WSJ On Computer vs Tablet

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch property posted an article called “10 things not to buy in 2014” by AnnaMaria Andriotis.  Hey, it’s the end-of-the-year and lists are sprouting up like mushrooms in the morning dew. I wish they held as much value as those edible fungi. Still, I suppose there’s little point in being listless at this time of year.

The list offered was interesting, if a bit harsh. It goes as follows:

  1. Cable TV
  2. Landline phone service
  3. GPS devices
  4. DVD and Blu-Ray players
  5. Hotel rooms
  6. Two-year cell phone contracts
  7. Desktop and laptop computers
  8. Extra leg room in economy
  9. Credit cards with points or miles programs
  10. Digital cameras

Most of the advice offered is sound, if a bit forward-looking. However, I take an exception with her assertion that tablets are replacing desktop and laptop computers.

She expounds…

“There’s little reason to buy a desktop or laptop computer anymore. Tablets perform the same functions — playing music, sharing photos, Web surfing — that most consumers use PCs for and they’re made to use while on the go. They can also be a lot cheaper. For instance, Apple’s iMac’s start at $1,299 and MacBook laptops start at $999 while iPads start at $299.”

…further…

“Of course, ditching desktop PCs isn’t for everyone: Graphic designers and traders, for instance, who require large screens will find it hard to part with traditional computers.”

This I think is much too narrow a world-view with respect to how people use computers, whether laptop or desktop. It’s a perspective that assumes that everyone does the same thing, in the same way. It also makes assumptions about the comparative capabilities of tablets vs real computers. IMHO, these are false equivalencies. It’s also far too Apple-centric.

IBM-SystemZ-z890The universe of computing devices is ever-expanding. It has been so since the very first computer. From one giant behemoth evolved a handful of mainframes, onward to corporate use of computers, eventually to desktops, laptops, PDAs, smart phones and tablets. As the diversity of devices grows the relative importance of everything that went before is diminished, but they are never entirely eliminated. Witness the fact that IBM still makes mainframe computers.

In my world a tablet remains an accessory to my working life, whereas my desktop/laptop are key tools in my process. A tablet has done more to alter the use of my cell phone than either my laptop or desktop. If I were a checkout clerk at Blockbuster I may not feel that way. Oh, right. Blockbuster is gone. Optical media delivery of tools-of-mass-distraction is dying.

If I were to make a suggestion to friends and family I’d suggest buying a laptop, avoiding the traditional desktop. Until recently laptops presented a difficult value proposition. They were often either too limited for some computer or storage-intensive tasks, or simply too costly. More recently inexpensive laptops, say less than $800, have become surprisingly capable.

Today, fewer people need the expand-ability that is the big advantage to a traditional desktop. As hardware makers have converged upon small form-factor I/O like USB 3.0, HDMI, Displayport and Thunderbolt, laptops have been able to accommodate extended I/O needs that were once the sole domain of the desktop.

lenovo_b575Over the holidays my 70+ year-old step-father received a new Lenovo Thinkpad laptop. It replaced his not-especially-old-but-increasingly-impractical desktop. Now he can be mobile. Instead of being desk-bound he can read his email while having tea outside on the deck. That is, during months without snow.

Given a real keyboard, he can also write email and run the apps that he’s accustomed to using. He can be functional both online and offline. He can watch a DVD. That’s useful given that where he lives broadband is limited to wireless 3G/4G services, making Netflix and Hulu impractical.

BTW, that laptop cost about the same as the entry-level iPad cited in the WJS article.

Around here we may well have seen our last desktops. By the time the current pair are ready to be retired laptops with likely rule, or tablets may have further evolved to meet our needs. Tablets alone still fail to satisfy.

Of course, YMMV.