers continue to need to do real work, there will be a need for win32 in Windows, the only true computer grade firepower API the OS has.
        • Win32?

          I don't know, in the last 5 years I've designed and built a have dozen global or enterprise scale realtime financial, C3I, and intelligent autonomous information analysis systems and never had to call a single Win32 API from my code - plus, 32-bit? Do people still specifically target 32-bit?
    • funny

      considering Apple was and has always been a "here is what you get to buy" type of company.
  • PC+ Era

    More accurately describes the current "era". Post-PC sounds like a time after the nuclear holocaust where no one works anymore.

    I am big fan of dividing computers into content consumption or content producing machines. Both will always co-exist. Doesn't matter which is more popular.
    Sean Foley
  • English

    Similar TO

    Different THAN/FROM
  • Another prediction ....

    Microsoft will no longer exist as a company like they are now, they will only have back-end offerings which the average person has never heard of. They have no vision and will whither on the vine .... thank goodness.

    The Zombie Apocalypse will start soon after.
    • Did it take you long to

      think of this joke of a prediction. Better get back to sticking your head in the sand.
    • XBox will prove you (partially) wrong

      Yes, MS will change. I'm not even sure it will be able to stay one company. There will be business backend, just as there is now. But there will also be devices. MS can't seem to get the Surface right. I think Lenovo, Asus, and Dell will clean their clocks on that one.

      Over 10 years ago, I started building a Multimedia PC for the living room. Since then, it's been rebuilt more times than I can remember. Bigger hard drives, better motherboards, more RAM, etc. And I had a vision of where I wanted to take this box. Eventually, I'd be able to sit in the living room, pull out a remote control, or slip on a myo (https://www.thalmic.com/en/myo/) or a fin (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fin-wearable-ring-make-your-palm-as-numeric-keypad-and-gesture-interface) or just say "Media on, screen on" and wave my hands in the air to select which movie I want to watch.

      Last fall, MS showed off the first generation of my vision (and I don't work there or get paid by them). It was called the "XBox One". Of course, MS being MS and Balmer being Balmer, it had some notable flaws in the implmentation. But Under their new CEO, I think MS will eventually get this right.

      And that will be a product everyone will be familiar with.
  • distinguishing characteristics

    Post-PCs will be reliant on software as a service---html5 programs instead of stored Java or other locally stored programs as on PCs. Also, networking will be part of the computer concept. PCs are viewed as standalone units with networking being an afterthought. Keep in mind "Appcache" and that it allows local storage of html5 programs---since the PC people will want to mention that PCs have there software always accessible. The Cloud is the future and enterprise software is already being retooled with a web approach that uses html5.
    • The cloud is also our past.

      A regurgitated idea from the realms of the VAX account where users didn't own software, but rented it. We need to be careful how we tread into the cloud future without repeating the mistakes of the past for which the PC (Personal Computer) liberated us from the Main Frame, or the "cloud v1").
      • Finally, Someone Else Gets It!

        "The Cloud" is some of the biggest BS I've ever heard. I will *always* retain local processing and storage.

        I think ubiquitous networking is great, but I'm not going to run an HTML5 thin client and hope the network stays up while accessing sensitive data.
        Fred Bosick
    • HTML5

      Apps will continue to be the prevalent device side software - apps can be as small or big as appropriate and access server data or processing resources as well as local resources far more effectively than HTML5 and JavaScript based "programs"

    Basically, they did it to themselves. Win 8 is an abomination.

    And please don't say: "That's because you never took the time to use it."

    On the contrary, I use it everyday on my Lenovo Ideatab at work. I never use the Metro apps because they take up a ridiculous amount of disk space, they're always slow, often fail to load, and each app has it's own navigation conventions... extremely unnerving and absolutely confusing!

    Even when you try and use Win 8 like Windows 7, that ill conceived smart menu pops up. Ironically, in those rare times you want to see it, it fails to pop up altogether... MS at it's best.

    I tried to like MS software and products over the years, but they produced and continue to produce utter garbage. This hybrid is my last machine running Windows. I have lost months of productivity time monkeying around with Microsoft's half-baked software.

    I'm done!

    Not only do I NOT want to see MS in the future, but I hope they rot in hell.
    • Then that's really too bad for you, orandy

      As MS will be around far longer then you or I, and given your obsessive hatred of them, the one certainty here is that it will make your life a living Hell until that day we shuffle off this mortal coil.

      That's a sad way to live your life, but it's your choice, obviously.

      The rest of your post is just nothing more then a can full of garbage.
    • That's because

      you never took the time to use it.
      Sean Foley
    • Speaking of utter garbage

      Your post....
  • MIT will help eliminate batteries within ten yrs w/ ultracapacitor tech

    An ultracapacitor (or supercapacitor) is a device that promises to last indefinitely, operate in the cold with the same efficiency as in warm temperatures and charge in seconds.

    This type of tech uses carbon nanotubes technology and is being developed by MIT (and at other places I'm sure)

    To read more on this type of technology, I've supplied the following MIT link: http://web.mit.edu/erc/spotlights/ultracapacitor.html

    In ten years we will certainly be living in a technological "Brave New World" to be sure.