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 […]


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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  1. Yes, I think I would be happy to use a tablet if it was fast enough. My iPhone is fantastic, but an Apple tablet could do so much more!

  2. Could a tablet replace my notebook?

    In a nutshell: no.

  3. Andrew Flocchini Friday, January 15, 2010

    Casually browsing the web on my couch would be a lot nicer with a tablet instead of my hackintosh Dell mini 9.

  4. After spending some time on the archives of Fingerworks, the new UI with a steep learning curve looks like a new UI with a REALLY STEEP learning curve for text entry… And $1k is a lot for a couch potato device.

  5. iPhone (and iPod touch) dictation exists . Dragon has a very nice free program that is in the app store right now. Let’s just wait to see what if anything will actually be released, what a novel concept!

  6. I would be interested in a tablet, but not for more than $200.

  7. The situations in which an iPhone on steroids would be appealing seem pretty limited to me. The reason that iPhones take email and web surfing time away from notebooks is the iPhone’s small size: it’s always in your pocket or purse, so you end up using it everywhere. A tablet, not so much. In a lot of situations, it seems like the worst of both worlds: you have to lug it around like a laptop or netbook (even if it is light, it’s still something you need to carry, or have a bag for), but you have most, maybe all, of the typing limitations of a smartphone.

    I can see situations where an easy to deploy, instant boot device would be appealing: if you want something to use on public transit, or during meetings/lectures where using a notebook isn’t convenient. But beyond that, this seems like an answer in search of a question.

  8. well I recently gave up my MBP for my iphone and desktop. I must say not as bad as I expected. apple knows how far they have to go to reach the utility of the computer. and BTW Dragon Sucks on the iphone. the tablet is not aimed at being a primary device it is a mobile supplement. (ie Final Cut Pro on an itouch not about to happen ;) 1k is way too much I think apple knows that (they have a few resources for researching these things)

  9. Why is this even necessary? Using the Internet or creating documents on a laptop with a smaller screen is bad enough. Why would this be any better on a notebook?

  10. my guess is that apple will position the tablet as a next generation entertainment device to accomodate a range of content, including games, music, movies, television, online social media, emails, web-browsing, books, and other periodicals. the proposition will be that this new device will offer the ability to transfer each of those content areas, not only in terms of their delivery but also how they are created, in order to take advantage of the unique characteristics of a tablet device (i.e. animated harry potter-like newspaper ads in your tablet-ized new york times, enhanced video-music-art-social media-albums from your favourite musical act). to the question, then about replacing a notebook, i suspect it could, for those people who use a notebook to read the internet, listen to music, watch movies, and update facebook. for those who need it for serious pursuits like work (or leaving comments on interesting websites during work hours :)), the notebook will remain essential.

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