Apparently, the thirty year reign of the personal computer, Time Magazine’s ‘person’ of the year for 1982, is ending, with sales – especially sales to home users – declining, as people increasingly opt for tablets (and to stick with their current desktop or laptop).
Even Apple is seeing declines in sales of its Mac computers, which had previously held strong while Windows-based PC sales waned. (Luckily for Apple, its iPad tablets are strong contenders in the post-PC space).
Over the past year, I’ve gotten a regular stream of queries along the lines of Can I replace my laptop with a tablet?
But that’s not a simple yes/no question. Although I own both an iPad and an Android-powered Google Nexus 7 tablet, I’m typing this on a laptop, an 11″ Macbook Air.
An equivalent question would be Can you replace your car with a bicycle? A bike is great for a quick trip around town, especially on a sunny day. No problems parking a bike. And you can use a bike to transport a week’s worth of groceries or to travel long distance, but these take a bigger commitment to cycling than many of us are prepared to make.
Similar issues arise when you compare a tablet with a more traditional personal computer. There are things I’d rather do on a tablet. Like a bike, it’s more nimble than a larger computer, making it a handy thing for quickly checking email or Facebook or going online to Wikipedia to see how old Truffaut was when he directed The 400 Blows – in other words, for a large percentage of the things I might want to do on a computer.
A tablet can be a great little device for watching video clips on YouTube. My two-year old granddaughter does that every opportunity she gets, and I don’t mind if the robust $200 Nexus 7 tablet gets covered with blueberry-stained fingerprints or dropped.
A tablet is far superior to a personal computer as an e-book reader. (The question I’m asked second most-often these days is whether to buy a tablet or a dedicated e-book reader). In most cases, it’s what I recommend people take along when travelling.
Some things we might take for granted on a personal computer, however, are at best awkward and at worst completely un-doable on a tablet. Printing from an iPad or Android tablet is more possible than it was a couple of years ago – but not every app or printer supports it, and even when supported it’s clumsy, takes longer, and sometimes simply fails to work. Scanning a paper document? Forget about it. (Though I do appreciate being able to take photos of documents using my smartphone’s camera – an always available [though a bit fuzzy] alternative to scanning).
You can add a wireless keyboard to a tablet, though toting a tablet plus keyboard starts getting close to just toting a laptop. I don’t do that; I find typing on a tablet’s virtual keyboard is enough better than typing on a smartphone. And I have written entire articles like this one using a tablet’s virtual keyboard.
But if I have a choice, I’ll opt to do it on a real keyboard. I type faster that way, make fewer mistakes, and don’t have to stop and correct the tablet keyboard’s autocorrect.
And for major projects such as laying out an issue of of a print publication or updating the publication’s website? Forget about trying to do it on a tablet (or any of the upcoming post-PC devices: smart watches, glasses, and the rest).
So does a tablet replace a notebook?
Some of the time, yes. I find myself using a tablet more than any other tech device these days. (Apple-fan alert: For the past year or so, I’ve been almost always using the Android-powered Nexus 7 in preference to my 10″ iPad).
But for the ‘heavy lifting’, I appreciate having access to an ‘old-style’ personal computer.
Alan Zisman is a musician and technology blogger based in Vancouver (Canada). Follow him on Twitter. A version of this article appears in the September 2013 issue of Columbia Journal.
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