There was a time when owning a laptop was uncommon and typically restricted to business people who travelled a lot for work. In recent years, however, owning a laptop has become the norm and they have even begun to replace desktop computers in many cases. Now, a new trend is on the rise: the tablet. Thanks to this latest innovation in the computer world, some people are beginning to wonder if the laptop is the next technology to be phased out, joining the VCR, Discman and record player in the realm of technological obsolescence. In this article we examine the laptop versus tablet debate and consider how/if the laptop can compete against the invasion of the tablet!
THE BIRTH OF THE TABLET
We live in a society where technology moves so fast that many of us struggle to keep up! The laptop’s reign on personal computing has been long compared to many other technologies of today, and though we often saw newer, flashier, better versions of the laptop emerge, it was only a matter of time before something entirely new arrived on the scene to give the laptop a run for its money – cue the tablet!
First of all, what is a tablet? This is something that experts can’t seem to agree on. Some argue that any computer with a touch screen qualifies as a tablet, while others say you need to be able to write on it with a pen, and some insist that screen size is the determining factor. In our opinion, the best way to think of a tablet is as a personal computing device that fits somewhere between a phone and a laptop.
The first tablet many of us became familiar with was Apple’s iPad, officially introduced in January of 2010, and now the iPad2. Today, however, there are a number of similar devices to choose from, with many more on the horizon.
The iPad is designed to be a mobile gadget, equipped with an e-reader, gaming device, digital photo frame and iPod. You can also download applications (or "apps”) offering special programs and functions related to all of the above uses and more. You can purchase these apps by visiting the App Store. The increasingly popular alternative to Apple’s iPad is the Android operating system, but you won’t notice any major differences between the two. You can use apps on Android devices as well, which can be purchased from the Android Market website.
When Apple was gearing up to introduce the iPad, I can remember many of my friends and colleagues scoffing that it was "basically just a big iPhone” or a "giant iPod touch” and that it would "never take off.” Ironically, most of them now own iPads or some other form of tablet, and many have ditched their laptops altogether.
Craig Richardson, Managing Director of Jade Software, discusses this issue by analogy, referring to the laptop as an endangered species. "There are two factors that can bring about an endangered species,” he explains. "A change in environmental conditions or a new predator. In this case, it is both.”
A few factors came together at the right time to bring about the tablet: Smart devices were developed; cloud services became more available and reliable to fill business and daily life needs; and faster connectivity. With the massive consumerisation of the tablet, the laptop has struggled to keep up.
BENEFITS OF THE TABLET
Richardson conducted an informal experiment where he went for several weeks using only a tablet and found that it was very doable, if not preferable. During this time, he used his tablet while travelling through three different countries, managing approximately 300 people, conducting presentations and for personal use. Through this, he was able to pick out some of the major benefits of the tablet:
- Usability: the tablet is much more usable than the laptop with everything easily accessible and ready to go, rather than having to load things onto it as you would with a laptop.
- Battery life: This is a huge advantage, as tablets offer up to 10-12 hours of continuous battery life, even when using the device to stream videos, listen to music or play graphic-intensive games.
- Security: With the tablet, you aren’t carrying around masses of data, which is obviously beneficial from a security standpoint.
- Portability: The tablet is much lighter, smaller, thinner and more easily transportable than a bulky laptop. Not to mention you don’t have to sit around waiting for it to boot up.
- Extremely consumer driven: whereas the laptop is very much enterprise driven. Laptops are more or less enterprise IT made available to consumers, whereas the tablet is made for consumers.
- User interface substantially improved.
There are also many unique features available on tablets, such as the ability to scribble handwritten notes right on the screen, record conversations, meetings or lectures and download cool apps.
CAN THE LAPTOP COMPETE?
The tablet has some obvious drawbacks when compared to the laptop. First of all, it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse, which is a major part of how we interact with our computer. This makes things difficult for people like me – who spend a lot of time typing – as a touch screen keyboard simply doesn’t cut it! It also can’t hold as much data as a laptop, has a smaller screen (again, an issue for many people), is not adequate for things such as graphic design, doesn’t offer any advanced audio equipment, and so on. So at this point in time, the laptop still has an edge up on its competitor.
That being said, Richardson believes that it is only a matter of time before the tablet catches up. "A lot of the time, the hardware is ahead of the software, which is what we are seeing with the tablet,” he says. "I think we are waiting for the next generation of software to emerge, which will solve many of the current issues people have with tablets and allow them to become much more interactive.”
There is so much effort currently going into developing software for smart devices, with better memory storage and computation as the next challenge, it is easy to imagine the next breed of tablets. It is not so easy, however, to imagine the next breed of laptops.
Richardson also mentioned that during his experiment using only a tablet, he did have to make some adjustments and sacrifices and it did cause him to change the way he worked. However, he felt strongly that this new way of working could easily become the norm rather than the exception, especially as we continue to see advancements and improvements to the tablet.
One possible solution for laptops is to form a hybrid with smart devices. We are already beginning to see this with several major laptop manufacturers, whether on the market already or in the working prototype stage. Some of the hardware providers bridging the gap include Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell and Asus. So perhaps we are not facing a future where one technology will wipe out the other, but it might not be the case that the tablet and the laptop will coexist either. Instead, perhaps we will see a new development altogether, as the tablet and the laptop begin to merge resources, offering the best of both worlds.
WHAT SHOULD YOU BUY?
As Richardson pointed out, there will no doubt be an interim stage between laptops and tablets, so don’t panic if you just went out and bought a new laptop! If you are currently trying to decide between purchasing a new laptop or a tablet, you’re probably safe to go either way at this stage. Richardson suggests that if you are making a decision for the next five years or so, you can sit tight with a laptop. Tablets are only going to continue improving and we will no doubt see more than a few new features and upgrades over the next couple of years. If you are the type of person who upgrades technology frequently, however, or you like to keep up with the latest technology trends, you might as well try out a tablet as your next personal computer purchase.
Of course, what you buy should also depend on what you will be using it for. As mentioned earlier in the article, tablets are great for portability. They are light, easy to transport, have an incredible battery life and don’t take ages to boot up. They are, however, missing some key features (like a keyboard and mouse) and fall short in the memory and storage area. Furthermore, many people who use their laptops for work complain about screen size and they certainly don’t have adequate capacity for graphic design (though most people in this industry are using Mac desktops anyway).
If you are trying to choose between tablets, you probably won’t find any major differences between brands this early in the game. You will get a slightly different experience with Apple than with Android, but nothing significant. Right now, most people are simply choosing the most cost effective option. Richardson agrees and notes that most of Jade’s clients are not settling on any one tablet, but are currently playing with them all.
WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING
I wouldn’t say that the laptop is dead, but it is definitely an endangered species, and when you have an endangered species, the only options are to adapt or die. In the long run, I honestly don’t see how the laptop will be able to adapt.
There will be some transition time before we see the end of the laptop altogether, but we are definitely headed in that direction. Six months ago, when considering a move to tablets, companies were asking ‘what is the return on my business?’ and this is very rarely a question anymore. Here at Jade, we are fielding six or seven calls a day from companies who are moving from laptops to tablets and smart phones. This is simply the smart choice from a productivity standpoint.
–Craig Richardson: Managing Director, Jade Software
For business users the laptop is not at all dead - yet. Observing business travellers at the airports, laptops still outnumber tablets by far, and I think the average business user is still not convinced that tablets will be adequate "offices in the briefcase”. But as laptops get lighter and come equipped with even better connectivity, and the tablets get more oomph in terms of storage and input options, the gap between the two will inevitably shrink - and most likely result in a hybrid version within the next couple of years, which will meet corporate needs.
-Henrietta Kjaer: Editor, IT Brief
In the workplace, tablets are actually very handy when it comes to group meeting situations or presentations. There are definitely benefits to having a tablet for office use, but at this stage I think they serve well as an accompaniment to the laptop, not a replacement.
There are still many ways in which tablets are unable to compete with laptops, so I definitely don’t think the laptop is dead. At this moment in time, I would think the laptop versus tablet debate is somewhat comparable to the print versus digital media debate. Though print media has had to make room for the new wave of digital media, there is still a place for both, and I think it is more accurate to say that print has been affected by (not abolished by) technology.
There could come a time when we see the end of the laptop, but it’s not now.
-Daniel Strang: Manager of a Technology Project, BNZ
Only when tablets can keep up with the most efficient typists will there be any real reason to think they can take the place of a laptop, and the entire laptop market. Supporting interfaces such as multiple monitors, technical tools (e.g advanced audio equipment) and yes; keyboards, is a quintessential requirement for computers and, at present, this seems to conflict with the intended goals of tablet technology (i.e slim designs and touch technology).
-Jackson Darlow: JD Innovation
The Notebook is not dead at all and the current popular 10 inch form factor "Pad” simply opens some evolutionary doors for the Notebook. Remember when we were told that the paperless office is here? Ironically, we now print much, much more than we once did.
Is Mobility on the rise? Yes
Is the way we get Apps changing? Yes
Notebooks are about to face an evolutionary landmark where flexibility in form factor, touch-ability and graphic power take priority over processing power. I look at my iPad and I ask myself "why didn’t they make my Mac Book Pro touchable with a screen that pivots over the Keypad?” If so then I would throw the iPad away because I would get a bigger screen with more graphic punch and more connectivity options.
Here is what I want to happen and so I am putting it out there. Notebook will change its colours and become more like the current very basic tablets, and the categories will weld back together with greater options on offer.
Give me high res and a big screen that is touchy feely now please, I have been waiting too long.
-Simon Scott: Director Supply Chains, Acquire
I don’t think laptops are dead as such, I believe that we will see laptops take over desktops in the near future. Laptops continue to get more portable and powerful and now upgrades on laptops are easier than with desktops. Thanks to the new quad cores and amazing graphics technology, most laptops can compete with any desktop PC. I predict in 5-10 years we will all carry around a device as big as our iPhones and wirelessly connect to our speakers, power supply and external monitor. The technology is already available, and it’s not just in testing, it works! I can wireless stream my iPad and iPhone to my monitor. Most of my design clients have given their staff members laptops, which they dock when they come into work.
You will notice as the internet opens up that laptops will start to become faster and smaller. There will be no need for DVDs or hard drive space, so more graphics and processing power will be adapted, as all your content will be stored externally and streamed to your devices.
-Kyle Gibson: Technical Director, Underground Design
There is no way that the tablet will phase out the laptop entirely, but what is for certain is that laptops and tablets will coexist together and we are starting to see this happening already. Especially in the business realm, tablets are being chosen over laptops for efficiency’s sake and also to avoid lugging a big laptop around town.
-John Lai: Co-Founder/Creative Director, Social Media NZ