For decades now, the laptop has been the go to device for mobile needs, and it has served its purpose quite well. For a while it appeared that the laptop would ultimately cause the extinction of the desktop. But then something happened. The tablet was born. While not the inventor of the tablet, Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs were the first to refine the idea of a tablet and create a product that consumers would want. With the introduction of the iPad, a new market was born and for the first time the laptop finally had some portable competition.
Now it has taken quite a few years for tablets and their software to properly mature. But today the tablet as we know it has come of age and laptops are now starting to look big and bulky to many users much like the desktop did just a few years ago. The tablet has become the go to device for many families both at home and while they travel, especially for more general purpose computing needs.
But how and why did this happen and are tablets really viable replacements for the laptop? One look at how the laptop is being used today will show you just how the tablet has begun replacing the laptop for many activities today.
General Purpose Defined
Before we can go any further, we need to define exactly what general purpose means. Truthfully, the term “general purpose” can mean a lot of different things to many different people. But for our purposes, it basically means normal every day computing activities that one uses pretty much on a daily basis. So what are these tasks? Here’s a list of a few of the most common general tasks that almost every computer uses on a daily basis:
- Internet Surfing
- Music Listening
- Video Streaming
- Social Media
- General Gaming
These tasks represent some of the most basic and widely used tasks that are used by virtually every computer user across the globe. Sure there are more complicated and in depth tasks out there and devices that are designed specifically for them, but remember we are talking about general tasks and nothing more.
In the beginning, tablets simply weren’t powerful enough to serve as primary tools for even the most basic of tasks. Sure they were good alternate devices to both home and business users, but the interfaces were slow and clunky in some cases and at other times the hardware was simply too slow to run everything properly.
This all changed over time, however, as the hardware has gotten smaller, more powerful and more efficient. Today, the processors in tablets are almost as powerful as many laptops out there and in many cases the displays are far superior. During this time, the hardware has also gotten more efficient allowing for longer battery life between charges so people can use their devices for longer stretches of time before having to plug it in. Varying form factors, ranging from 7-inch all the way to 10-inch and larger, also make tablets a more attractive option for users of all shapes and sizes. All of these advances have allowed the tablet to catch up to laptops in many ways making them a viable alternative to laptops today.
Tablet Software Evolution
On top of the hardware for tablets, the software had to go through an evolution of its own before tablets could become the reliable laptop replacements for general tasks that they are today. This took some time as programmers got used to the new platform and waited for the hardware to mature properly so it could run some of the best software out there. Like everything else, the software did mature as the hardware did and today you can find software out there that is every bit as powerful (if not more) than lots of software you can find on laptops.
On top of this, many of the mainstream software developers such as Microsoft have finally released mobile versions of their flagship products such as Office for mobile devices so many users can finally begin using their tablets for both light work and play without having to turn on their laptops to do it. With the advent of this new, more powerful software, most users never have to leave their tablets for the work they do as it simply doesn’t require anything more complicated.
The Introduction of the Hybrid
One of the biggest problems many people have with tablets is the keyboard. While the touchscreen keyboard is good for small emails and small typing tasks such as entering passwords, it’s just not as fast as a traditional keyboard. Manufacturers responded by creating Bluetooth keyboards that improved usability greatly. Then, something else happened that we are still seeing today. The major manufacturers such as Apple, Microsoft and even Google have recently begun releasing new devices that are designed to work with a keyboard and even a stylus, making them much easier to use for people who need to do serious work on them.
This means that the devices are now much easier to use as people can type much faster than they ever have before on their mobile devices. This increase in productivity is causing businesses to adopt tablets even more than they ever have before and even more users have begun using the devices as a replacement for their laptop only turning to their computer when they need to access a bigger screen and use a more traditional desktop-oriented interface.
Effects of Gaming
Believe it or not, video games do hold a major influence on the popularity of devices. Game makers early on recognized the potential behind games on tablets and smartphones and began releasing games made specifically for them. This helped increase the popularity of the devices as people sought entertainment. After regular use for gaming, many people began to use their tablets for other purposes such as email and web browsing, thus taking even more market for laptops.
The Cloud Impact
One area that gets little credit is most definitely the cloud. With the introduction of the cloud as the iPad and other tablets rose to popularity, users were able to store more and more of their files and other data online so they don’t have to maintain large hard drives to take care of it. Most tablets don’t have large storage like laptops and desktops because of their size, meaning users can only keep so much. But with all the photos and videos taken today along with documents that are created each and every day, users needed a way to safely store their stuff. The cloud provided that solution for many users. Now, gigabytes of data are stored in the cloud instead of on local computer and they are easily accessed from multiple devices. This means that users can now store everything online and access them from their tablets rendering their local hard drives almost useless and definitely not as secure compared to online storage that is regularly backed up.
The Landscape Today
So what does this all mean for today? The tablet market has exploded as more and more users pick up tablets to use as their main machine for general purposes. People carry their devices with them wherever they go and use them on a daily basis just as they would a phone. In many cases, people turn to their tablet for general tasks at home so they don’t have to bother turning on and booting up their laptop unless they absolutely need it for more intense tasks.
Some light users don’t ever have to turn to their laptops again and instead rely solely on their tablets for all their computer needs. The end result of this shift is more and more tablets are showing up in homes and laptop sales have slowed as more consumers use tablets instead of their laptops to check their email, browse the web, and much more.
As you can see, the tablet has come a long way since Steve Jobs stood on stage holding this new device that pretty much no one had ever seen or heard of before. Today, the software is more mature and much easier to use than ever before and Wi-Fi access is available almost anywhere making it much easier to use while you are on the road. Because of this, the laptop is finally seeing the first competition it has ever experienced as every day users replace these bulkier devices with the slim and easy to carry tablet.
While this doesn’t mean the laptop is on its way out, it has definitely become a little more specialized as it services the needs of users with greater demands for work or play. But for every day basic tasks, more and more users are turning toward their tablet as a way of getting things done instead of their larger laptops.
Does this mean that the laptop will go away one day? Probably not. It is still the best way to get work done quickly and efficiently. But, tablets are improving every day and it is getting easier to work and play on them just as you would a laptop. Could they one day replace laptops as we know it? I think so, but it will take time.
What do you think? Do you think the tablet is now the workhorse for everyday tasks or do you still prefer to use your laptop instead? Let me know in the comments below.