If you are paying attention to the noise level coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show this week, it's pretty clear that PC vendors want you to start chucking your keyboard.
The assumption that drives this effort is that touchscreen user interfaces will provide a more immersive experience, while allowing PC manufacturers to shrink notebook devices. The "slate" notebook system from Hewlett-Packard that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated provides such an example.
For a while now, Microsoft, first with the Surface Table and most recently in Windows 7, has been pushing the concept of using touchscreens in everyday applications. But while Microsoft likely will make that vision a reality later this year, Apple is expected to roll out a slate system shortly that borrows many of the touch concepts associated with its popular iPhone.
Touch obviously works on smartphones, where the size of the device makes it impractical to use a keyboard. But on larger devices, there might be little enthusiasm for ditching a traditional keyboard. For better or worse, millions of people around the globe are trained to input information using a traditional QWERTY keyboard. It might work for devices designed primarily for surfing the Web, but over the long haul, touch interfaces and keyboards will be deployed together, especially as devices become able to run in dual notebook and netbook modes.
Of course, the PC industry wants everybody to have multiple devices. But over the long haul, it looks just as likely that notebook, netbook and smartphone technologies will converge into devices powered by future generations of energy-efficient multicore processors, where each processor core can be dedicated to a specific function.
That may take awhile, so odds are good that we'll use touchscreens not only on our PCs, but also on physical and even virtual walls in the not-too-distant future. But in the end, chances are there also will be a keyboard nearby.