T3 Opinion: The laptop is dead, they said. They were wrong

We were told tablets would replace laptops. But has that really happened?

Some time ago I suggested that the reason Samsung had pulled out of laptops in the UK was because the time had come to replace our clunky, large folding machines with compact power-efficient devices that were capable of much of the same stuff. Indeed, when I spent some time chatting to Samsung's President for UK and Ireland, Andy Griffiths, he confirmed my suspicion.

So what, exactly, went wrong? Why aren't we all ditching laptops and using tablets? Well, I think there's quite a lot going on here, so let's break it down.

The desktop PC is dead

Save for gamers who need the power, no one buys a desktop these days. Why would you? Even cheap laptops have enough power for most users who want to use the internet. But laptops can also have a load of power too, especially when you get to the £800 and up price range. Certainly, there are pro video editors using Macbook Pros to do their jobs, and they don't complain about a lack of grunt.

This is dead

If you use a desktop at all, it's almost certainly at work now. And even there the whole idea of a bulky computer is dying out and employees are often being given a laptop which they are able to take home with them, which gives them a means to work longer hours, even if they aren't getting paid for it. Some companies are even handing out tablets for staff to use for some tasks.

Laptops are dirt cheap now

In some cases you can get a laptop for less than a tablet. At the entry-level, we're talking about £200. There aren't a huge number of tablets that cost £200, and they offer some real disadvantages when you consider what people want to do with their devices. At the most basic level, you have to buy a keyboard to go with a tablet, and at that point people probably just can't be bothered.

While not being bothered won't necessarily affect sales, it might mean that people get both devices. A tablet for games and second-screen things during boring bits of TV shows and a laptop for work and more serious stuff. For tech, this is a gain, for tablet domination it's sort of a loss.

We don't like change

I have countless tablets, two Dell laptops and a Samsung Chromebook in my collection of tech. Do I use a tablet to work on? Do I hell. I have an Amazon Fire 8.9 which has a wonderful keyboard case that I really like using it, but I still wouldn't take it out of the house with me to do serious work?

This could replace your laptop. If you were brave enough

And what's interesting, even though my Chromebook does all the things I need, I still mostly opt to take out a Windows laptop. That's in spite of the fact that the Chromebook has a much better battery life and is significantly lighter than any other laptop.

It's about bravery, and switching from what we know to what we don't.

In some ways, we have switched

Consider this, the new Apple Macbook is almost a tablet with a built-in keyboard. It has less power than all of Apple's other laptops and is designed to be small and light, with amazing battery life, rather than ultra-powerful.

If Apple had installed iOS on the Macbook, not OS X and called it the iPad Pro, no one would actually have questioned it. While the Macbook runs an Intel processor, rather than an Arm-powered chip, the goal is largely the same as a tablet - excellent battery life and ultra-portable.

Is the tablet dead already?

There are some issues here that tablets have to fight against. Even Apple is seeing demand for the iPad fall, especially after the launch of its larger iPads. And, as I said earlier, for some people who might have bought an iPad, they may well end up with a Macbook instead.

The really big problem for tablets is that, as work tools - or even for our day-to-day computing needs - they are still a little bit off the usability of laptops. Yes, we can use a keyboard and mouse, but it never feels quite as good as a laptop does. Tablets usually feel a bit slower too, even if the difference is only very slight.

So what does all this mean then?

Tablet sales might be down, but this isn't a battle that's going to end any time soon. Tablets will get more powerful, and will offer even more productivity options - consider Apple's improved multitasking and split-screen functions on the iPad now. That means that each year we will use our laptops less and less.

For me I think the laptop replaces the desktop in the home, and the tablet will eventually replace the laptop outside the home. For travels and working on the road. For most people, that's already possible. For others it just takes a bit of bravery.

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