Report from the street: Tablets are kicking laptops to the curb

Report from the street: Tablets are kicking laptops to the curb

Summary: Reports have been showing a rising trend of leaving the laptop at home and taking the tablet for the day. Observations from the street show this is happening at a rapid pace.

SHARE:
13
jk-tablets-600x262

Analysts have been consistently reporting that tablet sales are eating into laptop sales. The regular reports of good tablet sales accompanied by lower laptop sales back up that trend. While prudent to take such reports with a grain of salt, my observations from the street indicate this is indeed happening, and at a very fast pace.

The ability to leave the power adapter at home and confidently get 10-12 hours of heavy usage of the tablet is totally liberating.

Since moving to downtown Houston this past summer I have spent a lot of time both in the busy streets and working at high-traffic venues. My curiosity about common work habits, especially pertaining to mobile technology, has pushed me to closely observe what people are carrying with them on a daily basis. I've been particularly interested to see first-hand if the apparent trend of leaving the laptop behind in favor of the tablet is prevalent. The conclusion of my observations is that indeed many folks are grabbing a tablet when heading out for the day.

I admit that this observation in the street has turned me into a pest of sorts. I have approached quite a few people walking on the street and working in public venues to question them about the mobile tech they are using. This observation resulted in seeing so many people carrying and using tablets in public, with laptops lagging far behind. While I have long used a tablet myself, I am surprised that people from all walks of life are doing the same.

See related:

The folks I have approached have ranged from college students to lawyers and engineers. Downtown Houston is close to several major universities and students are a frequent sight in coffee shops and sidewalk cafes. My stomping ground downtown is very close to the civil/criminal court system so lawyers are also present in numbers. There are dozens of companies in the area involved in the oil business and engineers are often out in packs.

A typical outing to a venue with a number of professionals working in public will find at least two or three using tablets. Many use them as they ship, i. e. without an external keyboard. Many of these folks can be seen typing away on the tablet's onscreen keyboard. A few will have a tablet in a keyboard case, similar to my own preferred working arrangement.

I always ask folks I approach how they like using a tablet as opposed to a laptop. Without fail this gets an enthusiastic response that mentions how much better it is for them since they started leaving the laptop at home. Almost everyone volunteers that they find, surprisingly in most cases, that they can do everything they need to do throughout the day without compromise. Most admit that they didn't believe it would work that way but that happily it does.

The overwhelming advantage of using a tablet over a laptop that is mentioned in these conversations is battery life. The ability to leave the power adapter at home and confidently get 10-12 hours of heavy usage of the tablet is totally liberating. Not only do these tablet users no longer worry about getting through the day, more importantly they don't have to keep looking for a publicly available power outlet as they used to do with the laptop.

Peace of mind is a recurring topic with tablet users. Several lawyers I've spoken with, each individually on separate occasions, have shared that peace of mind has improved their work days. Where they previously would take a laptop to court, they now take the tablet to greater benefit.

Some use the tablet's onscreen keyboard for notetaking in the courtroom, while others use external keyboards. One attorney also uses a stylus to take handwritten notes. All mentioned the lack of concern about battery life as a big reason they find the tablet better than the laptops they used to bring to court.

A couple of them shared horror stories of using a laptop in court, from laptops that died during the day to the need to reboot a laptop that hung in the middle of a trial. As they told me, judges have no sympathy for such delays in the courtroom. "The tablet simply works" is a common refrain from the legal crowd.

The dozens of people I have approached have been in all walks of life, not just students and attorneys as I've mentioned. By and large these are not techies nor early adopters, they are regular people. Many tell me they originally got the tablet for the leisure activities they are recognized to be good for, reading, surfing the web, etc. While using the tablet for those activities they got more familiar with quality apps that allowed the device to take on more and more work-related activites. In time they discovered they could use the tablet to totally replace the laptop in their mobile workday.

Most of the tablets I encounter in the street are iPads with some Android tablets thrown into the mix. My own experience proves that any of these tablets can handle everything these folks are using them for throughout the day.

I have yet to see a Surface RT being used in the wild, but they've only been available for a short while. I expect to start seeing them soon. The typical Surface buyer fits the mold of those leaving the laptop at home.

It's worth mentioning that a common complaint I hear about laptops is the cost and the impact that has on battery life. Laptops have to be used by most owners for several years due to cost, and over time the battery life takes a nosedive. Many folks who've switched to a tablet complain that their older laptop was down to only lasting two or three hours on a charge, making it a pain to use in public. That caused them to spend too much time each day worrying about the rapidly depleting battery, and looking for a public power outlet. I am surprised at how frequently peace of mind was given as a major factor for leaving the laptop at home and throwing the tablet in the day bag.

These observations by no means indicates that laptops are no longer needed. There are many folks who will continue to need full laptops for the foreseeable future. What they do indicate is that many people who don't expect a tablet to replace their laptop are discovering that it can easily do so, once they get exposed to the utility of the tablet.

This is no doubt what is keeping executive of laptop makers up at night. This trend straddles the consumer/enterprise fence as tablets are being used full-time by increasing numbers. It is proof positive that Microsoft's reimagined Windows 8 and its decision to make its own hardware is good in the long term.

Topics: Tablets, Laptops, Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

13 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Natural market segmentation?

    My guess is there will be a natural market segmentation based on usage requirements:
    - workstation (used to be a 'PC')
    - laptop (increasingly 'Ultrabook')
    - tablet
    the choice determined by 'light' usage and 'heavy' usage.
    Of course there will be all sorts of niche hybridisations.
    Maybe by Windows 9, iPad 6 and Surface v3 all will be clear.

    I also think network availability will become increasingly important in the final selection (good network means you don't the laptop in case of the odd tricky essential bit of 'wotk').
    jacksonjohn
    • Gripes

      I typed:
      "When, oh when, are ZDNET going to reinstate the edit facility? NT (no text)."
      Needs approval by the moderator for potential inflammatory language or some such.

      So I now have two compaints:
      - please reinstate the comment edit facility
      - what is wrong with the comment vetting facility?

      Hint: I've exhausted my inflammatory language on the ZDNET support facility, already :-(

      NB: REINSTATE!
      jacksonjohn
  • As soon as I saw the headline, I thought it was from you and I checked the

    author, and it is you. James, Tablets will not kick Laptops to curb in the enterprises. Computing is just more than checking emails, surfing or maintaining personal finances. Laptop sales definitely have been reduced because people have laptops already and most of them are capable of upgrading to newer OS, whether it is Windows, Linux or something else. You are totally right and I like these two paragraphs:

    "These observations by no means indicates that laptops are no longer needed. There are many folks who will continue to need full laptops for the foreseeable future. What they do indicate is that many people who don't expect a tablet to replace their laptop are discovering that it can easily do so, once they get exposed to the utility of the tablet.

    This is no doubt what is keeping executive of laptop makers up at night. This trend straddles the consumer/enterprise fence as tablets are being used full-time by increasing numbers. It is proof positive that Microsoft's reimagined Windows 8 and its decision to make its own hardware is good in the long term."
    Ram U
  • I think it's based on assumption and not fact

    what I notice that is rarely ever considerd is cost - many of the bloggers here feel that the average person can easily afford both tablet and laptop at the same time.

    "$500 for the tablet, and throw in that $600 laptop while you're at it. $1166, with tax."

    No given the option of having to buy one or the other, many interested in tablets will likely buy that one first. make due with the laptop for another year as they already have that, paid in full. It doesn't mean they think tablets will do everything they need it to do, instead it takes care of some of the things they wanted to upgrade the laptop for, so a partial fix. They'll get the laptop in the near future when the funds are available.

    At least this is the trend I see in regards to those I deal with.
    William Farrel
  • The downfall of laptops, making space for tablets.......................

    Give laptops something that none of the others have, greater speed, more tools, mem., etc, t
    Something the will always stay. Like a flea on a dog.
    bobbyroh
  • Not buying it

    At a recent IT event, the people outside the event at tables catching up with work, mostly had laptops, many ultrabooks. I only saw one tablet and it was setup with a keyboard.
    mzahler123
  • Not a big surprise

    When I finally succumbed to the inevitable and got a smartphone, I decided to try something. I retired my wife's rickety old laptop, gave mine (which I used largely for internet, social networking and some casual gaming) to her, and started using the phone for those things (I also have a desktop machine which is used for the heavy lifting tasks, like photo editing and software development work).

    I've found it possible to do a lot of those simple computing tasks with just the phone, but would still have to go in to use the desktop for some of them. Screen too small, usually, was the biggest issue. Some websites just don't play well with that size of a display.

    Having just added a Nexus 7 to the array of computing devices at home, I'm already certain that it will remove any need to use a "big" computer for anything other than running Photoshop or Visual Studio.

    On being independent from power supply worries, yesterday I got close to 16 hours from a full charge, with a lot of that time spent doing something with the tablet (first day of ownership, spent a lot of time just playing around and exploring what it has to offer). It had 15% of the battery charge remaining when I finally retired for the night!

    I will probably end up getting a keyboard for it. I don't foresee buying another laptop any time soon. Just don't see the point now.
    Paul Glover
  • Fits me

    Interesting. I am definitely in this category. I find the long battery life and "instant on" characteristic of my Nexus 7 to be a big driver of this, as when I am stepping out, I rarely need all the laptop has to offer, and the extra size, weight and inconvenience of startup/shutdown are factors against toting it along.

    I also use my laptop to remote into my desktop system. While I can and have done that with the Nexus 7, I suspect a larger-screened pad would make that a more common occurrence, as well as using a bluetooth keyboard. While that increases size/weight, it still would have a strong convenience factor over the laptop.
    rberman
  • Laptop + tablet

    You can spent $449 and have both, Chromebook and Nexus 7".
    Rformisa
  • Used to carry around a tablet...

    but not since I got a Galaxy Note about a year ago.
    I did the bluetooth keyboard thing too but that only lasted about a month.
    I now have all my portable computing in one device in my pocket.
    I still use a 10" tablet at home, but it rarely leaves the house. I got sick of carrying around a tablet. Makes you look like a complete tool as well.
    The battery life issue is non existant for me as I have 3 spares - one in the car, one in my wallet and usually a 3rd one on the external charger at home. Bring all 3 spares and I can confidently go a week without a charger.
    warboat
    • Note 2 is my Ave.

      I disdain carrying multiple devices so the Galaxy Note 2 is my next step in the mobile evolution
      bonespiel@...
  • Surprised, shocked?

    It's always surprising when the experts are surprised at the obvious which points out why Win8 will be a winner. Why should people choose mobility and ease of use over the status quo? So, anytime I see what you are putting down I am sure to find the opposite. Win8 & RT, as they become more developed, evolved and have the wrinkles ironed out, will push the envelope and dictate the path of further OS development. Since starting the use of my RT, from inception, my life has become so much more fluid; there is no going back. It makes everything flow, even through the learning curve, except for reading which is still eye straining.
    primartcloud
  • How many years has it been since you attended CES James?

    Slates may flood the show floor, but enter the press room and it's a vastly different picture. Come January, I'm betting that for every 100 media professionals working away in there 99 will still have laptops. It's called getting work done.

    Some bloggers are like goldfish living in an aquarium - they don't have the faintest idea what real life is out in the open sea.
    lgpOnTheMove