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Technologizer: “How Long Do You Give the Desktop?”

March 9, 2010

This story is the third piece in a trio – to get the impact, read the third story below (or go to the home page and then scroll down 2 stories):

  1. Online shopping is growing dramatically;
  2. Online advertising will surpass print advertising this year for the first time ever;
  3. Desktop computers will soon be surpassed by smartphones for computing, convenience, and online access.

No red highlights here – I think you should read this whole thing.  Visit the Technologizer site for many more great tech takes, including yesterday’s story on the “The Secret Origin of Windows” which describes how Microsoft’s product manager was told that shipping the new Windows software “was a path toward a ruined career.”

How Long Do You Give the Desktop?

By Harry McCracken  |  Posted at 10:38 am on Thursday, March 4, 2010

One of the big subjects of debate on the Interwebs this morning is a big, existential technological question: Are phones on the cusp of replacing PCs?

Don Dodge (presently of Google, formerly of Microsoft) thinks so:

The future of computing is that your cell phone will become your primary computer, communicator, camera, and entertainment device, all in one. The exciting new applications are running in the browser, with application code and data in the cloud, and the cell phone as a major platform.  I think in the near future there will be docking stations everywhere with a screen and a keyboard. You simply pull out your phone, plug it into the docking station, and instantly all your applications and data are available to you.

So does Google Europe sales chief John Herlihy, as quoted by a Silicon Republic story:

“In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs,” Herlihy told a baffled audience, echoing comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent GSM Association Mobile World Congress 2010 that everything the company will do going forward will be via a mobile lens, centring on the cloud, computing and connectivity.

BetaNews’s Joe Wilcox basically agrees with Herlihy:

Three years — most certainly five — is not an unrealistic time horizon at all. Even if it proves wrong, Google is acting like change will come rapidly. Last month, Google CEO Eric Schmidt asserted the company would put mobile first — yes, before the PC. There is no Windows monopoly on mobile handsets to stop Google, Apple or any other would-be mobile competitor from rapidly advancing. Cloud services, whether delivered by applications or browsers, promise anytime and anywhere access to anything.

On Twitter, meanwhile, folks like Microsoft PR head Frank Shaw, Gizmodo editor Brian Lam, and analysts Michael Gartenberg and Ian Fogg chimed in:


I am sure that Don wrote this post on his android phone.


just going to say, for non geeks, the phone is more accessible than the computer.


The phone *is* important but it will not become MY primary computer, communicator, camera, and entertainment device. Nor yours either.


If primary = most time spent, then I think the iPhone is already my primary computer.

A few thoughts about this enormous topic, in no particular order:

  • Phones already are PCs–they just happen to be really small ones that don’t run exactly the same operating systems as their bigger brethren.
  • The vast majority of interesting applications are already highly mobile, networked creations. When was the last time that a brand-new piece of PC (or Mac) software was a huge deal? True, not all interesting apps are available in great smartphone versions yet. But they will be.
  • Old devices usually give way to new ones over time. But they usually don’t utterly vanish. And predictions about timetables are almost always wrong–they’re often either far too quick or far too slow.
  • A device can be both pervasive and–in terms of innovation and mindshare–kind of irrelevant. The FM radio is already there. Thinking of desktop PCs (ie, non-notebooks) as FM radios isn’t crazy.
  • I don’t see the need for large screens and full-sized QWERTY going away, ever. But there’s no reason why they must be connected to a dedicated, full-blown computing device in every situation. Like Don Dodge, I’ve long thought that we’ll end up with screens and keyboards that can talk to our phones. (I don’t think it’ll be done via docking stations, though–it’ll all be wireless so our phones can stay in our pockets.)
  • We don’t need to look into the future to see an era in which many people find phones as valuable in their own way as traditional PCs–it’s here today, and really got underway with the introduction of the BlackBerry more than a decade ago.
  • If virtually all of your data and much of your applications end up living on the cloud, the idea of a death match between PCs and phones starts to sound silly. You’ll use both–as well as great big screens like TVs–and they’ll all be portals to your real computer, which is…the Internet.
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