Friday, February 15, 2013

Mobile on the Move: Is Desktop Running Out of Steam?

An increasing part of our business is developing mobile sites and mobile apps, reflective of the societal shift in media usage, of course. In fact, mobile is growing so rapidly and so fiercely that some techs-perts have predicted that desktop computers will go the way of steam engines and the pony express. It's almost become a cliché: “Desktop is dead.”

But is this true? Will mobile devices ultimately replace desktops for good? Will desktops only be found in museums in the next ten to twenty years?

You know, “they” said the same about theaters in the eighties and nineties. With the advent of VCRs and DVDs, pundits asked what reason would people have in forsaking the comfort of their own home and wallets only to deal with the hassle of time schedules, parking, and expense of going to the movie theater? Surely, VCRs and DVDs would replace the movie theater.

Let us answer that in one word: “Bigness,” and as they say in Texas, “big is always better.” One theater chain even uses “Go big or go home.” in one of their campaigns. While there was a decline of theater sales from the mid-eighties through the early nineties, attributed to home video, the theater business has seen a 30% increase in the number of tickets sold since 1995, while DVD sales and rentals are now in a decline. (Just ask bankrupt Blockbusters.) Of course, theaters had to change a few things to survive. We now have cineplexes showing 20 movies at one time, stadium seating, surround sound, larger screens, IMax, and a resurgence of 3D. All good stuff that makes a fun event for the movie-goer. I believe scientists would call this adaptation.

This same philosophy (and then some) applies to the desktop. While mobile devices typically cater to the consumer, desktops typically cater to the producer, i.e. business, and ultimately, that's what makes the world go around. Here are our top five reasons desktops will remain alive and well in 2013 and beyond:
  1. Screen size: Desktop monitors typically run from 21 inches to limitless for external displays while laptops reach a mere 17”. Tablets are around 9.5”, and smart phones...well, you get the picture. Phones definitely have their place in this world, but so does the big screen. In fact, because the smaller screens are space-restricted, special websites and apps have to be created to accommodate them as well as the user's finger, meaning you may not have full access to a website and all the wondrous information and integration that a desktop computer has. As the canvas goes, so goes the painting.
  2. 9-to-5 Ergonomics: Smart phones and tablets are great for couch-potatoing in your recliner as you tweet about the TV show you're watching, but put them on a desk to crunch some numbers and their limitations are quickly evident. Bending over a flat screen on a flat surface for eight hours a day will only increase backaches and neck strains, not your paycheck. The large vertical screen and detached keyboard of a desktop lends itself for better posture during extended computer use. Not even using a tablet stand with a blue-tooth keyboard suffices during an eight-hour shift.
           And speaking about keyboards, information workers want a detached extended keyboard that's not virtual because when you push an “e”, you know it's there by the feel of the key. On a virtual you have to do a double-take to ensure your entry is correct and that your big fingers didn't accidentally hit the “w” instead. Not very efficient for the one who translates a lot of information digitally.
  3. Storage: Ten years ago 64GB of storage was unheard of on a desktop. Now, it's commonplace on tablets and even available on some smart phones. But guess what? That doesn't compare to the TBs that you can get on the cheap for a desktop computer. Consider this: An average family of four stores between 20 to 60 GB of photos and home videos, and that's before iTunes music and app downloads. There are Internet storage options, but they usually require subscriptions and you have to be connected to the Internet to use them, which can also slow down both the upload and download of those files.
  4. Computations. As we've stated, mobile devices currently cater more to consumers than to producers. There are exceptions such as Square credit card reader, where producers use their mobile phones to process credit cards, but ultimately somewhere, somehow, sometime, that transaction needs to be recorded in a bookkeeping database or spreadsheet application, which is usually found on a desktop. Even in an cloud situation, the multi-core processor and rich system memory that a desktop offers parses and delivers that information much, much, more quickly than a mobile device could, if it can at all. Additionally, designers, architects, videographers, and other creatives inherently process large files by virtue of their trade and need big processors to accomplish the task. Desktop to the rescue.
  5. Less abuse. Longer lifespan. Let's face it. Because it's mobile, it will be dropped, lost, left in the cold, left in the heat, just left, or dented, scratched and cracked. It's the nature of things. A desktop, however, is much less likely to receive such abuse and, by extension, will last longer.
What will likely happen in the future is that the desktop, like the theaters, will evolve and change. Who knows what desktops will look like in the future...Ironman holograms? MI6 touch boards with voice activation instead of keyboards? What the past tells us is that the sky is the limit. What the present tells us is that theaters have outlasted VCRs, businesses will still need to do business, and mobile devices and desktops are not mutually exclusive.


“Yearly Box Office.” Box Office Mojo.

“Movie Ticket Sale Surpass DVD Revenue.” D. McIntyre. Jan. 4, 2010. Daily Finance.

“Talking Points: Ticket Prices.” The National Association of Theatre Owners.

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