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The Future of Notebooks

© September 2007 Anthony Lawrence


I was talking with my son-in-law yesterday about his iPhone and the future of mobile computing. We disagreed slightly: I said that my holy grail is an all in one device that would serve all my needs: something iPhone-like when I'm out, but able to use a wireless keyboard, connect to a real display (and probably a wired network too) when I want it to, and of course sacrificing nothing in computing capabilities and access. He seemed to feel there won't be enough consumer demand to justify such devices, while I remain hopeful.

On his side is the ever present trend toward dumbing down. Technology always moves toward consumer obscurity as the things we want to do with it become packaged and commercialized - the tinkerer (that's us) gets pushed out as this happens. Computers are multi-purpose, tinkerer's devices, cell phones originally were single purpose, non-tinkering technology. The two have been moving toward one another and while my vision is the piece of easy to use consumer electronics that also functions as a general purpose computer, the prepackaged aspect may turn out to be the winner. After all, what does Joe Consumer need? Not a tremendous amount more than what iPhones and Palms etc. already have.

But I still have hope. This morning I saw this link about The Future Of Mobile Tech. That talks quite a bit about Ultra Mobile PC's (UMPC's). They quote VIA's Richard Brown:

"You'll see five-inch screens next year," says Brown, "then smaller. It's a two- to three-year trend, it won't happen overnight." But the end result will be a convergence of these ultra-mobile devices with smartphones like the iPhone and the recently announced Open Moko Linux platform.

Linux is strong in the mobile area. That alone bodes well for more powerful features and for openness.

I was also taken by the ad text for Palm's Foleo. No, that's not yet the machine I want, but one of the closing sentences of that page is this:

So leave your laptop docked at your desk more often.

That's the impetus that I want to see driving things in my direction.

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Thu Sep 6 12:30:22 2007: 3107   TonyLawrence

This morning I'm starting to read more about Apple's iPodtouch ( (link) )

With Wifi and Safari, that's getting pretty close at $299.00 - I am very, very tempted :-)

Thu Sep 6 12:40:38 2007: 3108   Niall

Writing is already on the wall for the Foleo:


Also, why not spring another $100 for an iPhone? They just dropped the price $200.

Thu Sep 6 14:44:30 2007: 3109   TonyLawrence

I missed that price drop - thanks. But I'm still too cheap :-)

Mon Sep 10 07:52:56 2007: 3120   drag

Palm dropped the Foleo.

To bad. But it looks like they bowed to pressure from Asus, which is going to produce their EEE computer. The EEE is based on Intel's Classmate computer, which was Intel's answer to AMD's participation in the OLPC project. (I'd post Links, but I don't want to offend your spam filter )

It sports a flash-based drive, UMPC-style display, laptop keyboard. It's a ultra-mobile laptop formfactor. Intel graphics and ULV 900mhz pentium. The entry level price-point is about $200-250, but Asus expects the most popular model in the US to be closer to 300-350, I think. Asus has high hopes for it, looking to sell several hundred thousand world-wide.

The Operating System is Xandros Linux with a custom tab-based interface designed for non-technical users. (click here for 'Internet', click here for 'Office', click here for 'Email', sort of things in large icons) . But they also have a regular windows-style taskbar desktop for 'advanced users'

Asus says that it'll only ship with Linux, but it's been tested for Windows compatible for people that want to install their own OS. Techically oriented people I've talked to seem excited about it as a knock-about laptop. Most people tend to be kinda scared about taking a laptop everwere, but this thing is cheap and with the flash drive means that there are no worries.

Here is a blog that setup to compile avaliable information on the product:

I figure the do-everything device is inevitable. Not nesicarially because there is a market support for it, but because of Moor's law. (I am sure that your familar with it, but it's a FYI for other folks) Moor's law, roughly stated, is that the number of transistors will double on a computer chip every two years. This trend has continued for a couple decades now. This is why we now have multi-core cpus and such... It's just cheaper this way. At the same time the wafers of Silicon that people use to make chips are bigger and more pure every year also.

What this means that as time goes on chips get more and more complex, but they are getting cheaper and cheaper. What this then means is that instead of having all sorts of complex functionality spread all over a computer motherboard all of the fuctionality is getting sucked into the central cpu. Either coded in hardware as another 'core' built-into the cpu or re-rendered in software it's just getting cheaper and faster to eliminate extra complexity outside of the central processor.

The CPU is like a black hole, it's sucking in the rest of the computer. Cheaper, faster, stronger, better.

So these devices will be made not only for marketting, but because it simply makes sense from a technical standpoint. Especially with the addition of open source software, extending the capabilities of mobile devices is going to be as difficult as plugging in some modular socket and adding another kernel module.

I figure in a few years, maybe another decade or two, the fastest PC people will be buying will be about the size of a paper-back book and cost as much as a nice pair of shoes. Weither it's a mobile device or laptop or desktop or entertainment center will matter what sort of I/O it has, the software installed on it, and whether or not you set the device beside a monitor and keyboard (desktop), or just a keyboard (laptop) or put it in your bag (mobile device). Most of the time you won't even have to hook up any wires since high-bandwidth low-power wireless networks are already being made to replace keyboard/mouse wiring and HD/Monitor cabling. Wireless equivelent to USB, more or less. (BTW Linux already supports these new protocols...)

It'll be cheaper to do that rather then try to make a bunch of unique devices to serve different roles.

Fri Sep 28 13:22:23 2007: 3165   TonyLawrence

InformationWeek has a speculative article about this stuff: (link)

Mon Nov 5 11:35:54 2007: 3225   TonyLawrence

Another interesting data point: personal computer sales might be falling in Japan

The reason is that phones are doing most of what people want computers for..

Wed May 4 11:38:45 2011: 9479   TonyLawrence


Four years later and iPads/Androids are selling like mad - and we are starting to see docking phones (Motorola Atrix and others). My dream computer is coming...


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What do such machines really do? They increase the number of things we can do without thinking. Things we do without thinking — there's the real danger. (Frank Herbert)

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