24 Dec 2015

Keyboard PCs

When I first used computers, in the 80s and 90s, that meant a desktop. In the last decade or so, laptops have taken over. Then came small form factor desktops like the Mac Mini:

(Credit: Apple)

And I’m forgetting all-in-one PCs like the iMac. If I wanted a desktop, I’d want an all-in-one, since that results in fewer cables and less clutter. And I can get a 5K display [1].

Now we have a new form factor, which is stick PCs:

(Credit: TechRadar)

It’s a computer [2] so small you can carry it in your pocket. You can’t say that for a laptop or a Mac Mini.

There’s space for a different kind of all-in-one PC, which I’ll call a keyboard PC. This would be keyboard with a built-in trackpad in place of the number pad, and with the PC below the keyboard. After all, if you can cram a PC into a stick, a keyboard is far bigger. There will be space for many ports, like six USB type-C ports. This addresses one of the limitations of stick PCs. A keyboard PC will also have plenty of area to radiate the heat out, without needing a fan. It could have a Core M processor like the 12-inch Macbook, without a fan. Or it could have a fan, which opens up the option of using a more powerful processor. Either way, more space means less of a heating problem. Which means, in turn, higher sustained performance.

Keyboard PCs will also be all-in-one, like the iMac. In fact, more so — an iMac requires a keyboard and trackpad / mouse, which makes for a total of three components. A traditional desktop, Mac Mini or stick PC needs four — PC, keyboard, mouse and monitor. A keyboard PC will just have two components — the PC itself, and an external monitor.

The smallest PC is not having a PC at all, instead using your phone as a PC. Microsoft is trying this with Windows 10, and it’s an exciting idea. Why research, buy, maintain and upgrade yet another device, and carry it with you? Smartphones are much more powerful than PCs were earlier, with multicore multi-Ghz processors, 3GB of RAM, and storage that’s much faster than a hard disc. The iPhone 6s, for example, benchmarks roughly as well as a Macbook Air. A phone should be able to do an excellent job as a PC for the vast majority of use cases.

Keyboard PCs, and especially smartphone PCs (if I can call them that), can’t happen soon enough. More generally, it’s interesting to see a rich ecosystem of devices with different form factors for different needs.

[1] Though if I’m paying more than ₹1.6 lac for a desktop, I’d want it to support Target Display Mode, so that I can use it as an external monitor for my laptop.

[2] If you prefer Chrome OS, you have the Chromebit.

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