What Comes After the Laptop?
Author Nikhil Kanamarla
A decade ago, Steve Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, and Apple set the bar for the standard of a great laptop. The ideas of the MacBook Air—powerful, light and terrific battery life—has transformed the computer industry for the better. The principle of a laptop, a powerful and portable computer that can handle various difficult tasks remains the same a decade later. Although, the three pillars of a great notebook have expanded over the years to include secure and updated operating systems as well as modern desktop and mobile apps. The emergence of touchscreens has changed the way people interact with technology in a world dominated by smartphones. As a result, technology companies have put forward their ideas on the future of laptops from the Surface to the Chromebook.
Microsoft believes that the future of laptops is a hybrid laptop-tablet solution called the Surface. The Surface has improved dramatically over the years regarding hardware and software. Furthermore, the hybrid brings full desktop windows with stylus support, a decent keyboard, adjustable kickstand, powerful internals, touchscreen, and a good IO (ports) selection. However, the Surface functions as a laptop with the form factor of a tablet, but that compromise creates a terrible tablet and subpar computer. The Microsoft computer has a screen of a regular tablet and a substantial body that makes using the Surface as a tablet difficult. The Surface also doesn't have modern mobile apps that create the tablet experience because it runs full windows. Besides, the hybrid serves poorly as a laptop because it doesn’t have the screen size of a modern laptop and has a subpar detachable keyboard. In conclusion, the Surface is an example of compromise for the sake of compromise. As Microsoft tries to scale down the laptop experience to create a hybrid, Apple tries to scale up the tablet experience to entirely replace the laptop.
“What’s a computer?” Apple’s recent advertisements have been promoting the iPad Pro as the successor to the laptop. The iPad Pro brings the form factor and portability of a tablet along with native mobile apps and better battery life than a laptop. The iPad Pro attempts to emulate a computer through a detachable keyboard, sophisticated multitasking in the tablet version of iOS, mostly laptop class internals, and a file management app. Apple attempts to simplify the whole experience of computing by using a familiar touch-based operating system and some added software and hardware. However, the iPad Pro lacks the desktop applications that people need to do their work such as Xcode for software engineers. In most circumstances, the iPad Pro can fulfill 90% of the laptop experience, but being a tablet alternative, the iPad Pro is inherently limited given current hardware. In some sense, using an iPad Pro is more complicated than a laptop: with an iPad Pro, a user has to attach the keyboard and then start using it whereas, with a notebook, a user can open the clamshell and start typing on a better keyboard. Ironically, the user experience on a MacBook has less friction than the user experience on an iPad. Overall, the iPad Pro has potential concerning reaching desktop performance in a few years with a familiar touch interface but lacks the seamless experience and desktop apps of a laptop.
However, the folks at Google offer a different perspective than Microsoft and Apple. Google believes that the future of the laptop lies in the Chromebook with Chrome OS functioning as their vision of the future of computing. Chrome OS is an operating system based on the Chrome browser. Increasingly, it is possible for people to use the browser for all their desktop computing, especially with the emergence of Google Calendar, Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos. Many of the tasks that most people would have used desktop apps for can now be completed with web applications. This Google operating system also offers cloud storage to replace the standard hard drive solution. Chrome OS often comes in the form of low-end Chromebooks—, particularly in education. However, only Internet software services are available on this laptop, which means Chrome OS is limited compared to a traditional desktop operating system like Mac OS which comes with both web apps and desktop apps. Also, the Chromebook comes in the form factor of a laptop but with limited hard drive storage space. Overall, ChromeOS places an exciting bet on web apps and cloud computing that could pay off in the future.
Although, there is a way forward that improves upon the laptop without ruining the laptop experience. For example, a MacBook Pro with MacOS brings a familiar desktop operating system and applications with all the hallmarks of a great laptop. With a few additions, the MacBook would become radically improved for the touchscreen age. Regarding hardware, a thin and light MacBook could emulate the portability of a tablet. Furthermore, if Apple adopts their A-Series processors for their laptops, the MacBook would be able to run iOS apps. The MacBook could have a touchscreen, which would allow for the type of user experience common on a smartphone. This cross-platform solution would bring the best of the laptop and the mobile device into one computer.
Overall, there are many competing visions to the future of computing, and a great solution hasn't come to market yet. Microsoft’s view of the future of computing comes in the form of the Surface, where the laptop experience is scaled down, and Windows reigns supreme. Apple’s vision of the future of computing is the iPad Pro where the tablet experience is scaled up, and iOS commands the industry. Google’s view of the future of computing comes in the form of the Chromebook with Chrome OS, which maintains traditional laptop hardware but the Chrome browser dominates. What do you think happens after the laptop? Let me know in the comment section.