The iPad can’t match the laptop yet – but when it can the world will change: Kohler

It happens that my laptop carked it this week just as I bought an iPad, so I can give Steve Jobs some feedback about his prediction on Wednesday in which he compared PCs to farm trucks.

In an onstage interview at the Wall Street Journal’s D8 conference in California, Jobs was asked by WSJ’s Walt Mossberg: “Is the tablet going to replace the laptop? Tell me what you think about where it’s going?”

Jobs: “You know… (long pause). I’m trying to think of a good analogy. When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks. But as people moved more towards urban centres, people started to get into cars. I think PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them. And this is going to make some people uneasy.”

Yes, well, Apple still has some work to do before the iPad can replace a laptop for me, but I can see how it will eventually get there. That work is crucial because I’m not going to carry three devices – iPhone, laptop and iPad.

At least two of these, preferably three, need to merge into one, and if the iPad can’t operate in the same way as a laptop, then it will be the niche product, not the PC. (By the way laptops now represent 80% of all PC sales, with desktops only 20%. In 2003 it was the other way around.)

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft (whose market capitalisation was surpassed by Apple for the first time last week) appeared at the same conference yesterday and blithely defined the issue away: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” he boomed.

That is, iPads are PCs too – PCs will come in multiple flavours, some with keyboards, some without; some that fit into your pocket, some you have to carry.

Maybe so, but at this stage they are very different. My immediate problem is I’m forced to use the new iPad as a laptop for a week or two while my beloved Macbook Air is in the hospital having its sick screen seen to. And when it comes home, arms out for a hug, will Air have lost her place to the interloper? Possibly.

I bought a keyboard dock so I wouldn’t have to write by tapping on the screen, but lugging that awkwardly shaped, heavy metal keyboard around with the iPad kind of defeats the portability purpose. So, yes, I will have to get used to typing on a touchscreen, and so will everyone.

But leaving aside keyboard issues, as a laptop the iPad is severely limited – so far. The main problem is that it only opens one application at a time, and for someone used to toggling between Word, PDFs, internet browser and email client while writing articles, that is infuriating.

I guess there will eventually be bigger range of decent word processing applications available for the iPad, but the ones I can find so far fall short. The biggest problem I’ve found is that you can’t copy and paste between different applications, so long quotes have to be typed out.

I haven’t tried to use it for spreadsheets or powerpoint, but those who have tell me it’s impossible.

The process for deleting emails is clunky and difficult, and given the amount of junk that arrives in inboxes these days that’s a real pain.

They key to fixing these problems, as I understand it, is the heat generation of microprocessors and the work being down by Intel to get it down.

The reason iPads can only open one application at a time is because it’s too thin for CPU that is large enough to do the work and not get too hot. My Macbook gets pretty hot, even with a fan, but there’s no room in an iPad for a fan.

Moore’s Law – named after the co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore – has operated consistently since 1958, and describes the fact that the number of transistors that fit on an integrated circuit roughly doubles every year.

To keep it going, the chip scientists are turning to hafnium oxide instead of silicon oxide to increase the power CPUs. The heat output of CPUs has been reduced from 20 watts to 10, and then to five, allowing smaller and smaller devices.

Intel says that with hafnium it can get down even further, and there is talk that the next generation of iPhones and iPads, or perhaps the one after that, will be capable of opening multiple applications.

This, it seems to me, is the key to small tablets taking over the world. There is no doubt that they are very good for reading books, newspapers and magazines. They are great for watching TV and movies on the run. I can see that there’ll be an explosion of fantastic games applications that will use its size.

But to replace my homecoming Air it needs to be more powerful. That should happen in a year or so, Intel-willing, and when it does, then the world will change.

That’s because there could be another 80/20 shift, as there was from desktops to laptops, but this time it will be to a device that is good for reading and watching videos in bed – or anywhere.

That might sound a little prosaic, but that’s what it comes down to – if a device can do everything better, then everyone will have one. And if everyone has one, then all content distributors will have critical mass markets for their products.

This article first appeared on Business Spectator.

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