The Tablet Loses

Even small tablets are too big, but phones are too small to feel productive.

With a seemingly immenent announcement of larger screen iPhone, there has been a lot of talk about device sizing. What is ideal: smaller tablets, or bigger phones?

In addition to all of this we are seeing tablet growth slow, as presumably fewer people are upgrading and fewer people are buying. ((No, shit, right?)) Both of these thought patterns are related, and one common thing I have seen is that the laptop isn’t being replaced by tablets, it is being replaced by phones.

It seems crazy, as a person with a high-end Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone, that people would be using the iPhone (or like devices) as their computer. But, is it really that crazy? Not when you stop and think about it.

If you could only buy one device out of a laptop, tablet, or phone which would you buy? If it is me I’m buying the phone. It would be annoying, certainly, but my iPhone can do everything my iPad can do, and my iPad can do almost everything my Mac can do. So, there’s that.

It’s clear to me that the phone is seen as vital, and useful, to the majority of people and thus ‘wins’ when it comes to adoption and upgrading. We tend to want to get and upgrade things which we use a lot.

Tablet or Laptop

More interesting is when you pit a phone owner with the choice of adding either a tablet or a laptop. What I think the sales numbers are telling us is that when pitted with that choice if a laptop or tablet, most people choose the laptop.

Even though, as nerds, we know that for most people a tablet is probably a better choice, we still face internal resistance and recommending that to people. ((No need to go into reasons or detail about why we should recommend a tablet. But along the lines of: less support needed, easier, less that goes wrong, etc.)) And yet, most people, even nerds, choose the laptop despite logic or what others tell them.

There are of course some marketing issues leading to that choice — and I don’t mean advertising — that the tablet is still not seen as a ‘real’ work device. Even though it can be a work device, the tablet is still seen as more entertainment focused (and people typically want to believe that they will use a computer for work). So they choose the laptop instead of a tablet.

Even with all those factors I think there is one factor about tablets that is often overlooked and is a large reason why it is hard to justify a tablet only lifestyle: a tablet just isn’t portable enough.

Yes, even your iPad mini is too big.

The Meeting Gauntlet

Maybe twice a year I have a day where I will be out and about in Seattle attending meetings that are spread out just enough to allow for down time in between them. I don’t live in Seattle, and my office isn’t there ((At least at the time of writing this.)) and so I rely on places like Starbucks to get a table and chair for getting some work done.

These days are really hard for me. Often I don’t want to carry around my backpack as I try to go really light. Typically that means I just want to take my iPad with me, because I really love working on my iPad as I always try to make that the device I bring to get stuff done.

The problem that I always find with the iPad is: how do I carry it? If I want to trek around the city on foot, stop at coffee shops, and attend meetings in a light fashion what do I do with the iPad? I really have two choices: carry it, or bag it.

And I’ve tried carrying the iPad many times, it just doesn’t work. It ties up one hand while you move about, meaning you can’t snap pictures easily with your phone, talk on the phone and carry a coffee, or do a great many number of other things. Additionally, if you meet for lunch: where do you put your iPad? On the sticky floor? On the table where a passerby could snag it, or a beverage could be spilled on it? Your lap?

None of these issues are solved by the iPad mini either, because the mini is still too large for 90% of pockets out there. This is a problem.


All of that brings me right back to where we started. This is why the phone is so powerful: it’s insanely easy to carry because it fits everywhere.

But we know that, this is about choosing a laptop over a tablet. Because think about it like this: it really isn’t convenient to carry an iPad without a bag, so you need a bag. And once you’ve decided that you are going to carry a bag, the difference between carrying a laptop and a tablet is minimal — especially if you are talking about a MacBook Air.

And that’s where I see the issue. If I am going to carry a bag, of any size, why wouldn’t I just carry the laptop instead of my tablet? I have a better keyboard and the capability to do anything I want on the laptop. And once you are carrying a bag, what is in the bag is of minimal concern.

I don’t know that this ‘flaw’ is solvable, but until there is a decent solution in place, I don’t see people willingly choosing a tablet over a laptop — and maybe they don’t even need to make that choice because they are busy doing everything they need on a phone that fits in their pockets.

And that’s why so many people want larger screened phones. They still fit in their pockets, but they can see more on the screen. And seeing more on the screen feels more productive, and as I said: we all want to feel like we are buying computers to get more done.

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