Platform Wars: Tablets Triumphant, But Don’t Write The Laptop’s Obituary Yet – The ‘Book Mystique

The Register’s Paul Kunert says it’s finally official – the epic battle of legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs is finally won, now that he has toppled the PC platform from beyond the grave, in the UK, at least, based on IDC metrics showing that during Q1/13 more tablets were shipped into Britain’s consumer and business channels than PCs – notebooks and desktops combined, with tablet sales up 188 percent on the past year combined with a 20 percent drop in portable sales and a six percent decline in desktops with the top three UK tablet vendors being Apple, Samsung and Amazon according to IDC.

So how did tablet computers, especially the Apple iPad, take command of the personal computing device market in just three years? The moribund economy had to play a role, with tablets taking over and expanding on the low-priced portable computer segment that was briefly dominated by PC netbooks, which it essentially pushed off the market entirely. The smaller, cheaper 7-inch-ish tablet models like the iPad mini are strong sellers at least partly based on price.

However there’s more to it than that, and its arguable that tablets would still be taking the personal computing world by storm even in a robust economy.

ZNet’s Robin Harris thinks the key to tablets’ success is the amount of power they pack into an extremely compact form factor. He notes that he had a hulking, 45-pound quad-core Mac Pro for years but that his little, 3-pound i7-inch MacBook Air has faster Geekbench scores and feels snappier than the old tower machine ever did, and that explains in a nutshell why tablets are winning the device wars he says.

I actually experienced a similar epiphany some 17 years ago, about half an hour after unboxing my first Apple laptop — a PowerBook 5300, back in 1996. Prior to that I’d been using first a Compact Mac Plus, and then a hulking 45-pound, 25 MHz 68030 Mac LC 520 all-in-one desktop with a 14″ Sony Trinitron 640 x 480 CRT display.

Although the 5300 was a relatively bulky and heavy laptop by today’s standards, in 1996 it seemed like a little tiny thing, and the fact that it packed so much more power than the LC 520 blew me away and made me an instant convert to portable computing. I’ve never looked back.

Harris says that one reason he had the big Mac Pro was to edit video, and that although its stability, an Intel workstation motherboard, ECC RAM, and ample cooling haven’t been equalled by any newer Mac he’s used, and while he hires a professional to do most of his video editing these days, he still does some at home, and really can’t tell the difference between editing on the Mac Pro and editing on the MacBook Air.

Harris further observes that the MacBook Air’s motherboard is tiny – smaller than an iPhone. and that there’s a lot less fan noise as well, all in a system that weighs 8 percent of what the old Mac Pro does and costs substantially less.

The same dynamic explains why tablets are so popular, Harris contends. We’re now able to put the technology that people need and want into lightweight, portable, and functional tablets that have more power, better ease of use, and longer battery life than most notebooks did 10 years ago, and that’s why although desktops and notebooks aren’t going to disappear, the tablet will be the leading platform for the next eight to 10 years. Perhaps in 2018, they’ll even be fast enough for Harris.

When I bought my iPad back in June, 2011, I wondered if I would ever use it enough to justify the cost. Interestingly, I had the same concern in 1996 when I ordered the PowerBook 5300. I needn’t have worried in either case. The 5300 became my anchor workhorse computer from the day it arrived, and I now use my iPad about as much as I do my three laptops combined.

I’m addicted to the iPad, with which I have a more complex relationship than I do with my MacBook And PowerBooks. I can’t say that I love it the way I do the Macs, but I’m addicted, and at the gut level, I find myself more intrigued by the next version of the iOS and my next iPad than I am by the prospect of my next MacBook. That’s partly because I like my Core 2 Duo MacBook so much. It’s the best computer I’ve ever owned, and will be a tough act to follow., and it does pretty much everything I need a computer to do.

The iPad does some things extremely well, but falls woefully short in a number of areas, which tempers my affection for it. It’s hard to love a machine that seriously frustrates you on a daily basis, despite its having many virtues. There’s much room for improvement, hence my eager anticipation of what Apple may roll out with iOS 7 and the next full-size iPad iteration. The iPad mini doesn’t entice me a whole lot, offering as it does essentially the same power and display resolution as my current iPad 2. The full-size iPad 4th generation, on the other hand, has a significantly more powerful A6X SoE and more powerful graphics driving its Retina display, and would be a substantial upgrade for me.

My tentative plan is to upgrade both my anchor Mac and iPad this year — the Mac being more urgent due to the hard drive on my late 2008 MacBook being packed out. I could squeeze another year out of the iPad, but my wife needs a tablet (whether she realizes it or not), and it makes sense for her to take over the iPad 2 and for me to move up to either an iPad 4 or the forthcoming iPad 5, which I want to check out before I make my upgrade decision.

The same for my laptop system upgrade. The latest rumors suggest that Intel Haswell powered MacBook Airs and (mirabile dictu!) a Haswell powered refresh of the long in the tooth non-Retina MacBook Pro will be unveiled at Apple’s June 10-13 Worldwide Developers Conference, to begin shipping late in June.

Once I know the lay of the land, as it were, going forward, I could still end up just getting a Apple refurbished June 2012 MacBook Pro and a refurb. 4th-gen iPad which will presumably become available once the iPhone 5 is released. The 4th-gen 9.7-inch iPad will work with my iPad 2 accessories, and what is expected to be a thinner, more compact “marginless” (a la the iPad mini) form factor in iPad the fifth doesn’t especially appeal to me, especially given that downsizing often comes at a cost of power, features, or functionality compromises.

On Monday Digitimes’ Max Wang and Adam Hwang reported that trial production of the 5th-generation 9.7-inch iPad will begin soon with volume production to begin in July, with monthly shipments ramping up to 2-3 million units and product hitting Apple Store and reseller shelves in September, according to Taiwan supply chain insider sources.

Wang and Hwang say that the new iPad’s Retina display will remain at 2,048 x 1,536 resolution, the same as the screen used in the 4th-generation model, except that latest iteration will be is built on a glass substrate of 0.2mm, thinner than the 0.25mm one used in the 4th-generation device, plus the iPad 5’s enclosure will indeed have a narrow bezel according to the rumors.

The reporters further note that the touch panel solution for the 5th-generation iPad is GF2 (1 layer of glass and two layers of ITO film) instead of the G/G bonding used in the 4th-generation iPad, according to sources, and will be illumined by one LED light bar for backlighting, compared to the two LED light bars used in the 4th-generation iPad. I understand why Apple is doing this given the success of the iPad mini and the popularity of 7-8-inch tablets in general, but It sounds like compromise is likely on ruggedness and optimum backlighting, neither of which is for my purposes a worthwhile tradeoff for the 25-33% lighter weight and trimmer dimensions than the 4th-generation model. If there were also any substantial power or features enhancements with Generation 5, I would be obliged to reconsider, but for now it looks like I’ll be upgrading to a 4th-gen iPad

As for the MacBook, I’m surprised and delighted to hear that Apple may be giving the old non-Retina Pro one more refresh. Apparently it’s still selling so well that they just can’t bring themselves to kill it off.

The idea of owning both the first and last iterations of a design that I consider the best all-round laptop Apple has produced to date has a certain tidy elegance that appeals to me, not to mention the major efficiency advance that’s expected with Haswell, plus a substantial video performance boost with Intel’s 5000 series integrated graphics processor that will come with the new generation CPU. It still remains to be seen if the Intel graphics will surpass the Nvidia GeForce 9400 IGPU in my late 2008 MacBook. I’m intrigued by the MacBook Air, and appreciate the advantages of SSD storage, but unfortunately, reasonably-priced capacity isn’t one of them, and being a data packrat, that 500 GB standard HDD exerts a strong appeal. Plus, I’m not quite ready to give up on internal optical disk support.

I’m also now comfortable affirming that the Core 2 Duo MacBook, purchased refurbished in March, 2009, is, as I noted above, the best computer I’ve ever owned, and I have no doubt that I would be very happy with an upgraded version of the same design for the next four years or so. I would be even happier with a bit more display resolution, but not happier enough to seriously consider the MacBook Air or Retina MacBook Pro as alternatives.

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