One of the key questions that will determine the future success of many companies involves whether tablet computers such as the iPad can really threaten laptops.  Are tablet computers a complementary device or a true substitute for the traditional laptop computer?

In an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal, Walter Mossberg reports on his personal experience using Apple’s iPad on a ten day “working vacation” in Paris.  While his tasks on the iPad mainly involved consuming information, apparently the device was also usable for responding to emails and corresponding with colleagues.  The video below provides some of the highlights of the experiment.

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Those of us who use spreadsheets for our work or tend to interact with applications that require heavy data entry probably cannot expect to replace the traditional laptop with an iPad or other tablet device anytime soon.  However, there are many individuals who mainly consume information on their computer.

The distinction between “consumers” and “producers” of content might be the best way to look at the dividing line between tablets and laptops.  Serious content creation still requires a physical keyboard and access to productivity applications.  Some iPad owners will claim that the keyboard accessory can address this limitation, but carrying around accessories at least partially diminishes the appeal of the tablet form factor.

No one can deny the phenomenal success of the iPad or the appeal of the tablet form factor.  What is more remarkable is that Apple achieved such a result with the first version of its tablet.  Future versions will have better functionality and may close the gap with laptops even further.  It is also possible that laptops will improve significantly in terms of size and functionality.  In a highly fluid competitive landscape, it is certain that our technology choices will only increase further over the next several years.

Disclosure: No position in Apple.

Can Apple’s iPad Make Laptops Unnecessary?
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