Zit Seng's Blog

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Can a Tablet Replace a Notebook?

Can you replace your notebook with a tablet? This seems to be a common question. I came across this article on PhoneArena, and decided I’d share my thoughts on it too. I’ve been commuting to work with my MacBook Pro, and since I have an iPad, I’ve been asking myself if it will suffice to just bring my iPad along. In my office, I’ve a full desktop computer (Windows 7), and I can certainly leave my MacBook Pro at home.

The question posed in the PhoneArena article has a simple answer. A tablet is excellent for consuming information. By consuming information, I mean activities such as browsing the web, reading email, and watching videos. This is what a tablet is good at. Tablets are, however, not good platforms for creating information.

By creating information, I mean activities such as composing elaborate emails, do up presentations, edit documents, or moderate photo editing. Updating your Facebook status does not really count as information creation. Neither does performing simple Internet banking transactions, nor even online shopping.

The main reason that makes the tablet unsuitable for information creation is the lack of real keyboard input, and lack of screen real-estate to effectively lay out application windows side-by-side. Furthermore, neither iOS nor Android at this time allow you to open multiple application windows side-by-side. Sometimes, this is what you really need to do.

Tablets that have a real hardware keyboard dock, or when paired with a bluetooth keyboard, alleviates the keyboard input limitation. This helps make the tablet slightly more useful for simple information creation tasks, but in my opinion, still fall short of usability for “heavy work”. There are still other requirements like large screen size, I/O options, etc. I’m not going to mention people who have specifically more demanding requirements such as graphics designers, gamers, application developers, etc.

So, I think the simple answer here is, you will continue to need a notebook around as long as you need to create information. That’s basically almost all of us.

For me, the question I asked myself is about replacing my notebook with a tablet for my commute between home and work. This will certainly lighten my carrying load. I have a desktop PC at office. I could leave my MacBook Pro, the one that I carry around at the moment, at home. So whether at home or at work, I’d have no problems with information creation activities. While on the road, all that I’ll do is consume information.

There is the question of operating environment that bothers me. I like working in Mac OS X. So, the office desktop PC running Windows 7 is not very palatable for me. Of course, I could also try leaving the MacBook Pro in the office, and just use the tablet as my primary device at home. But that’s not ideal either, since I do information creation at home too.

So for the sake of this argument, suppose I had two MacBook Pros, one for the home and the other for office. I choose to go with another MacBook Pro in office rather than an iMac or Mac Pro, because sometimes I still need the portability, to go from one work place to another. Alright, this sounds alright to me.

Hmm, now that I think about that arrangement, what would I use the tablet for? My commute between home and work isn’t all that long. Whatever I need the tablet for, I can probably settle with on my smartphone. So I don’t quite need a tablet either.

Maybe, the tablet would be useful if I had to be out of the office for much of the day. For example, if I had to attend a half day meeting, or full day seminar. The tablet would be useful in such situations. I’ve actually done precisely this a few times.

So I think, after ranting this long, the bottom line seems to be that the tablet isn’t going to replace my notebook at all. It probably won’t replace a notebook or desktop computer for most people either. It is an additional gadget that’s useful to have. Sort of like how a smartphone has complemented notebooks.

Perhaps this is what Samsung had in mind with their Galaxy Note. It is a much clunkier phone. But it might be able to replace a tablet for people like me.

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