iPhone as a Laptop Replacement

iPhone vs LaptopThe Wall Street Journal published an article yesterday highlighting how mobile phone technology is beginning to reach the stage where a laptop is no longer necessary.

For years, mobile workers have been ditching their desktop computers for laptops that they can take wherever they go. Now road warriors are starting to realize that they can get even more portability — and lots of computing punch — from smart phones.

It raises some interesting points, which are worth considering in relation to Apple and the iPhone.

The Changing Use of Computers

One point which seems to have a great deal of validity is the idea that travelers are now ditching their desktops in favor of laptops, and using their smartphone to achieve what was previously done on a laptop. While this doesn’t hold true for everyone, it is a trend which seems to be slowly emerging.

With the iPhone, Apple has taken an authoritative position in this new market — a notion backed up with statistics:

In a survey of 460 iPhone users from March by Rubicon Consulting Inc., more than 28% of respondents strongly agreed and 29% mildly agreed when asked whether the iPhone was replacing their use of laptops.

The Importance of Software

As a piece of hardware the iPhone is undoubtedly impressive, but it is in the area of software that it really comes into its own. While general software centered around entertainment and personal organization is prolific, business focused software is also readily available in the App Store (remember those Salesforce demonstrations?). Companies are equally able to write their own application specific to the needs of traveling employees.

When recently asked about what the lasting legacy of the iPhone will be, John Gruber stated:

The iPhone was the first phone that brought what we used to think of as ‘desktop quality’ software to a handheld platform. Software where you just say, ‘Wow, that’s a great user experience’, not merely ‘Wow, that’s a great user experience for a handheld’.

I agree entirely with his point, and think this is the major reason why the notion of the iPhone being a laptop replacement is even possible to consider.


A major drawback of using a laptop for mobile work is the requirement of a wireless access point. While it is possible to use a 3G card to connect a laptop to the mobile network, this option is relatively expensive. A far more straightforward solution is to rely on the existing 3G capabilities of an iPhone for easy mobile connectivity.

Keeping in Sync

Another hurdle to using anything other than a primary work laptop when traveling is the problem of keeping information (emails, calendar, contacts etc) in sync across the two devices. MobileMe has stepped in to alleviate this problem, allowing the iPhone to reliably (well, fairly reliably) manage information and ensure that your data is in sync with your laptop when you return.

So… Can the iPhone be a Laptop Replacement?

In my opinion, it all depends upon what tasks your role when traveling requires. If you’re someone who needs to regularly type notes and articles, manipulate designs/photos, or work on presentations then the iPhone is unlikely to fit the bill. If, however, the main on-the-road tasks you complete center around managing email, checking figures from a work intranet and being entertained while travelling, it could provide a fantastic replacement — with the added bonus of not requiring an extra bag.

There are a few extra pieces of functionality which could make this argument even stronger — a video out option for connecting to a projector or an add-on mobile keyboard could alleviate some of the problems voiced by those interviewed in the article. Whether either of these will be ‘coming soon’ to the iPhone is debatable.

What are your thoughts on the iPhone? Do you think it’s a suitable replacement, or is the extra functionality required to acheive this goal something we’ll be waiting a few years longer for?

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