The End of Desktop Computing…?

This article from Gizmodo (yes you may be noticing my trend of liking gawker sites) discusses the rise of Touch Computing, in the dominant form of the iPad, and it’s effects upon the heretofore dominance of Desktop Computing from the point of view of heavy content creation.

Lots of lucky people around the world understand the joy and the freedom afforded by tablets like the iPad when surfing the web, watching movies and flicking through photo albums but, equally, a large number of people are bridging the gap between Content Creation on a Desktop to doing the same on a touch-screen tablet. So, is the iPad the beginning of the end of Desktop Computing?

I don’t think so. Until, perhaps 150 years from now, we discover ways to make portable devices with ultra-high specs also have battery life in the realm of days, not hours, I feel the practice of sitting down at a desk with a powerhouse device hooked in to mains electricity in order to do heavy-duty content editing or creation tasks will continue. I will totally grant the possibility that the device in question may indeed be some form of portable touch enabled device such an iPad 10, or an Android device, but it won’t be possible to have that device do the work unplugged simply due to power issues. Current technology may well have the oomph to do tasks such as editing full HD videos and the like, but the power required for this tasks would mercilessly consume multiple batteries in the process. One potential solution to this would be exploring the realm of offloading all this massively processor intensive work off to another machine but if the other machine has the capability to perform these tasks why not simply do the content creation there?

To answer that question is to answer the fundamental reason why tablets are so popular in the first place but also shows why tablets won’t replace desktop machines. First of all, there’s the issue of the interface. Touch screen interfaces, most especially glorious AMOLED screens with capacitive technology and multi-touch capabilities make for dynamic and intuitive user interfaces. As the Gizmodo article above points out this is a huge reason to abandon the clunky layer of keyboards and mice, but the touch screen interface has one major flaw: Unless one is blessed with razor thin digits, your input device (e.g. your finger/thumb) will constantly get in the way of your content, obscuring your view and distorting your work. You could resort to a stylus, but then, while you gain accuracy, you lose the intuitiveness of the touch interface.

To be fair that’s only primarily an issue in artwork or digital graphics etc… If you are editing video etc… there are far less points where your digits would become a problem however I still see the tablet functioning more as, well, a tablet. Nowadays most digital artists work with a tablet interface connected to their PC/Mac. This affords them the “hands-on” ability of drawing directly onto the screen with far more accuracy and intuitive reaction than using a simple mouse. Most of these however are simply blank, touch-sensitive slates of material. If you were to replace that with a smartphone and a stylus, you gain the advantage of having an additional screen with which to zoom in on your work. On of the issues I have found personally using tablet interfaces for PCs is that you are not always 100% certain where your cursor is and outside of digital image manipulation etc… it can be a cumbersome way to move around your desktop machine.

I think combining touch-screen tablet devices with desktop machines will be the way forward whether it’s through offloading processor intensive tasks to another networked desktop machine while you use a tablet device or whether you use your tablet device as your interface for the desktop machine, I see a synergistic future rather than an exclusionary one.

As a final note, from a personal point of view, I think desktop machines (one can also view consoles like Xbox and Playstation as ‘desktop machines’) will always be important in the realm of gaming due to the power of the keyboard/mouse combination, most especially as games become more and more realistic. Between devices like Playstation Move, Kinect and various other technologies, our intense gaming experiences are always going to be tied to so-called desktop machines. Despite the counter-claims of console and tablet enthusiasts, the accuracy afforded by the mouse both in games and in content creation/editing just doesn’t compare to either a gamepad, a motion-tracking input device, a movement-sensitive device or a touchscreen interface.

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