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When Will the Cellphone Replace the Laptop/Desktop?

I am a parent, futurist, and technologist. My career has spanned the birth of personal computers to the rise of cloud computing.

A majority of Americans prefer cell phones to laptops or desktops.

A majority of Americans prefer cell phones to laptops or desktops.

Predicting Technology

The future is not always easy to predict. Like a dog or a cat, the future will not run up to you when you walk in the door. The future is often a patchwork of guesses. Some of the guesses come true, some never come true.

Some of the guesses enable future innovations, sometimes even entire industries, while others disappear forever. In the future betting game, you want to make sure you don't have many big misses. Today, I am going to give some examples where I was wrong. But, as I said, they were not big misses. I missed using the word of Maxwell Smart, "by this much" (hold your fingers in front of your face nearly pinched together).

My Pocket PC Near-Miss

The first example of me as a futurist being wrong, but also being right and the guess not being a big miss, is the pocket PC phone. As a solutions architect trying to fit technology in the businesses, I saw the value of the connected device capable of delivering the power of a PC in your pocket. My misplaced belief that the pocket PC phone would deliver was a side path; the endgame was still the power of a PC in your pocket.

As we go through this article, I'll give you a couple more examples of where I missed but didn't miss big. But my thesis for today is: how long before the cell phone replaces the laptop and desktop entirely?

Standalone Devices

A second area where I made a mistake was the concept of standalone devices. In particular, portable satellite radio, portable GPS, and a standalone music player. I can do all of those things with my iPhone and not even waste pocket space.

Once upon a time, I had those three individual separate devices in my bag. I made a mistake, and that mistake was not understanding the potential of the cell phone could because I had wandered away from the Apple computing world. I was doing most of what would happen on the iPhone on my pocket PC phone at the time.

Google vs. Apple

I did not track the release of the iPhone. But in fairness, it wasn't the iPhone that changed the mobile computing world. The iTunes Store is in part responsible for that change. But the other issue is the feature parity war between Google and Apple that has raged since 2007. Each giant has raced to release new versions of features the other has already released. That evolution has changed what is in your pocket. [Author's side note: this doesn't include Bilbo Baggins, who still has a ring in his pocket.]

Telecom Providers

As I said, the iTunes Store and that competition between Google and Apple have driven innovation in the cellular phone world. But it was telecom providers driving iterations of cellular service that also pushed the edges of the computer in your pocket.

Years ago, when I first started IT, you used sneakernet to move large files. As more and more companies deployed local area networks and wide area networks, you could move more and more files over the company network. The rise of the Internet increased the number of files you can move. The first version of Windows 95 shipped on floppy disks. Subsequent versions shipped on CDs and then DVD. Now Microsoft very rarely ships Windows on media. It's either preinstalled on your PC or downloaded from the Internet.

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Social Media and Connection

The next big mistake that I made as far as this cell phone revolution was social media. I have to be honest: Facebook, Twitter to Instagram, and other marionberry sites were just playthings. What they've really done is change the concept of connection.

I can honestly tell you that social media has changed the world considerably. I have many friends from other countries. I do not often get to see them, But now, I know what they are doing via social media. It is the reality of connection, and my primary social media tool is my cell phone. When there's a disaster, I can quickly find out if my friends are okay. People use social media to notify others that they're okay that they are safe.

I postulate that the vast majority of those check-ins occur on a cell phone. About 56% of the traffic on the Internet comes from the untethered device. An untethered device is a device that does not connect to a; let's call it a physical network that can be either Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable. An untethered device as a connection to the cellular network

So far, I talked about mistakes I've made in estimating the cell phone market and ultimately what I believe to be the things that have driven that market. The goal simply being a computer in your pocket. But as my grandfather always told me, how does this impact the price of tea in China? Well, the easy answer is many components of most cell phones come from China. But the intent of my grandfather's question was, what is all this have to do with your original question, which was when the cell phone will replace the laptop or the desktop.

The capabilities of the cell phone continue to increase. The capabilities of the network that supports the cell phone continue to increase. I can remember when smartphones had microSD card slots. A slow microSD card could severely decimate the performance of your cell phone. Today, the phone has enough built-in memory that you are likely to be well never near the limit.

When Will the Cell Phone Replace Laptops/Desktops?

Again my original thesis was: How much longer before the cell phone becomes dominant in the laptop desktop begins to fade away?

The thing is, it's already happening. More cellular phones are purchased each year than laptops and desktops combined!. I still use my laptop and desktop for content creation, but that's because I type fast. The reality is the laptop and desktops are slowly fading, and their market share will continue to decrease.

Content creators, developers, and security professionals will continue to have laptops and desktops but slowly, over time, the rest of us have moved to the cellphone-only experience. Again my original thesis was when is that going to occur; well, it's occurring now. But the final inevitable change is probably about two years out. The rate of cellphone purchase is nearly double laptops now. It will continue to grow.

The answer to the question that I began this article with, how long until Cellphones replace laptops and desktops? That has begun already, but the final replacement is on the near-term horizon of 24-36 months.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 DocAndersen

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