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 (s aapl) 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 (s intc) 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


Eric Strobes

I can imagine bluetooth and a keyboard, mouse and a recharging docking station to keep the tablet upright. And if we’re lucky the tablet will also connect to an iPhone. The OS will blend the iPhone OS and some elements of “pure” OSX. It will NOT be a device for spreadsheets or photoshopping.

Jeff Dickey

“It will NOT be a device for spreadsheets or photoshopping.”

Not for heavy-duty work; of course not. Anybody who has the chance to sit in front of a nice 20+ inch display will not forego that for a little 7-10 inch walkabout. But what makes the (presumed) new device valuable is that “walkabout” capability.

I’ve kept steno notebooks of meeting notes, project status and such since the mid-80s. A lot of that has started migrating into Wikis and so on in recent years, but I still generally keep a pad handy for times when carrying around a notebook, plugging it in or dealing with a low battery, etc, are just too much of a hassle. Also, I can draw diagrams freehand in a notepad, an ability that I haven’t yet found a use-it-without-thinking replacement for. If Apple would create a device that was as portable and useful as those steno notepads – while still being sufficiently Mac-like that I can carry around documents and do useful, light work with them in hallway meetings and such – then that really would change the game. I see things like the new Dell five-inch “entertainment” pad and they look cool, as far as they go… but they’re running Windows or (potentially) Linux, and I really do have better things to do with my time and my data. The Macs I have now are the most reliable, useful computers I have ever owned – and I’ve been programming since ’79, buying my first “PC” in ’83. (The previous “most useful” computer I’ve ever owned is my not-yet-fully-retired PowerTower 225; how many Windows PCs of that vintage are still running?)

Steve, you’ve a transformational opportunity here, the need for which is driving the frenzy of speculation. You can either deliver something which validates that hope, or risk another Newton-level blown opportunity. Please, for $DEITY’s sake, get it right this time.

Jeff Dickey

Bluetooth, anyone? That should solve the KB/mouse problem.

Color me deeply disturbed, too, about the “iPhone on steroids” tablet as opposed to the “slimmed-down MacBook Air” approach. Whereas I’d snap the latter up right away, to have an omnipresent Mac notepad for hallway conferences and other impromptu events, it really does depend on whether or not I have access to my real-work apps. The iPhone is a wondrous device, and I use it as an app platform as much as I use it as a phone or music player, but it was created to solve a *fundamentally different problem.* Historically, Apple has given the impression that they understand this idea. It’s supposedly one of the reasons for why an Apple tablet hasn’t been tried since the Newton: Steve&Co understand that they get only about one shot every decade to make radical change work. If they build a system for an unsustainable niche when they had the opportunity to create a market-changing device, the repercussions on Apple – the company and its current customers – will be grim indeed.

Doug K

I’ve used a convertible tablet laptop for three years. The keyboard is a must-have for serious writing, even emails. Twist the screen and it covers the keyboard in tablet mode, making it great for taking notes in a meeting, surfing the net, and pen-enabled mind-mapping.

A pure tablet is not my all-in-one machine. The new ones are netbooks without keyboards, limited in function, however fun to have on one’s lap in front of the tv or in the bed.


An Apple mini-netbook size computer is something many have been desired for years. Jobs said apple could not produce one at a price point that was not junk. Netbook sales have exploded and apple has nothing at that size.

Will a small slim tablet fill that void? For some perhaps for many no. The loss or a real key board is far from a positive and the price apple usually demands a problem as well.

It is always fun to see what apple designs but my lightweight netbook finds its way in my case when I travel, My MacBook Air stays home and my I phone is on my belt and my Kindle makes it in the rotation on occasion.

Caleb O.

I think if apple could come up with and tablet laptop combination, kinda wat lenovo is doing that would be nice. I envision them living in harmony though. Maybe a wireless wacom tablet that has pen and touch that is in constant sync with my computer put I could also pick it up and would around the house with it.


I think it’s going to be great for hybrid media. I really like the SI demo making the rounds a few weeks ago. Entertainment and research media will be excellent. It’ll supplement my Kindle nicely. Considering there’s a market for a 9 inch $500 Kindle I think there’d be a market for a $1000 10 inch iSlate.

Most likely, though, I see it as a $400 device with a 2 year 3G ($70/month) contract. I’d pay for that.

The media will allow for markup and handwritten annotations. If they integrate handwriting along the lines of the Pulse, that would be acceptable. (I’ll still use my Pulse though–just can’t replace the tactile feedback of pen on paper.)

I also will still use the Kindle. The Kindle has nicely replaced curling up with a book. I don’t think the iSlate will give that experience, but perhaps it will.

The iSlate will perfectly replace magazines in a way the iPhone and Macbooks never could. The iSlate will be so much more useable on mass transit. I’m really looking forward to it! I intend to be repeatedly refreshing the Apple store during the media event so I can be among the first to press “buy” and get in on the first shipments!


In case you have not been to MOMA in NY, they use Apple touch screens in the American, blah, blah exhibit. Its in the colonial house near the little cafe. They ARE Apple touch screens running Windows. It was not immediately clear to me because the rooms are a little dark and the screens are black but they had that Apple “feel.” Then I ran my hand along the bottom front of the screen and there IS an Apple logo right there plain as day. However, I couldnt care less about this new gadg. I DEMAND a 32gb Nano for under 200.00 and keep the effing camera!

Mike Davidson

Alan – I agree about sketching. I see the tablet as a revolutionary way to facilitate human interaction as well. Drawing comes naturally. Writing as well. A portable digital sketchbook with shape and handwriting recognition is this device’s killer app.


Something like this would be the Courier Concept? I think that concept is what is missing, because for games you have the iphone, for heavy work your Macbooks or iMacs… for light web usage, also the iphone, but… something in the middle will be filled by something like the courier concept but with Apple behind that concept


Nope. The tablet will be great on the couch watching TV, maybe even control my TV who knows. When it comes to serious work and icrazee blogging I’ll need my MacBook Pro.

Alan Trow-Poole

The big question for me is will I be able to sketch on the new Apple Tablet? I want to replace the dozens of paper sketchbooks I get through every year, (Dot Grid, White Lines and plain paper). I don’t just want simple basic sketching but something closer to Wacom Cintiq. Basically it needs to be pressure sensitive. If it has this, or something close I’m placing an order ASAP. If not, I’ll go ahead and order a Wacom Cintiq 12 WX instead.


I think the Tablet will be a great tool for me. It won’t eliminate the need for a MBP, but 80% of the time it will. I’d use it while watching TV on my couch, taking it to Starbucks, and for much of my out of town travel. I think that developers will respond and create either “iPhone Apps on Steroids” or in some cases, Mac Lite Apps to address this need. I’d take a 1 lb Tablet rather than a 6-7 lb laptop anytime I can get away with it.


If the Apple tablet has the ability to run flash and powerful enough to stream HD video, it could replace (and will) my 13″ MBP. I don’t need a larger iPhone but a hybrid device with some OSX features would be welcome in my house.


The only real reason I would want a tablet at all is if it can run Photoshop and Flash. I’m a comic book artist and would love to get an all-in-one solution for working right on the screen. Don’t at all care about light web surfing. So if it doesn’t run a full OS and the processor is slow I’m not even interested.


Speaking as one who used my Treo (with foldable IR keyboard) as a laptop surrogate, an Apple tablet could work as a laptop replacement for me.

That said, I’m sure that Apple won’t cannibalize their laptop sales. If a tablet comes to light, it will fill a very different niche. And people will bitch because the tablet isn’t a notebook.

I’m excited about the possibilities…really hoping that this is the doorway to new content distribution models. But of course I was hoping the same thing when the Apple TV came along….



by ‘transfer’ i meant ‘transform’. friday afternoon…apologies.


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.


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?


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)


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.


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!

stan kramer

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.

Andy Hully

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!

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