Sign In

Communications of the ACM


How Many Computers Will You Own?

Geeky Ventures Founder Greg Linden

How many computing devices will you have in ten years? Two? Six? Just one?

Today, I have five: a mobile phone, laptop, desktop computer, TiVo, and game system.

What will happen in the next 5-15 years? Small devices are becoming more powerful, but our computing needs are growing. Will we want more devices as our data streams expand and computational desires grow? Or will most people need only a single small but powerful device to meet their needs?

Some say that mobile phones are getting powerful enough to be the only computing device people have. For example, researchers at IBM argued that most people will have nothing but a mobile phone soon and that "the PC will fade into a role similar to today's view of the once mighty mainframe." A Google executive claimed that mobile phones will be the main way people interact with the internet soon and that "in three years time, the deskop will be irrelevant." Google CEO Eric Schmidt pointed to the power of a mobile device combined with data and computation in the cloud, arguing that most would find they need little more.

Others argue for more devices. Microsoft, having largely realized its original dream of a PC on every desk, now appears to be pushing the idea of everyone owning multiple PC-like devices, including a phone, traditional PC, and entertainment system. The iPad was seen as a potentially unifying device, but people who have tried to abandon both their laptop and phone to use an iPad exclusively often have been disappointed.

As I see it, there are two problem with unifying around a single mobile device any time soon. First, there is the input/output problem on such tiny devices with their minuscule keyboards and screens. Until we have both high quality and inexpensive virtual I/O -- perhaps retinal displays combined with virtual keyboards or voice recognition -- it is simply too difficult to do serious work on a mobile device.

Second, as we all know from watching Moore's Law over the years, as computers become more powerful, we always seem to find more for them to do. Our capacity for computation seems limitless. We are not satisfied with playing the games of the 80s on a mobile device as powerful as the computers of the 80s; we want the most powerful hardware available to transport us to stunningly realistic virtual worlds. We are not content to peer at documents through a 3" display; we want to surround ourselves with two 30" displays side-by-side when we work. We started producing data from our every movement, taking notes on our every thought, broadcasting them all to everyone, and expecting them all to be immediately available from anywhere. Our computational needs (and perhaps our vanity) know no bounds.

As I see it, we will continue to have many specialized devices, our need for each driven by our insatiable demand for more. More fun, more work, more access, more computation.

What do you think? How many devices do you think you will own in ten years?


Ids van der Molen


most electronic devices will probably have some kind of computer, but I think we'll have several form factors (not counting refrigerators etc): mobile phone size to take with you everywhere, tablet size to use in-home, laptop size for work and TV-size for entertainment. I think TiVo and game systems will just be part of your TV-size computer, because everything (audio/video/phone/web etc) will be Internet based. So these devices will essentially just provide the human-computer interface with Internet services.

Ferran Poveda Abanses

There is only one thing that can make me think that the "digital convergence" is somehow a solid theory. That thing is that it is beginning to be very stupid that we have the same chip repeated on 3 or 4 of our devices (e.g: vehicle GPS, iPhone and iPad)... and it becomes more stupid when you have to pay $100 more for an iPad with GPS but you have it already on your iPhone. Isn't it? Note: And it's very likely that you will carry your iPad and your iPhone at the same time because it makes no sense to call from an iPad :P

But on the other hand, digital convergence is absolutely pointless... every chip is becoming cheaper and smaller and this would contribute to the spreading of digital devices...Last week I saw a very simple example on this subject. A suitcase able to weight itself... It's true, I've got a bathroom scales but it would be really handy to have it embedded on my suitcase, isn't it?

I think that we will be able to share more easily our information between our devices on a near future... that will make feasible to have a lot of devices everywhere, sharing information and sharing the computation of the most expensive chips that are not necessary locally. That makes possible to reduce the amount of similar devices but making easy to have a lot of devices everywhere :)

And that's a brief summary of my "Convergence-Divegence theory" :P Hope you like it and I'm looking forward for your opinions :)

Daniel Essin

For the past 20 years, I've had an average of 10 (general purpose) computers at any one time. While I know that past results are no guarantee of future performance, my guess is that 10 years from now I will still have 10. Although I'm converging more data on the cloud, the number of locations in which I use computers seems pretty static and most of the devices are for the purpose of not having to carry one around and not being forced to compute in only one location.

Jose Vidal

In ten years we will have:

1- Several iPad/kindle-type devices lying around the house for personal use.
2- Kick-ass smartphone with augmented reality software.
3- Augmented reality glasses that will look cool and kinda work, but mostly they will just be a fashion statement, made by Apple.
4- Flat screen google-tv in every room.

Most importantly, all your data will be stored in the cloud, and copies in some of these devices, so that it is all accessible to you from whatever screen you wish to use, be it the smartphone, the pad, or the giant one hovering over your bed.

Santosh Kalwar


A very good point...

How many devices we need in the future?

Our demand of using the services and devices in increasing with sophisticated tools that we are using. For example, the boom of social media (Facebook, Twitter...)

Every indiviudal I have met, they possess atleast two devices: Mobile and Laptops...

But as the computing power is increasing, and economic power is decreasing, I will assume that devices will surge and there will be less devices to be used.

Anyways, how can we forget the fact that,

"Less is more."

Thank you !

Displaying all 5 comments