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iPhone as a Laptop Replacement

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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?

59 Responses to “iPhone as a Laptop Replacement”

  1. My old Mac Book died! So i got the iphone and upgraded to 3G.

    Yes, In many ways the iphone has replaced my laptop. I can do things on the fly whenever.

    Kevin, there’s an Office editing program coming out soon for the iphone as well. Look out for “Documents To Go” App.

    Yes I can use my iphone as a 3G router/hub to wirelessly connect to my new Macbook Pro, however like others previously stated… I find myself pulling out my laptop less and less since the iphone came into my life.

    There’s a company called OLO thats about to debut a new case for the iphone, where you drop the iphone into a port making the iphone the track pad, with full keyboard and screen and converting the iphone into a laptop. Don’t believe me? check the link.

    For me it works, so the answer depends on the person. And i’m goin to end with a quote that a mac specialist told me…

    “Even though it called ‘iPhone’, it’s really a computer”

  2. Vatroslav Mihalj

    No chance. Blackberry, some good Symbian smartphone or Windows Mobile-based HTC model might come colose. Asus Eee with Windows installed is like a light laptop replacement.
    But iPhone is a fashion consumer product, like LG Prada, not a business device. A business user needs mail push that works reliably with Exchange, can set up remote desktop connections or even VPN, can open any MS Office document. In addition to that, what about huge quantitiy of Symbian and Windows Mobile software created mostrly for business users? Who will throw it away just like that?
    What about the fact that iPhone does not support MicroJava, with no signs by Apple that it ever will – I’m not talking about some “jailbreaking” or hacking or other unautorized way to install JVM if it ever becomes available for iPhone.

  3. Barbara Saunders

    I’m a writer, who just upgraded from MacBook to MacBook Pro specifically because the screen was killing my eyes. Between the small screen and the keyboard – no way.

  4. No, iPHone can not be a laptop replacement. It’s web browser sucks. It’s games suck. It’s program library is extremely limited. I use mine as a wifi router for my laptop.

  5. Very interesting article. My brother was looking for a used Macbook for school and found someone who was selling his because his iphone was his primary computer. I thought very odd but after reading this article and comments, I guess for some people it’s enough.

  6. I have pTerm for urgent fix but it cannot replace putty. In a year or two/three with 4G/WiMax, laptops would be able to connect (without 3G card) anywhere and pTerm will be used less. With screen and keyboard size of iPhone, it cannot replace laptop for me.

  7. i like my htc mogul + ics pan and my tablet pc. they work great together. no matter what happens any portable phone wont have enough screen space to be able to work quickly, especially the iphone with only a on screen keyboard.

  8. Shortly after buying an iPhone, my Mac died and I have been blown away with how capable the iPhone is. It does most everything I need on a daily basis, is portable, and finds any network automatically, be it WiFi, 3G, or Edge, and gets the job done. I can easily see the day when I would not *need* a laptop, except for graphic tasks and large screen viewing. The next few years are going to be very interesting as many makers are competing so hard on these devices.

  9. Well, on last vacation to Thailand, I bought an iPhone 3G 16GB in Pattaya. It’s a unlocked with a turbo simcard iPhone. I was using DTAC cell, and data connectivity was performing great throughout thailand, from Chiang May in the north to Phi Phi island, Phuket in the south.
    When I returned to Jakarta and switched to Mentari Cell, I was afraid because when I turned on my iphone, it seemed like hanged for a 30′. Finally it works also the 3G! (currently Mentari cell has a 3.5g connectivity)

    I work mostly on emails, make calls, sms, browsing, remote servers, GPS, etc.

    I installed PDAnet on my iPhone and it works really well on 3.5g speed, made my iPhone working so well with my macbook for data access.

    I also installed openSSH on my jailbroken iPhone (OMG the directory structures in iPhone almost quite the same as Mac), so transferring files from macbook and iPhone vice versa, just drag and drop!

    Also, who needs mobileme, since i can sync easily (on cloud) my contacts and calender with google for free. Thanks for Microsoft Exchange which enable me to do this.

    My iPhone in some cases has already replaced my MacBook, especially when travelling abroad for travel guide. Most asian cities in indonesia, s’pore, malaysia, thailand, hongkong, macau, china, have EDGE, 3G, HDSPA data connectivities, so just swap the simcard on my unlocked iPhone, i’m online.

    It’s a god’s tool especially when it’s jailbroken & unlocked :D

  10. I’m not an iphone user, but my windows mobile based smartphone has replaced the need to bust out a laptop many times. Mobile office and outlook are great for opening attachments and making quick edits. While the iphone excels in many areas, features like true multitasking, hardware keyboards, and copy/paste leave windows mobile and blackberry devices the top pick for business use, while still providing great internet and chat/messaging apps.

  11. I use my iPhone as a laptop replacement when I travel on vacation overseas. Sure, the roaming charges are expensive, but with a laptop, you can only use wifi, so you’re not any worse with an iPhone if you turn off data access over the wireless radio. HOWEVER, always on access, is a really different mindset than having to open the laptop. With the iPhone, I’m always pulling it out and accessing Google Maps or some other localized app. It’s a great travel guide, GPS, and do-all. Paying the $25 for 20MB or $50 for 50MB of data is WORTH it. Think about what you spend on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and what you miss, without that info at your fingertips. It’s a no-brainer. Usually, in China, I have no idea where I am, there aren’t any good maps. With Google Maps on my iPhone, I always know where I am, and can make better decisions on where to go and what to visit.

  12. For short trips without heavy workload my iPhone replaces my laptop since I can get all my daily computing (Mail, RSS, surfing, some writing, etc) out of it just fine. For longer trips I would take my laptop. Now the iPhone now has me contemplating getting a 15″ MBP when I have never owned anything larger than 13″.

  13. The iPhone has replaced the use of the laptop for basic surfing on the sofa. Apple just needs to make MobileSafari more stable and faster – still crashes now and then. It’s also replaced the laptop for gaming.

  14. Although I do not have a laptop I use my iPhone for doing smaller tasks which I would normally use my G5 for. Mostly checking email with MobileMe services and doing simple web surfing if I’m in the living room in front of the tv. The iPhone is great for mostly keeping up to date, but I do not regard using my iPhone as a replacement to my main machine. For example, in the morning, generally I would wake up my G5 from sleep to check my email or morning news, where as now, my iPhone wakes me up and while I wipe the sleep from my eyes, I can check emails and current news from under my duvet :)

  15. Aditya Trivedi

    The iphone was designed to be a smart mobile device and it does its job perfectly.
    i have been using my iphone for 2 months now and know it is never going to be a replacement for my laptop. Apple can easily do much better to get device in the market that is specifically designed to be a ultra mobile laptop replacement. The iphone was not made to be in this category. It has exceeded our expectations in all ways and has raised the bar for all other phone manufacturers. While you can do almost everything you might do on your laptop on your phone, it is just not a practical solution – not yet. The screen is too small and the convenience of a full size keyboard can never be matched by that of any mobile device. It is a very good substitute (the best i’d say) though if you dont have access to a computer.

  16. It is possible, today, to plug your iPhone into the composite or component video and sound inputs to any monitor or projector that has more than the basic s-video and video-in/RCA inputs. I’ve used the iPhone to watch TV shows that missed the Tivo cut… So, the phone should even be able to provide presentation capabilities, in a pinch.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Chris Stevens

    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.

  20. Steve Kenson

    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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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).