The standard computer (aka beige box) was first touted to the home user as a replacement for the typewriter, a wonder word processor. But it has done far more than that. The computer has enriched our lives in nearly everyway and made awareness of interesting cultures and historical events that would otherwise be forgotten. Knowledge and therefore power, are at the finger tips of even the most casual reader with billions of books just a click away. Pictures, video, and any thing man can think up is now managed by the computer. Computers are here to stay but should they look and act like the 1970's from which they came?
Did you know that phones have secretly turned into computers on the inside? In fact our company now uses phones called IP Phones, which is just a computer that looks like a phone. The Snom 370 shown below is running the Linux OS. Phones are the de facto standard for communications with friends, family, and many forms of business. This area is now controlled by a friendly computer.
If computers are going to show up in every area of our life it stands to reason they must be made simpler, less sterile, and more welcoming. Indeed they must also adapt their shape and be formed to serve the different areas of our daily living. There shouldn't be just one type of computer to do it all.
Tablet's grand entrance
Perhaps the most talked about computer today is the tablet computer. The iPad, made by Apple Computer Inc, is not the first of it's kind but the first to get us excited about what the possibilities are for this form factor. A shape that is as welcoming at the breakfast table as it is in the living room. A computer children and even grandma are not afraid to use.
What computer is right for me? First lets understand the categories of computing. These categories are based on the size, shape, weight, and power of a computing device. They theoretically can all accomplish the same goals (unless a manufacturer has deliberately limited them) although some may do it faster or more enjoyably.
The form factors of personal computing
Large monitors, large storage, extremely fast electronics, these have no equal as to what can be done simultaneously. These make the best use of your time if you need to get something done.
A portable desktop. Much smaller displays and without proper mouse and keyboards getting work done can be somewhat slower. The processing power is quite fast these days for all but the most demanding users. If you can only have one computer this should be it.
These come with the smallest of displays and make use of only your finder or stylus for input. Not great for multitasking. Causal computing or projects that don't have a time sensitive nature to them may be meet by these devices.
Given our above category descriptions we can work on defining what the true role a computer should play for you.
iPad vs. Desktop
Shown next to a desktop computer it seems unrealistic to assume that a professional will forego the easy to use desktop for an iPad. Indeed our staff used the iPad to accomplish various tasks and found the desktop superior to any form of computing device available today. But superior and convenient don't go together. It is no fun to carry a desktop computer. The whole thing weighs over 100 pounds! The desktop also does not allow one to socialize with others who may be in a different room. It is very much an all business machine.
iPad vs. Laptop
Shown next to a Lenovo ThinkPad one can see that the iPad is an ultra portable. Can the iPad replace the laptop? If you use your laptop to manipulate large blocks of text and pictures, and open tens of web pages then you face the same situation you do trying to replace a desktop with the iPad. The laptop wins when it comes to pure productivity.
As wonderful as the laptop sounds, all the power of a desktop on the go, it is still too large and bulky for the breakfast table. It seems out of place in the kitchen and I can't see people replacing Bibles and songbooks at church with laptops!
I think the reason a laptop seems out of place for many scenarios is because there is something a bit stingy about a laptop. It doesn't seem to be a social machine. It is not human enough. You're on the laptop and everyone else is waiting for you to finish whatever it is you are doing.
Where the tablet belongs
The iPad seems purpose built for sharing. Is the best computer for interacting with others. You can pass it around to everyone who is near you in a very natural way. It is what it looks like, a portable electronic picture viewer and text reader. The tablet will change the coffee table. Therefore the iPad belongs in the living room, on the bus, or at grandma's house.
It is very sensitive to humanity, like it has always been with us, as long as the printed page. The iPad is a magazine, a book, a newspaper subscription all in one touchy feely package. Notice how it is almost the same size as the most famous magazine issue ever printed. The magazine is a little worn having survived 1985 until present day. The iPad however, makes it look as new as the day it was made.
What type of computer do you need? If you're like most probably all three. If you can only have one, then the laptop is the obvious choice. But for everything else the iPad can make reading and sharing much more down to earth. Reading on the iPad makes the world slow down again. And for that we are truly grateful to the designers and laborers who risked ridicule to bring this device to us.
One thing we hope to come of the iPad is proper IPS display technology to the masses. It is something we did not dwell on in this article but professionals have long since known what a correct display looks and acts like. IPS display technology lets people experiences images in true color. Don't buy another laptop, tablet, or monitor of any kind without IPS technology inside.
Because the iPad is wonderful for casual computing as well as commercial presentations this type of device is going to be everywhere and greatly come down in price. Expect to be seeing and using a tablet in many situations. For creating your work you'd need a desktop or laptop, but the iPad seems to have no equal for this one area... the area of consumer consumption.