iPad as main computing device

(Probably) my last laptop

By Steve Outing

I just bought another Macbook Pro, to replace the one that I have to give back to the University of Colorado Boulder in less than a week, since my gig working there is over. I wonder, will this be the last laptop computer I buy as my primary work machine?

The answer is yes. I’m 95% sure of that. (I’ll allow myself at least a small fudge factor.)

For me, a principal work computer lasts about three or four years, before I upgrade to the latest model. It’s been many years since I used a desktop computer, and I’ve gone through quite a few laptops. It seems clear to me that my next main work computer will be a tablet. (And, as an Apple aficionado, still, probably an iPad.)

iPad-only bookSome people already have made the transition to laptop-less-ness. The authors of “#iPadOnly: How to only use your iPad to work, play and do everything in between,” Augusto Pinaud and Michael Sliwinski, are attempting to show the way with their new book/e-book. Both authors made the commitment to make an Apple iPad their primary work and leisure computing devices. They claim in the book to perform upward of 80% of their work on the iPad — and claim to love the experience.

This is particularly notable on Sliwinski’s part, since he is the founder and CEO of Nozbe, a “Getting Things Done”-based cloud organization manager for devices from PCs to tablets to smartphones. He does tasks such as configuring his servers and writing code on his iPad, proving to the rest of us that the iPad, even its current incarnation, is not just a great media-consumption device that has limited content-creation abilities.

Working with a tablet as your principal computing device does require a different way of interacting with some services and applications that you’ve come to rely on when using a PC or laptop. As the authors point out, the experience of some cloud-based services is less than great when used on a web browser with a tablet. For example, watching CNN.com news reports on a tablet browser (the default Safari on the iPad, or an alternative like the Google Chrome tablet browser) will be an inferior experience to using CNN’s dedicated tablet app.

While PC and laptop users spend much of their time working within a web browser, and the occasional client application, tablet users will find themselves working in the web browser less often, and downloading and using tablet-native apps much more. In either case, the user is interacting with web servers and APIs; mobile apps most often push and pull data from the cloud, whereas PC applications are more likely to operate solely within the PC’s operating system.

(Fortunately, many mobile apps are free, and those that aren’t are much less expensive, in general, than client apps for PCs have been.)

There’s already a name for this: “applification.” If you accept the need to use more tablet apps where before on a laptop you may have stuck mostly within the web browser, your tablet-first workstyle will be a much better experience.

Learning to type on a tablet screen is a serious impediment to doing more work (like, say, writing a blog item or a novel!) on an iPad. Of course, you can simply use a wireless keyboard rather than the tablet’s touchscreen, but Pinaud and Sliwinski recommend first trying a typing instruction app for the iPad which can increase your touchscreen typing speed: TapTyping. If you’re a fast keyboard typist, training can increase your touchscreen-typing speed significantly, but you probably won’t get as fast as when using a traditional keyboard.

I bought another laptop this time, because I’m not yet ready to make the leap that these authors have made. But in three years, say, when I’m ready to replace this MacBook, I expect tablets like the iPad (and those from companies not named Apple) to have advanced significantly and be as capable as a laptop for nearly all computing tasks.

Using the keyboard (either on the touchscreen or an external wireless keyboard) will be required less often. We’ll be interacting with the tablet by, for example:

  • Dictating our writing and issuing commands by voice, thanks to much-improved voice recognition
  • Using hand, face, or other gestures to get the tablet to perform a task (e.g., blink your right eye to go to the next page of an e-book, or use a hand-down motion to turn down the volume of a video)
  • Moving our eyes to scroll down a page, or perform other actions, as eyetracking capability is added to more tablets; imagine reading a long New Yorker article and scrolling down the many paragraphs using only your eyes

Even when I become tablet-centric, as these authors have already done, I know that I’ll want a big screen for much of my work. Photo editing in Photoshop, for instance, is not going to satisfy me on a 10-inch tablet screen, even if it does have a wonderfully sharp “Retina display.” But by the time I take the plunge, I’ll expect wireless connection to a big monitor (which also will be a touchscreen, unlike my current 24-inch LG LCD display). And, of course, wireless backup; no more plugging in a backup hard drive.

I’ve taken only my iPad (an iPad Mini, in my case) on trips and usually feel frustrated when attempting certain tasks that are easier on a laptop. Partly that’s because of the smaller (8-inch touchscreen) format. Indeed, the authors recommend a full-sized iPad if you plan to use a tablet as your primary machine; they like the Mini, but think it’s better as a supplementary personal computing device.

PREDICTION: In a few years, sales of tablets will outpace laptops, as more people transition to using a tablet as their primary computing device. This is profound for publishers, who must understand that their emphasis on websites will be unwise shortly. Media companies must design great experiences for consuming their content on tablets, as well as smartphones. In a few more years, the traditional media website should not be the center of their attention to the detriment of development for mobile devices; it cannot be.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!