Many years ago, I bought a new toaster. It looked really cool in the store. It was round. You put the bread in diagonally. The bread was “caught” by an internal mechanism in the toaster and glided gracefully into the warming position without the need for unsightly levers. When I got in home, despite a good deal experimentation and my high hopes, I had to come to a conclusion:
My new toaster made crappy toast. It was always burned in one corner and not toasted at all on the opposite corner. Eventually, we threw it away.
The toaster we have now looks pretty much like the one I grew up with, only slightly larger to accomodate bagel halves. The controls are exactly the same, with the exception of a “bagel” button. Maybe toasters just don’t need that much improvement.
This is why I was intrigued by Apple’s decision to call its new iPad “The New iPad.” I feel like they’re admitting, given what people use tablets for right now, The New iPad won’t need much improvement. This kind of makes sense to me, as tablets are hermaphrodites–they aren’t phones, and they’re not laptops. They’re great for web-surfing and playing games, but I don’t see them moving out of that niche. Sure, new models will have a faster CPU or more storage, but there’s only so much you want to do with a 10″ tablet.
I believe we are seeing the same trend in laptop screens. For a while it seemed like 17″ or even 19″ would be typical sizes, but as the rest of laptop hardware is getting smaller and lighter, screens seem to be settling in at around 11″ to 15″. Sure, there are some outliers, like the HP HDx 20, with its 20″ display, and hardcore gamers want bigger screens, but it seems most consumers are looking for sleeker models.
My current laptop is solid state, except for two cooling fans and has pixels smaller than I can see. Writing this article takes 4% of the CPU and even though I’m lazy about closing windows, I am only using 1/2 of the RAM. Sure, a few terabytes of storage might be nice, but until we move beyond the paradigm of a windowing operating system, I don’t think I’ll really need more. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind a week or two of battery life and batteries which would last a decade.
I really hope that someday soon, the computer fulfills its destiny and joins the ranks of the toaster–an appliance you buy once, does everything you need, and it pretty much just works.