Sometimes old habits, and old hardware, stick around for a lot longer than you might expect.
Take the keyboard and screen of the average laptop (just like the one I’m typing on now), which still mimic the layout of a far older piece of technology — the typewriter and the paper that emerges from it.
Certainly when display technologies were more basic there was a reason to stick to that basic format: but laptops don’t have the same mechanical limitations of typewriters, and advances in screen technology means there’s absolutely no reason to assume every laptop must look the same.
A few years ago there was a burst of enthusiasm for 2-in-1 laptops that could detach or rotate the screen, which have now been incorporated into the mainstream. And now CES 2023 has shown us some more fun options – dual-screen laptops that can operate in landscape or portrait mode, laptops with secondary E Ink displays, or haptic number pads, or screens that fold and slide. Now it’s true that laptop oddities tend to appear at CES every year (last year had a few folding-screen laptops). So, you might say, what makes this year’s crop any different?
For me, perhaps it’s the rise of hybrid working that’s making the difference.
Many knowledge workers are no longer stuck in the office every day, and are finding new places – sofas, kitchen tables and beds – from which to work.
Maybe the traditional clamshell laptop form factor doesn’t work so well in these new locations. Maybe one flat screen isn’t enough. Maybe you need two, or some E Ink, or a bending or folding screen to get work done just how you want to do it. Perhaps you even want to replicate the two-screen set up you have in the office, but while sitting in a café. (Actually, even if the technology exists, please don’t do that, ever.)
You could argue that we’ve actually been able to decide exactly what size screen we want to use ever since resizable windows for different applications were introduced to Windows in the late 80s.
And the shape or size of your laptop might seem like a trivial thing to care about, or even mention.
But I think there’s a link between the tools we use and what we make, and PCs and laptops are still the main vehicle for all sorts of creative work (far more than tablets or smartphones).
We’re into a new era of work, and that means new ideas about about how we run the working week — and it means we need new tools, too.