When I recently checked out a "very low end" smartphone of 2015 I couldn't help noticing how vastly different and improved things are compared to smartphones sold a couple of years ago. I'll write a follow up article about this but I think the scene should be set first with a comparison: What happened in desktop/laptop computing since 2009?
I chose 2009 for this post as this was the year I bought a 17" laptop mainly for stationary use to replace an aging tower PC. Since my usage became more mobile since then I had to replace this laptop for everyday use with a smaller device in the meantime. Nevertheless I still use that laptop today, 6 years later (!), for streaming Netflix, Youtube and other things. So while I still use this 6 year old computer any phone from that era has long gone to digital oblivion.
So is that 6 year old laptop old and outdated? I guess that depends on how you look at it. At the time I bought the laptop for 555 euros with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 256 GB hard disk, USB 2, a 17" display and Windows Vista. Even if I hadn't upgraded the machine, Windows Vista pretty much looks like Windows 7 which is still widely used today. I could even upgrade the machine to Windows 8 or Windows 10, to be shipped in a few weeks from now and it would still run well on a 4 GB machine. As a matter of fact, many low end laptops sold today still come equipped with 4 GB of RAM. Hard disk sizes have increased a bit since then, USB 3 ports are now standard, CPUs are perhaps twice as powerful now (see here and here) and the graphics capabilities required for gaming are more advanced. But for my (non-gaming) purposes I don't feel a lot of difference.
As I switched to Linux in the meantime my software evolution path was different. Windows was banished from the machine at some point and replaced by Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu's graphical user interface looked different in 2009, a lot of eye candy has been added since then. Today I run Ubuntu 15.05 on the machine and I upgraded to a 256 MB SSD which makes it in effect look no different from my almost up to date notebook. It also still behaves pretty much the same when it comes to program startup and reaction times. The major difference is that the fan is louder compared to my current laptop due to the still higher power requirements of laptops of the 2009 time frame compared to today's machines.
So what has changed since 2009 in the laptop world? Prices have certainly come down since then a bit and many people these days buy laptops in the €300 to €400 range (taxes included). Technical specs have improved a bit but the look and feel is pretty much the same. Companies have started experimenting with touch screens and removable displays to create a more "tablet-like" experience, trying to import some of the fascinating advances that have happened elsewhere since. But that's still a niche at best. In other words, hardware and software evolution on the desktop have very much slowed down compared to the 1990's which was the second half of the home computer area and the decade of the rise of the PC and Windows. Things already slowed in the 2000's but that decade still saw the rise of easier to use Windows and prices for laptops coming down significantly.
Now try to remember what kind of mobile phone or smartphone you had in 2009 and compare that to what you have today and you'll see a remarkable difference to the story above. More about that in a follow up post.