Responding to O’Reily Radar: When Will Tablets Replace Notebooks

Another Coffeeshop, Another Office Moment - Share on OviI will admit off jump, when I read One Device to Rule Them All: When will a tablet replace a laptop + a smartphone? at O’Reily Radar, I read it wondering if this was another case of old cooties just not able to divorce their paradigm of tools from the paradigm of the productive behaviors they were apparently thought-action-leaders towards. Harsh, but I truly believe that in order to make insightful projections about where tech is going, you actually have to be going there before the road is made. I walk this out to a (emotional, financial, and sometimes social) fault. And yet, the perspective that I have gained seems to not be heard loud enough. Oh well, let’s just answer the question and see how things lay out.

First, the premise that you have to have one device to rule them all. Frankly, that just doesn’t work. And this is from a guy who wants the center of your computing life to be on a mobile computer that you have complete control over what goes into, out of, and monetizes. When it comes to computing, the future seems to be fixed on various adaptations of the screne-driven meme. Some workers and groups will gravitate towards (<5in screened) mobiles. Some will combine a no-as-smart mobile with tablets. And others will need the larger screen and stationary power requirements of laptops (pssst, these folks have always been in the minority of all computing users).

Second, the primes that tablets are in some way limited to laptops. When I hear this, I first ask the question, "how long have you used or known about tablet computing?" I don’t care if it was expensive, not far reaching into your working sphere, or even usable beyond a lap-heater. If your perspective of tablets is grounded in Apple’s interpretation on the theme, Google’s missteps on the same theme, then you’ve missed a ton. Tablets are, and will continue to be able to be able to do the same as laptops – and in some use cases will be a much better bet. For example, I’m largely in the contexts of reading and writing, to have a device that works best for (a) reading, (b) annotating what I’ve read, (c) sharing/archiving what I’ve read, and then (d) writing about it, tablets are perfect. I spend my day basically away from power outlets and flat tables until its literally time for a break and get on my bike. If I were still in the business of making websites for folks, then I’d have a laptop – as of right now, the applications are built best for that use. Limitation was imposed not designed therefore.

Third, many of the people who are finding tablets to be quite useful and accessible have a cognitive load that requires that they literally think less about the input/creation paradigm and get down to what it is they are into. This is one of the reasons why tablets have been a boon and necessity in verticals such as shipping/logistics, health monitoring, and (in some cases) formative education. Again, there are just some use cases that work best for tablets and they are best to be optimized for them. Constraining a laptop into those modes doesn’t make sense. And constraining a tablet into a workflow where it doesn’t – unless the toolset is redesigned – also doesn’t make sense. What we seem to miss is that computing takes too much thought and in the view of the most recent tablet designs, this aspect of computing has been seen as the challenge to get past – the functional challenge was left behind purposely as you really can only concentrate on one of these at a time and do it excellently.

Now, in the Radar article, there were a few questions worth answering in light of what I’ve written thus far:

  1. Do you use multiple devices throughout the day? If so, which ones?
  2. How about when you travel — which devices do you pack?
  3. Have you tried going tablet-only? What worked? What didn’t?
  4. And finally: What improvements do you need to see before you go tablet-only?

To #1: I use an iPad 16GB WiFi and Nokia N8

To #2: Same devices to work with as I do to travel

To #3: Nope; but I use the tablet as an email triage device; its not profitable to use it for voice/Skype/SMS communications, nor for my alarm clock-early AM newspaper

To #4: You can argue that I am – if I were replacing this tablet with a notebook, which to some degree I have

The key is context. Tablets work best for specific contexts, and some of these just aren’t the same as what a laptop has traditionally been used for. In other cases, laptops -at last their lack of development (faster, smaller, thinner, etc.) -have been exposed for being more than what many need.

I purchased my tablet because I read so much that being mobile-only wasn’t helping my eyes. I’ve expanded to using my iPad for a project folder (Evernote, Tactilis, Dropbox) and digital drawing canvas (Tactilis, Adove Ideas, Procreate). That kind of approach is what’s needed for anyone to be effective and efficient with any technology, not just tablets.