How We Compute: Flexible Hardware Required
In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted that the processing power of computers would double roughly each year going forward. For hoodie-clad, Silicon Valley-types, this means more transistors in a dense integrated tube. For the rest of us, Moore’s Law promises something far more intuitive: an increasingly flexible, multipurpose relationship to our technology.
In a computerized society, the pace of technological innovation helps shape nearly all our day-to-day habits. Enabled by ever-sleeker and swifter computing devices, our lifestyles and business practices have also grown increasingly sophisticated, multifunctional, and mobile over the last fifty years. Just as there are no longer room-sized supercomputers that carry out single functions, no individual fulfills one role, performs one task, or connects with one peer at a time anymore. Computing has evolved from a 9 – 5 desk job into something more open-ended and creative. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, computing power is now available. To support this truly modern lifestyle, people are utilizing a wide-range of devices that are significantly less cumbersome than their university-dwelling predecessors. One such device is the almighty smartphone. Another is the convertible 2-in-1 PC, a multipurpose machine that adapts to meet its users’ needs as they navigate busy schedules.
In order to understand how we arrived at this moment of maximum versatility, we need to take a look back at how computing has evolved to meet today’s boundless lifestyle. From the dawn of supercomputing to the 2-in-1 PC, this is not so much a history of computers as it is the story of how we compute.
Nowadays tech developers are constantly striving to create the most integrated, streamlined consumer experience possible. By comparison, the earliest computers were so convoluted they required users to master a skill set almost as narrow as the machine’s functionality. Take, for example, the very first supercomputer, the CDC 6600, which began analyzing photos at the CERN laboratory outside Geneva in 1964. To keep this top of the line behemoth performing its dedicated function, trained specialists had to familiarize themselves with its unique, byzantine operating system. Far from encouraging creative exploration, the first computers practically inhibited it. The story of how we compute begins here though, with multimillion dollar machines the size of automobiles that could only be accessed by trained professionals on-site, during work hours.
It wasn’t until the PC revolution of the 1980s and 90s that computing power finally made the leap from the tech lab into home and office. Designed with consumer usability in mind, these multi and general-purpose computers featured recognizable software applications, such as word processors and, after 1989, web browsers. Compared to the CDC 6600, which cost roughly $60 million in today’s money and took up the space of several filing cabinets, these PCs could cost as little $200 and fit onto a table (hence the term “desktop”). Smaller sizes, prices, and learning curves meant greater access. Between 1993 and 2003, the number of American households that owned a PC tripled. Yet in spite of the sudden rise in computer literacy, society’s computing habits remained mired in 20th century office politics at the turn of the millennium. Using a PC still meant tethering oneself to a desk for a pre-determined amount of time, which could have the perverse effect of making computing seem more like a chore than an opportunity.
For people eager to unlock the creative potential and serendipity of the machines sitting on their desks, this constricted arrangement would never suffice. Thankfully for them, technology continued to evolve beyond the desk and we’ve arrived to the modern day where at the breakfast table you can use a sleek piece of technological hardware to access the majority of human knowledge. Today’s computing populace is learning that their devices can be as flexible as they are. Whether its crossover dubstep sensation Skrillex mixing a new track in the backseat of taxicab, or teen fashion wunderkind Tavi Gevininson Skype interviewing “super heroine” Lorde from the other side of the planet, today’s hyphenated humans don’t feel they need to compartmentalize their interests or passions.
At last count, the list of portable machines keeping us connected has swelled to include smartphones, tablets, laptops, and, most recently, smartwatches. On one side, this arsenal of mobile devices allows us to create, play, and connect whenever inspiration strikes. Serendipity rules. On the other, there’s something slightly counterintuitive about a mobile lifestyle that requires us to own so many different tools. That’s why over the past few years, it’s become clear that the next era in computing will be defined by streamlining existing services, and reducing the number of devices we need without sacrificing any of their functionality or versatility.
Just like the smartphone condensed the digital camera, mp3 player, and cell phone into a single piece of hardware last decade, today the convertible 2-in-1 PC is integrating tablet and laptop technology into one seamless computing experience. Rather than force users to select between the convenience of a touchscreen tablet and the professionalism of a laptop keyboard, 2-in-1 PCs empower users to customize their device depending on their mood and environment. When you’re a dad streaming movies with your kids, it’s a tablet. Then, when duty calls, it transitions easily into laptop so you can tap out an email or memo and get back to quality time with the little one as soon as possible. For those of us who no longer distinguish between our leisure and career devices, the 2-in-1 PC is the latest in technology that adapts to the way we compute.