7 Nov 2014

Everything Should Be a Computer

(Disclosure: I work for Google, but not for the Chrome or Android teams, and in any case, these are my personal views.)

As technology improves, more and more devices are able to fulfil multiple roles, letting us simplify our lives by having fewer devices. For example, a smartphone replaces a phone, calculator, compass, torch, music player, camera, camcorder, radio, TV (in some countries), and soon, a wallet and maybe even your keys. This is great, but there’s still lots of low-hanging fruit around us that no one seems to have bothered plucking.

A lot of devices can also double up as computers, for the average user and average use cases. There will always be high-end apps like Eclipse, Photoshop, Excel spreadsheets with ten million cells, and so on, that require a traditional computer, but I'm talking about the average user. Can the devices people already have serve their computer needs?

For example, you should be able to plug a monitor, keyboard and mouse [1] into your tablet or phone, and use it as a PC [2]. If I think back to my first PC running a GUI, that was a 386 at 25Mhz and 4MB RAM. Tablets are thousands of times more powerful, and there’s no reason why they can’t replace a computer for the average user [3].

And then there are things like routers, some of which are extremely powerful. My router, for example, has a gigahertz processor, wired and wireless networking, USB ports, a file and printer server, and so on. Other routers can even run Bittorrent and other apps on the router itself. There’s no reason why routers can’t double up as a PC for most users or use cases.

TVs have also become very powerful, with quad-core CPUs and 4GB memory (as much as a Macbook Air!), wired and wireless networking, multiple USB ports, support for multiple codecs, Internet connectivity, webcams, apps like Skype, and so on. There’s no reason for TVs not to be able to double up as PCs, either using the TV screen as a display, or with an external monitor.

And then there are printers, which again come with wired and wireless networking, Internet connectivity, USB ports, and so on. If you already have a printer on your desk, why shouldn’t you be able to plug in a monitor, keyboard and mouse and use it as a PC [4]?

Nobody’s forcing you if you don’t want to use a TV or printer as a PC. But, at the same time, if someone else wants to, why not? There are billions of people in the world who can’t afford multiple devices to do what one device should be able to do. Even if you can afford them, why would you want yet another device to research, buy, maintain and upgrade?

It’s time for phones, tablets, routers, routers, TVs and printers to double up as PCs for the average user.

[1] The surface of the tablet can itself act as a trackpad, or you can use a trackpad or mouse, along with a keyboard, over Bluetooth or USB.

[2] PCs and Chromebooks are both far superior device to getting work done than a tablet. 

[3] Android and iOS both need to be enhanced to work great with a keyboard and mouse. But, in the meantime, I’d be satisfied with my tablets and phones working as Chromeboxes.

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