Forget the iPad. The iPhone as a “Laptop Replacement”

The tech Twitter and blog community is currently in a frenzy about whether or not the iPad is a laptop replacement (here, here, here, and several other places. . Ironically, I wrote a post at the beginning of the week about the iPad as a laptop replacement based on the question from a friend over the weekend. I’m in no way implying that I had anything to do with the uproar on Twitter (I didn’t) but I found it interesting that this question is still a hot topic not just among nerds but also the everyday user considering using an iPad for their main computer. My post was basically with the perspective of an academic or student trying to go all in on the iPad. I could have been more sensitive to this and frame the discussion differently, especially after reading Matt Gemmell’s excellent post on the idea of a laptop replacement. In his article he points out two flaws in this thinking:

The two big general flaws in that kind of thinking are: (1) the idea of replacement is already laden with confirmation bias, and (2) the question can only ever be validly answered with reference to an individual. It’s as stupid as if I were to claim that iPads are, in some notional, bizarre, universal sense, “a laptop replacement”, just because I personally use an iPad full-time now. I don’t understand why this is hard to understand.

I agree, this decision is intensely personal and will look different for everyone. For some the iPad can be their sole device and for others, like me, I still need access to a computer, but for the majority of tasks I do the iPad works beautifully. Personally, I prefer the experience using the iPad over a computer. Additionally, some people work better on a computer and would prefer that plus they can do everything they need on it so for them the iPad is not a laptop replacement.

Thinking about this device replacement idea I was struck by my wife’s usage of her iPhone 7. For her, the iPhone is her personal computer. She is an accountant and she has a Windows desktop at work. But for her personal life the iPhone is always with her. She answers email, which are often somewhat lengthy, texting, web browsing, social media, watching Netflix, reading books (I still don’t understand this one but she will read entire books on her phone), gathering documents and researching for our adoption, tracking our adoption finances in Google Sheets, taking photos, editing photos, phone calls, and more. She has a laptop but only uses it sparingly to play the Sims and she also has an iPad, which I can’t remember the last time she used it.

For her, the device that is with her all the time is her computer. She doesn’t need or want anything else. For me, this wouldn’t work. Sure, I get a lot of work done on my phone but if it is a longer email or web browsing or any other number of tasks I prefer getting out the iPad. So this discussion of “laptop replacement” is intensely personal and will look different for everyone.

Its kind of funny seeing the uproar on Twitter. Many are pointing out that this decision is intensely personal and it depends on your job as well. Many jobs it doesn’t even make sense to think of an iPad as a laptop replacement. Work will often provide a computer and for many they just need a personal device for the basics and a laptop or iPad will fit that. At the end of the day, its not a question of whether the iPad is capable because it is for many situations. Just as a laptop works for most situations its not capable of everything the iPad is. So, think about what you want out of the device, what you use it for, and decide on a device. If you have the means, by all means have a laptop and an iPad. Its up to you. Don’t get stuck reading some tech review saying that the iPad can’t be your laptop. Its not trying to be.