Tablet Talk


'Why would you buy a PC anymore?' - Tim Cook


Because there is no Xcode on iOS.

There is this common idea of replacing the PC with the tablet. Obviously, the whole notion is garbage because a tablet is a personal computer - a PC. So what is he talking about?

from Desktop to Laptop

Let's start from the classical desktop. You have a computer, hooked up with cables to a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. Cables suck and nobody want's to spend time plugging them in, so we moved the computer and the monitor in the same case, leaving only keyboard and mouse external. Next we figured, hey, let's attach the keyboard to the monitor/computer thing and throw in some batteries! The mouse had to be replaced by a touchpad and in the end we had the laptop. A mobile PC that can do anything a desktop can. But also a PC that is beholden to the tradition of the PC, which started out as a stationary device.

from Mobile Phone to Smartphone

At some point, someone figured out how to make a mobile phone smart enough to realistically be called a PC. The smartphone can run programs making it a general purpose computing machine. But because it started out as phone, it looks wildly different. As there is not much space to waste, the input and output were married in the form of a touchscreen. A mouse or touchpad is not required anymore, as you can directly manipulate icons on the screen. The lost keyboard is brought back in virtual form - not as good as the mechanical counterpart, but good enough to serve it's purpose. And by being virtual, the new keyboard also was able to learn some tricks, like swiping, to make up for it's drawbacks. Still, the screens were small and thereby the amount of information that could be displayed. Good interface design went a long way to figure out how to make it work, but at some point there is a limit to the complexity that is possible to be rendered on small screens.

From Smartphone to Tablet

So we increased that screen size and created the tablet. And neat screens they are. There is enough real estate to show tons of information and by being mobile it opened up new possibilities, where laptops were to bulky or not power efficient enough. Being born from the smartphone, the tablet also profited from the interface design work done there, making it easier to use than the classical PC.

adding pens

But with the new levels of complexity being able to be displayed, the input mechanisms started to lack behind. It was easy to get a lot information out of the machine, but getting it in wasn't that comfortable. So we added the pen. A pen is more precise than a finger and by using pressure and tilt sensors, it can transport more information. It also enables a bunch of new ways of interacting with the machine altogether, giving the user back the free form of expression known from much simpler tools - pen and paper.

and keyboards

Until at some point we realized that we got used to the keyboards of our PC's so much, we actually miss them. Typing on a keyboard is faster than writing with a pen, except you learn shorthand. The free form creation of pen and paper actually was never appreciated when you were writing a cover letter or a business report. So we brought back the keyboards. Because the tablet was all about being mobile, we didn't have any space for classical keyboards, so we built new ones, trading typing comfort for size and folding them up in a weird origami fashion.

to make a Laptop again.

We realized that we came full circle and reinvented the laptop. In some ways worse, in some ways better. The new keyboards suck, but the interface design lessons learned from the smartphone help us make better interfaces for other form factors, too. The limitations of the operating systems designed for mobile use drag down productivity, but the lower energy consumption give us more time before needing to plug in. And although the pen can't replace the keyboard, it complements it greatly.

Right now, we have two products in this space. Microsoft's Surface, coming from the Desktop side, and the iPad Pro, coming from the Smartphone side. None of them are perfect yet, none of them are the final answer, but both point in a very similar direction. There is a new kind of laptop forming, taking the lessons learned from phones and tablets and mating them to the power of the classic PC. Touch, Pen and Keyboard come together to form a device more flexible than ever.
But in the end, it will be a laptop.