Over the last couple of weeks, the latest iPad Pro announcement brought another surge in the ongoing debate about laptops versus tablets.
So far I’ve refrained from writing about this for two reasons: First, we all have our own personal preferences, and second, from the enterprise perspective, if we have our mobility strategy in order then it shouldn’t matter which devices users choose.
But today I’m finally going to go for it and share my thoughts on tablets versus laptops. Disclaimer—this post is going to be more blog-like and personal than what I usually write.
My personal preferences
I get that some people like tablets a lot, and that for many people, especially consumers, a tablet or a smartphone can provide all the computing they need. I also know there are many great extended enterprise use cases for a tablet.
However for personal productivity I never saw the attraction of using an iPad with a keyboard or a Microsoft Surface. I’ve heard many people say they like them because they’re thin and light and good for traveling. But if thin and light is what people are after, there’s a whole range of thin and light laptops out there.
Furthermore, multitasking on iPad is still lacking; there’s the “lapability” problem; it’s rare to see someone actually using the Surface without a keyboard; you can get a lot of the tablet experience by using a large phone; and so on. This has all been discussed at length for years, so there’s no need for me say anything else. (Gabe wrote an excellent post back when the big iPad Pro came out.)
Of course when it comes to the practical details of productivity, iOS and Android apps have made great strides—instead of awkward chains of using the “open in” button, data and files are much more integrated into app workflows. Mobile single sign-on is improving. There’s deep linking into apps. Heck, we have Microsoft Office on mobile, and it hooks directly into Dropbox and Box! And the iPad Pro is more laptop-like than ever before.
I know the iPad experience can be pretty awesome, and that the Surface is a very nice machine. I don’t plan to switch off my laptop anytime soon, but what’s more important is that this all just comes down to personal preferences.
On a related note, you’ve probably also heard about the Jide Remix Mini. It’s a mini PC that uses an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and runs Remix OS, a version of Android that’s been modified to have a desktop user interface. In other words, it’s another offshoot of the tablet versus laptop conversation.
Much of the experience is quite good, like the taskbar, the file browser, and the way that apps can run in free floating windows. Unfortunately none of the apps I used were optimized for desktop usage, and frankly many of them don’t even do a good job at tablet size, either. So when I tested it, I tended to use the browser more than apps. But again there were issues, because even though you can check the “request desktop site” setting while browsing, it’s still a mobile browser and weird things happen.
I found myself thinking that Jide needs to spend a lot more time optimizing the browser, but then I remembered how Chromebooks and Chromeboxes already make excellent, inexpensive, alternative laptops and desktops. And besides, if Android developers really want to bring their apps to desktop-type devices they don’t need an Android PC, they can just use the Android Runtime for Chrome OS.
A few other notes: The Android N developer preview has free floating windows, but not as many of the other optimizations that Jide did. There was also a lot of talk last fall about Google merging elements of Android and Chrome OS, but as Ars Technica put it, that would require a lot of changes.
Should this really matter?
To re-emphasize my point one more time, this is all a matter of preference.
If your organization has a good handle on mobility and can support Android and iOS phones, than supporting users that choose the iPad Pro, Android tablets, or even the Jide Remix Mini should be a non-issue.
The same goes for the Surface. We’ve had home access PCs for years, so you treat the Surface like any that, or since it’s just Windows, you can manage it like all your other PCs. (Or you can even consider managing it with MDM.)
In addition, all the other things we’ve been doing in response to the consumerization of IT over the last few years (like modern collaboration apps, Office 365, file sync and share, et cetera) will also help enable users to choose whatever they want.