Can your iPad replace your Laptop?

Posted on May 15, 2012

The blogosphere has recently been alive with several discussions over whether you can use an iPad in place of a laptop. Here are a few thoughts on this topic from the Digital Possibilities camp.

Laptops were originally devised to be a portable complement to a desktop system, but for an increasing number of people, the laptop has become their desktop computer. These small portable computers are now so powerful, that there is almost no compromise in using them instead of a desktop computer, with the added bonus that you can pick them up and travel with them as necessary.

There are still downsides to the laptop though. They can be heavy, especially some of the larger windows-based ones, and their battery life can be relatively short leaving you hunting for a plug socket.

Hence NetBooks were conceived to provide lighter, more portable computing. However, these came with constraints of poor performance and battery life. The NetBook market has now been almost conceded to tablets such as the iPad.

For pretty much anyone, there is no doubt that a tablet today could not pass as their sole primary computer. The software is not as yet powerful enough, and there are too many peripherals, such as printers and cameras and hard disks that need to be brought together.

However, when out and about, the iPad had a lot of advantages. It enables you to write, email, make and adapt presentations, spreadsheets and documents. Indeed iWork is a very powerful suite of productivity applications. Activities such as managing email are perfectly possible on an iPad; and if you need to check RSS or twitter feeds, this is arguably best done on an iPad rather than a standard computer.

It all comes back to Steve Jobs’ quote comparing computers to Mack Trucks. Sometimes you need a device that is very powerful, that can do heavy duty work. This is true if you’re a computer programmer, a graphic designer or a financial analyst. Yet, most of the time, you don’t need a Mack truck, you need a sedan. You wouldn’t want to go downtown in a Mack Truck, it’s hard to park and drive through the streets, you take your sedan.

The same is true with your tablet, if you can spend the day on lighter activities when you’re out of the office, take just the iPad.

As more people do, there will be an increasing amount of software that becomes available to support this different way of working. Tablets will become more performant, allowing more people to leave their laptops at home. Hence, software needs to be able to support that trend.

In enterprise software, more users will want to access and control their workflow from their tablets. Of course, heavy duty work will still be performed from the web version on a computer, but the checking on workflows and making small necessary changes will be done increasingly from a tablet.

Hence vendors need to take this into account when defining their mobile strategy and roadmap.