What's next for the laptop?

What's next for the laptop?

Summary: The last few years we've seen great advancements in the laptop, from powerful components to small, practical form factors. The laptop has come so far it makes you wonder what the next big thing might be.

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TOPICS: Laptops, Mobility
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what next
Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

Laptops have come a long way in the last few years. They are now as thin and light as can be, and they've gotten very powerful to boot. Battery life, long the bane of the laptop's existence, is now reaching practical levels that should get even better in the near future.

We are seeing skinny laptops with various twists, from super-thin models like the MacBook Air, to hybrids with detachable screens that become tablets. All of these laptops are fantastic in their own way. The variety of styles ensures there is a good fit for everyone. This will continue for the foreseeable future, with variations of the standard laptop appearing for the near term.

With all the improvements in the laptop, those of us passionate about mobile technology turn our eyes to the future. What will the next big technology be that takes the laptop even further? Mobile technology is evolving at a tremendous pace, so what new functions might we see when we raise the laptop lid?

Multiple screens

Some laptop users would benefit greatly, perhaps even need, having two screens for work. There are many professions that would find having as much screen real estate as possible helpful in handling special applications. These workers have had to rely on giant laptops with huge screens that weren't very practical, or on using external monitors with the laptop.

There have been special laptops in the past that used two separate screens that unfolded out of the base, but these were tremendously expensive and so big they weren't really very portable. One company is working on one currently, but it is big and bulky.

Dual MBA

What if there was a small laptop like an Ultrabook or the MacBook Air that had two thin screens that popped out when the lid was lifted? Two flexible 11 or 13 inch screens that unfolded to form one 22-26 inch display. The professions that benefit from big screens would be delighted to have a laptop the size of the MacBook Air with two displays.

The key here is having a highly portable laptop like those mentioned but with twice the screen real estate. Either the two displays would have to be bendable, or perhaps two super-thin screens would work.

Battery life

Battery life is important to make laptops practical for many. We've seen it get better over time, and the new Haswell chipset from Intel is taking it to a new level.

MBA battery
Image credit: Apple

As impressive as 9 - 12 hour battery life is, what if battery technology took a leap and laptops could go 24+ hours on a charge? If we're going to wish for such a bump, lets go further. Imagine the increased utility if laptops could go 2 or 3 days on a charge? 

This would make it possible to leave the power adapter at home for short business trips. Worrying about finding an outlet would be a thing of the past. It would also make it possible to use laptops at higher performance levels without worrying about power settings.

Topics: Laptops, Mobility

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53 comments
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  • Multiple screened laptop?

    Kinda kludgy, no?
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • rollout screen

      A rollout screen would not be limited by the size of the box. You could then have a large display, even multiple displays. OLEDs were suppose to provide this capability. As a developer I use dual screens all the time.
      davidutz
      • NanoTechnology

        I had the pipe dream idea of a somewhat liquid screen that you just kept in a pen-sized vial and poured it out on a table. Using nanotechnology, the screen would simply coalesce into a very thin TFT....THEN, when you're done, all the pieces are returned to the container. Good idea, right?! I know.
        mikerosoft2004
    • That depends on the implimentation

      And yes, most current ideas for laptops with multiple screens feel like they can't possibly not be awkward as hell. But the point is that having multiple screens on the go would be an incredibly useful capability so it's obvious that engineers will keep looking for ways to make it less awkward, and hopefully succeed eventually.
      Possibly a wifi laptop and tablet setup so that the tablet can with one button push pair with the laptop to act as a second monitor and secondary control interface. Or if some sort of wireless hdmi comes to market, find ways to exploit it to make using available extra monitors (Or tv's) absolutely painless.
      Hmm, and I'd definitely like to see laptops start using gesture recognition, I know I saw a proof of concept for a system that broadcast inaudable sound from a laptop's speakers and then determined hand movement via the microphone and that seems like it's to potential to do impressive things.
      brendan@...
  • Get rid of 16:9 screens

    There is an easy way to get back to usable laptops. Get back to 4:3 screens... Vertical space is more usable for me than horizontal.
    sacherjj
    • Smaller keyboards.

      Unfortunately, that's the reason why we can't go back to 4:3.

      A 15-incher in that format would be needlessly large and hard to move around.

      The 11-inch range would die completely due to the lack of keyboard space.

      Only the 13-inch notebooks would survive.
      ForeverCookie
      • 4:3 screens

        Agree on 4:3 screens - 16:9 OK for playing - need vertical space for work - don't see the problem with 15" 4:3 screens - my T60 fits nicely in my briefcase
        Pretorien
    • 16:9 allows two programs side by side

      In my work (academia) I use two programs side by side all the time, whether it be reading a pdf and taking notes in Word, watching a movie on one side, going side by side word or spreadsheet files for copying back and forth, etc. That's really only possible with a 17" 16:9.

      Additionally, the 17" 16:9 allows for a full keyboard with numpad, which I use all the time. It is a desktop replacement.

      Obviously a 4:3 with the same screen and keyboard width would be too bulky.
      mrrgl
    • 4:3 fan myself

      nt
      thekman58
    • Yes 4:3 or at least 16:10

      Yes, for practical work, one needs the vertical distance. 16:9 is for watching videos, not serious business work. Been saying this for years. Willing to settle for 16:10, but even that is disappearing.

      Got a Dell mobile precision for serious work, 16:10 at first, then they went to 16:9--never understood why, so many complained, but Dell does not listen.

      I still keep, but rarely use, my 15 inch laptops with 4:3 screen at 1,600 x 1,200 UXGA. The new ones cut vertical down so much.
      Backbutton
      • Why the modern 16:9 monitos rather than the outmoded 4:3?

        Well, of course it's the manufacturers wanting to make life better for us because we NEED to buy laptops and desktops with big monitors to watch MOVIES! That's THE ENTIRE EXPLANATION! They're doing it for US!

        Or maybe there are some economic factors. They sell the monitors by diagonal size so you'd think a 15" monitor was a 15" monitor. Remembering a long time back to my trig, I did a little calculating.

        A 15" monitor in the 4:3 format is 12" wide by 9" tall. That's 108 square inches of monitor screen. A 15" monitor in the 16:9 format is 13.07" wide by 7.35" tall. That's 96.1 square inches of monitor screen. That's essentially 12 square inches of monitor saved, which is 1/9=11.1% of the area of the 4:3 monitor. Let's see: if you have 50 square feet of monitor screen, you can get 66.7 monitors of the 4:3 format or 74.7 monitors of the 16:9 format. Is it possible the change in format was the result of the manufacturers' wanting to sell less monitor for the same (or more?) money? Why did the first monitors in the 16:9 format COST MORE than the old dull boring obsolete 4:3 monitors?

        I have a pair of 4:3 monitors on my desk, knowing that when they die, I probably won't be able to replace them.
        zd1923@...
  • More cpu power

    Having multiple screens open is just as great as having multiple books open. Switching between screens all the time is like having only one book open at a time and having to switch between books. Too old a reference? Imagine four tablets on your desk but only being able to see one of them at a time.

    I like tablets but want them to be faster! My PC, yes tower, is far faster than my laptop which is faster than my tablet which is faster than my droid.

    Google Chrome runs on all four. Speed follows size. Smaller is slower.

    What do I want for Christmas? Wireless electricity so I do not have to recharge. :)
    ashepard@...
  • Two words

    Battery life.

    12 hours is enough to get one through an entire day, leaving overnight for charging. It's also enough for a weekend of intermittent use. Beyond 12 hours, I'm not sure that the cost/weight/benefit ratio works. The problem is that most of the new thinner laptops have built-in batteries, so you are stuck with whatever fits inside the case.
    S_Deemer
    • 12 hours?

      Slacker! You know what we called the 12th hour of work when I was a young lad? Lunch time. That's what we called it. We clocked out. Took our 15 minute lunch, and then clocked in for the next 12 hours of work. And we were thankful for that work!
      dsf3g
      • And we walked

        ten miles to work and back, uphill both ways, in the snow!

        Seriously, I remember those "death marches" caused by management cluelessness about the need to PLAN projects realistically, and false "economy" which was paid for many times over in bad results. The proverb went like this: the first 90 percent of the job takes 90 percent of the time (and budget); the last 10 percent takes the OTHER 90 percent.
        jallan32
      • Jolt Cola and Pizza

        We didn't get the fifteen minute break. Food was sent into our cage -- er office.
        z_saberman
    • Can wait for this to get smaller/lighter (no pun intended)

      __http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2013-02/portable-fuel-cell-charger-weeks-worth-juice

      Cool new tech IMO to possibly solve that battery life problem.
      CriticalSection
  • Laptop

    Is battery powered portability, first and foremost, which makes it attractive to the market, not display size? Are most people using it while sitting down and focusing on the current sized screen? Isn't using it as a desktop what most do?
    cab02149@...
  • Simple solution for multiple monitors

    I used to always have a desktop computer and had multiple monitors and loved it.

    But as I seek to become energy efficient, I've been searching alternatives for desktops as they consume 250, 500, 750 watts depending on the system. Most laptops are in the 80-150 watt range. And since I don't do much gaming, I don't need the latest and greatest (and power hungry video card).

    I also had a bunch of old 4:3 flat panels that were phased out when I went to wide screens....

    So when I started adding laptops, I now use them mainly as desktops - wireless keyboards and mice and I have taken the 4:3 monitors and added them as a second screen where I need height more than I do width on screens. As I am now using Windows 8 (and loving it), I have modern laptops with their 15 inch screens and then a secondary monitor for secondary actions. The cost of this upgrade is nothing since the laptops I buy still have vga connections for the older monitors. Eventually I'll upgrade those older flat panel secondary screens with wider format bigger screens with HDMI.

    Once you have multiple screens, you won't go back! No longer do I have to toggle between windows when referring to a document while working on another - I can have them side by side - and on the secondary screen I can have my email program open along with my time keeping (for clients) software while reserving my primary screen to the activity I am performing.

    I am no "greenie" - I am frugal. Finding a use for those older 4:3 flat panel monitors that still work makes economic sense; of course if you don't have any of them, add your favorite flat panel as a secondary monitor - and if you use windows 8, you can add a touch screen as a second monitor even if your laptop didn't come with one! So now I have cut my electric bill and gained more functionality - and even adding a second monitor doesn't use more energy than firing up a desktop with two monitors!
    laserwizard
    • I went back

      I had dual monitors for about five years and I always found them to be more cumbersome than helpful. I eventually unhooked one of them so I just had one big widescreen monitor and I've found that to be a much nicer working environment for me. I'm a mobile software developer.
      chefgon