What Will the Desktop Look Like in 5 Years?

By Ben Thacker

Think back about 10 years ago. Now try to remember what your desktop looked like, which devices were on it. Your computer might have been a tower, or a thick n’ heavy laptop. Your monitor was just as likely to be a clunky, deep CRT as it was to be a flat-panel model. And it had a small 17” square screen vs. widescreen. You had a wired keyboard, a wired mouse, an office landline phone with possibly a headset, a Franklin Covey organizer for on-the-go, and if you were lucky, maybe external speakers that you had to keep so low they were barely audible so you didn’t disturb your co-workers. And that was probably about it.

Now look at your desk today. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’ve got more devices working for you. There’s your laptop, you’ve got a flat-panel monitor, or dual monitors, with at least a 20” widescreen that’s HD quality. There’s still a keyboard, along with a mouse or trackball. But instead of wired, they might be wireless with a USB receiver or Bluetooth to cut the cord clutter.

Here’s my desk today. I work using 2 widescreen monitors and my smartphone.

Here’s my desk today. I work using 2 widescreen monitors and my smartphone.

And that laptop you’re using … it’s sleeker and more lightweight than previous ones, which means you probably have fewer USB ports to use. So, you’ve either got a docking station from your laptop manufacturer or a Universal Dock to plug in all your accessories. Your smartphone is now a fixture on your desk (with its fast charger), which has essentially turned your office VOIP phone into a fancy ornament. That also means you’ve probably ditched the Star Trek headset (a true blessing for bald guys like me who no longer have to deal with the weird head indentations those things would leave behind). Gone are those external speakers, replaced with ear buds so you can listen to music or get on conference calls without disturbing the people around you.

Sound about right?

All this got me thinking about what our desktops are going to look like 5 years from now. Technology is moving forward so fast that what might seem like a short amount of time can have big implications for Kensington. We have to constantly keep up with, or stay ahead of, trends to keep our competitive edge.

So, here’s where I see the desktop going …

Laptops: They will continue to get thinner, lighter and offer fewer ports. But 2-in-1 convertibles like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 are getting adopted in ever-increasing numbers as true laptop replacements for business professionals. I fully expect this trend to continue. With the expansion of USB Type C, fewer ports won’t mean diminished performance or less functionality. (I’ll have much more on Type C in my next post as I am amazed with USB Type C.)

Phones: Companies are adopting a BYOD culture where the employee can bring their own devices to work, including their smartphone for all their business calls. And why wouldn’t they. Smartphones are like mini computers these days. Email (work and personal), texting, snapping photos and video, expense apps like Concur, note taking, airline, rental car, hotel apps, etc. It’s incredible how far smartphones have come in the last 5 years, so imagine how much better they’ll be 5 years from now, especially with the trend of larger displays (i.e. iPhone 6 Plus).

With that, it’s going to mean the need for flexible Docking Stations that can fully integrate multiple devices with different operating systems for improved productivity. The phones will be plugged into advanced docks that will let people migrate seamlessly over to their laptop, or company cloud applications while also serving as a charger, a syncing station, and offer enhanced audio for phone calls and music.

The age of the traditional office VOIP phone is coming to an end. It’s one of the dead devices on the horizon. We can already start to see this taking hold.

In December 2014, Coca-Cola announced it was giving employees the option to ditch voicemail at their HQ in Atlanta. Only 6% decided to keep it.

In December 2014, Coca-Cola announced it was giving employees the option to ditch voicemail at their HQ in Atlanta. Only 6% decided to keep it.

JPMorgan just announced they are eliminating voicemail for everyone who doesn’t deal directly with customers. With more and more people strictly using cell phones, phone companies are preparing to end land line service entirely. In 2013, AT&T announced plans to eliminate landline service by 2020.

Keyboards: Kensington’s KP400 Switchable Keyboard allows users to quickly toggle connections between a wired laptop to their Bluetooth smartphone. I can see this technology expanding to include three, even four devices, all connected via Bluetooth, with multiple LEDs on the keyboard to indicate the current OS or device (green for Android, blue for Windows, etc.).

Monitors: With the 4K technology getting more affordable every year, monitors leveraging Ultra HD will be far more common. With a large 4K widescreen, workers can be more productive because they can clearly see so much more information on a single screen, and can really use the power of Windows split screen or cascading screens. In 5 years, whether the standard will be 8K or larger, I am less clear. However, the resolution the monitor provides now should reduce the future number of dual display desks out there into more desks that use a large, single display where end-users use split-screen or cascade for their programs vs. the two-monitor approach.

Wireless Power: This is coming, and in 5 years the technology will be advanced enough that it’s going to be considered mainstream. Right now, most of the wireless power solutions are using inductive technology (Qi, PMA) at 5W. They are proven, but there are some UX challenges (can only charge one device at a time and must align receiver and transmitter perfectly – almost as easy to just plug in the cable!). Resonance technology (A4WP) is the likely wave of the future, with the ability to charge multiple devices with more power (20W+), allowing it to power up smartphones, tablets, wearables, and even notebooks simultaneously.

Of course, these predictions are just scratching the surface for what’s possible. One thing’s for sure … I can’t wait to see what happens.