Like most geeks, when I look at changes in electronic gadgets, I can be momentarily fascinated by the tech behind them. Once the “Oooo, shiny!” factor wears off, though, I spend time thinking about what they mean for real people. You know… folks who use them to actually Do Stuff.
“How will this change what we do and how we do it?”
You see the push to more powerful and portable devices everywhere. Phones get bigger and computers get smaller. You can now buy a fully functional computer that’s smaller than a standard mouse.
Called “PCs-on-a-stick,” they’re somewhat barebones computers that plug into the HDMI port on a monitor or TV. They’re designed to use local software, remote apps, and cloud storage.
Intel has the Compute Stick ($149 US for Windows, $89 for Linux). Microsoft just announced the Splendo (by iBall), a $140 Windows unit that will be released in India in July. Dell has the Wyse Cloud Connect ($129). Google has the Chromebit, at under $100.
Paired with a bluetooth keyboard and mouse, these critters are going to change the way a lot of people think about computers. The current Splendo version runs Windows 8.1, has 2 gigs of ram, and 32 gigs of internal storage. More importantly, it also offers a MicroSD card slot and USB port.
The power in these beasts is increasing dramatically, both in terms of hardware and apps. Combine that with the drop in the price of microSD cards ($25 for a 64 gig Sandisk card at Amazon, and $80 for 128 gigs), and these are no longer just toys for the easily distracted.
They are the future of portable computing, especially for business travellers.
You won’t be using these for heavy gaming or video editing any time real soon, but you can do almost anything else on them that the typical user needs. And the price pretty much guarantees a lot of people will pick one up just to see what they’re all about.
All you really need along with them is a display with an HDMI port and a bluetooth keyboard. You can bet they’ll also work with Roku-style remotes and game controllers soon, if they don’t already.
Know those back-of-the-seat screens you can get to let your kids watch videos while you drive? Add an HDMI port to each and you’ve room for two (or more) computers in the car.
Hotels that offer business service offices? Won’t need those separate areas any more. The rooms will have monitors, or just cables leading to the HDMI ports on the TVs, so you can access them in private. Not a huge change, you might think, but consider not having to carry a laptop when you travel. Your computer will be on your keychain.
Doing presentations? Add a bluetooth remote to the keychain. No need to worry about which OS the display uses.
Consider the educational applications, especially in bulk and using an open source OS. Add in digital versions of the textbooks and required software and issue them on microSD cards. Imagine how much this could save school districts.
Homework can be submitted and graded digitally. Or automatically, in some cases. Forget your homework? Log in to whichever cloud storage account you use, and voila! You’re good to go.
They’d be so cheap there’d be no real incentive to steal them, unlike laptops. The keyboards would cost more than the computers.
Backpacks would be a whole lot lighter, too.
Unless Microsoft drops the price on their mobile OS, these things will tend toward Android and Linux distributions. That means a whole lot of people using those systems where they used to learn Windows or Mac.
I definitely see these accelerating the move from proprietary operating systems to more open source stuff.
I can also see them adding some phrases to the language that you wouldn’t expect to hear today.
“Honey, have you seen my computer?”