THE NOTEBOOK PC IS DEAD – LONG LIVE THE SMARTPHONE

Mobile phones become the new portable computer

Have you noticed how no-one buys a new laptop these days?

Just like VCRs and PDAs, the laptop is so last century. Some say that the iPhone was the catalyst for this, but really it was a simple progression to smaller, more portable and powerful technology, that not only does everything last year’s laptop does, but more. And it’s a phone and camera – and GPS – too!

“I used to carry a triple-ee notebook in my purse,” says Eve Dee, a leading analyst and reviewer of new media start-ups. “Now I don’t even bother, my phone has everything I need.”

Stocks in Lenovo, Acer, Dell and HP are sure to continue to slide as customers and investors realize that the PC market has finally died. Software vendors that aren’t into mobile will be next to feel the crunch.

Apple, Nokia, LG and HTC are riding the crest of this new wave. So too are the web and mobile software and service providers like Google, eBay, Microsoft and Amazon.

Some of the traditional vendors still have servers and printers to fall back on. But for those who bet the farm on PCs and laptops it is ‘Game Over’.


ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

The computer in your pocket
When email, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, banking, video, and all our other office activities can be easily and comfortably done on our phones, a tipping point has been reached where the innovative approach to using technology becomes the new ‘business as usual’. We are approaching this point right now, as converging hardware and software trends move more power into our pockets.
The smartphone that you carry to work each day, use in your car, and take home is far more than a phone. If it’s one of the slick new ‘cool’ ones, it’s likely got several ways of connecting wirelessly to office networks, and the internet. It’s probably got email, satnav, camcorder and voice recorder functions too. And if it’s really one of the latest models, it’s got 16GB of memory and TV-Out too. And it still fits in your pocket.
You probably don’t use all those advanced functions. But if you do, why do you still need a laptop?

2006: Welcome to the Elastic Cloud
Web services on the internet expand to include data storage, email and applications, mainly free of charge and requiring only a ‘universal client’ – almost any web browser will do.

Amazon Web Services launches Simple Storage Services (S3). Just rent the data storage you need from Amazon, on demand. Amazon also introduces the beta phase of Elastic Compute Cloud – the same principle applied to virtual servers.

Amazon, Google and eBay’s physical server farms continue to grow, daily. Gmail users now get gigabytes of storage for every mailbox, growing automatically, virtually uncapped. Google also introduces applications for your domain, including web hosting, email administration and office applications – all for free! Initially targeted at small companies, a premier edition is released for corporations at low cost per user.

There are some limitations when using these services on a phone, but they are soon overcome with more powerful handsets and more advanced mobile browsers.

2007: Virtual servers, remote users
The Observer reports that we’re moving from an era in which the PC was the computer to one where ‘the network is the computer’, to use Scott McNealy’s celebrated phrase. We’re increasingly getting our computing services from the web – from Google, Flickr, YouTube, Hotmail, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, iPlayer and so on. Our data – especially our blogs, photographs and movies (and networking contacts) – are stored on hard drives on remote servers that we never see or own – or want to.

Stakeholders in these virtual businesses are real road warriors – even a laptop is not portable enough. But the advantage is that these data are all available from wherever it suits you to do business – provided you have an internet connection, of course. And wireless broadband is the connection of choice.

2008: Smartphones and cheap laptops
As knowledge workers increasingly rely on mobile connectivity, the ubiquitous smartphone becomes the dominant device for accessing data and applications. We have effectively embraced the new paradigm, where the bulk of the computing is done on the network, and we just need to connect – via the web – to get the information we need, and post the transactions.

The Apple iPhone contributes to this trend, as it becomes just another smartphone – a pocket computer that is also a phone, but with broadband internet connection. Intel releases the Atom chip-set; Nokia takes on more Microsoft technology; and both Google and Adobe release powerful application platforms that blur the line between web and desktop.

85% of iPhone owners search the web for news and information using their phones in January alone, making the device the most popular for accessing online information while on the go, according to M:Metrics. “The iPhone has certainly delivered on its hype,” says Mark Donovan, senior analyst for M:Metrics. “Beyond a doubt, this device is compelling consumers to interact with the mobile web, delivering off-the-charts usage from everything to text messaging to mobile video.”

What this boils down to, is this: It is becoming increasingly easier to use rich, intuitive interfaces and perform complex, productive tasks on mobile devices. And enjoy entertaining content from the web, of course!

As for laptops, Intel`s sub-US$300 laptops, initially designed for poor children, are made available to US and European consumers in a move that pushes down computer prices even further. “PC makers in the US and in Europe will be able to sell the second-generation [version of the Intel-designed] Classmate PC for $250 to $350,” says Lila Ibrahim, GM of Intel`s emerging market platforms group.

Meanwhile, inventor Mary Lou Jepsen, who developed the XO Laptop, resigns from the One Laptop Per Child Foundation at the end of 2007 and starts her own company Pixel Qi with the goal of building a US$75 laptop by 2010.

2009: PCs disappear
Desktop PCs take their last bow as PlayStations and MediaCenters replace the ‘home’ computer. These new generation ‘consoles’ provide five times the computing power of a three-year-old PC, but are aimed squarely at the consumer market.

In offices many PCs still lumber along, but any knowledge worker above a clerk already has a laptop – even if it’s chained to the desk. Most traditional laptops are still running Windows, but most mobiles and consoles are not.

In fact, if your mobile or pod gadget gives you Google, email, updated sales figures, bank accounts and video, you don’t really care what system is making it work – as long as it’s quick and reliable.

2011: So long laptop
The laptop market has finally petered out. Some people still have laptops on their desks, but they never lug them home any more.
Early adopters, on the other hand, simply connect (wirelessly of course) to their screens, networks and printers, whether they’re at home, in the office, or on the road. Their phones stay in their pockets, and go with them wherever they travel. But their data are always available, on the ‘net.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.