The coming death of the Laptop

Years ago I got burned by buying state-of-the-art what-evers only to wake up the next day to discover that they were obsolete. So when PDAs appeared on the market, I hesitated.

After all, which operating system was going to dominate, and really, was there anything I needed a PDA for. Well, I’m now an avid user of a PDA and am convinced they have a future, and they may just be signalling the death knell for the laptop computer.

While attending the latest Comdex conference in Toronto, I had a vision (OK a very slick marketing campaign flashed a bright light in my face and woke me up). It’s not just what a PDA can do for me today, it’s what’s just around the corner that’s really going to count. At the show I discovered a slew of applications specifically built for my PDA, so now, I can look up any restaurant in New York city, see where it’s located and read a review, and from there plan to go to a movie or to the theatre, by simply looking up the schedule on my handheld. That might be great, but just how often am I in New York with time to spare?

If I combine that with the GPS option, I can even navigate my way to these great events. While these various apps may have some importance to a lot of people, what they demonstrated was the potential of applications written for a PDA.

Even with all of these great applications on the market and new ones appearing daily, what finally got be convinced that PDAs are going to take over the world were the hardware advancements.

Recent hardware releases have included a 1GB removable hard drive. This is more storage then my first two PCs combined. The removable hardware combined with apps that allow you to read and edit documents and spread sheets now make it possible for you to truly take your work with you. No more packing up the laptop at the end of the day, just a simple syncing up and away you go.

What truly got me going was the release of various keyboards for the Palm. These keyboards fold up into the size of a Palm Pilot, yet expanded to nearly full size. All of a sudden, my dimmer switch went to full and the light bulb over my head final turned on. All these PDA devices weren’t there just for me to track appointments and contact information, but to replace the laptop that I thought weighed next to nothing until I had to carry it from one side of O’Hare airport to the other.

PDAs are not out to replace my paper appointment book, but to replace my laptop. PDAs are smaller and lighter then any laptop and when you combine the cost of the various options they’re also cheaper.

Does this mean that when my aging laptop goes I’ll replace it with a high-end PDA with all the bells and whistles? I’m not sure yet. I just can’t see myself sitting in front of my PDAs little screen typing up large reports. What’s now needed is a screen that folds up into something the size of the PDA as well.

So to all those looking into making accessories for the PDA market, how about a 17″ monitor that fold ups and fits into my pocket. Better yet, how about a PDA which expands like one of those weird convertible suitcases, from just a regular PDA, then to a PDA with a full keyboard and then with a flip and a twist – presto you have a full-size monitor.

Am I asking for too much? From the people I’ve talked to, the answer is a simple “No, it’s just a year or two away.” On that note I’ve decided to hang onto my laptop, but to start preparing for the day the laptop will fade into memory just like its predecessor, the portable computer.

K’necht is president of K’nechtology Inc., a Toronto-based consulting company. He can be reached at