iPads and a world without personal notebooks

Farhad Manjoo wrote in Slate recently that the “next big thing” for Apple will be the iPad. In a way, they are facetious words; we know how innovative and vital the iPad is already. This is not new.

But in another way, Farhad preaches the truth, as he relates what Apple is doing with the iPad to what it did with its iPod: locking consumers in and then designing products for different price points and uses. By doing this, any urge to explore the fruits of a competitor is devoured.

If you don’t want to splurge on the top-line iPad, Apple says, fine, then we’ll give you a Mini. And to make sure we secure your tablet loyalty, we’ll have you purchase some wonderful applications from our indispensible app store and then imagine the cruelty of having to purchase those things again if you ditched the iPad for another device. It’s a neat little trick, and it works because Apple continually delivers fine products.

Most iPad users, I suspect, are never forced to even consider the drawbacks of repurchasing apps, because they are never motivated to consider another tablet. They are more than happy with Apple, and Apple is more than happy to feed the millions and millions of mouths that give it a market advantage over the Kindle, Nexus and other rivals. It’s this cycle that keeps Apples’ golden wheels churning ahead into the future.

But as I type this on my MacBook Pro, I wonder something else: Are we getting closer to the day when personal notebooks become obsolete? This idea, in itself, is not new. But in the first generations of the iPad, that question has hinged on capability. Will it be possible for this small beauty to replace by 15-inch laptop in every practical way?

Today, I don’t think it’s a question of capability; some people who use laptops for only the simplest activities – Internet browsing, emailing, basic word processing – are already using iPads in place of notebooks.

The chief question, I think, is one of advancement and convenience. That is: Can Apple design a lineup of iPads that satisfies the advanced notebook users – people who do audio, video and graphics editing or run complex information processing systems, for instance – while also making the rudimentary functions easier and more efficient?

With the cloud being utilized by more and more users, we are seeing the beginnings of an age where “memory” and “storage space” are forgotten terms. You can store music, photos, videos, documents – anything – on the cloud without it eating up the memory on your tablet.

One negative is that the process of storing and accessing this media on the cloud has not always been seamless. There are hiccups, there are inexplicable pauses and restarts when engaging the cloud. This can be frustrating enough for someone to demand an “old-fashioned” hard drive.

But I would expect that experience to improve over time.

I don’t think iPads will ever replace all computers, because there will be those who prefer the familiarity of a PC or businesses that prefer desktops for commercial use or, on the most basic level, those who simply want a big screen for doing their work.

But what if there is a singular app that allows people to browse the Web, email, write documents, manage contacts, find traffic updates, or satisfy any other common needs all in the same place? What if I don’t need to open up Safari on my iPad to check a favorite website?

Better yet, what if there’s a Super App that I can customize that delivers news, stories, video (or whatever) all to the same place, taking the “search” out of searching the Internet? What if an iPad just makes it so easy to communicate and interact that the thought of having five Firefox tabs open at the same time to do anything is laughable?

I’m not sure if all of these things are practical.

I do know that we cleared the first hurdle of capability by developing the cloud and producing tablets with enough memory that photos from one family trek through Europe wouldn’t grind the thing down.

And I do know that if writing, messaging, listening, searching and watching can all be streamlined through applications on a badass iPad, I may never find the need to open up a MacBook Pro again.

Email: tmitrosilis@gmail.com Twitter: @TMitrosilis

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