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The Great Computing Form Factor Debate

form factor debate

What is the great form factor debate? Essentially, it’s about the size and shape of computing devices in the future.

Predicting adoption rates and life cycles of technologies is hard. Consumers adopt a technology when it meets (or creates) a human need. They use it until something better comes along. Consider the facsimile machine. An analog technology, FAX was invented in the 1880’s and went mainstream in the 1960’s. Today, digital scanning has made the FAX obsolete.

On the other hand, the keyboard seems to last forever. The QWERTY keyboard was not designed to make typing easy for humans. Typewriter engineers were more concerned with preventing mechanical jamming on the most popular letters. Now, 150 years later, we are still stuck with it, even on mobile devices.

Smart phones are the most popular form factor these days. These have nearly saturated the market. For many, laptops have replaced desktops, and smart phones have replaced laptops. Smart phones have gotten bigger and are displacing tablets. Some pundits suggest businesses will shift to mobile devices.

Personally, I see a hybrid situation emerging. People use both a larger form factor (laptop) and a smaller one (phone). Each serves a different purpose. Devices will be synchronized – that’s the key. For example, I synchronize mail, calendar and contacts across all. As a result, nothing is missed.

Visitors to my web sites still use larger devices, but smaller ones are catching up. Here are the numbers:

  • large 67% (desktop, laptop)
  • small 25% (phone)
  • medium 8% (tablet)

Consequently, my web sites are designed to be responsive. Graphics, text, and menus are automatically scaled to the visitor’s screen size.

Form Factor Debate and Kids

For kids, the form factor debate may already be over. My grandchildren are comfortable with tablets and phones for playing games and watching videos. Many youngsters have never seen a desktop, let alone used one.

Schools are the battleground. Administrators are banning smart phones in some schools. In others, kids use phones for learning. Regardless of policy, smartphones are the dominant computing form factor for children and teens. Although they have access to larger form factors (desktops, laptops, tablets)  they spend most of their time on smart phones.

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