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The PC monitor is dead. Meet the new smart monitor

Mark Hachman | Aug. 26, 2013
Notebooks, tablets, displays: They're all collapsing into each other, and the rise of the Android-powered "smart monitor" is the display industry's timely response.

We worry far too much about the desktop PC becoming a relic of a bygone age. Our focus, instead, should be on the monitor that the PC connects to. Indeed, as we use more and more mobile devices with integrated screens—notebooks, tablets, and smartphones—we pay much less attention to the aging, dumb monitors sitting on our desks.

But monitor makers know the score—and now they're fighting back. Meet the monitor of the future: It's smart, connected, and in some cases portable. Inside isn't just an LCD panel, a backlight, and some logic tying it all together. Instead, it's looking more and more like a tablet, complete with a CPU, a touchscreen, storage, and a full-fledged Android operating system.

Wait-wait-wait, you say. What's the difference between a smart monitor and an all-in-one PC? Or a portable display and a tablet? Today, not much. And doesn't connecting a keyboard to a smart monitor reproduce the functionality of a docked notebook? Yes, absolutely. But as computing components shrink in size and become more modular, manufacturers of all stripes (and this includes monitor manufactuers) gain the flexibility to try out new concepts.

Here's what it means for you: Over time, manufacturers hope the smart monitor will replace the traditional family desktop PC. By itself, the smart monitor will serve as an inexpensive, casual computing environment for Web browsing and simple games. Connected to a laptop or tablet, however, the smart monitor becomes "dumb" at the touch of a button, letting the laptop or tablet's CPU and OS run the show.

And over time, as embedded CPUs become cheaper and more prevalent, smart monitors will simply push older, "dumb" monitors aside.

That's the thinking, anyway. Rhoda Alexander, a veteran display analyst with IHS iSuppli, calls the smart monitor category "experimental" and "ill-defined" as it pivots between tablets and all-in-ones. Nonetheless, she says, designing a smart monitor is a natural development for the display market.

"Instead of sitting back and waiting to see what happens in the monitor market, [monitor makers] are trying to grow share and make products to become more competitive," she explains. "They're going to try a lot of different spins on how they go to market," just like the tablet vendors, she says.

"This is the big lesson of the tablet market," Alexander continues. "If you create a compelling use case, the product just flies off the shelf. If you don't have that use case, you can suck it up the wazzoo."

Right now, smart monitors notwithstanding, that's just what the desktop LCD panel market is doing, with a steady year-over-year decline, as measured by NPD DisplaySearch. And a declining market means declining prices—great for consumers, but troublesome for monitor makers who have seen their profits disappear.


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