Are the Personal Computer's days numbered?

Is the PC circling the drain? In an interesting think piece, Internet veteran and blogger Tristan Louis suggests that within a decade, most people will no longer have a PC and that the PC's demise was already on the horizon long before the iPhone and iPad came on the scene.

Louis observes that with information now surrounding us in so many different ways, the desktop computer, as an information device, will lose its ubiquitous prevalence now that there are so many alternatives by which we can access information. He also thinks keyboard and mouse user input are on the way out, but that touchscreens are not likely to be the universal replacement either, suggesting that Microsoft's Kinect Xbox 360 controller-free game device could be pointing the way to the future of user input.

Kinect, which as reported here last week, is already attracting attention from the Open Source community, may turn out to be as revolutionary in its context as the iPhone was in the mobile market, introducing a new way to interact with a computer without any physical devices interpolated and using motion, and more intimately integrating user and computer or other information device.

The Kinect device contains a camera, audio sensors, and motion-sensing technology that tracks 48 points of movement on the human body, also having the ability to recognise faces and voices, so that game players no longer need to memorise different commands for a hand-held control. The user simply steps in front of the sensor and Kinect 'sees' you move, 'hears' your voice and recognises your face, reacting accordingly.

He's probably right to a degree, although I'm skeptical about the Kinect thing for serious computer and Web workers. Many users (me for example) are partial to keyboard and mouse input, and will be highly resistant to giving it up and substituting either touch or waving our arms around in front of a Kinect sensor.

Another factor Louis thinks will contribute to the PC's demise will be faster data transfer technologies, noting that last week Verizon demonstrated that it has the technology to show it could move files at a rate of 10Gbps, while the most advanced PCs currently available tend to top out at 1Gbps — 10 times slower. He suggests we're probably witnessing the beginning of the end for local storage. Again, he's probably partly right. I like having locally stored copies of all my data, but have to concede that I've been slowly seduced into the cloud by Webmail for starters, and can perceive where we might be going with that.

Louis does acknowledge is that there will still be a limited need for PCs, but that the 11.6-inch MacBook Air probably represents the bottom limitation on miniaturisation with conventional input due to the fact that human hands won't be getting any smaller.

Most people will not need a keyboard or mouse in the future, and that save for text (a huge qualification for people like myself who work mainly with text), existing computers are getting close to having run their course, although Louis concedes that writers will keep using them until the point where voice dictation software is good enough to replace the need for a keyboard. Hmmm. I've been a moderate-to-heavy user of dictation software since the early '00s, and profoundly appreciate its advantages, but still can't conceive of voice recognition ever being able to completely displace tactile user input for those of use who have a choice.

Louis also acknowledges that programmers will continue to use keyboards to program, but contends that most other people will rely on direct touch (like the iPad) or motion (like the Kinect) and will no longer have computers at home.

I'm not yet convinced. The iPad for instance, is going to have to get a lot more powerful, versatile, and capable before I would even consider using is as a replacement for my laptops, and even Steve Jobs has conceded that touchscreens are not adequate for displays used in vertical orientation. Two of the most frequently-heard gripes about
the iPad are the lack of a hardware keyboard and ability to connect a mouse. IMHO, the PC is not even close to being dead yet, but then, what do I know?