Have Tablets Been Better Personal Computers Than Laptops All Along? – The ‘Book Mystique

In a recent blog, Cult of Mac’s Charlie Sorrel allowed how he thinks we aren’t in general giving the iPad its due, challenging conventional wisdom that laptops are the best portable computer variant.

“Is the laptop inherently better for computing than a tablet, or does it just seem that way because we’re so used to the folding form factor?” Sorrel asks, suggesting that “With Apple’s mobile and desktop platforms growing closer in iOS 8 and Yosemite, I started wondering: Is the laptop inherently better for computing than a tablet, or does it just seem that way because we’re so used to the folding form factor?” He suggests that had the iPad launched before the Mac and we’d spent the last 30 years typing, tapping, and swiping on touchscreens, we might indeed balk at using keyboards, trackpads, mice and passive displays to do our computing work.

I’m ready to go along with this premise to a degree. My appreciation for the iPad continues to build as I head into my fourth year of iPadding. In my estimation, the iPad has the potential to displace laptops as king of the portable computing hill, but it still has a fair distance to go yet to be ready to achieve that.

Image Courtesy Apple

Take for example multiwindowed multitasking, which my Mac laptops handle so masterfully, and which essentially doesn’t exist on the iPad, although Apple is rumored to possibly be addressing that shortcoming with iOS 8. Or not. We’ll see.

Sorrel doesn’t perceive lack of support for multiwindowing as being as big a problem as I do, although he acknowledges that “Clearly the iPad is terrible at this kind of multitasking, and always will be.” Unfortunately, it’ says kind of multitasking I do a lot of, and can’t imagine a satisfactory alternative to. Bopping back and forth between two or more fullscreen apps just doesn’t cut it. I don’t see why it has to be that way, and hope that sooner or later — hopefully sooner — it won’t be. Sorrel does predict that iOS 8’s new plug-ins facility could provide add-on solutions to the multi-windowing issue, and that just maybe there will be a better, quicker and easier way to get the job we’re trying to do done on a tablet. I’ll keep an open mind, but an impatient one.

I do disagree vigorously with Sorrel about text selection on the iPad “not really being any worse then in OS X.” Seriously?…….

Image Courtesy Apple

As to the matter of external keyboard support for the iPad, I’m a bit bewildered by the proliferation and popularity of keyboard and keyboard case products for the iPad (and other iDevices). For me the quintessence of the iPad is its superb portability and self-containedness, and adding an external keyboard or clamshell-style keyboard case pretty much erases the marquee advantage iPad has as a portable computing platform as an alternative to a small laptop. There is still no mouse support, and touchscreens are a miserable ergonomic nightmare when oriented in vertical mode with a keyboard in between. What you end up with when you put your iPad in a keyboard case is an inferior laptop. Much more sensible to just buy an 11-inch MacBook Air and get a bigger display, trackpad and mouse support, real multitasking, and the power of OS X (or even Windows if you must).

Image Courtesy Apple

I’m quite happy typing on the iPad’s touchscreen (I’m not a touch typist), but would love having support for a mouse, a point upon which I part company again with Charlie Sorrel, who calls the mouse “the ultimate kludge of the desktop GUI,” but acknowledges that it’s also the thing that made the Mac possible. He contends that my central argument that the mouse pointer is more accurate and precise than the iPad’s touch-based UI “is bunk,” his rationalization being humans have been using fingers for zillions of years, and mice for only the last 30.

That seems simplistic to me. Just because we’ve been using fingers forever and for whatever doesn’t mean that there are not a vast assortment of examples where various tools we’ve invented and developed are functionally superior than fingers alone at performing certain tasks. Could Da Vinci have painted the Mona Lisa with finger-paint? Would you want surgery with the doctor limited to his/her fingers alone?

Image Courtesy Apple

And if you suggest styli as the workaround, as Sorrel does, I’ve won the argument by default, because a stylus is no less a tool kludge or crutch than is a mouse. It’s just not as good a one. I’ve experimented with stylus and tablet input on the iPad, as well as via graphics tablets on the Mac, and while it has its place, it’s no substitute for a real mouse, trackpad, trackball, or my personal favorite for desktop use — the http://ergo.contour-design.com/ roller bar.

Then there’s storage capacity. Sorrel observes that if you need more storage for you Mac, you just hook up an external hard drive. At least that’s what I do. However, if you need more storage for your iOS device, you’re pretty much screwed.

“Or are we?” he asks rhetorically, noting that after all, Dropbox already gives way more storage on it’s paid plans than we had on even desktop computers not so long ago, and then there’s iCloud, not to mention Google Drive, Microsoft OneDriive, Box, Dolly, and so forth.

However, as much as I love Dropbox, especially for its virtually transparent file-synching among different devices, and appreciate the potential of other players in cloud storage, there’s something reassuring about knowing I have complete, redundant copies of my entire computing history archived on hard drives that I can lay hands on in seconds, without the intermediary of the Internet — and especially pertinent issue when you live in the outer boonies like I do and Internet service outages are not uncommon.

Again, that’s not a carved-in-stone limitation of the iPad, although I’m more pessimistic about Apple relenting on the USB port or SDCard slot issues than on multiwindowing or even Bluetooth mouse support.

So I’m obliged to respectfully disagree with Charlie Sorrel when he declares that he has trouble coming up with any situations that are inherently better on a PC than they are on the iPad. He maintains that “once you start thinking of new and better ways to achieve a given result, rather than asking the iPad to reach those results the same way a desktop computer would achieve them, the iPad offers the opportunity to rethink the old ways and come up with something better.”

Image Courtesy Apple

Like I said, I’ll keep,an open mind, but the purported “something better” has to actually be better and not just a rationalized workaround that isn’t as good.

However, I won’t dispute Sorrel’s contention that the iPad is indeed a “real” computer, and we just haven’t gotten used to it yet. However, the latest trope of the smart kids is that tablets have already peaked, and the next big thing in personal computers is large-screened smartphones — AKA “phablets.” Gotta’ say, I don’t think there’s much chance of my ever embracing that notion. The iPad mini is pretty much the lower limit of screen size for me. Your mileage may vary.

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