If there has been any unifying trend in consumer technology over the last decade, it has been an emphasis on portability. Just 10 years ago laptop computers weren’t even that portable. The IBM ThinkPad, perhaps the best known laptop of the time, had to sacrifice considerable performance for a reasonably sized device. Other laptops of that era helped users build muscle while lugging them around.
Today we see a much different picture. Smartphones are ubiquitous devices that fit in our pockets. Tablets have eaten into the laptop market. Even the laptop market has changed considerably in the past few years, leaning even further towards portability. And they’re not the only devices getting portable. Even our desktop devices are ready to be hauled around.
Laptops To Ultrabooks
Apple has introduce products ahead of their times in the past. Some of them caught on quickly, the iPod being a prime example. Yet some of them took years to mature. That was the case with the MacBook Air, which was released in 2008. The idea was to cut out the parts that cut into the core of laptop computing. That is, the Air sought to be a lighter, thinner, more efficient device that cut out the parts that people didn’t need.
While Air sales were OK for the first three years of its existence, it wasn’t really until 2011 that the idea really caught on. That was the year that many other manufacturers started planning laptops that cut out the CD drive and worked on solid state, rather than magnetic, hard drives. The result was the Ultrabook movement, and it has added a new level of portability to laptops.
We’re only now starting to see Ultrabooks fall down into more wallet-friendly price ranges, so 2013 could be the year that more and more consumers choose to buy them over more traditional laptops. Given the lack of emphasis on physical disk drives and the greater emphasis on light and fast-running devices, ultrabooks really are the ultimate laptops that consumers have sought for years.
Just as it kickstarted the Ultrabook market, Apple also kickstarted the tablet market, albeit in much more dramatic fashion. Apple so thoroughly dominated the early tablet market, and created such a consumer-friendly device with the iPad 2, that other manufacturers are having trouble catching up even today. One area where some manufacturers have found success is with 7-inch tablets, much smaller than the 9.8-inch iPad. But even that is coming to an end.
How much do consumers prefer smaller tablets to larger ones? While the iPad has dominated tablet sales to date, the iPad Mini has cannibalized sales of the original iPad. It does seem that people prefer that extra level of portability. It’s not as though you can fit an iPad Mini into your pocket like a smartphone, but it’s certainly easier to carry around in a purse or backpack — and much easier to hold when reading.
The idea of a portable desktop seems ridiculous on the surface. The entire idea behind a desktop is to provide a full-featured experience where portability doesn’t matter. Yet we’ve seen a small but significant trend towards desktops that feature some level of portability. Again we have Apple at the forefront. Their iMac line of desktops feature a single piece. It’s not something you’d use while in transit, but you can certainly bring it from one place to another with ease.
(Whenever my wife and I housesit for her parents, I take my whole iMac, rather than a laptop. It’s just that easy to transport.)
Soon Apple won’t be the only company trying this. The Lenovo A730 is set to hit the market this summer, and it in many ways resembles the iMac. It does contain some parts in its base, but the entire unit folds up and can go with you wherever you need it to work. Taking matters further, the screen is essentially a 27-inch tablet. You might not use it on the train, but it’s more portable than your average PC monitor.
Years ago, advancements in computer technology were focused mostly on performance. The next Pentium chip used to be big news, and for good reason. Computers were severely underpowered back then, and software was developing faster than hardware. But now we’re seeing more emphasis on efficiency and portability. Even our desktops are getting lighter and more portable. One day the trend will shift back to performance increases, but for the foreseeable future we’ll be seeing many more devices with increased portability.