We are probably three to five years out from when personal computers, as we currently know them, are going to be extinct. However, we may not be comfortable with the replacements while the business world is going to have some serious headaches moving forward.
Both Microsoft and Samsung (News - Alert) are laying the groundwork for the true post-PC era, the former in software and the latter in hardware. At the Microsoft Ignite conference earlier this month, the company demonstrated how a Windows 10 phone can be the centerpiece of a person's computing "world," acting as a mobile device and seamlessly transition to one that can drive productivity applications with a keyboard, mouse and large screen monitor.
With the appropriate software, heavy-lifting applications such as computer aided design (CAD) and others can be run as apps in the cloud, with the client device simply handling the heavy lifting. Microsoft (News - Alert) wants you personally along with your place of employment to do everything in the cloud. I wouldn't be surprised if we see vertical software business bundles, either offered directly by Microsoft and/or by third-parties that roll specific apps together with an Office 365 subscription, because everyone needs a word processor, spreadsheet, and a presentation app along with email and real-time communications (RTC) capabilities.
If the phone is the core computing device and has enough CPU power to do most things locally, people don't need a tower or a mini-PC, but a phone "docking station" or "power pad" that can charge the phone and support a wireless keyboard, monitor, high-speed network connection, and local storage. WiGig will be the electronic bridge between the mobile device or devices and the power pad.
Will people be able to trust the cloud for storing their vital documents? We're already at that point in photography, with our camera phones pumping gigabits of memories into Dropbox and Facebook (News - Alert). Owning a digital camera is no longer a necessity, but a hobbyist or professional tool. People are willing to relinquish control of their vital documents if they believe they are being stored securely and are able to conveniently access them.
The phone is likely to be the central form factor, but people are going to carry other devices as well. Samsung has received a patent on a device that allows a phone to effectively plug into a laptop shell, providing a larger screen, keyboard, and more battery power. Microsoft is currently promoting its Surface line of tablets as a replacement for the laptop, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a full blown Windows 10 phone that could "dock" into a tablet. If we wanted to get really crazy, I could say a day when Microsoft makes a tablet dock for the Apple iPhone (News - Alert) -- forget about Android, too many different device styles.
For the consumer, a phone as the primary compute device works well. But businesses may have trouble figuring out if they need a wider BYOD strategy, what things they can shift to the cloud, and what items really need to be kept on dedicated computing hardware for security reasons. A good chunk of the SMB and corporate world is holding onto desktop phones with both hands, despite efforts on the part of vendors to move to a BYOD telecommuting environment. Microsoft may have a long term upper hand in shifting to a single operating system, since it would enable employees to effectively BYOD their own computers -- assuming they purchase a Windows Phone (News - Alert) -- with workspace and necessary apps running in the cloud. If not, Microsoft has made it clear it will work with Android and iOS, so long as everyone comes to a Microsoft-cloud based service at the end of the day.