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Portable computing: Welcome to the future

Are you sitting comfortably? Then watch the TV on the move

Tablets, ultrabooks, Windows 8... the portable connected computing of the future is here (and it's brilliant for watching the telly).

We often report on the future gazing of people cleverer even than the combined big brains of Team PC Advisor. Hard to believe, I know. And some of the weird and wonderful predictions that have passed down have been just that (hard to believe). But think about it: sit back, take stock, and you'll realise we're living in that future.

(For people of my age this refers to 'Tomorrow's World'. Older readers may prefer to reference The Jetsons. Younger: 'Minority Report'. I'm happy either way.)

We've spent years talking about on-demand- and mobile TV. It always seemed a little far-fetched. When I had a great big clunking 'portable' 7in TV, it was neither particularly portable nor much of a TV. The concept of watching everything, when you want, anywhere, seemed positively alien.

And I always struggled to see the connection between ISPs and entertainment. Why did NTL try to buy ITV? Or Sky stretch its wings into broadband, and BT make the return journey?

The answer can be summed up in one word: 'foresight'.

Taking Sky as an example, a chunk of its customers pay only once for TV, broadband and phonecalls. They watch that TV on smartphones, tablets and laptops, wherever they are, and with Zeebox onboard now, Sky is going social. Virgin and BT are far down a similar road, with greater mobile broadband connectivity to boot (but I focussed on Sky because of the significant chunk of my earnings that are putting the Murdoch grandkids through college).

The marriage of connectivity and content has happened, and those telcos unable to provide every slice of the pie risk missing out. But, as ever, content is king, and there are myriad ways to enjoy connected entertainment, regardless of who connects you. See also: Best apps: Best video on-demand apps.

(Indeed, after I wrote this piece Sky announced that Anytime+ is now available to all subscribers, and Sky announced Now TV. There's no escape, people, no matter who your ISP is.)

Tablets: the PC of the future

Staying in the future brings us to tablets: a form-factor Microsoft has pushed since it introduced Windows for Pen Computing in the 90s. How galling it must be to sit back and watch Apple take the plaudits and the cash with its successful iPad.

HP and Microsoft tried to pre-empt the iPad by announcing the Slate PC just before the iPad launched in 2010. But, unlike Apple, Microsoft didn't have a product to take to market, or a massive cohort of users who had already invested a fortune in music and movies via iTunes. Once again content is king – although, as Amazon is finding out with its under-performing Kindle Fire tablet, it helps if the hardware is good.

As we explain in our New iPad review, Apple's latest tablet is that and more.

It's unlikely that the iPad can be overhauled, so great is its dominance, but that hasn't stopped Microsoft wanting to convert its dominance on the desktop into influence in portable computing. Existing, Intel-based Windows tablets are nothing to shout about, and Windows Phone remains niche, but Windows 8 is coming, and it will shake things up. Version 8 is Windows' biggest change since 3.1 gave way to 95. We've spent a few weeks playing with the latest release, and bring you our verdict in our story:  Windows 8: the complete guide. It's a compelling read.

(I'm not being immodest - or any more so than usual - the mighty Jim Martin wrote it.)

Of course, portable computing doesn't end with tablets and smartphones, any more than the ‘PC' in PC Advisor refers only to desktop PCs. There's life in the Microsoft/Intel partnership, as the space between desktop and smartphone is filled by an increasing range of devices. Powerful and portable, Ultrabooks offer some of the advantages of tablets, with all the capabilities of laptops. But are they any good? Read our ultrabook reviews  to find out. And as you're doing so, try to forget that the prototype for the Ultrabook is a PC called the Air, made by none other than Apple. Them again.

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