What's next for the laptop?

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
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.

Wireless all the way

Wireless connectivity is now a reality, from web connections to peripherals like the mouse. The mobile laptop is a form that shouldn't be tethered to anything in its purest form.

Imagine coming back to the office, pulling the laptop out of the bag and when its set down on the desk amazing things happen. The laptop begins charging the battery wireless, the external monitor on the desk fires up and connects to the computer. The mouse setting on the desk fires up for use with the laptop, as does the full keyboard.

Dell Latitude Z
Dell Latitude Z -- Image credit: Dell

This is not farfetched, we've seen attempts at this in the past. Wireless USB was demonstrated several years ago to handle wireless peripherals as we've described, but it never went anywhere. Dell produced the Latitude Z that worked with a wireless dock for connecting wirelessly to an external monitor. The Latitude Z also had wireless charging. Unfortunately it was ahead of its time and never went anywhere.

Maybe the hardware can now handle all of this wireless connectivity. Having the scenario described above become a reality would be a big step forward for the laptop, especially in the workplace.

What do you think?

These are just a few technologies that stoke the imagination. What do you think we might see in laptops in the near future? What would you like to see? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Editorial standards