So I did a lot more thinking about the computer. This is a follow-up to the story that Nokia is now legitimately considered a computer maker, not for all phones, but for its smartphones (as is Apple for the iPhone, RIM for the Blackberry etc all smartphone makers).
And I reported that when smartphones are included in the total count of all computers sold in 2008, RIM becomes the seventh largest maker, ahead of Toshiba who invented the laptop; Apple jumps ahead on the charts past several "pure PC makers" due to its iPhone and iPod Touch, to fourth biggest computer maker, but the biggest, is no longer Dell or HP, it is now Nokia, purely by the volume of how many smartphones it sells.
I've engaged in a good discussion over at Forum Oxford about how fair it is to consider a smartphone a computer today, in 2008, and there is dissent over there, but a lot of acceptance. Its hardly a "neutral" environment for such expert views, however, being a mobile related group, who are more prone to accept mobile related views..
So I put a comparison of five types of computers, by generations if you will (this is not the same classification as the computer industry has, for they have more generations in the mainframe era for example. But I think this illustrates the trends well. Here is my summary as a table.
Several definitional issues I need to cover, some terms are a bit cryptic in the table and some need a clarifying note.
DEFINITIONS IN THE ABOVE TABLE
First, most of the statistics are for a "typical installation at about mid-point in the time period". So when you see the Desktop PC column starting at 1974, the specs listed are NOT for 1974, they are for about 1981, an IBM PC for example. Same for the laptop era, not the first Toshiba 1000 from 1985, but rather a typical IBM Thinkpad from about 1993.
Also very importantly, note that the typical computer innovations of a newer era, can often include upgrades to older types of computers. So after 1985, the older (Desktop PCs) got many of the features and functions of the laptop PC era. Same with the smartphone era, many desktops and laptops have some of those features now.
The size is the total space needed by a typical installation. Thus a desktop PC setup, as typical around 1981, had a minimum of three units, a desktop CPU unit, a separate monitor and a separate keyboard. Very typical was the printer, and also often a tape storage cartridge, a separate second floppy drive, perhaps a separate hard drive, and possibly a separate modem, etc.
MIPS is a computer processing speed term Millions of Instructions Per Second. It is now considered an archaic term with more relevant measures, such as MegaFLOPS (don't ask..) but MIPS is the only way we can compare computer performance across 65 years. I've indicated the typical top speed at a given point in time which is indicated.
Input. On the smartphone input I have motion meaning motion sensor like in the iPhone, the N82, etc.
Output. The desktop PC output I've indicated B/W text display and printout. That means the monitor was typically monochrome and the monitor display from typical programs was in text output mode, so we didn't see pictures and graphics unless you had a more expensive graphics card installed in the computer and bought a graphics-compatible display like an EGA or VGA monitor to your PC. Also on output I have internet for the smartphone era. This means we now can output directly to the internet, such as our pictures to Flickr, our blogs and Twitters and Qiks etc.
Users. On the desktop PC era I say PCs can have 1-3 users, that means for example a family may share a computer or at the office our secretary could use our computer as well as we did, etc. By the time of the laptop era, the assumption is that laptops are semi-personal, we don't expect to share them. On smartphones I say person has 1-2, meaning a typical smartphone user may easily have two phones, say a Blackberry and an iPhone.
OS. OS means Operating System. On the custom computer era I say no OS. By that I mean, the application and operating system was one and the same, there was no distinct OS as such. GUI means Graphical User Interface, ie Mac OS or Windows. On the smartphone column when I say mobile, I mean a mobile (and simplified) variant of typical PC OS's like Windows and OS/X (Macintosh) and Linux. Or mobile-specific OS's like Symbian.
Apps. Apps means applications as in software applications. On Mainframes I say progr. lang. which I mean programming language based apps. A language compiler like Pascal, Fortran or Cobol was used and programs written on those languages.
Killer app. Means Killler Application, what was the reason to buy a whole computer system.
Focus. Nation sec means National security, ie nuclear weapon design or cracking enemy spy codes etc.
Network. BBS means bulletin board system, a smaller network of often localized connections, used for email, chat groups etc. a network before the internet. WAP means Wireless Applications Protocol. Most phones have WAP and most users think this is the "mobile internet", and it tends to be tightly controlled by the mobile operators, a kind of walled garden.
Reach. I couldn't think of a better term. I mean if you wanted to move your computer, what is the practical range you can move and still maintain a connection. With a desktop, you can move your PC to the other table, if the phone line is long enough. With a laptop on a WiFi connection, it is roughly one large room (at a time). But with a smartphone is it even as big as a whole nation, with your standard tariff, and international, if you're willing to pay international data roaming charges.
Population. Very important, the columns describe the growth from and to, in that period, including ALL computer types during that era. The 2001-2008 column for smartphones includes mainframes, desktops, laptops and smartphones.
Note first, that every trend in every dimension, goes in the same direction. The computers have become smaller, lighter, simpler, easier to use, with more ways to control them and to get outputs, with better connectivity. Computers need less trained people, and less people to operate and computers cost less and perform faster.
In every trend there is a similar leap from the start of the PC desktop era, to the laptop PC era, and now from the laptop PC era to the smartphone era. Not much greater leap, very similar leap. And compared to the mainframe era vs the desktop PC era, the changes were far more dramatic than now comparing laptops and smartphones.
If you compare the difference between a smartphone today and the column for the laptop era, I argue it is no different than any of the previous transitions. Not by ANY of the criteria. We've always had similar, disruptive and at times traumatic shifts to the industry, and this is a natural progression on this path. But yes, study the table and do give us your comments.