Friday's debut of the Apple device is part of a trend of being able to carry all the power of a computer in your pocket.
Christmas comes Friday for gadget geeks and Apple fanboys when, at 6:00 p.m., all will be able to behold and buy the iPhone.
It wraps a cellphone, iPod, camera, Web browser, and e-mail reader in a package of plastic and touch-sensitive glass less than half an inch thick. Most features exist already on other smart phones that are cheaper than the $499 iPhone. But Apple is promising a smoother software experience, including the familiar Mac operating system and the Safari Web browser.
The iPhone and other new devices advance a trend toward putting our computer and the whole Internet in our pocket. That's promising to further blur work and play and expand Web use outside the home and office. It could also, say a minority of industry watchers, spell the decline of laptops.
"The industry is moving toward a convergence device. In the iPhone, the MP3 player, and the phone are converging along with some parts of the laptop," says Sramana Mitra, a Silicon Valley strategy consultant, who writes a tech blog, sramanamitra.com. "You push that a little bit further, maybe another three, four, or five functions of the laptop ... then the need for the laptop starts to diminish."
While a few companies are deploying workers with smart phones rather than laptops, and some techies talk of letting their laptops gather dust, any widespread transition is unlikely for at least five years – if it all.
A major hurdle, say analysts including Ms. Mitra, is the keyboard. If it's too small, crafting long e-mails, reports, or spreadsheets becomes difficult.
Some devices offer a mini keyboard; the iPhone opts for a touchscreen version. Either way, it's typing with two thumbs. One smart phone maker, Palm, announced the Foleo, a companion screen and keyboard that can be linked to a phone for more typing-heavy tasks.