As technology continues to morph, the varieties of internet-capable devices continue to increase. Today, with five basic groups - Desktop, Laptop (Notebook), Netbook, Tablet and Android Smartphones - devices all on the market, it does not appear likely that any one of them will achieve categorical domination nor does it seem probable that any of them are likely to be rendered obsolete in the immediate future.
Each has and will likely continue to attract a certain share of the market. Of the five, the Netbook is probably the most vulnerable but will continue to have its fans.
Family Pros and Cons
Each family of devices has certain unique features and advantages as well as its own set of limitations. Desktops are probably the best value, the most powerful and the most easily modified by the user. On the other hand, they are large, heavy and tethered, as a rule, to a plugged-in AC power cord. Laptops offer portability in exchange for smaller screens and keyboards and, often, less power. Modifications are more complicated for the average end-user to take care of themselves. Some laptops are now made to be as fast and powerful as a Desktop but offer some marginal portability.
Netbooks, actually mini-laptops, are even more portable but have screens and keypads too small to be highly valued, especially by older users. They also have, as a rule, less power, memory and speed. Smart Phones are multi-function devices whose primary advantage is just that: They combine phone and internet functions in one small device. Again, they are not highly powered and are preferred, often, by younger users with very nimble fingers (for texting) and sharp vision (for reading a very small display screen.)
The newest member of this cyberspace access clan is the Tablet computer. Not as portable as a Smart Phone, but a lot lighter than a laptop (often with a screen equaling that of a Netbook at 8" -10") has longer battery life than most other portable computers, but is generally not modifiable by the user, Also, by virtue of the basic design, it appears and feels more delicate and vulnerable than a well-made laptop. Tablets probably do a better job of bridging the gap between Smart Phones and laptops than do the underpowered Netbooks on the market.
Using touch-screen technology is an added feature and coming into being just behind the E-readers (which they can be utilized as) the design and concept has found a large, receptive and growing audience and clientele.
Are Tablets Just a Fad?
I expect that Tablet computers will turn out to be no more a fad than the PC. There is some part of the computer market whose share will go in the Tablet direction just as shares have gone to the other devices in the past. The likelihood is that the Tablet technology will advance quickly in an attempt to compete with the heavier laptops. In the competitive context, the device most at risk of being negatively impacted is probably the little laptops marketed as Netbooks.
Given the pros and cons of various devices, the PC (desktop) is far from dead and will be with us for a long time. Laptops with screens as small as 13" to those with 20" screens and desktop-like power and memory will remain in demand by consumers. Smart phones will continue to garner larger shares of the market as a function of their versatility. Tablets are still, compared to PCs and laptops in their infancy and it is reasonable to expect that further advances and development are on the foreseeable horizon for them. As the newest members of the firm, they are most likely to be updated, in major ways, each year or two for some years to come.
None of the devices offers precisely the package of capacities and limitations found in another. There will remain a market for all depending upon the unique needs and preferences of the individual user.
Can Obsolescence be Predicted?
On the other hand, people never thought the propeller driven aircraft of WW2 would become obsolete. There are certainly ideas that have become as obsolete as the horse and carriage. In 1982, Bill Gates declared that he saw little commercial potential in Ebay. In 1988, John McAfee, the founder of the company that still bears his name said, "The problem of viruses is temporary and will be solved in two years." No one would have imagined, as recently as fifteen years ago, that home computers would become internationally ubiquitous.
The evolution of computing technology suggests that even old devices have use and value and that new devices are best allowed to develop and mature a bit before jumping in and buying one.
The Apple iPad has reawakened the interest in tablets that were actually first introduced requiring a stylus back in 1992. No doubt, they will subsume a larger market share over time, but will never render the well-engineered, ultra-light, laptop obsolete.
The overall trend is clearly toward increased portability combined with a lot of RAM and reasonable Hard Drive space. Many laptops are there now. For tablets to really challenge their relevance, they would have to develop quite a bit more in the coming years. Full power, large screen desktops with multiple hard and optical drives and huge amounts of RAM are not apt to become obsolete any time soon.
Sometimes new devices/gadgets make other things almost immediately obsolete - like radio vs. the use or Morse Code while others simply increase the field of choices. I expect that the introduction of the tablet computer will turn out to be one of the latter,
The Right Device for the Right Job and User
There are enough products to choose from that there is usually the perfect product for anyone who spends the time to research it carefully. Remember when the Apple IIE was the only choice other than an IBM PC?
To succeed in garnering a greater market share in the coming years, Tablet computers will need to be able to offer capacities currently associated with the better laptops. More power, faster processing and the ability to hold and utilize stored data and programs to a much higher degree than they are currently able will be their direction in the future. But even then, some users will still prefer Laptops, Desktops, Smart Phones, and yes, even the low-powered hybrid Netbooks.
Consumers like choices and the better and broader they are, the more possible it becomes for a person to find exactly the machine that best suits their personal internet access and computing needs.
This article and the information in it has been gathered through my own experience with each of the types of devices discussed as well as through information found in other sources including a PC World article, one from CIO/INSIGHT as well as a details about choosing the right kind of computer for yourself carefully described at homecomputer.net. A particularly interesting and informative piece on digital/computer obsolescence can be found here.
This article was updated on March 25, 2019