Symbian forecasts the death of the PC

Foldable screens and new input technologies mean smartphones could soon kill off the traditional PC, Symbian executives claim
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The PC will be on its last legs within five years, if executives from the mobile platform company Symbian are to be believed.

Giving the keynote speech at the Symbian Smartphone Show in London, chief executive Nigel Clifford told delegates that the era of the smartphone was dawning, representing a shift "as profound as the Internet and PC were in the 1990s".

"Desktops PCs are effectively a flatlining commodity," Clifford said on Tuesday, while conceding that laptops were eliciting "perhaps a bit more" excitement.

He suggested that the "leapfrog economies" phenomenon — that is, economies in the developing world where users are bypassing expensive wired infrastructures in favour of wireless — would combine with the popularity of smartphones among first-world youths to create the scenario of a "smartphone in every pocket".

Clifford cited the rates of technology adoption in India to back up his point. In India, the PC market is growing at five million units a year, while mobile phones were enjoying the same growth per month.

Symbian's head of propositions, John Forsyth, later argued that: "In five years' time you'll wonder why you need a PC at all."

Speaking to ZDNet UK at the show, Forsyth said that "phones are beginning to eat into the space of the kind of things that laptops were for".

"It will be a great relief to be liberated from the laptop," he added, citing poor laptop battery performance as a key reason.

Forsyth claimed the PC had stagnated and denied recent suggestions that phones would run out of new features over the next few years.

While conceding that there would be something of a shift from new hardware technology to new services, he pointed to "increased richness of both input and display technology" as an indicator of mobile technology's evolution.

"We see loads of keypad experimentation across vendors. That's a trend of innovation that will increase until people find solutions. It's clear that the numeric keypad has started to creak with the introduction of mobile email," Forsyth said, describing the competition between various new input technologies — such as handwriting recognition and foldable keyboards — as "Darwinian".

In terms of screen capabilities, Forsyth noted that mobile phone screens were "going beyond just being personal" and were now considered by users to be suitable for sharing photos and content.

"The idea of sitting at a desk to view a Web page is inherently annoying. [Phone screens] are small but the size of the display relative to the phone size is growing and the resolution of screens is growing very rapidly," he added.

Another speaker at the event, Sony Ericsson's chief technology officer, Mats Lindoff, also predicted exciting future advances in screen technology, suggesting that foldable or bendable displays would be available by 2012.

Lindoff pointed out that emerging devices contained the equivalent memory to laptops of seven years ago, and suggested that phones would in the future contain as much as 64GB of memory.

However, he acknowledged that, while Moore's Law would bring greater processing power for handheld devices, battery power would struggle to keep up. The solution, said Lindoff, would be to develop less power-hungry applications.

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