iPad, Surface, Ultrabook: Have We Achieved The “Perfect” Computing Device Yet?

Web technologist, teacher, and member of the Microsoft Web Platform Team Scott Hanselman in his personal blog writes:

“One day, someone will make the perfect computing device. Or will they? I’m starting to think it’s just not possible.”

Hanselman goes on to discuss various attributes that would contribute to a perfect computer experience, such as speed as distinct from raw power, noting that he doesn’t care if he has a 3GHz processor or a quad-core whatever, he wants apps to launch in an a second or so. He goes on to note that he doesn’t know the speed specs. of the Surface or his iPad and doesn’t care, since knowing the processor speed doesn’t confirm if apps will load in a second.

Weight; he recalls that he spent years lugging around a 10 pound laptop and calling it light, but now he’s carrying a 3 pound Ultrabook and thinking that the power supply is heavy, so the “perfect computer” must weigh less than three pounds.

Size; 15″ and 17″ laptops used to be the only way to have portables with high-resolution screens, but now that we can get 1080p resolution (or larger) on a 13″ or 11″ screen there’s less reason to go large.

Touch; Hanselman maintains that everything now needs touch, sincce in his estimation (some of we pointing device enthusiasts would disagree) reaching out and touching an icon is more intuitive than using a mouse, touchpad or a Thinkpad eraser head. He declares that
“Every laptop should (and will) have a touch screen in a year.”

Quality; “Plastic crap is plastic crap,” says Hanselman. “We care about our devices these days and we use them everywhere. Apple proved this with its excellent engineering and aluminum construction. Microsoft validated this and pointed out to OEMs with the engineering work put into the Surface. Microsoft has long made awesome keyboards and mice. I’m glad to see more quality hardware coming out.”

Keyboard; Touch technology notwithstnding, Hanselman says “I need a keyboard when I need one and I need it to work well.”

Integration; Everything should “just work” — touch scrolling without thinking of drivers, automatic updates without thinking, apps that support all one’s services

He suggests that everyone can pretty much agree with the conclusions outlined above (personally, I would rather have mouse support with my iPad than an external keyboard, but as Hanselman observes, the Surface doesn’t force you to choose, since it has a real USB port and his USB mice all work just fine – CM), but then there are points of divergence, such as the Consumption vs. Production argument, exemplified by folks who contend that the iPad is a device for reading/getting/consuming and not making/creating/producing.

Hanselman says he’s paired an Apple Wireless Keyboard to his iPad and written on it quite happily, but the real issues with producing on the iPad are its lack of a shared file system and most applications’ mediocre offline integration with services like Dropbox, and and its ability to really multitask two apps at once. Consequently, the iPad still falls short of the ideal of being a writing platform that syncs transparently to Dropbox, and we are always forced to “think” about where things are, which makes dealing with iPad documents such a hassle, eg: obstacles to using one app for storage and another for editing is such a consistent problem that often just emailing the work to your PC is the easiest mode – a shortcoming that could be solved if Apple had the will to do it right. (I agree, CM)

Hanselman observes that Microsoft’s Surface RT has a similar but slightly different problem, being that there IS a user accessible file system even from “modern” apps, but, there’s no DropBox application (yet), which is a deal-breaker for those of us for whom Dropbox is a non-optional necessity.

And of course Ultrabooks and MacBooks, being full computers, don’t have any of these restrictions, and “you can do whatever you like however you like with whatever programs you want whether they are ‘in the store’ or not.”

Then there’s Keyboard vs. no Keyboard vs. Keyboard in a Cover; Hanselman acknowledges that the iPad’s touch keyboard on the iPad is excellent, with amazing dynamic resizing of the buttons and the option to split the keyboard two. However, he says tapping on a screen causes him pain after a few pages, and is just not as comfortable as a keyboard with the resiliancy of key travel, and an on-screen keyboard takes up half the screen.

However, he says the Surface RT’s marquee Touch Cover feature is not for him, having tried to type on it for weeks before giving up. However, he adds that the slightly more expensive Surface Type Cover with real moving keys is a fantastic keyboard rivaling that of his ThinkPad – a “killer keyboard” not unlike his Apple Wireless Keyboard.

He says he loves the idea of a no-compromises “convertible” computer with full keyboard that takes up only the space required and then goes away as much as possible when he just wants a tablet for touch or movies.

Hanselman also observes that our expectations seem to be different for tablets vs. laptops, and we seem to be more patient with our laptops, but ironically it’s only his Ultrabook with a full Intel i7 processor that has no issues with speed. On the other hand it has a noisy cooling fan while the Surface and iPad run silent. That issue aside, Hanselman says he still keeps coming back to his Ultrabook with its 1600 x 900 resolution, is full Windows, and has a touchscreen too.

Hanselman covers much more ground in the full commentary which you can find here:

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