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Before you roll your eyes and expect yet another “tablets are the future” article, think again.

News flash: tablets are not a panacea. There are still plenty of situations that make desktops, and even laptops, a no-brainer. Shock? Disbelief? Blasphemy?!

Whatever.  If you actually let your blood pressure rise because of articles like this, you need serious help. We’re talking about tools here, not cures for starvation and cancer.

Here’s a quote from a sergeant on a local police department Spec Ops team:

“Tablets are neat, but in our daily work we don’t want to touch the screens. It’s bad enough touching a keyboard. We would destroy a tablet screen with the grime we get on our hands.”

And another from an graphics/animation engineer,

“I like tablets for casual browsing and maybe some social networking. But for 3d modeling and animation and doing lots of typing and code writing, I prefer to sit at a desk and use a big screen.  I have four screens actually.  That’s just not something I’d use a tablet for.”

And another from an office staff worker,

“I type fast. I’ve never found a tablet I’m comfortable with for the amount of typing I do. Tapping a glass screen all day is not fun. I also dont like smudges on my screen.”

But guess what? I’m going to throw you a curve ball now.  I’m not really talking about functionality or logistics aspects.  I’m talking about business efficiency and cost. I’m talking about the retail channel. I’m talking about profit margins.

The vast majority of office users, call center reps, secretaries, document specialists, teachers, students, and warehouse workers, don’t need a high-end,  cutting-edge computer. They often skate by comfortably on relatively meager specs. The vast majority of them also never crack open that big, spacious, dust-filled case to add or replace anything. It hums along until its replaced or it dies.

Yet we buy them huge towers with lots of internal air space for adding things. But they almost never add anything. They complain about how much room it takes up on their desk. So they buy a laptop and docking station to free up room and be mobile.

But the laptop remains on their desk more than it ever leaves. And then they add a big screen, a keyboard and a mouse. Soon it has all the familiar pictures, post-it notes and knick-knacks surrounding it too. What is that? A new type of “desktop” computer. Thats what.

I have actually seen that very same scenario repeated about 1045 times. Okay. Maybe 1044.

Now. If you take a typical low/mid level laptop, strip off the screen, keyboard, and touchpad, what’s left? A perfectly capable computer for 95% of typical business users. And guess what? It has a battery inside as well.

Plug in the monitor, keyboard and mouse (or go wireless on some of it) and it’s just like that laptop sitting in the dock with the lid closed. Only this costs a lot less. Or at least it should.

You pay extra for a UPS on a desktop and it has ten to twenty times the volume to house it internally. Basically, everything a typical business user needs could fit in a 5″ x 5″ x 1″ case with some ports and a power plug. Done.

Toss in an Intel Core M chip and throw out the fan too. Now you’re using less power, making less heat and with no fan you’re greener than a politician’s fingers.

Screws? I watched an interview with an Intel engineer back in 2008 who mentioned the cost savings of switching from various sized metal screws to standardized plastic clips and it was an astounding figure. Ive tried to find that online but ran out of luck.

When someone scoffs at plastic connectors, I ask how RJ-45 works, and why it is that USB and display port stuff are okay without screws, but VGA connectors need screws? Im sorry, but its just dumb as hell.

If you really sit back and look at a typical desktop computer as if you just landed on Earth, you’d have to start asking a few questions about “why this” and “why that”. Some aspects haven’t changed since the 1980’s.

From all sides it would save costs. Fewer materials. Smaller packaging. More efficient shipping and storage. Smaller footprint.  On and on.  It worked for cars, phones and portable music players. So the arguments against the rationale are not holding up.

(If you’re already thinking “Dave, look at how phones are getting bigger”, I’d ask you to compare the biggest smartphone today with the smallest cordless phone we had in the 1980’s. Case closed)

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Is this concept new? No!  It’s been around. Apple’s Mac Mini. Dell’s Zino. Intel’s Nuc.  The list goes on and on. Yet the brochures that are shoved in the faces of business customers offer anything but.  What they call “small form factor” for business customers is still bulkier than they really need. The really small form factor products are always aimed at home buyers.  Dumb.

I’ve heard some rather bizarre explanations that vendors are just responding to customer demand. I’ve also worked in many large corporate, government and non-profit environments.  All I’ve ever seen is a never-ending evolution of chassis, boards, connectors. And all I’ve heard is bitching.  None of the techs I’ve asked can recall being asked by their vendors what they’d like to see done in future products.

So if these vendors are responding to customer demand, I have to wonder which customers. Martians?

I’m not saying there’s no need for large desktops. There’s always going to be a need for high-end stuff that needs room to add things.  But those should be the exception not the rule.

We as humans seem to be very demanding of innovation and change with other parts of our lives. Cars. TV’S. Stereos. Medicine. Food.  Clothing. Wearable electronic stuff. Game consoles. Even shoes. But the computers we sit in front of every day at work? Nope. It’s like Stonehenge.

Would you like to see desktops get slimmed down more?

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