2010: The Year the Laptop Began to Die

SmartbooksAt the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas, a new subspecies of device will be showing its feathers this year, the result of inter-breeding among laptops, netbooks, and smartphones.  It's called a "Smartbook," and it effectively amounts to a small netbook (QWERTY keyboard, laptop-style body), but with certain features of smartphones, including GPS, 3G connectivity, and all-day battery life. Sexy, right?

A storm of different technological developments is permitting the rapid transformation of the portable computer, and is pushing us toward a new sort of device-- probably something not unlike the smartbook-- that will make the laptop utterly obsolete within a few years.  By the end of this year, in fact, people will be swapping their laptops for smartbooks.

What are these technological developments? I thought you'd never ask. Aside from the steady improvement in hardware-- processor performance and miniaturization (thanks, Murphy's Law!), battery design, screen resolution, etc.-- I see two major shifts that are making the laptop irrelevant:

- First, the rollout of 4G networks will make mobile browsing nearly as speedy as connecting to the web via WiFi or a wired connection.  Sprint already has 4G running in a few cities, and by the end of 2010, all the other major American carriers should be selling devices that will run on their own 4G networks. Before you know it, the idea of a laptop that lacks mobile connectivity will be quaint and laughable.  Netbooks and smartbooks will reign supreme.

- Second, the evolution of cloud computing is allowing laptops to shed pounds, hard drive space, and, increasingly, all native applications except a browser.  Your smartbook of the future might not have more than 64 GB of solid-state memory (which is more durable and harder to break than a traditional drive), while all your documents, media and applications will live on a server way up in the clouds...

I think most people will still carry around a phone-- a separate device from their smartbook-- for some years; the essential pocket-sized portability of a mobile phone limits the device's effectiveness for typing and viewing media. But a few years from now, we'll all share a laugh about the days when we lugged around massive, un-networked laptops.