My Notebook and I are Growing Apart

by Ben Bajarin   |   November 30th, 2012

I can’t help but have the feeling as of late that a close friend and I are growing more distant. These feelings are encapsulated with gratitude, sorrow, and also an understanding that it is for the better. That close friend is my notebook. Up until the last year or so my notebook as been my trusted partner in this industry and the computing device I depended on more than any other.

My relationship with my notebook peaked in 2011 with the 13” Macbook Air refresh which I dubbed at the time the perfect notebook for me. However, over the past few years, we have been growing apart and the iPad is the culprit.

I have written extensively about the profound industry impact I believe tablets will have, however there is a quote from Steve Jobs when he first launched the iPad that I believe captures every bit of why my notebook and I are growing apart.

“The iPad is more intimate than a notebook, and more capable than a smartphone” – Steve Jobs

Nail.On.The.Head. Smartphones are personal, but tablets are intimate. In light of that profound quote and perspective, we may be better off thinking about tablets as intimate computers instead of personal computers—even though they are both.

In a column a few months ago, I advanced a similar theory to that of Steve Jobs where I connected this intimate relationship I have with my iPad by making the observation that things we hold we love. This is why I believe a handheld computing device like our phones and tablets will garner a deeper connection than the desktop or notebook ever could with consumers. Desktops and notebooks are designed to be used at arms length and roughly around 24-36 inches away from our bodies. Yet tablets and smartphones are specifically designed to be used 8-12 inches from our bodies. Tablets and smartphones–by nature–are more intimate and thus will yield fundamentally different emotional connections with those who use them.

This observation, of not only the intimate nature of these products but also the proximity in which we hold and use them to our bodies, is in my opinion, the root of why my notebook and I have grown apart. When you use a device like an iPad or iPad Mini and are used to holding it closer to your body, and your eyes in particular, you simply get used to consuming information on a screen much closer to your face and eyes.

This observation was cemented in my mind most recently when I and my family were traveling to New York for both fun and some business. During this trip we spent a lot of time out and about in the city and I took my iPad Mini with LTE modem everywhere we went. I spent quite a bit of time using that device to take photos, search for points of interest, browse the web, etc, and didn’t end up touching my notebook for three days. When I did finally get my notebook out and open it up, it felt distant, it felt like I was too far from the screen and I needed to hunch over and get close to it. Now this is not because I have bad eyes, I have perfect vision, it was simply because I was used to computing in this intimate fashion and using my iPad at a distance less than 12 inches from my eyes. Simply put, because the notebook screen is used at a farther distance, it seems smaller and seems harder to see after you have been using a screen much closer to your person. Use an iPad only for three days then go back to a notebook where the screen is 24-36 inches away and you will know exactly what I mean. The fact is the more I use the iPad the farther away my notebook feels every time I use it—and I mean that in a number of ways.

Now, it is not that my notebook is going away, however, because of this change in dimension of computing, I have found that my ideal use case for my notebook is when it is docked with my larger screen. The iPad and using it in such close proximity to my face makes it feel like its a larger screen than it actually is thus conditioning me to prefer this kind of feeling. I find myself more and more leaving my notebook stationary and connected to my bigger screen. That way when I need to use it, it doesn’t feel so far away or that the screen is harder to see. In this scenario a desktop would suffice but I am using my notebook as a desktop in this case.

Now I know this experience may not be the same for everyone since what I am sharing is my personal experience and preference. I do, however, think the intimate element of computing that tablets subconsciously garner with consumers may have a more profound impact on the market than we assumed before.

One last thing needs to be shared. My experience with the iPad Mini being used as my exclusive iPad over the past few weeks has drove my notebook and me further from each other and quicker than my iPad ever did. There is something about the pure ultra-portability and ultra-intimate experience with the iPad Mini that I will be the cause of many consumers re-evaluating their relationship with their notebook.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • jfutral

    I’m pretty much in the same boat. My laptop really is becoming my desktop. I tote both my laptop and my iPad around with me, just in case, but the number of times I really need to pull out the laptop is close to nil when it used to be almost second nature to grab.

    Now if I could get Vectorworks to get an iPad app that lets me do at least some minimal editing of CAD files, I would be golden.

    Joe

    • AdamChew

      I believe your dream may come true as the ARM chip in the iPad is getting more powerful everyday and it is only a matter of time that a new crop of software developers will come up with the next Photoshop, Office and what have you.

  • rj

    The two tablets I have are tertiary devices by far. The iPhone goes almost everywhere I do, the MacBook Air goes most places, and the iPad and Nexus rarely leave home. There are simply too many things the Mac does that the a tablet doesn’t. Want to view two documents side by side on the iPad? Sorry. Data sharing between apps? Not really. Ethernet? Not that I’m aware of. Need to run a different browser (or Flash or a Java applet) to access a problematic web application? Nope. Windows via VMWare? Unix command line? Saving a document as PDF? Use a second display? I don’t do all of these things every day. But on any given day, I might need to do one or more. If I take the MacBook, I know I’m covered. The iPad has its niche, but for day-to-day stuff, its clumsy text editing, single app view, and silo-ed data model mostly make using it an exercise in frustration.

    • jfutral

      If you need to do those things when away from your desk, or mobile is your desk, that makes perfect sense.

      Most of my heavy lifting is done at home/my desk. When I’m on site I don’t really need to do that much except simple edits. Lugging a laptop is becoming less and less, but still, necessary, and I am becoming kind of resentful of the hold-outs for keeping it necessary. Makes me want to find new ways of doing things, software developers who are more inline with my needs, and I don’t mean Apple.

      Really, if lugging a laptop is as good as it gets (and associated peripherals and cables), I’d rather go back to pen and paper. (Which is sometimes what I do.)

      Joe

      • kongqueror

        Come 2013, the laptop or Ultrabook as we know it will change. The Surface Pro tablets, be it from Microsoft or from its partners will give the user a full-blown PC capable of giving you an intimate experience the iPad can and the heavy lifting required for “real” work be it at home or mobile. Heck, NOW the Surface RT can give you the intimacy you seek and some of the productivity you would need. You can even extend your RT desktop to an external monitor if you want for even more work space.

        • jfutral

          Well, that thinking is part of the problem. I don’t need a full-blown PC in the form of a tablet. Personally I would rather see the old “PC” concept die an excruciating death. In light of what mobile computing has become, the old PC metaphor is about as inefficient as one can get. I don’t want to tote around a mouse, a printer, an external monitor,et. al. It is becoming like Scottie using the mouse as a microphone in that Star Trek movie.

          What I need is software developers with enough imagination to think beyond the PC-as-tablet metaphor. I need new software tools that don’t tether me to the old way of doing things. Is a plethora of menu commands, screen modes, key commands, and a pointer on a screen really all that our imaginations can come up with? If so, all is lost.

          I need software developers to stop putting the hardware device in the center of my process. What I need to accomplish is the center of my process, the computer is a tool to get me there. It needs to change, not me.

          People these days think the computer has shaped around our work flow. It is really the opposite. Our work flow has shaped around the computer. That is what is inefficient. That’s why people think they need all that extra stuff that computers need, not people.

          Joe

          • kongqueror

            But I do not want to carry 2 devices (tablet/PC) and Microsoft’s approach is one answer to making this possible. It may not be perfect but no one else is doing it. Apple insists that tablet and PC OS should be different and this forces you to have 2 devices.

            You don’t have to carry around a separate mouse, printer, or external monitor with a Surface Pro. The cover has the inputs covered (pun not intended). For printing, just use the cloud. The monitor – same as an Ultabook – if you can work on one, no difference.

            Most definitely, I’m not as high-minded as you are with computing. I’m just a simple man, long-entrenched in the PC-way of doing things. All of my workflow has been more than adequately answered by the tools, hardware/software in front of me. But one key for me is reducing the number of tools I need. Microsoft is bandying about a device that integrates 2 tools I use, for that, they have my attention.

          • PeterBlood

            Microsoft tablets have given you that option for years. What are you waiting for?

          • kongqueror

            Those tablet notebooks of yore are hot, noisy, heavy and thick despite their small size compared to a Surface Pro (2 lbs and .53″ thick).

          • jfutral

            Personally I think MS is smart to take advantage of a transitionary period, especially in light of their PC customer base. I think a lot of Windows users are very much like you. I know my brother is (IT manager at a bank). But I do think this is a transitionary period, as such is only temporary. Hopeful;y MS will be ready to move on when the end is neigh.

            That said, I think there are two syndromes going on here. First, is the hammer syndrome, where to the person with a hammer everything is a nail (or for the people in the industry I work in, substitute a sawzall for the hammer). So if one is only used to using a PC to get computer work done, then that is the only tool they are comfortable with and would rather find a way to make the hammer work than pick up a more appropriate tool. I kind of think this applies to MS as well as to a large portion of their customer base.

            So if the tablet (and let’s be honest, the ipad is still what we are talking about as every other tablet has yet to make any significant impact is the total tablet market/mind share) can’t connect to an external monitor, have a “real” usb port for connecting peripherals, have a memory card slot, etc., etc., they just don’t understand it.

            The other syndrome may makes sense to a limited audience, but it is the “multi-tool” syndrome. A lot of the technical workers I know love their multi-tools (those all in one pliers-saw-screw drivers-tweezers-knives-and even hammers, etc., combo tools). Yes, you can get a multi-tool with a little hammer on it and it might even be useful, but it is no substitute for a hammer, ultimately.

            That is the Surface. A fine little multi-tool, but ultimately no substitute for neither a PC or a tablet.

            We are no longer just hammering nails. We need tools to let us get the new work needing done. We still have nails that need hammering. But now we use mostly drywall screws and a screw gun is better at that, and preferably cordless so I can use it anywhere. And there are techniques that don’t require either nails or screws.

            But we are talking about computing, not hardware/building supplies. And we have the capacity to take computing to a whole new interface paradigm, if there are people courageous enough.

            Joe

  • mhikl

    “The iPad is more intimate than a notebook, and more capable than a smartphone” –Steve Jobs
    I’d forgotten this quote and don’t remember seeing it from the usual journalists. That’s the difference from an analyst, Ben. Kudos.