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Future Tech 2013: The PCs, tablets and cutting-edge hardware of tomorrow

PCWorld Staff | Jan. 7, 2013
The forward march of technology moves at a dizzying pace. Yesterday's gadgets look like quaint antiques.

The forward march of technology moves at a dizzying pace. Yesterday's gadgets look like quaint antiques. Today's gadgets are already tainted by the mark of familiarity. And tomorrow's gadgets appear to be magical, enchanting, engineering wonders.

That is, until they become today's gadgets, at which point, "meh."

Yes, we're suckers for new and shiny tech toys at PCWorld, so we gathered up all our reporters and set them loose on digging up details about the PC, mobile, and home entertainment hardware of 2013 and beyond.

Laptops

The line between laptops and tablets is rapidly blurring. Five years from now, the line may have vanished entirely.

Today's tablets and laptops are very different gadgets. The ideal consumption devices, tablets are frequently used for passively browsing the Web, watching video, and reading on the go. Laptops are better suited for productivity. In the long run, these two different devices will become aspects of the same hardware. Tomorrow's laptop and tablet will be one and the same--and that's why this section is as much about tablets as laptops.

The first phase of that transition is already under way--Windows 8 hybrid systems show a little of what's possible. Lenovo's Yoga 13, Dell's XPS Convertible Touch, and the Sony Duo 11 are already combining elements of tablets and laptops. But these systems remain more laptops than tablets overall. The Sony Duo 11, with its 11-inch screen, is the lightest of the bunch, yet it still weighs nearly 3 pounds. Today's pure tablets have smaller screens and limited storage, and lack the performance of full-fledged laptops.

The future will be tablet-centric. Larger tablets, with screens up to 13 inches, will become lighter and thinner, and will be adaptable for productivity by means of a separate, wireless keyboard. Touch interfaces will improve, though external-pointing devices such as pens and mice will still be needed for precision work.

What technologies are emerging to create this tablet-centric future?

An improvement in persistent memory technology (better flash memory) is one key component. Even as cloud storage becomes more important, having large-capacity local storage is critical, particularly if you're on the go in areas that don't offer reliable wireless broadband. You'll need to have those big presentations on local storage; and for video and photo editing, ample storage is key. Improvements in cloud storage, along with a decreasing cost per gigabyte, will be important, however, in keeping files and settings in sync between multiple devices.

CPU improvements, of the type we'll see with Intel's Haswell CPU, will permit tablets designed to dock and become full-fledged PCs easily. CPUs will use less power, for longer battery life, without giving up the performance we see in today's mainstream Ultrabooks. One key improvement that Haswell and other future processors will bring to the table is better graphics performance, even as power consumption decreases. Today's tablets and Ultrabooks offer limited performance in 3D games, for example. Better 3D performance may mean a wider range of gaming options for tablets.

 

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