It’s important to recognize the different purposes of different devices and platforms. Is a sports car better than a truck? Not if you’re hauling a boat, but maybe if you’re picking up a girl for a date in the city. A small form-factor PC or netbook may not fulfil the same purpose or role as a tablet. There’s definitely a place for both.
Also, many “tech guys” like to focus on the “tech”, but don’t evaluate the practical usefulness in day-to-day life both as an end user and a power user. Sometimes they really focus on features and numbers. I think that is the case in this article. It’s technology for the sake of technology.
There’s also something to be said for how much legacy support you include in a product and I’ll touch on that with each item the author brought up. Eventually, you have to ditch old technology that may still be heavily used in favour of new technology that is still being adopted. It’s a balancing act, it affects everyone differently, and it’s hard to determine the ideal time to finally drop an old technology or when your investment in new technology will pay off. The argument the author makes about much of the missing features on the iPad are the same arguments made when Apple first dropped the 56K modem from laptops.
There’s also the double-edged sword. When you select a technology, there is often advantages and disadvantages. Using one component over another will often be a tradeoff between battery life and performance, or size and usability, or cost and features. The author often highlights the advantages of something in his ThinkPad, but neglects, overlooks, or is perhaps ignorant of the drawbacks.
My opinion is that the author of that article failed to take those into consideration. So let’s go down the list.
My ThinkPad has a CD and DVD player/burner: Personally, I haven’t used optical media since my 12” G4 iBook. I don’t recall the last time I ever bought an audio CD, video DVD, or software on optical media. I’ve never purchased anything Blu-ray. I consider that technology to be something my father would want to still use. I’m actually annoyed that it’s so hard to purchase laptops without optical drives. I’m paying for a feature I will never use. But that’s me personally. Rhetorical questions for yourself: How many times a day do you put a CD in your computer? How many times a week? Are CD’s critical for any work or play that you do? The future is wireless and the cloud. The software can be purchased or downloaded free from the App Store wirelessly from the cloud. Movies and music can be streamed and downloaded from YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, the iTunes Store and with AirPlay wirelessly from the cloud or computers on your network. Optical media is an old legacy technology that is unnecessary.
It has a physical keyboard: Adapting to a new interface can be a challenge at first, and it’s often something that has to be learned. Even with the keyboard, you have a learning curve from when you start out pecking with your index fingers and finally become a fluent touch typer. If you’ve used a physical keyboard for decades, I can see why you’d be comfortable with it over iPad’s interface that’s existed for less than a year. This is entirely a preference and I really can’t argue completely one way or the other. I tell people to use what they’re comfortable with. I personally do prefer the touch interface and will often write E-mails on my iPad even with my laptop right in front of me. There are several advantages to the touch interface. The biggest one is that the interface can change. This is great if you do work with multiple languages. I’m only fluent in English, but I occasionally do need to write a Japanese or Chinese character. It’s also nice for finding those non-alphanumeric characters. I like that I can tap and hold a key and immediately get a list of other characters I might need. When I say “hola” to my Spanish friend, I can start it with an upside down exclamation point. But outside of typing and the characters, navigating the screen is so much more natural and easier. Especially when you need to highlight text or scroll up or down. Just grab it with your fingers so much easier than a tiny trackpad or even moving your hand back and forth between your keyboard and mouse. Given the author states he “still likes the old-school Trackpoint Eraserhead cursor control”, I think that says volumes about how well he adapts to and adopts new technology. And how easy is it to use a physical keyboard on a laptop when you’re standing and walking around? Have you ever tried balancing a laptop with one hand and typing with the other? That’s not a good interface for a mobile user. Is a physical keyboard a better interface when you’re walking around the city?
It has more storage space: Again, the cloud is the future. Storage can be in the cloud. I definitely won’t argue that 64GB is enough. It’s enough for most. I have a 32GB iPad and I’m using 7GB of storage. The author talks about how he has a 250GB drive in his ThinkPad. Yes, the size is greater. But there are disadvantages. The drive is physically larger and increases the size of the ThinkPad. It uses mechanical moving parts and produces noise. And having those moving parts makes it more susceptible to being damaged and breaking. It uses more battery life.
It has useful and versatile ports: The author talks about wanting to be able to plug in devices like a mouse, digital camera, printer, or even a thumb drive. The iPad is a mobile device. Why would you want devices like that to tether you down? The iPad is capable of 3G, and it has wifi and Bluetooth. You can connect to wireless storage like MobileMe and Dropbox. You can also print wirelessly. (Although printers are kind of an old technology too. Paper in the 21st century? I personally do not own a printer.) The same argument the author makes about the lack for USB is the same argument I heard about the original iMac for lacking serial and parallel ports and being “USB dependent”.
The iPad doesn’t support multitasking: This statement is wrong, but I suppose you could say it’s only kinda wrong. Apple’s iOS offers limited API’s for multitasking. The purpose is to save battery life and allow good performance for whatever app you’re actually using at the moment. For all you tech people out there who have ever gotten on someone’s Windows PC opened Task Manager and saw over 100 processes running and slowing down the computer, you can see why this would be a problem. This is especially a problem if you have a mobile device. Most average people don’t know how to manage those processes and tell applications not to run constantly in the background. And even someone as tech savvy as myself who can manage that… well, I just don’t want to. I get more joy from using a computer than fixing and performing maintenance on it.
It is confined by the limits of iTunes: The complaint the author makes is you cannot update iOS without iTunes. Well, that’s true for a great number of mobile devices. I suppose it would be nice to do an update independent of any other hardware, but that’s not really a deal killer for me. And I see the reasons why you wouldn’t want to do that too. If it’s plugged into your computer, it has power and won’t shut down in the middle of the update. The update can be several hundred megabytes and that’s not necessarily a quick download.
The battery isn’t replaceable: Double edged sword again. My iPad has never gone below 50% battery life and I’m an extensive user. This problem affects a small percentage of heavy users that may be unable to reach a place to power. I had the same problem with the MacBook Pro’s, but only for individuals with long flights. Rhetorical question to ask yourself: How many devices do you own that have replaceable batteries where you actually own more than one battery? How many friends do you know that actually own more than one battery for their device, whether it’s a laptop, camera, or cell phone?
Those are the points the author does make. Of course, the scope of the article may be strictly to highlight the value of another platform, so no criticism for him not highlighting the benefits of an iPad over his small ThinkPad. The iPad is smaller, it’s thinner, it weighs less, has better battery life, it’s overall more mobile, it does not get bogged down with malware and unwanted software running in the background, it’s built with wireless in mind for most of its functionality, has a superior interface in most respects, and it doesn’t have a bunch of old technology and features you will never use.
The supposed benefits the author is claiming from having a ThinkPad over an iPad add to the weight and size of the device and reduce its usefulness as a mobile device. He gripes about issues that may negatively affect 1% of users but benefit 99% of users. The author inserts his own opinion as canon. The author wants legacy hardware that is on a downward trend of actual use. The author advocates using old technology that he’s personally comfortable with. The attitude the author has is what holds technology back. It’s disappointing and it’s unfortunate to read something like that from a technology professional and enthusiast. If the author loves old technology so much, he should go on eBay and buy an Apple Newton.
Full disclosure, I use a ThinkPad running Ubuntu and I love it. I just wouldn’t trade my iPad for it.