Dear Tablet: You’ll Never Replace My Laptop

Lots of people are predicting and betting on the rise of the tablet in 2011. Here’s the most recent analyst version of that song.

Interestingly, I got a chance to try living without my laptop this week when I briefly hit the road, forgetting my Macbook power cord. The battery on my old Macbook only lasts about two hours, and that’s with the display in conference mode, i.e. turned way down so the dude behind me can’t snoop so easily.

I freaked out a bit when I realized this omission at my hotel, but I knew I’d be able to use Rich’s (@rmanalan) or Anthony’s (@anthonyslai) cord at the office. Plus, I had my iPad.

So, I treated the short trip as a litmus test of sorts for dumping the laptop.

My conclusion isn’t all that surprising: you can dump the laptop, unless you create.

If you write anything, long emails, documents, code, forget about it. Don’t believe anyone who says the soft keypad is fine.

It’s fine like driving on a donut spare tire is fine.

Yeah, you can do it, but no one wants to for very long.

But why not get a keyboard to attach to your tablet? Yeah, let’s replace that bulky laptop with a skinny tablet and a bag full of accessories. Reminds me of the Sony Vaio I used in 2001; all the cords and accessories I needed to make it useful outweighed the actual laptop.

Oh, and if you’re about to push the netbook idea, that story applies to you. I’ve recently seen a few people rocking netbooks; their postures tell me all I need to know about that contortionist experience. The keyboard’s just too small for average-sized hands.

So, before you make the jump, or get psyched because you’re getting one from work, think closely about what you’ll be doing.

If you’re consuming information and replying in short form, get excited. That tablet will rock your world.

If you’re creating content, don’t let them pry that laptop out of your fingers.

Thoughts? Find the comments.




  1. Couldn’t agree more. Of course there are people who like to go on the road with more than one device natch.

  2. Sure, myself among them. I had all three with me: phone, tablet and laptop. And I used each of them. That still ruins the portability of the tablet though, essentially making it an accessory of your laptop.

    I’m not sure most people who travel a lot will want to be weighed down by small, medium and large computing devices, making the choice either between phone and tablet or tablet and laptop. The tablet is in the uncomfortable middle.

  3. Last flight I did from SFO to DUB I had three laptops (long story). Doable, but not desirable. For me the decision isn’t just about what can be packed onto the laptop or tablet. Or not. There’s a whole visceral, emotional thing. Tablets just ain’t me. I have to have the big lump of MBP metal in front of me. Even if you could shove jDev, Dreamweaver, PhotoShop onto the iPad I still wouldn’t want it. Nothing to hide behind. Shy drummer syndrome or something. Let’s face it, we all sneak a look at what the guy in the seat next to us in the airport is using and enjoy it when people ask what you have on there and what do you. I think the whole personal statement thing about personal technology is often dismissed, even in the enterprise space.

  4. A regular keyboard (and/or mouse) can be plugged into a netbook USB port. Maybe hotels will start supplying keyboards in the same way they do hairdryers and irons. That said, there is a security risk in plugging an unknown device into your machine’s USB [key loggers to start with], so perhaps not.
    Some TVs accept monitor cables, but netbooks with an HDMI output would be easy to connect to a hotel TV for use as a monitor.

  5. That last point about personal technology is creeping into the enterprise. Many people assume that since we all rock Macs that we’ve somehow gamed the system and got them from procurement.

    This isn’t the case, since we all independently made the choice to use what we want to do our work, regardless of who paid for it, i.e. we work on our personal machines.

    It speaks volumes about the enterprise way though.

    Over the past three years, I’ve noticed a shift at OOW to more Macs, the only large gathering of enterprise users I attend. However, I suspect they’re corporate purchased.

    Portable devices (phones, tablets) are where the real bubbling up is happening, if you believe my survey results. Nearly everyone said they did work on personal devices.

    So, I think the line is blurring and will soon be gone forever, good point.

  6. Funny you mention that, I just saw a post about pwning a computer via the USB connection to a phone.

    My point is that if you have to extend the device, it’s not good enough for you bc you’re relying on an external tool to make it more usable.

    The supply of extension devices tells me there’s demand, i.e. people feel the device is too constrained.

  7. Funny about the netbook, my cubemate has an hp on his desk he’s supposed to get working, only a few months old, not only is it too small to be useful, but it’s already fried. As it is sitting there endlessly running chkdsk, various people walk by and comment about how uselessly sized it is.

    Surely the physical input usage is the defining parameter for usefulness for mobile devices, but I don’t think the laptop configuration is the best. If you actually put it on your lap, you fry your gonads or are just generally unstable, so you need something to put it on anyways – seatback tray, table or whatever. The various train configurations I ride have many facing seats, some of which have tables – the ones that don’t are less used by those using their laptops, with the exception of those just watching movies or looking at pictures on their phones or tablets. The seats with a seatback tray are much preferred.

    Definitely a pertinent point about extending the device – power cords for phones in cars can be a mess – but I’m not convinced that is not simply a topology and physical management problem. Imagine a screen floating in front of you, and gloves giving your favorite tactile typing feedback. OK, total science fiction. Now imagine a tablet sized screen light enough to be mounted on thin wires you can make into a base for any surface, your favorite keyboard and headphones wireless and light, and the thin wires going to a pocket device that actually has the power and processor, and the wires under control. Is that still science fiction? Eyeglass displays still have a ways to go…

    The thing about tablets is they don’t cannibalize laptops. But they do overlap in displays. So DT has it part right and all wrong – this will indeed be the year of tablet, perhaps we’ll see some new and interesting apps, but you hit the nail on content creation. To think everyone is going to be videographers – well, perhaps as a fad, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to read and write. And a book still beats a podcast in usable information bandwidth.

  8. Moans Nogood (of OakTable fame) ditched his laptop for an iPad plus keyboard for a while last year. Not sure if he’s still going cold turkey now. You could definitely do it at a conference. Leave all the peripherals in the hotel and just take the iPad out during the day. When you get back, flesh out the notes you took with the aid of the keyboard. Having said that, I’m a Laptop, iPad plus phone guy too. 🙂

    The thing that bugs me about the netbooks is not the keyboard but the screen. Tablets do clever things to make you think the screens are bigger, like being able to quickly resize the text. The netbooks I’ve tried require you to scroll endlessly. They are not practical because they have not adapted the user interface to suit the hardware restrictions.

    The thing to remember about this debate is we (as techies) are not normal people. We want to write programs, compile stuff, upgrade hardware, run server software on out laptops etc. Normal people don’t do this. They answer emails and struggle to fill the 140 character limit on twitter. Tablets and netbooks were never going to satisfy us, but are perfect for our families. 🙂



  9. Love Swype, blogged it here in the past, can’t use it w Cyanogen anymore on my EVO bc HTC deploys it via OTA now.

  10. Interesting point about screensize and netbooks. I suspect you’re correct since they run variants of big boy OSes. I never got a Cr-48, but it seems like Google accounted for building from scratch vs. repurposing when designing them.

    I absolutely agree with your point about not being regular people, and I do think (and did mention) that for less heavy users, tablets provided by work would be awesome. We’ll soon see how that will play out, though bc the tablet market is just now passing the early adopters and heading into the bell curve.

  11. Re. screens, Tim (oraclebase) mentioned something similar on the previous post about multiple screens. Flexible displays are definitely an interesting way to account for physical constraints.

    I’d argue that the tablet really that much more easy to use in small spaces than the laptop. Yes, it’s smaller, but it still requires a certain amount of contortion to use, e.g. my elbows kept flying out on the plane to perform gestures on the iPad, and holding it gets tiring quickly.

    Tablets absolutely do cannibalize laptop sales. Best Buy said that last year; Tim Cook said that on Apple’s earnings call. It’s fact. Deloitte is jumping on the obvious bandwagon; since the iPad dropped, many have noted that corporate IT departments were buying them instead of laptops.

    Because people with lightweight internet requirements can rock a tablet no problem. I just can’t.

  12. Looking forward to the day when the display part of my MacBook Pro detaches becoming a tablet for the go, and syncs notes etc. back when re-attached.

    Meanwhile, I agree that tablets are handy when only consuming information, but nothing (yet) beats a good keyboard – this coming from an IRC addict.

  13. I thought I saw just that scenario somewhere in the CES coverage, obviously not from Apple though. I like the idea, but the implementation needs work.

  14. I have’m all — laptops (yeah, multiple), netbook, iPad, assorted smartphones. And depending on where I go and what I plan to do, I take a different set of devices. The iPhone is always with me. The iPad almost always comes with me when I am on the road. Great for movies on the plane, quick surfing/email/reading feeds/news/… the netbook comes along if I expect to be doing more than a few lines of typing. The fullsized laptop goes in the bag if I plan on doing real work. The device that’s on the endangered species list in my house is the netbook. I used it a lot more before I got the iPad.

  15. Oh duh, it didn’t even occur to me that people would use laptops for lightweight access in IT departments, because that’s not what I see. Like so many other times when splitting off a cheaper alternative from a more general one, those who can, will, and if enough of them do, the general will die.

    Of course, I didn’t see the previous post until after responding to this one.

    I’d like to see on duct-tape a tablet to a happy birthday helium ballon.

    Disqus is really doing some strange things, when I clicked reply here it put in an unrelated reply I had made long ago, and several times I’ve wound up barely able to see the tops of the letters I’m typing, the scroll bar doesn’t go down all the way (two different pc’s running firefox on xp).

  16. I think Disqus had some hiccups related to their new feature rollouts. If it persists, complain to them on Twitter. That usually works for me 🙂

  17. I have a Cr-48 and its not great.

    Tablets would be great for the work place. I know lots of people that take a laptop and notepad to meetings still. If you want to sketch something out a laptop is not very good at that. But a tablet with keyboard should be the best of both worlds.

  18. Actually, that’s not what I saw. Those look like tablets with keyboards attached, pretty nice. The one I saw looked like a laptop whose screen pulled away, minor difference I suppose.

  19. Maybe. The use case is solid, but I’m not on board with tablet and keyboard. I think the Kno has it right and so did Palm back in the day.


    Writing with a finger isn’t super intuitive, so add the stylus to the tablet.

  20. For those that need to carry around other things besides their computer will want to look for a bag that offers additional storage. For example, a laptop backpack will provide room for students to carry around their books as well as their computer. Briefcases will generally have pockets where you can store a cell phone, file folders, papers, and pens.

  21. I realize I’m about a year late — hello, random google search! — but I gotta chime in and agree absolutely about the netbook. I rock a netbook because my laptop was literally in pieces and I needed an inexpensive replacement. It’s kind of like Folgers; it’s better than nothing.

    You get used to the hunching and the crunched keyboard. It’s great for the frequent trips to the coffee shop, because it fits in my purse; there are even things I like about it. But if I had the chance to replace it with a standard laptop, this would very quickly become a toy for my toddler.

  22. Better late than never 🙂 It’s still a topical discussion, maybe more so than last year. I’ve actually added a Chromebook and a Galaxy Tab to my arsenal of marginally useful gadgets. The Tab was a toy that hasn’t found a use. However, I’ve found the Chromebook fits lazy use cases when I can’t be bothered to fetch my MBP from off my desk.
    The iPad is still a consumption device, and I really prefer it to the laptop form factor for watching intertubes video, lean-back vs. lean-forward. The tablets and Chromebook fill weird niches that are luxuries. I just don’t see them as must-haves. 

    My MBP is an absolute must-have. So, not much has changed.

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