Tablet or Notebook: The New “Boxers or Briefs?”

Since Apple shocked the technology world by selling one million iPads in its first month-and even more so now that there are other options on the market-people have begun asking the question, “Which should I buy?” Now I should admit up front that I’m a geek. I worked for IBM for over a decade, was director of PC Week Corporate Labs, and have written for publications as far apart on the spectrum as PC Magazine and Mac|Life. So to me, the question sounds a lot like, “Should I buy a pair of jeans or a sweater?” For me, the answer is a straightforward “Yes!”

The answer for you, of course, depends on what you need the device to do. There are some things I do that require the power and screen size of a notebook, plus the speed of an onboard disk drive rather than dependence on transferring files to and from cloud storage. There’s no tablet application with the power of Dreamweaver, for example, to let me keep my websites updated when I’m on the road. And while I have written small things using the iPad, the keyboard of my laptop is far more convenient for serious typing.

The truth, though, is that most people aren’t running applications that intense-at least they don’t need to when they’re not at their desks. In a survey of iPad users, the NPD Group discovered that, Overall, as one might expect, the top three things consumers are doing with their iPads during that time are surfing the web, doing email, and playing games (and this is precisely why these devices pose a long-term threat to the notebook/netbook/handheld market).”

My iPad is my constant companion, far more than a notebook has ever been. Its size and convenience make it effortless to take along, and there is a huge range of available apps that synchronize painlessly with much of my existing desktop software. And while there have been programs for reading e-books on a computer for a long time, the portability of the tablet is what really converted me from print publications. The far greater battery life is a significant factor, as well. It’s simply more convenient, and just as-perhaps more!-easy to use for many applications. Truthfully, unless you’re doing fairly intense computing remotely you’ll probably be happier with a tablet.

But let me suggest that perhaps we’re asking the wrong question. With the MacBook Air, I think we’re closer than ever to the possibility of a “both/and” solution in a single device. It packs a lot of computing power into something thinner and lighter than a notebook, while also giving reasonable screen size plus attached keyboard and USB ports when needed. Many have tried to put reversible displays on notebooks so they can be used like tablets, but the results have all been rather heavy and clunky. If Apple made a reversible display version of the MacBook Air, combining the convenience of the touch interface of the iPad with the power and keyboard abilities of a regular notebook, this question would become a no-brainer.

“Apple announces iPad sales top 1 million in less than a month,” Apple Insider.
Stephen Baker, “I Own An iPad, So What Do I do With It?”, NPD Group Blog.