More than a year ago, I wrote a column called "Why the iPhone will change the (PC) world." In that piece I described how the user interface of future operating systems -- the next-generation Windows, OS X and Linux UIs -- will have iPhone-like elements such as multitouch, gestures, 3-D and minimal icons.
When that initial column appeared, the Apple iPhone was the only major product on the horizon -- it hadn't even been released yet -- that contained all those basic elements. Even eight months after its release, it remains the only product with those elements.
You can argue all day long about whether the iPhone is the best phone (it isn't) or if Apple designers invented these five UI elements (they didn't). But over the next decade it will become increasingly clear, as next-generation cell phone, laptop and desktop systems emerge, that the iPhone was breathtakingly ahead of its time.
That column was about the user interface of the future. But what about hardware? Here, too, the iPhone points toward the inevitable future of both mobile and desktop systems. That's what this column is about.
Desktop PCs of the future
Right now, your garden variety desktop PC features a big CPU with a monitor or two oriented vertically and facing the user. Cables or Bluetooth link keyboard and mouse.
Within seven years, PCs will change completely.
Next-generation user interfaces will have no use for a mouse. All that dragging and dropping, pointing and clicking, resizing and moving will be done directly with fingers touching the screen. Mice will go the way of the floppy disk, never to be seen again.
Real keyboards will be optional, and on-screen keyboards, enhanced by haptic feedback, will replace the real thing.
PC monitors will continue to grow until the average screen is well over 50 inches.
And, finally, the boxy CPU will disappear and PC boards and other electronics will vanish into the back of the monitor, much like the Apple iMac or the Dell XPS One. This approach reduces cabling, plus there will be plenty of real estate for components behind those big screens.
Because these display-centric PCs will be so large, and every square inch of those screens will need to be reached by the user's hands, future monitors will be like drafting tables used at an angle. The bottom of the screen will be waist high, and the tops chin-high, or something like that. They'll be capable of swiveling to vertical, so they can be used for presentations or double as TVs, or horizontal, for use as a physical desk. You'll be able to place books or reports side-by-side with on-screen documents.