The 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 […]

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?

  1. I accidentally have become one of these people. When my daughter wrecked the LCD on our macbook, I began using my iPhone more and more for my basic web tasks-RSS, facebook, etc. There’s not a lot that I can’t do on it, and what there is is infrequent (then I just hop on the iMac to edit photos/etc).

  2. Unless it becomes dockable (ie. I can plug it into a monitor wherever I go and get a full version of OS X up and running, albeit with limited processor power and hard drive space), it won’t replace my laptop. Doing freelance consulting work means that I pretty often need my workstation to be wherever I happen to be.

    No only that, but do I want the iPhone to replace my laptop? That’s a definite no. I can write blog posts on it, and even do limited editing of photos, but that doesn’t mean I would opt for that, given the choice.

    That said, I think it’s true that users who just want something to occupy themselves with on long road trips will find the iPhone a very suitable replacement to a laptop, which offers functionality that may be overkill for many.

  3. I’m using an iPod touch right now, but am leaning towards buying an iPhone. The interface is nice and easy for e-mailing or checking your RSS-feeds. But still much work to making content iPhone friendly has to be done. When that is done many notebook specific tasks can be replaces by the iPhone.

    My notebook cannot be replaced by an iPhone because i rely to much on it. But my agenda, moleskine notebook and DS have been replaces by an iPod touch (despite the DS having somewhat better games). In the end it’s all a matter of taste.

  4. I’m a writer, so my ideal would be an Apple netbook: something good for word processing, e-mail, and web access and that’s about it. The Apple notebooks—even the Air—have way more processing horsepower than I really need in a portable, while the iPhone lacks a full keyboard and word processing capabilities.

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  6. Until they keyboard gets better then i’m afraid it is a resounding no to being able to use the iPhone as a laptop replacement.

    Also, roaming charges are extremely high and without jailbreaking you can’t swap SIM cards so travelling internationally is also impossible without an iPhone.

  7. No phone will replace my laptop as long as screen size is below 10″ and keyboard is not close to full sized. Even 10″ is too small, but with that size I could begin considering it.

    Although with non-bloat apps the horsepower of modern phones could be enough.

    For reading news and checking email on a bus / vacation / where ever I’m not planning to do serious work iPhone is just fine.

  8. When I got my ipod touch last year, I instantly started using it at events like conferences, where a laptop is bulky, to check out sites. But I needed wifi. When I got my iphone I was blown away by the sense of permanent connectivity. What it does is change the nature of business interactivity. It encourages brevity and conciseness, but at the same time enables you to be connected. They will be massive productivity tools over the long term.

  9. It would be a total disaster for a closed software development system like the iPhone, to come to replace an open, democratic environment like the laptop computer.

  10. I often refer to my iPod Touch as my ultra-portable. Email, Web, IM, Twitter, mapping, news all from the palm of my hand.


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