By Harry McCracken | Friday, June 26, 2009 at 11:29 pm
[NOTE: Here's a post that first appeared in our free T-Week newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.]
I’ve been thinking a lot about PC components lately–the obligatory, the optional, and even the controversial. That’s because I’ve been doing a series of comparisons of Windows PCs and Macs, and most of my comparing involves running down a lengthy list of components to see who offers what, and at what price. Much of the avalanche of feedback I’ve been getting involves varying opinions on just how essential particular components are–such as whether Macs’ lack of memory-card slots is a catastrophe, or whether the fact that Macs do have FireWire ports is a major point in their favor.
“Essential component” is, by its very nature, a moving target of a concept. There was a time when I wouldn’t buy a computer without a serial port, a parallel port, and a floppy drive; today, I have no need for any of them, and neither do you. I recently bought my first laptop in many years that lacks an optical drive (an Asus EeePC 1000HE), and while it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, I quickly plunked down some money for an external DVD writer. I still wish I could buy a notebook with a trackball, even though it’s one component that the industry declared obsolete about fifteen years ago.
So how about the major components that make up a circa-2009 personal computer? After the jump, my completely unscientific musings on their future, or lack thereof.
Safe for now. I expect to live to see the day when hard drives are obsolete–but with a 1.5TB desktop hard disk costing $130 and a 128GB solid-state drive going fo $330 or so, I don’t think it’ll come soon. Hard drives are going to offer a lot more capacity for a lot less money for years to come, and so they’ll remain commonplace. Of course, there are already neat laptops with solid-state-only storage, and I suspect there will be plenty more of ‘em over the next few years. Random, possibly incorrect prediction: By 2014, the majority of laptops won’t have hard disks.
On their way out. They’re still handy, but thin notebooks and netbooks dispense with them rather successfully. You can snag most software you need from the Web; you can be a happy music fan without listening to CDs; movies are morphing from physical objects into downloads. Some people are going to be excited about Blu-Ray on a computer over the next few years, but my guess is this: By the end of 2011, most computers will do without optical storage, thereby saving space, weight, and cost.
Safe. Me, I’m looking forward to the day when computing involves few if any cables. But wired USB is one of the most useful PC technologies ever invented, and with USB 3.0 on the horizon, it’s continuing to get better.
Very endangered. People who like FireWire really like it–and some of them get violently angry at the thought of it going away. And I might too, if I depended on it for something like high-speed video transfers. But even though the technology’s inventor, Apple, brought back FireWire on this month’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro, I’m thinking the technology will be hard to find by 2012 or so. Those folks who can’t live without it will be able to add support via add-on adapters.
Safe for now. The day will come when cell-based wireless of some sort (4G? 5G?) renders Wi-Fi redundant. But it’s not going to happen immediately, and it may take longer than most people think.
Soon to be at least kind of endangered. I thought that Apple jumped the gun a bit when it removed Ethernet from the MacBook Air last year. But I have Ethernet on my MacBook Air, and I’ve used it only a handful of times–mostly in hotels. I’m guessing that some notebooks–especially corporate models–will retain Ethernet for years, but it’ll no longer be standard equipment on all of ‘em.
Safe for now. Other technologies which are designed to solve similar problems, such as Wireless USB, don’t seem to be catching on. I suspect that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth may merge into a single short-range connectivity technology at some point, but I also suspect it won’t happen anytime soon.
Very, very, very endangered. You can still find computers with them easily enough, but they already feel archaic. They’ll soon join serial and parallel ports in the great component scrap heap in the sky.
Endangered. They’re useful in some cases today, but most of the things we use them for, such as wireless broadband, are going to be built into every laptop before all that long. And ExpressCard suffered a blow this week when Apple removed it from the 15-inch MacBook Pro and finally added an SD slot. Speaking of which…
Memory Card slots
Safe for now. Although I’m guessing we’ll see fewer that support 17,253 card formats and more that simply take SD. And it may not be all that long before photo transfers are usually done wirelessly via Wi-Fi or some other technology.
Safe. We’ll continue to see experiments with keyboard-free computers such as tablets, and they may become common. But many computers will sport QWERTY for a long time to come.
Touchpads and mice
Safe. Even with Windows 7 adding touchscreen capability, I don’t see laptops ditching their touchpads, or desktops doing away with mice–they’ll probably be around for as long as there are keyboards. At least I have trouble envisioning an input device that would be clearly superior.
Safe. In fact, I’m assuming they will go from almost-universal to universal, and stay that way. And their image quality will likely improve, too.
Endangered. I mean, don’t you think it’s time that laptops will go the way of the iPod Shuffle and communicated with us entirely by speaking? (Kidding!)
Any feedback on my prognostications above? Any components you don’t want to see disappear, or ones you’re looking forward to seeing die?