PC or folding phone? Here comes your next big device dilemma

Can a foldable phone or tablet replace your laptop? It's more likely than you think.

Foldable future: How Microsoft hopes to define a new hardware category with Surface Neo and Duo ZDNet's Larry Dignan and TechRepublic's Bill Detwiler discuss why Microsoft's Windows-based Surface Neo and Android-based Surface Duo are just a glimpse at the dual-screen, foldable devices that will redefine the laptop, tablet, and phone markets. Read more: https://zd.net/2oEa5Zj

Tech companies are hoping that the future is folding -- but not in a pessimistic, sky-is-falling-in way. Rather, they think the next big trend will be for devices with foldable screens, somewhere in size between a tablet and a smartphone.

Those devices might have screens that fold in (like the Samsung Galaxy Fold) or fold out (like the Huawei Mate X), or they might use fancy hinges that connect two screens (like Microsoft's forthcoming Surface Neo and Duo devices).

SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

ZDNet's Matthew Miller says his experience of the Samsung Fold leads him to believe that a one-device future may be getting closer to reality. A device that gives you enough screen to be productive when mobile but can also connect to a larger screen and keyboard for a desktop experience at home or in the office could be a tempting option, reducing the need to reach for a laptop to do proper work. Something like the larger Surface Neo could even deliver the same productivity boost you get from two screens on the desktop, but on the go.

There is this idea the laptop is too big, too unwieldy and basically just too dull to be the device we ought to be using. PC sales are certainly in long-term decline, despite the odd upward spike -- like now, when there's a late rush from businesses to replace old devices still running Windows 7.

Déjà vu, again?

We've been here before, of course. Devices like the smartphone, the netbook and the tablet have all been heralded as the device that would finally crush the PC. Other candidates lurk around the corner -- maybe we'll all be creating spreadsheets in virtual reality in a few years' time, or having augmented reality meetings.

Even so, I think the PC has life left in it yet. For one thing, in tech nothing ever really goes away -- it just finds a niche, albeit a smaller one than in its heyday. Even in steady decline, hundreds of thousands of PCs are still being sold every year.

More importantly, the PC has done a pretty good job of saving itself from the scrapheap in recent years.

Laptops that were the size and weight of paving slabs, so heavy they felt like a ship's anchor in your backpack, have now been replaced with sleek models that occupy little more room than a magazine. I've often had to double-check that my laptop is in my bag because it just didn't feel heavy enough on my shoulder.

SEE: Worldwide smartphone, tablet, PC shipments slump in 2019: Gartner

Screens are bigger and brighter, and battery life has improved to the point where it's quite possible to get through the whole day without recharging. New designs like Lenovo's Yoga convertibles and Microsoft's Surface range have shown that the PC doesn't have to be stuffy or staid.

In many ways the success of these newer devices, where the keyboard can be detached or folded backwards, has opened the door to post-PC designs like the Samsung Fold and the forthcoming Surface Neo and Surface Duo by showing us that the old format isn't the only option.

Don't expect your mainstream work laptop to disappear anytime soon, but these new form factors might mean you switch it on less and less.

ZDNET'S MONDAY MORNING OPENER

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

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