Honey, I Shrunk the Computer

These who are familiar with the beginnings of the computerized world will remember how massive computers were when they were first invented, before they hit the general market. In fact, Google reports that the first computer (in 1946), “weighed more than 30 short tons (27 t), [and] was roughly 2.4m x 0.9 x 30m (8 x 3 x 100 feet) in size.” Now look under your desk – it is probably about ten pounds in weight, and likely takes up no more space than one or two cubic feet. What happened? In the span of seven decades, innovators have been able to downsize computers tremendously, making it actually plausible to have one in your home. Let’s not even get into how much more powerful today’s computer is than the first generation of computers.

One of the milestones of technological advancement was the invention of the laptop, which introduced the possibility of your data being mobile and following you wherever you go. At that time, there was a clear distinction between what was a laptop and what was a desktop computer – my desktop computer has cables and never leaves the ground, and my laptop folds up so that I can carry it with me wherever I go. Eventually, we shrunk computers so much that other types of computers, such as smartphones and tablets, became available. This expanded our perception of mobile computing. In some cases, people even found that they no longer had a need for the larger computers and laptops, because all of their necessities (email, surfing the web, shopping, etc.) were available inside their pockets. This pattern will continue to drive users more and more towards smaller computers as needs change and technology grows. There is even a product line starting to emerge called “compute-on-a-stick”, which is a device about the size of a pack of gum that you can plug into a television or monitor, connect a keyboard and mouse, and be able to bring your computer with you in your pocket wherever you go, and use it wherever you can find a screen.

One of the biggest challenges that arises as a result is continuity among your devices. Some people prefer a larger screen at some times, a medium-sized mobile screen at others, and even a small screen in some cases. These people have a desktop computer, a laptop/tablet, and a smartphone to satisfy all of their preferences. The problem is that each of these devices is separate, and it is often hard to have a unified experience dispersed among multiple devices (“I made changes on my laptop, but they are nowhere to be found on my desktop!!”). For this reason, it appears as if the future of computing will be based around a singular, highly adaptable device. This theoretical device would serve all of the functions of your smartphone (and likely be similar in size), it would be able to install all of the programs your desktop computer can install, and it would be able to connect to a keyboard, mouse, and larger screen for more comfort when doing stationary computing. This way, your experience is confined to one device, but that device is not confined to one function. The pioneers of computing never would have imagined carrying a 60,000 pound computer around with them in their pocket, but we grow closer and closer to that each day.