The next frontier: cutting the cord for longer stretches. New chips that require less energy are emerging, and advances in battery technology will extend the time people can use their laptops unplugged in the coming years.

• Hands-on has its place.

In 2007, the iPhone made “multitouch” mainstream. Unlike ATM screens, which recognize one finger pushing on one spot at a time, the iPhone’s screen responds to pinching and swiping gestures made with multiple fingers. Microsoft Corp.’s coffee-table-sized Surface computer, designed for hotel lobbies and shops and also released in 2007, responds to similar gestures and can be operated by several people at once–as can SMART Technologies’ SMART Table.

Now, the PC is in on the action. Windows 7 includes more support for multitouch applications, making some basic touch commands work even on programs that weren’t designed for it. Users will see more laptops and “all-in-one” desktops–computers that stash all the technology in the case behind the screen–with multitouch screens. HP, Dell, and others have designed software intended to make it easy to flip through photos and music or browse the web with a fingertip instead of a mouse.

Apple, for its part, has multitouch trackpads for laptops and a multitouch mouse but says it isn’t interested in making a touch-screen Mac. Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook calls that “a gimmick.”

Will multitouch functionality replace the mouse and keyboard? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t become a useful part of the way users work with computers. Watching someone who has used a touch-screen computer for several months is interesting–he’ll reach to the screen to scroll down a web page just as fluidly as he types and uses the mouse.

Many of these new computing advances deal with changes in a user’s ability to move information and materials, and education is all about moving information to students, Enderle said.

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