In the blogosphere among the technorati, an old topic has emerged: Can the iPad really replace your laptop? Pardon my inelegant bluntness. But this is a stupid question that smart people should stop asking. The rest of this article explains why:

It already has

I had intended to link to a couple of articles from not long after the release of the original iPad. Less than a year after the iPad was introduced into the market. About 30% of people buying them were using them as their primary computing device. The years following saw that percentage increase to about half the iPad buyers.

It was no longer a question of whether the iPad could replace one’s laptop. That question had already been answered. It already had replaced the laptop, and desktop of about half the people who bought one.

I decided not to link to those studies because they didn’t do any good at the time. And they won’t convince anyone now. Those pundits still saying the iPad can’t replace a laptop are just lying to you at this point. Because for years we have had the data determining that it already has for millions of people.

Which laptop?

I could have just stopped with the previous section. But there is so much more debunking to do, and so little time to do it.

Dial your way back machine to 2010. There was a whole category of computing that we don’t talk about anymore. I am referring to the infamous netbook. It was really the earliest iteration of what would later become the Chromebook.

The netbook started life as just a cheap laptop. The earliest versions didn’t run any version of Windows. They usually ran some form of Linux. The idea of a $200 laptop was appealing enough to enough people so that Microsoft had to respond by allowing Windows on netbooks.

These devices grew in size from 7” screens to 11”. Some of them costed as much as $500. Think pieces started appearing about what, if anything, differentiated a netbook from a notebook. Some analysts were counting netbooks as PCs. That is the world in which the iPad was born.

This was the class of laptop against which Steve Jobs was positioning the iPad. Today, we have iPads and no netbooks. I would say that class of laptop was pretty well replaced.

But we can take it a step further. Can the iPad replace today’s laptops? Again, that depends on which laptops you mean. Will it replace a fully speced out 15” MBP that might run you $4,000? Probably not. But does it have to replace every laptop to replace some laptops? Probably not.

The latest iPads Pro can definitely replace a MacBook Air for many tasks. And for sheer performance, it would give some other MacBooks a run for their money. It will absolutely crush most of the PC laptops that the average person might consider buying. But it might not compete well against a high-end Surface laptop.

All laptops need not die like the netbook for the iPad Pro to be a viable laptop replacement of many laptops for many people. The only way to say that it cannot replace a laptop is to have a particular laptop in mind, and know the needs of the particular person using it.

The Goldilocks factor

The history of computer design runs through science and business. Personal computers have little to do with normal people who happen to use a computer. The tower chassis we are used to became popular because it was easy for technicians to access. Computer operating systems seem to have more to do with programmers than end-users.

What I am saying is that when a person buys a computer, they are buying something that was originally designed for a different type of person. But over the years, it has been retrofitted and marketed to accommodate consumers.

As a result, it is almost inevitable that the average person will buy a computer that is not well suited for what they really need. It is too big, too complex, too insecure, too finicky. We sort of learn to use these machines. But never fully, and not well.

We discovered that the netbook was too little computer for most people. It had too many limitations and was too unfamiliar. Netbooks were not built for consumers either. They were built with the needs of manufacturers in mind. Again, consumers had to retrofit something that was not made for them to accommodate their needs.

The iPad was, and is the Goldilocks solution for millions of people. It is just right. That is because it is arguably the first computer actually made with the end-user in mind. It was not built to satisfy the needs of science, or corporations, or developers, or manufacturers, or business models. It was built expressly for what people wanted in a computing device.

Every detail of the iPad is end-user focused. I would argue that most people who own laptops don’t need laptops. It is just the closest thing on the market that fits their needs that they know about. Most laptops tech nerds care about are too much for most people. They are ill suited for the tasks they will ultimately be used.

The iPad replaces a laptop for so many people because the iPad is the computing solution that was purpose-built for them. For this market, a laptop fits like a mitten. The iPad fits like a glove. It is the natural replacement because it is exactly what they needed and wanted.

Conclusion: A place at the table

Servers didn’t replace mainframes. Desktops didn’t replace servers. Laptops didn’t replace desktops. Smartphones didn’t replace laptops. And tablets are not going to obsolete any of those devices. All that is really needed is for another chair to be added to the table. The iPad does not need to displace anything to justify its place at the table.

Though if justification were needed, the iPad can provide it.

  • The iPad Pro has one of the best screens on the market among all devices that have screens
  • It is faster at its tasks than most other devices are at theirs
  • It has one of the best touch-first user experience of all touch devices
  • It can be used with just about any modern keyboard
  • It has more device-specific apps than any other device of its kind
  • It can handle just about any task you throw at it, mainstream or professional

The iPad Pro has a more impressive resume than I do. I am just the ugly bag of mostly water working the keys. The iPad has more than earned its place at the table. It has nothing more to prove. The laptop is the one that has to work a little harder to maintain its place at the table.

It seems to be human nature that the enabled balk at the other enabled for doing the same tasks in a different way. You can’t really drive because you can’t drive a stick. You can’t really use a computer because you can’t code> I use html. You are only using Markdown. I use an expensive and powerful laptop. You are only using an iPad.

These same people diminish the work others do by saying it is not real work. If you don’t do some form of command-line computing, you don’t do real work according to them. Perhaps you work with your hands. Perhaps you work on an assembly line, or in a coffee shop, or as a retail clerk, or as a stay at home parent.

Unless you are doing the kinds of things that require the most expensive, bleeding-edge computing technology, you are not doing realwork. We and our iPads don’t belong at their table of Laptops.

To hell with the pundits and their table of laptops. They are concerned about the wrong thing. Millions of everyday consumers have already replaced their laptops with iPads. The real replacement will come when those pundits are replaced with commentators who have a view of the world that more aligns with experienced reality.

Those incumbent voices are getting louder and more shrill because they are already being replaced.

David Johnson

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