I Saw The iPad, and I Saw The Future ... MacBook

| Dave Hamilton's Blog

Going into last week's iPad announcement my feeling was that Apple is not a company on the ropes. They aren't in a position where they must bank on some immediate new product release to survive.

Not hardly.

Because of this, I figured if they decided now was finally the time to release their mythical tablet, it must be because it was finally ready in a form that they felt was perfect.

Initial Confusion

As I sat comfortably at my desk here in New Hampshire watching the announcement on the live TWiT video feed (thanks for bringing that camera in, Leo!), I initially felt confusion. This wasn't the perfect device. It's got lots of issues. Sure, it's cool, and sure people are going to talk lots about it and, yes, I'm going to buy one, but it ain't perfect yet. I honestly was surprised that Apple decided to announce it now instead of waiting another year or two. At least that's how I felt at first.

Apple Announced Accessories?

At the end of the event, though, Apple did something very uncharacteristic: they announced multiple accessories for the new product. One was a case (great, I thought -- "the first of thousands"), and another was a combo keyboard/dock connector. It was when I saw this that I felt as though I had a glimpse into the future of Apple's product line.

Imagine, if you will, an iPad that multitasks, runs all the apps you want, sports a common file-system, and has more storage, RAM, and CPU power than the initial version will. You leave it in its dock when at your desk, connected to your printers, large-screen monitor, network, and maybe even a mouse or some other input device of preference. Then, when you want to head out, you snatch it out of the dock, drop it into your bag, and off you go with everything you need.

Many of us already do this with our laptops, don't we? Yep. I see the iPad form factor replacing the traditional laptops that Apple currently offers.

iPad: The Future of Laptops

Think about it: the current laptop form factor is not exactly preferable. It's the best we've got in terms of combined functionality and portability, but there are few situations where we actually want this hinged keyboard/screen thing going on. It's cumbersome and bulky, and doesn't really work for a quick check-in. The tablet's single state form factor and always-ready style is much more adaptable for a mobile life.

But try as Apple could, they just never found a way to make that tablet work well enough to replace the laptop out of the gate. So they released it couched as an "in-between" device, something we need in addition to our laptops and smartphones. It's clearly too big to ever replace the smartphone - and I don't see that happening - but the laptop is doomed.

The iPad's Not In-Between For Long

Think about the following scenarios and whether you'd want a tablet or a laptop: airplane seat, a quick check-in to re-read a PDF before a meeting, hotel room, sitting on the couch, coffee shop, your desk. For me, the only place I prefer the form factor of the laptop is at my desk in the office because it gives me a real keyboard and props up my screen. Even there, though, I often just wind up using an external keyboard anyway, so I don't really even care as long as I have something to hold the screen up.

Give me the functionality of my MacBook Pro in a tablet form factor and I'm a happy man. Note I didn't say "give me Mac OS X" on the iPad. The Windows world tried to shove the desktop OS into a tablet for years and has basically failed miserably. It's functional, sure, but not even close to smooth. That's why Mac OS X isn't the iPad's OS. iPhone OS is much closer to what's needed here though, as has been pointed out, its limitations (no multiple active apps, lack of a menu-structure, no filesystem) are amplified when brought over to the tablet.

It will take a few years for the tablet to mature into what Apple's target customers need, but make no mistake: the laptop is doomed and Apple is getting the iPad ready to casually step into its place in the product line. It just makes sense.

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25 Comments Leave Your Own

drackmere

Dave,

You make some interesting points.  However, I would like your reaction to this: I like a 17” laptop for the real estate.  This is due to my having several applications open at one time.  How do you see the iPad taking this space over?  Is this even possible?  If it is not running OS X, and I notice you say “That’s why Mac OS X isn’t the iPad’s OS.”  Why would I want to use something which does not give me the same functionality.  You also state that “It will take a few years for the tablet to mature into what Apple’s target customers need”, but who exactly are those target customers?

I like the iPad, and the idea that I can “take it with me” easier then a laptop, however, it will not replace my 17” anytime soon.  Thoughts?

MacPablo

It will take a few years for the tablet to mature into what Apple’s target customers need

I disagree. I don’t think the geeks (the ones who are moaning about it’s lack of features) are the target audience here.

The target audience are ordinary people (99.9% of the population) who just want it to do the basics without any complication.

aardman

These last few weeks, I’ve been peddling the following scenario like a snake oil salesman.  My apologies to those who’ve read this before and are sick of it:

iPhoneOS and MacOS will merge in function if not in code base.
When the silicon becomes powerful enough, the iPhone form factor will become the only computer you will ever need.
It’s like a regular but more powerful mobile computer when you’re up and about.
At home, you plug it in (wirelessly if you wish) to the keyboard, monitor and perhaps hard drive and you do your large-screen computing - video editing, spread sheets, word processing etc.
You can buy a mobile console that boasts a screen and a keyboard; you slide the iPhone-sized CPU in its compartment and there’s your laptop.  Large screen computing on the road.
You don’t need to purchase a desktop or laptop.  Bad news for Microsoft especially if WinMo7 doesn’t catch on.

Notice, iWork on the iPad is Apple’s initial foray into giving iPhoneOS some large-screen capabilities.

Chandra Coomar

Interesting but WRONGGGGG!!!
This will be the computer for the rest of them the ones who got left behind. They number more than a billion.
Affordability.
Usefulness.
Stability
Ease of use.

All these simple things add up to a killer appliance.
And that is what is missing today.
Power users and work users are done. They are history. Why?
Who needs a more powerful MS Office? Dreamweaver? Flash? Accounts package? Database? etc etc. Probably less than 500,000 people. In total!!!
There is limited sales potential there and upgrade resistance is rising.

The new opportunity are the computer virgins. A billion+ of them.

Now that’s an opportunity.

You should know all this sitting up there in the Crow’s Nest.

Stephen Swift

I’m really looking forward to test driving an iPad at an Apple Store.  I’m curious how easy it is to interact with the iPad while docked.  Is docking something I only want to do when writing for an extended time?  I’m trying to imagine creating a keynote slide: Drop some images in, type some bullet points, rearrange the objects… on the mac, I can quickly do all this moving my hand quickly between mouse and keyboard.  Will it be awkward to have to reach over the keyboard every time I need to “click” something?  On the mac, I use many shortcuts and key commands to minimize the time my hands need to stray from the keyboard… I don’t see this being an option on the iPad.

xmattingly

That’s crazy, Dave - I was actually wondering about this last year. When they dropped the prices of the pro laptops in June and had the one lingering MacBook, it almost seemed as if they might forego the usual modest hardware upgrades and repackage their base model portable as an all new form factor.

I have to disagree with those who don’t believe that the full-blown OS X would work on a tablet - though I’d have to concede that the touch interface would need to mature some more, and we’d probably need beefier hardware specs to do anything productive. Right now it’s hard for me to imagine the current UI to offer you much in the way of productivity that would compare to your basic laptop. At the very least, without any ability to multitask and being able to work with files in an hierarchal directory system (let alone certain functions such as drag & drop), it’ll never happen.

FlipFriddle

I think in the near term, the iPad may end up replacing the MacBook line, while the MacBook Pro soldiers on until the iPad Pro shows up.

sovereignjohn

Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid hands-on and impressions http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/05/lenovo-ideapad-u1-hybrid-hands-on-and-impressions/

Nemo

The iPad is for the ordinary user, not for the IT expert or knowledge worker.  That is why I doubt that Apple will ever make the iPad a general purpose computer with all the complexity that implies.  For those experts, like Mr. Hamilton, if there is ever an iPad that suits their needs, it will be another SKU with a much greater range of features and capabilities that is suitable for their work, but at the price of much greater complexity and greater price, as it exposes to their use the file system, multitasks, and has the power that they need.  Or Apple may simply provide the expert with Macs or with some other form factor that incorporates advanced technology and Apple’s innovation, and the ability to install software from any source. 

The other iPads for the rest of us won’t have or need those capabilities and will quite likely remain a closed platform for reasons of maintaining simplicity, security, reliability, and elegance of operation and design.

Carl

Wouldn’t it be nice to see a BackToMyMac App?

When I need to do something more extensive, Virtual screen my main PC do the work put it on my mobile me iDisk and Voil

ilikeimac

The transparent (ok, mostly transparent) laptop screen at CES gets me thinking, what about a device that folds like a laptop but has a see through screen (basically looks like a piece of glass), effectively a screen you can see from both sides, so when it’s shut it’s a thin tablet, but just unfold it to use a real keyboard. Seems less clunky than those twist-and-fold hybrids. Of course the base still has to be heavy enough not to tip over when its open, so maybe not.

Urby

I don’t think it will replace the MacBook line anytime soon, but in the long term future (as Dave said). Eventually, we’ll see the applications we use on a Mac all be ported to the iPad, especially given that developers for one are pretty much instantly devs for the other. The platforms in code are eerily similar, the large differences are for the UI.

Why would I want to use something which does not give me the same functionality.? You also state that ?It will take a few years for the tablet to mature into what Apple?s target customers need?, but who exactly are those target customers?

The target audience that Dave speaks of I think is meant to be general computer users/all computer users, to the point where you could buy an iPad instead of a MacBook. And the idea is that the functionality you want will gradually evolve. IMO.

Dave Hamilton

I disagree. I don?t think the geeks (the ones who are moaning about it?s lack of features) are the target audience here.

The target audience are ordinary people (99.9% of the population) who just want it to do the basics without any complication.

You’re right—geeks aren’t the target audience. However, they are the target *mouthpiece*. Like it was with the iPhone, the iPad is a new device and “ordinary people” will be looking to their Reasonable And Trusted Geek Of Choice (RATGOC) to tell them whether or not the device stands up. If it doesn’t appease enough RATGOC’s, that *will* limit sales, even if the geeks themselves aren’t the target.

In other words, it needs to be good enough where the geeks/reporters say, “hey, this thing isn’t for me, but *man* is it cool!” Then the floodgates open.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@Nemo… The next book I write is going to be called “The Phallicy of the Ordinary User”. Pick anyone in your office and sit down with them and watch what they do with their computer during the day. Even the ones stifled by Citrix servers, block lists, and flash drives that have been glued shut. These ordinary users are the most creative people you will ever meet. The implicit demeaning of their capabilities and the tasks they want to do is by far the biggest casualty of this iPad debacle.

Nemo

If Apple is making Mr. Hamilton’s iPad. This probably it:  http://www.techcrunch.com/2010/02/01/apple-tablet-os-x-ipad/  This is a full, general purpose computer that runs OS X but that uses the iPad form.

Nemo

Dear Bosco:  We are creative in our work as lawyers, not as computer geeks.  There are times when we use more advanced capabilities to do presentations for clients or at trial, but we have support personnel to help us with that. Though I personally like to be able to do the presentations myself, I have more computing chops than even some of our younger lawyers, having almost become a programmers some thirty years ago.  For the most part our lawyers and support staff would prefer to simply talk to the computer, like Mr. Spock, and have it do what they want, with their creativity being reserved for their billable time.

Ref Librarian

I work with the public every day in a large urban library. Most are there to write a letter, play games, look at porn, watch videos, fill out a resume online, find a map to Aunt Lucy’s house, go to MySpace, get their W2s, look at email and pictures or shop.

An iPad would suit them very nicely, especially with the touch screen. You might be surprised at how many of them touch the screen anyway. “That one?” they ask and touch the icon, then have to struggle to get the curser there. How much simpler if they just touched an icon and it opened. I’m not saying I think that laptops need to go away. I’m just saying there are a lot of people who don’t need that much computer and would rather interact with something with an easier interface.

weatherman

I see the iPad replacing my laptop.  Thinking of what I do on personal and work travel; e-mail, presenting at conferences and customers, writing and creating short documents, taking notes, watching movies, listening to music, surfing the web; the iPad can do it all.  Starting with the built in applications along with the iWork suite some of the applications from the iPhone and those that will be coming new to the iPad like OmniGraffle make this a work system as well as a consumer system.  The heavy work can be done at home or at work with a desktop. 

I live in a family with 4 laptops, 1 iMac, and a new Mac Mini (our future family media server).  We are already planning on getting at least 4 iPads. 

For me, my MacBook Pro with a 22” external monitor on my desktop will be replaced by one of the new big iMacs and an iPad. 

I can see that in a couple of years, the family will have one iMac and maybe a 2nd iMac or Mac Pro (two computer animators / graphic design types in the family) and an iPad for each of us.  No more laptops. 

For the programming I do.  Yes, I’m a computer professional with a MS in software engineering and a PhD in computer architecture, the desktop will work fine.  With VNC and telnet/csh apps to get back to the desktop and the always connected nature of the iPad travel will be a lot easier than lugging a laptop. 

Especially when traveling in coach where legroom is optional.

iJack

Dave - It’s not, “not hardly,” which is the opposite of what you meant.  “Hardly” alone would suffice.

Dave

@Bosco: Your next book, as you are titling it ?The Phallicy of the Ordinary User? doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with computers. Kama Sutra, anyone?

cintra

Well, you have to admit one thing about Job’s and the iPad, they have turned a lot of Mac observers into visionaries..

JulesLt

Thought - if the iPhone had launched with a native SDK on day one, would we have seen a development goldrush, or would developers have been scared the device could be a flop?

By delaying the availability of the SDK, developers had assurance there was an app market. That in turn has ensure the tablet has apps. Imagine the situation if the iPad had launched with just what we’ve seen - developers would be hugely unsure of the platform.

So yes, I think the theory that Apple are slowly bootstrapping the platform upwards, in terms of capability, towards being a ‘full computer’ is a good one.

Against that - there are way more than 500,000 people who are ‘power users’ - by which I mean ‘use more than one application at the same time’.

There are several times that many web developers out there (who at the very least need some kind of editor or design tool open at the same time as something showing how the content will look for the end user). There were reasons why we moved from the one-app at a time model, to one that supported first multiple windows, and then multi-tasking.

And consider how many millions have only started buying Macs since they could dual-boot to Windows.

Note : I’m not saying one device isn’t capable of doing both, but that one interface design isn’t capable of doing both.

Photodan

All these simple things add up to a killer appliance.

I think Chandra hit the nail on the head by calling it an appliance. I think it’s Apple’s intent to make a computer that’s as easy to use as a toaster. You want to check your email? Press the email button. Look at your photos? Same thing.

My mother is the perfect customer for this. She doesn’t care to learn about filesystems and right vs. left clicking, she just wants to read her email and check Facebook easily. (I can’t even tell you how many times she accidentally removes apps from the Dock)

Another good analogy that I’ve seen already is manual vs. automatic transmissions in cars. Automatics made driving more accessible to the masses by eliminating a skill that, for some, was difficult to master. Most machines are supposed to make difficult tasks easier.
Just as modern automatic transmissions have been dramatically improved over their “slushbox” ancestors, I expect the iPad to gradually mature in ways that only make it more attractive to those who would normally buy a low-end laptop. But initially I think it will mainly tap into the technophobe market.

Did the automatic kill the manual transmission? Not so much, and I don’t expect anything different between the Macbook and the iPad. The iPad will eat into the low end laptop market, but Macbook Pros will be safe for quite some time.

-Dan

Jaime

Hi Dave, actually I felt the same as you but not when I saw the beyboard, but rather it was when looking at the great UI…that’s when I saw the future of computing.  This made me get mixed feelings ‘cause computing as we know it has it’s days numbered.

I also agree on what you say about the iPad being a future computing device, perhaps an iPad pro will be that much as to replace a laptop.

Two more things:
-I remember that there was an Apple patent regarding a dockable iMac which had a slot to allow something in the form of an iPad…don’t know if that’s feasable now.

-Out of curiousity.  While reading about being able to “dock” the iPad while on a desk I remembered the MobyBrick… do you remember it?

BCCB

I can see this replacing some machines, especially laptop machines. 9 lbs were gone long ago, 6 lbs are going, 3 lbs will disappear, Apple just ?lowered? the bar further. Would you want to be seen lugging around a conventional laptop on the road if all you are doing is emailing and performing a little lite spreadsheet work? Apple has just made it uncool (pardon my old word here) ... to use a laptop.

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