Companion devices are not PC replacements

Summary:There is no shortage of companion devices -- tablets and pseudo-laptops to name a few. While some considering such a device try to make a case for it replacing a "real" computer, the fact is those folks are missing the point.

Aibo computing

Tablets, Chromebooks, Surface, oh my! Everywhere you look you are bombarded by the wealth of companion devices on the market, those mobile devices designed to fit the active lifestyle. While such devices can often be used for productive tasks, they will not replace the need for real computers for most buyers.

We see it all the time, a new mobile device is released and reviewers start lamenting how it can't do everything that a real computer can do. It's as if there is some driving desire to find one single device that does everything one can possibly want to do.

The reality is no such device exists. Tablets and the like are companion devices in the true sense of the term. They have specific user scenarios that they fit very well, but they can't do everything a full computer can do. To expect more of companion devices is a recipe for disappointment.

The recent release of the Surface RT tablet by Microsoft is a good example of this phenomenon. While the inclusion of Windows, albeit a restricted version of it, makes some approach the Surface as if it is a full computer, in reality it is another companion device. It is designed to be used by Windows PC users who want a mobile version for occasional use. 

If approached in this vein, the Surface is a decent companion device. No it can't do everything a Windows desktop can do but it's not intended for such work. It's a mobile device for Windows PC users that can step in ably when pressed for such duty.

It's not just the Surface that is viewed as a full PC replacement, the same happens with most companion devices. I have covered my ability to use tablets, iPads and Android tablets alike, for temporary productive tasks. They fill in admirably for temporary work sessions, but I wouldn't use them all the time. There is still no substitute for computers that run full software.

Even my Chromebook, which is a decent work computer for me, is at its core a companion device. It does what it does nicely, but it is not a full computer nor can it replace one for me. Like other companion devices, that doesn't make it less useful, it just means I must recognize its limitations and use it accordingly.

Some folks don't get the idea of the companion device. They don't see why you'd use a limited device when you could just use a full computer. That view overlooks the benefits a well-designed companion device brings to the table. Ease of use and comfort are big advantages of mobile devices and most companion devices deliver that nicely. Sometimes a limited computing session is more than enough and that's where the companion device shines.

Tablets and other companion devices are getting cheaper all the time so it is becoming easier to have them in addition to full computers. While these devices are also getting more capable all the time, they are still not intended to be the only computer most people need. Recognize them as the companion device they are and a whole mobile world is opened up.

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Topics: Tablets, Laptops, Mobility

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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