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Remember when mainframes did all of the computing? And workstations were dumb terminals docked to the mainframes? The terminals had less power, but were more “mobile”.

Then everyone got a desktop. And the desktop is where you did most of your computing. And you carried around your underpowered laptop, which had to be synced with your desktop, or docked to a big screen, keyboard and mouse to be usable. The laptop had less power, but it was more mobile than the desktop.

Now most early adopters have a laptop as their main computer. And they’re carrying around their underpowered smartphone, which has to be synced with their laptop on a regular basis. The smartphone has less power but, well, it’s more mobile.

We’ll dock our smartphones to our laptops for a while. But, if we can extrapolate from the history of computing, the laptop is headed for the dustbin.

Which means that Apple will be OK. Google will be OK. But if Windows Mobile is any indicator, Microsoft is in deep, deep trouble.

This post is by Naval Ravikant. If you like it, check out his blog and Twitter.

Topics Misc

8 comments · Show

  • Ed Borden

    Hmmm, except “mainframes” (ie. servers, clusters) are alive and well via “the cloud”, which is where most computing actually happens. And no one really has to “sync” data anymore, do they, since everything exists in the cloud?

    The idea of a digital convergence, ie. where users do all of their computing on one super-useful device has been debunked for many years now. The fact is that since computer hardware has been so commoditized, most people do have a desktop, laptop, phone, gps, ipod, and any number of consumer electronics devices scattered across their living room (xbox, TIVO, etc).

    It’s all about the interface. Your devices are all only interfaces now, your computer is really the web.

    I do agree that Microsoft is in deep trouble, though, but only because they completely lost the ability to innovate in software over the past 10 years. Now that the value that the OS provided is also being commoditized and moved into the cloud, they’ve got some serious moves to make.

    • Travis Leleu

      “It’s all about the interface. Your devices are all only interfaces now, your computer is really the web.”

      100% agreed with you. Especially these days, with many non-technocrats using very advanced devices, people don’t separate the interface from the device / application. To wit, most people interviewed in a recent Google video in NYC had no idea what a browser was.

      I’ve also noticed a significant difficulty in explaining to people why Google Wave could be cool. They see it as a slightly beefed up gmail — threaded conversations among your contacts / people whose email you have. I see a necessary infrastructure and message format change — the underlying alterations in the technology (new protocol, etc.) is really the coolest thing so far. But few of my friends can understand the importance of that, because to them it just acts like Gmail.

  • Brendan

    I don’t think the analogy between desktops/laptops and laptops/smartphones is valid. Many laptops easily outclass their desktop counterparts.

    We seem to be stepping back towards the mainframe model, albeit a highly distributed, loosely coupled version thereof. The smartphone won’t replace the laptop/desktop/”whatever keyboard and screen combo you have” interface, but it will be a required component of interfacing with the new mainframe.

  • Omar E

    I think this makes for a fun comparison, but I dont think its reasonable to compare a desktop/ laptop to a smartphone, because they satisfy different modes of behavior. Smartphone=on the go desktop and laptop= at your desk

  • Greg

    To the other commenters, I don’t think you should take the point so literally. There will always be some mainframes, desktops, and so on. The real takeaway is where the growth and innovation will be. Look at it this way – which device would cause you the most pain if it died? It used to be the desktop. Now it’s usually the laptop. Soon, it’ll be the phone. Good point about the Web, though – it’s become a necessary complement to all of these devices.

    The bottom line is that now is probably a good time to be investing in phone battery manufacturers.

  • Jason Crawford

    Not sure which came first, but I just saw this RFS from YC:

  • mick

    You might find this short film of interest…