Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner says we're watching the transformation of the PC.
Rattner, who is attending the International CES show, said the traditional PC couldn't survive in the age of the gadget. He said we're in the midst of the rebirth of the PC.
"It's absolutely a time of dramatic change," Rattner told Computerworld. "I think what we're watching is the transformation of the PC into an Internet device. It was demanded of the PC. You could not be a classical PC in the age of the smartphone and the tablet and these other Internet-connected devices. The PC is the last to be unleashed from the traditional tethers that kept it a PC and not truly an Internet device."
On Tuesday, two other Intel executives touted the recent advances in the PC, particularly the hybrid machines that are equal parts laptop and tablet. Navin Shenoy, an Intel vice president and general manager, went so far as to say he expects to see more PC innovation in the next 12 months than the industry has seen in the past 18 years.
Rattner, who didn't discredit the innovation of the last two decades quite as strongly, did say that we're entering a time of great change.
He noted the coming of perceptual computing, which will enable users to discard their keyboards and mice and instead control their computers with hand gestures, voice and even facial expressions. We're also not far from having laptops that have all-day battery life, he said.
"It's amazing how PC users were satisfied with three or four hours of battery life," Rattner said. "Internet devices come to market and they run at the very least all day, and you don't run around constantly searching for a wall outlet to plug into. You walk into a meeting at Intel and everyone plugs in a laptop and I make a point of not plugging in my laptop just to see how long the thing will run."
Rattner also is looking to the day of an always-on laptop that even when shut down will note an incoming email and will wake up just long enough to grab it and have it waiting for the user.
"We keep enough of the wireless networking subsystem powered up so when we detect not just an incoming packet but an incoming mail packet, we wake up and take that email in and go back to sleep," he explained. "It actually takes changes to the Wi-Fi chips and the cellular radios to do that very efficiently. If you were constantly waking up the entire platform every time an email came in, trust me, you'd probably only have two hours of battery life."
All of these changes will alter the way we think about and use our PCs, Rattner said.
For instance, Rattner has seen research into building a laptop with two screens - one where the screen typically sits and one on the laptop base where the keyboard usually sits. A user might watch a move on the upright screen and tweet about it on the touch-enabled base screen.
"I think this is a period of exploration," said Rattner. "As I travel the globe and look at all the innovation taking place in terms of form factor and materials, it never ceases to amaze me the incredible range of ideas that this sort of rebirth of the PC has ushered in. It's just extraordinary."
One thing that has Rattner intrigued about the computers of the next five years is how much they should work together to act like actual friends or colleagues, and become "true personal assistants" rather than just digital gadgets.
These smarter devices will alert us to traffic jams on our morning commute route and offer an alternate drive. They'll also sense our moods, when we're angry or frustrated and possibly say, "You might want to try that again," instead of simply popping up an error message.
"Our phone, laptop, tablet, car, house - they'll all have an equal knowledge or an equal understanding of you and how you live your life," Rattner said. "We're going to move into an age where we will literally think of these devices as friends, colleagues, associates, assistants in a much more personal way. We'll probably have to choose a persona for them."