Could a Tablet Replace Your Notebook?


PC World’s Jeff Bertolucci recently posed the rhetorical question, “Could a tablet replace your notebook?” He referenced not only Apple’s anticipated tablet computer but also new PC tablets like the one from Microsoft and HP that was pitched at CES, the chatter about which inclined him to wonder if a tablet/slate would work as a suitable notebook replacement.

Bertolucci thinks that for folks who use their laptops and/or netbooks primarily for light-duty web work like email and casual surfing, the answer may be the affirmative, and of course many have pretty much switched to using their iPhones or iPod touches for that type of duty. A tablet would presumably provide a larger display size as well as greater feature depth, so for that cohort, and in that usage context, such a machine could be quite satisfactory, and a step up from the handhelds in terms of performance.

However, for those of us who do serious production work on our laptops, not so much. I’m resolved to keep an open mind, but I’m exceedingly doubtful that a tablet will be a really well-suited tool for workaday production use.

Of course there are many as yet imponderables, especially in the context of an Apple tablet, such as whether the machine will support the standard Mac OS and application software or will run with a variant of the iPhone OS, limiting one to iPhone apps, and if there will be some provision for supporting a work-worthy external keyboard and mouse, rather than limiting users to touchscreen input.

On the OS support front, recent scuttlebutt is not encouraging. Earlier,¬†Gizmodo reported new intelligence from someone they say has been a reliable source in the past that the new tablet will be basically an “iPhone on steroids,” and will be running an ARM CPU on the iPhone kernel rather than Intel Core power with the Mac OS, so Mac OS applications will not be supported. If that is accurate information, then it would pretty much rule out the Apple tablet as a serious work platform as far as I’m concerned, and along with prognostications of a $1,000 price tag, I would say good luck with that, Apple.

If the iTablet/iSlate or whatever really is going to be an “iPhone on steroids,” that would also make prospects for external keyboard and pointing device support murky, to say the least.

I simply can’t conceive doing production work on a machine without a physical (QWERTY) keyboard. I’m only a “semi-touch” typist, but I’m pretty fast, using most of my fingers in an idiosyncratic typing technique I’ve developed over the years — part visual and party spatial reference — and I find the lack of tactile feedback with touchscreen virtual keyboarding unacceptable for typing more than a paragraph or two. Not a problem, perhaps, for tweeting and texting, but not the thing for long-form typing projects.

Both handwriting and voice dictation support could have potential. I use MacSpeech Dictate a lot for entering text both as straight dictation and for transcribing material drafted by hand. Efficient and accurate handwriting recognition could potentially condense those operations into one, but only if scribbling on the tablet proved ergonomically comfortable. My flirtations with using handwriting recognition in OS X have not been encouraging, and personally, I would miss the tactile satisfaction of putting pen to good old low-tech paper, which seems to help me organize my thoughts more effectively.

Without Mac OS support, Dictate is out (along with much else), although MacSpeech or some other developer might eventually fill that void with an iPhone OS compatible dictation app. I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for that. I anticipate that I’ll be using laptops as my do-all tools for years to come yet.

How about you? Can you envision a tablet, especially one running the iPhone OS, displacing your laptop?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Is The Age of the Web Tablet Finally Upon Us? and Rumored Apple Tablet: Opportunities Too Big to Ignore

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