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Will Tablets Replace Laptops?

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Tablets like the iPad are hot … and apparently so hot that 46% of respondents believe they will eventually eliminate the need for laptop computers, according to a poll of 1,155 American adults

"What surprised me most," says Larry Register, content manager at Poll Position which conducted the scientific telephone survey two weeks ago, "is it was the older respondents — in the 30-64 age bracket—who felt this way [53%] while 49% of the younger 18-29 age group—usually considered the early technology adopters—believe tablets won't replace laptops."

He could not explain the discrepancy because the IVR poll doesn't allow respondents to elaborate on their choices.

"My personal opinion," says Register, "is that both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses and both will be around for a long time."

Industry analysts tend to disagree with the poll results and agree with Register's personal opinion.

At Gartner, VP and mobile computing analyst Ken Dulaney does not believe the iPad-variety of tablet—what he terms a "media tablet"—running an iOS or Android OS can replace laptops.

If all you do is use the browser for things like reading e-mail and running apps, then a tablet is just fine," he says. "But there's too much software around that isn't suitable for use on a tablet. For example, there's no way to guarantee full fidelity with the core applications of Microsoft Office. If you have a spreadsheet with macros or a PowerPoint with certain animation features, they may not operate properly on a tablet."

He tells his professional customers they should certainly use media tablets as convenience items, "but they still need a desktop or laptop somewhere in the portfolio of devices they own," he adds.

According to Gartner, worldwide tablet sales rose from 17.6 million in 2010 to 63.6 million in 2011 and are expected to grow to 103.5 million this year and to 326.3 million in 2015. Meanwhile, laptop shipments grew from 204.4 million in 2010 to 212.8 million in 2011, and are expected to increase to 232.8 million this year and to 385.2 million in 2015.

But the numbers don't adequately describe the trend, says Dulaney, which is that many media tablets are not being purchased as substitutes for anything but by individuals who want to keep their laptop and own a tablet for its convenience.

He believes the number of tablets used for convenience will increase, but for work purposes, laptops will continue to be the most practical—and best—tool.

As visitors to this month's Consumer Electronics Show are aware, the future may very well be the hybrid machine, especially the extremely thin Ultrabook laptop design that allows users to remove the screen transforming it into a tablet.

One model that stood out was the Lenovo Yoga with a touch-sensitive screen that bends backward to fold over completely, turning the device into a large tablet.
Dulaney believes users will soon take advantage of the new cloud-based services that enable them to move data easily from one device to another.

People will run their application on their laptops, bookmark it, then move to another device—perhaps a tablet—and continue doing whatever they were doing," he says.

Don't forget the venerable desktop whose usage has been declining because it takes up more space and isn't portable.

"But many people still use them, especially hardcore gamers and people whose job requires thems to sit at a desk all day," he says. "Desktops have been tried, tested, and have their place. There will be fewer of them around but they won't disappear any time soon."

Paul Hyman is a science and technology writer based in Great Neck, NY.




Wrong question - right question is "When wil tablets become indistinguishable (performance, aesthetics, connectivity etc.) from laptops....

Probably within the next 3 years if my experiences with the latest Macbook Pro, Air and iPad is typical of the sector.

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