It seems like computers aren’t progressing nearly as rapidly as they once did. While processors and other tech is still keeping up with Moore’s law, it seems like everything else is fairly stagnant.
Let me clarify that a bit. Processors keep getting faster, hard drives larger, and memory more plentiful. All is getting cheaper (in speed/capacity per dollar terms), but the prices on desktops and laptops seem to be pretty much the same over time with those three components getting regular upgrades.
Displays seem to be only a little better quality today as they were three or four years ago. Maybe LED backlights instead of fluorescent tubes, but the resolution even has gone down in many cases (“Get your ‘HD’ laptop today”, ignoring the fact that 1280 x 720 is fewer pixels than the old common 16:10 aspect ratio that was 1280 x 800…).
Audio quality hasn’t changed much. Build quality hasn’t changed much. WiFi maybe got a bit of a boost to “N”, but how often does the typical consumer use WiFi to transfer large files across their own network? “G” was and is fast enough for most residential broadband connections. Etc.
Phones, on the other hand, are where all the action’s at. I guess that’s where everyone’s spending their money these days, so that’s what’s getting the attention.
Now, let me point out the exceptions to everything I just said above. Apple is really one of the few (perhaps only?) ones really innovating in the realm of laptops. And it feels like they’ve decided that laptops should just catch up and be where they all should have been at this point–higher resolution/density, IPS displays with an ability to reproduce a larger percentage of the full color spectrum; using large SSDs instead of magnetic hard drives; having sleek and slim profiles; getting updated I/O ports (such as Thunderbolt); etc.
While PC manufacturers have started selling “Ultrabooks,” it was only a result of Intel really pushing them to do so since they wanted to sell more processors. Intel came up with reference designs for them and trademarked the name (but only after helping Apple with its Macbook Air, though, right?).
No one else makes a laptop like the Macbook Pro with Retina display, either.
Google is taking an interesting approach with Chromebooks. Those sell for a really good deal, but they’re not traditional laptops. And the technology in them is certainly not bleeding edge in a lot of ways (though the newest machines are certainly a good deal for the price and not slouches).
Microsoft added touch and a radically new UI to Windows 8 (and PC laptops added digitizers and the new OS in response), but that’s more of bringing the things learned from the advances in the phone and tablet arena into laptops and desktops, not so much of a “wow, this is something a desktop is really good at and why I need to have one around rather than using a tablet as my primary computing device.”
Amazon and Google have really pushed the bounds with their newest 7″ tablets, too. For $200 or so, you’ll get a relatively high resolution IPS display (1280 x 800–similar or more pixels than most laptops but in a smaller size and better viewing angles) with good color reproduction (well, in Amazon’s case) and some fairly decent hardware (for a tablet).
So, I guess my point is this–Apple is really doing some interesting stuff at the high end (and, as always, charging a [probably well-deserved] premium for it), while in the tablet market you have several displays that rival pretty much any consumer PC laptop display’s in color reproduction, total pixel count, and display density. So why aren’t there PC laptops with high density IPS displays for a decent price? Why are they all typically running on magnetic hard drives instead of using some form or SSD (or SSD/traditional HDD combo)? Why are the prices the same?
Seems to me that there should be a $700-900 laptop with a higher density IPS display, 32 to 64 GB SSD (combined with a 500GB [at least] HDD), 16GB RAM, a decent touchpad (at this point any touchpad that operates less well than the digitizers on phones from several years ago shouldn’t be put on a typical laptop–and I’m mainly referring to proper programming that responds in a smart way to multiple touches like phones and Apple’s touchpads do), and a whole host of other things that haven’t changed (or regressed) over time (speaker quality, build quality, battery life, etc). If Apple can make a killing of a $500 iPad, why can’t a PC laptop manufacturer make a killing off a $700-900 laptop made with similar build quality and a keyboard (and less miniaturization)?
Last night I found a DVD Audio disc in my basement. “Higher quality audio” is the sales pitch for such an item. “Is it better?” I thought. Well, after figuring out how to get that higher quality audio off there and onto my iPad so I could test it versus the CD version of the same, I found out that, yes, there is a noticeable difference. For casual listening, perhaps there’s not a big difference. Perhaps most aren’t using good enough speakers or earbuds to hear the difference (mine aren’t expensive, but I managed to tell the difference). In any event, I still ask, “Why isn’t all audio sold in higher quality?” (I’m talking about 24 bit depth, more frequently sampled audio here–not just “iTunes Plus” or whatever.) Sure, many may not know or hear it, but when has that stopped so much other stuff from being marketed and people persuaded that they needed it? I mean, do I really need a 3x faster processor to post on Facebook? Probably not, though that’s what’s being offered to me. (Actually, I’m not looking for a laptop, but if I were…)
Anyways, not really meant as a complaint (wow, what a 1st world sort of problem is this…), but more of an observation. When PC manufacturers show how sales are declining and fewer people are buying laptops and desktops, I’m not really surprised. You can add more fake metal trim, you can add more square boxes on the screen, and you can let me add fingerprints to my display, but perhaps there’s some other things that can be done to make laptops and desktops interesting and different again.