Walking the walk -- the great Post-PC experiment

Walking the walk -- the great Post-PC experiment

Summary: I am considering leaving the laptop behind and just taking the iPad 2 on an upcoming trip. Will I be able to fully do my job?


The next iPad is expected to be unveiled soon, and the speculation about what we might find inside it is going strong. While excitement over the next tablet from Apple is normal, those using the iPad 2 know it is a capable device that can be used for doing serious work. It has assumed a greater role in my daily work than I believed was possible, in fact I am considering it as my sole travel mate on an upcoming business trip. Leaving the laptop at home and taking the iPad 2 with a keyboard case would be solid proof that I have fully entered the post-PC era.


My work is important, though, my family has gotten used to eating regularly so I don't fool around with it. While I think the iPad 2 will suffice as my only computer on this trip, I'm not willing to risk being able to fully do my job with it. That's the purpose behind my Great Post-PC Experiment. I intend to use the iPad 2 as my sole computer for the next few days to simulate a business trip where I leave the laptop at home.

The gear

What I will be using for this experiment is my iPad 2 (32GB) and the ZAGGfolio keyboard case. This case turns the iPad and keyboard into a single device for transport, an important criteria for travel. The iPad 2 is easily slipped out of the case for use as a tablet, and slipped back in to become a laptop replacement. There is no laptop on the market as thin, light, and portable as this combo.

Related: iPad 2 keyboard case shootout

I also have the Logitech Fold-up Keyboard Case, which is a little bit bigger than the ZAGGfolio but has the advantage of unfolding into a full keyboard. I typically write 1,000 - 3,000 words a day so the keyboard is a very important part of my toolkit. This keyboard without compromises in size like the ZAGGfolio, minor as those are, may end up being a better companion for my iPad for extended periods. I intend to replace the ZAGGfolio with the Logitech for a full day during the experiment to gauge which one would be better for me to carry on trips.

I do all of my work online, and depending on finding Wi-Fi hotspots for this work is not sufficient. I will have my iPhone 4S for 3G tethering when needed, to make sure I always have connectivity no matter where I may be working. I take my work seriously, and always have reduncancy when it comes to connectivity. For that reason I will also be carrying my Verizon 4G LTE Mobile Hotspot along for those times when the slower 3G tethering is not sufficient. I take this on trips with my laptop, and this experiment will be no different.

The apps

I already know how well the iPad/ keyboard combo works for what I do, so the key to the success of the experiment will lie in the apps that I use. I have proven that 85 - 90 percent of my work can easily be done with the iPad so the real test is in doing the remaining tasks I will have to do.

The ZDNet blogging system is a sophisticated browser-based system, and Mobile Safari goes a long way to handling it. It falls short in some key areas, though, that I need to work for every article I publish. This requires a solution on the iPad that will be a big test to make this work.

The newly launched OnLive Desktop Plus service could very well be a big part of that solution, and I will be testing this heavily. This will let me access a Windows 7 computer on my iPad so I can run Internet Explorer as if it is running on the iPad. This may be all I need to handle the part of my job that Mobile Safari won't handle, and it is self-contained on the iPad.

Reduncancy in apps is just as important as in connectivity, so in case OnLive Desktop is not up to the task I will be falling back on LogMeIn. This iPad app is similar to OnLive as it involved remotely accessing either a Mac or a Windows PC, to handle any task the iPad cannot tackle. Experience tells me this works well for what I need, but it requires me to have the Mac or Windows PC running in my home office for remote access. While this is easy to do, it is open to problems on trips that I can't easily deal with. If there is a power outage, for example, the computers in my office may go offline and become unavailable for remote access. The OnLive solution avoids that since it uses their servers online.

The Evernote app will play a big role in the experiment as it does in my daily work. I do most of my writing in the app and simply copy/paste it into the ZDNet editor when ready for publication. This works well for me and I expect it to do just as well during this test.

Skitch will also be a big performer, as it provides simple image editing on the iPad. It works with Evernote to allow me to get images ready for publishing with my articles.

Other apps that will be used heavily for my writing research are Reeder, Zite, and FlipBoard. I use them heavily on the iPad and find them to be a good way to keep up with news of the day, along with my social networks.

Speaking of Twitter, Tweetbot will be front and center for keeping up with my Twitter friends. I am off and on Twitter all day, and it won't be any different without a "real" laptop at my disposal.

Working with these apps on the iPad 2 couldn't be easier due to the gestures. Four finger swiping left and right make switching back and forth between apps nice and quick which negates the windowing advantage a laptop has over the iPad.

The experiment

I will be publishing a daily summary of observations during the experiment, detailing what works and what doesn't. I will share any tips and tricks I develop for getting around any hardships, along with my thoughts on the process.

I expect to hear from those who wonder why I would even do this instead of just using a laptop. My answer is simple: I already have an iPad and keyboard so there is no investment involved. I also find the 10 -12 hour of battery life I get on the iPad, no matter how hard I use it, to be a tremendous advantage on trips when power outlets may be hard to find. Lastly, I have proven to myself that the single app nature of the iPad is a positive influence on my writing. It makes me more productive to focus on the particular task at hand and its window on the screen, than getting caught up in constant multitasking as confronts me using a laptop.

I am not sure if this experiment will be successful, but I think it may work for me. I certainly don't advocate everyone leave the laptop at home on trips, but my particular situation makes it a distinct possibility. See also:

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, iPad, Mobility

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  • Yes and No

    "Will I be able to fully do my job?"

    Taking into consideration that you are a blogger/journalist, then yes. However, the fact that you have to take extra accessories with you means you still cannot use the tablet all by itself and be productive. Imagine typing your entire ZDNet article on a touch screen! Ouch.

    The reality is that most people would not be able to do their jobs, including me. Can I run ProEngineer, AutoCAD, Visual Studio, Eclipse, Photoshop or full-blown version of office (MS or Libre) on a tablet? These are just a few examples, but since the answer is no then my answer to your question is no.
    • Well, as far as AutoCAD is concerned.

      AutoCAD does offer an iPad app which interfaces with a user's desktop AutoCAD system. Viewing and Editing files is possible, I understand.

      As for the other items you mentioned, James uses LogMeIn, a VNC app allowing access to his desktop PC - even a Windows PC since you mentioned Windows specific apps in your note. (Visual Studio or Office)

      BTW, speaking of Office, I guess you haven't been following James' other blogs on his "OnLive Desktop" app which runs desktop Office Apps on his iPad. (Or read this blog, actually, since this app is mentioned in it.) You should check it out.

      IMO, every item you mentioned as an impossibility CAN be accomplished remotely on an iPad with the help of a desktop computer over a remote internet connection.
      • I agree to a point

        "...every item you mentioned as an impossibility CAN be accomplished remotely on an iPad with the help of a desktop computer..."

        I see your point, but the iPad itself is not running these applications. Even you stated above that one needs a PC and an Internet connection in order to use these applications on an iPad.
      • If you have to remote into a desktop from your iPad

        ... then it follows that you are using a desktop (PC) not your iPad, since the iPad is not capable of meeting your requirements. This is called logic.
    • My job as well

      Exactly, I am a IT consultant. I need specialized software tools to make my job easier when analyzing some types of network problem situations. Tools that Apple will not allow from the appstore or I cant get unless I jailbreak the device or it just simply doesn't exist for a "pad" device. Notice the use (even remotely) of a full OS needs to be used. RDP, logmein, teamviewer, vnc etc.. I imagine the desktop scrolling will annoy you after a while.
    • Your definition of a "job" is far too limited

      "The reality is that most people would not be able to do their jobs"-statuskwo5

      Your definition of a "job" is far too limited. Four examples:

      - I'm a teenager. My "job" is to surf the net and watch videos and communicate with my friends.

      - I'm an airline pilot. My job is to fly commercial planes and a part of that job is to review in-air flight maps while.

      - I'm a realtor. My job is to go from home to home and sell real estate.

      - I'm a doctor. My job is to go from room to room and see patients.

      Not everyone who has a job sits at a desk. In fact, most working people do not sit at desks. If you expand your definition of what a "job" is, you'll begin to see that "most people" can easily do their job - and do it better - on a tablet.
      • Huh?

        I'm an engineer.
        Could I do my job on a tablet? [b]NO![/b]

        I hire consultants.... could they do what I need them to do on a tablet?

        My buddy is a game designer..... could he do his job on a tablet?

        Hopefully you are starting to see my point.
        Tablet? Nice thought; I've tried.
        No can do. Way too limited in control, real estate and flexibility.
        End of the day I still need one or more pc's.
      • Different strokes

        I'm a teenager. My specialty is working on an laying out single track bike trails - no wifi and no 3G out here, sorry

        I'm an airline pilot, I fly tourists to fishing camps and ski drops. My air maps are all on a dedicated device

        I'm a realtor. I specialize in farm and forestry, oops again no wifi or 3g here.

        I'm a doctor, I work for doctors Without Borders. There is not much for infrastructure anywhere we go. We use solar arrays to charge laptops and swap batteries to get through the night.

        Most of the people I know don't sit at a desk, and don't live within 5 miles of a cell tower either.
      • Did you even read the post you're replying to?

        "I'm an engineer. Could I do my job on a tablet?"-rhonin

        Rhonin, did you even read a single word that I wrote? Because your reply has nothing to do with anything that I said.
      • Relevance

        "Rhonin, did you even read a single word that I wrote? Because your reply has nothing to do with anything that I said. ."

        Clearly your comprehension is not as good as Rhonins
    • All you've shown

      is that you are part of a niche market that needs niche products. There's nothing wrong with that, but I would hardly qualify those products you listed (yes, even Photoshop) as mainstream products with the exception of MS Office.

      To me, the question that this experiment will answer is whether one can get away without that full blown PC office suite. I think a lot of people could, but not enough to disqualify the PC office suite as a mainstream product. But once MS Office is available on tablets, this question will be moot anyway.
      Michael Kelly
    • Ultimately doesn't matter

      Some people with fairly simple computing needs can get away with it right now. Some can't. The systems are evolving quickly though and sooner or later the majority of people will be able to get by.

      But the reason that more and more people can use it as primary computing is that iOS and Android are becoming more and more "pc-like" as they grow. By the time we get to the point where most people can use them as a primary device there will be such convergence that it will no longer be a post-pc device. It will be a post-post-pc device or, to put it another way, a PC.
    • PCs versus tablets

      Well, if you're using a laptop heavily you probably have quite a supply of widgets for that too. My laptop bag is loaded with USB devices and whatnot that I need to do the job but that aren't necessarily necessary on my desktops. As such, I think point #1 ("cannot use tablet by itself and be productive") is a bit too restrictive in terms of whether a tablet can be a viable replacement.

      But "can't do the job at all" is certainly true for a lot of things, although to me this is highly reminiscent of what the UNIX workstation guys used to say about PCs. The PCs got better. The tablets will, too, in both hardware and software, and if they get enough better to be able to do most things then we could see significant market switch from PCs. Moore's Law has a way of doing that.

      I think, though, that a whole lot of people don't use PCs heavily enough that "can't do the job" is likely to be true in the majority of cases, especially in cases where laptops are used today in preference to desktops. Seriously, documents, e-mail and web don't need a whole lot of hardware.

      For non-mobile situations there are too many downsides for tablets to be sensible (like smaller screen size, ease of theft, lake of wireless connectivity) although it might be the case that a desktop form factor would allow similar hardware to perform the job -- at significantly lower cost than traditional Windows PCs.

      Anyway, between these two things I suspect tablet penetration in the enterprise to be pretty well blunted overall, although likely very high for mobile.

      When you get out of the enterprise, though, things are likely to be very different.

      Most home users do not need a full blown PC. Games, web, e-mail, etc work just fine on tablets. Tablets are cheaper than all but the worst laptops and similar in cost to most desktops, the software is a lot cheaper, in-the-house mobility is a big win over desktops, and I don't think you can overstate the value of simplicity in that environment. Most consumers cannot effectively manage Windows, which is why malware is so bad and why so many of us techies get to be family tech support.

      I think this will trigger a sea change in consumer computing.

      My wife -- who is a prototypical consumer if anyone is -- got an iPad2 for Christmas and she's barely even fired up her laptop since. She did a lot with her smartphone before the tablet anyway, but the larger form factor does e-mail well enough to eschew the laptop in virtually all situations (despite the lousy typing situation, which she is already talking about fixing with an external keyboard).

      Similarly I barely use my laptop since I got an iPad a couple of years ago. In some cases the iPad just doesn't work (travel for work in particular) but it does work for 90% of things. I am still very much a desktop user too and I don't see that changing.

      What this means in relation to PC purchases in our family is that I have deferred upgrading my personal laptop for two full years beyond expectations. My wife doesn't even want a new laptop anymore. My daughter doesn't want one either. That's two laptop sales that aren't going to happen at all, and one where the laptop was kept much longer than historical norm.

      If our experience turns out to be similar to that of consumers in general then this is very bad for the consumer PC market, which is still around 50% of the entire PC industry. The obsolescense replacement cycle being what it is, we should start seeing consumer sales impacted very seriously in the next year or two and likely see a majority shift within 5 years if this trend is widespread.

      I think this is already visible in the PC sales numbers. The manufacturers have mostly been blaming other factors like HDD shortages. Some manufacturers, like Dell, say that the major impact is on what configurations they can sell, not units, which I expect is true of all of them even if they don't say so. It's still possible to get HDDs, it's just not always possible to get the exact model or size you want.

      We'll see, but I think PCs may have peaked as a market in 2011.
    • iPad is a Luxury toy w/ Occasional or Custom Business/Consumer Applications

      I believe that this describes what iPad is. I, a frequent business traveler in the profession of semiconductors, and many of my peers long for a mobile computing device that can run Windows software and gadgets (another name of apps). Can I use iPad to run Photoshop? The answer is no because it does not have enough on-board memory. It may be OK with the handling the output from the crippled cameras on iPad but not the decent output from the Canon S100. I hope the upcoming Win8 tablet is the savior!
  • The article is specifically qualified...

    He's going on a trip - this is not a full-time replacement of a laptop/PC, but a short-duration event. I think, in this instance, that an iPad can replace a laptop. For everyday, in my line of work - 3d modeling and rendering - then no. But that's OK - very few devices can be used in all circumstances and I'd much rather carry an iPad than a laptop.
    • I agree. I'm sure most people can survive a week or two

      without the need of a perticular item or something.

      The true experiment will be can he survive from now on without a full blown PC.
      William Farrel
  • Best of luck!

    James! I'm awaiting your report.

    As for the naysayers, it sounds like you would need a full laptop to do your days work. Someone needs to take it to the next step and explain they need an IBM mainframe and the iPad just doesn't cut it. :)

    By the way, does the latest update to the RIM Touchpad look bring it closer to matching the iPad for work use?
    • Short sighted

      [quote]As for the naysayers, it sounds like you would need a full laptop to do your days work. Someone needs to take it to the next step and explain they need an IBM mainframe and the iPad just doesn't cut it. [/quote]

      If you can find me an iPad/Touchpad/Android Tablet that can do VB, C++, ABAP, Visio, Project, dealing with testing in debug mode I'll give it a shot. These are my normal daily work tools.
      Till then, sorry, I need a pc (or two).

      Be realistic, not everyone can have a minimal complexity job from a tech perspective.
      • Not so Short sighted

        You answered exactly as I most naysayers do. You have higher needs than a majority of users do and seem willing to dismiss it too easily. Interestingly, it looks like Microsoft will be releasing Office on the iPad. There is no reason that Vision and Project couldn't follow suit. We can only guess what programming tools might migrate to a tablet as well. The idea that someone would blog about trying seemed outlandish on an iPad 1. And yet we are about to see whatever iPad 3 will be while not knowing what may come from developers in the next year.
      • You put VB at the top of the list

        Therefore everything you say is moot. Thanks for playing!