Feb 16

Laptops are a misnomer; mobility is changing what and how we do it, at work, at home and in between

Have you ever thought about the term ‘laptop’?  It was invented to differentiate a portable class of PC from desktops.  But, how many people use their ‘laptops’ on their laps?  This has a practical productivity significance that many underestimate, and it may be one of the unsung reasons why tablets are so attractive…

Think about how you use a laptop.  For most people a laptop PC is a device that is semi-mobile.  Yes, you can move it around and you can take it traveling.  But where do you use it?  Almost certainly ypu place it on a desk or a table.  Ask yourself where you put your laptop when in a hotel, in a meeting, in your office – and even on a plane (if there is enough room): it is on a desk or table of some sort.

This has a consequence.  To use your laptop you must make a physical effort to move to that desk or table before you can start working (and without even considering whether it needs to boot up or not).  If you are at home and want to check email or find out some information, you go through (consciously or subconsciously) an evaluation of whether it is worth the effort of getting up and moving from your arm chair or the kitchen or wherever.  Broadly the same applies everywhere else (except perhaps the office).  Before you begin to use your laptop you weigh the cost of commiting to a physical action.  In practice this ‘overhead’ to move is an impediment (how many times can you remember thinking ‘ah, it is not worth it’?).

Contrast this with a tablet (or even a smartphone).  These produce an experience very different from the misnamed laptop.  To start, a tablet its simply more physically accessible: it may be with or beside you wherever you are (and even on the plane).  You can keep the tablet with you in a way that you do not (for most people) with a laptop (never mind a desktop).

Tablets that connect enable you to do what you want, whenever you want.  That can be any or all of email, personal browsing, corporate browsing, information access, decision taking, reading, entertainment, etc.  Indeed, one of the attractions is that you can switch at will between any or all of these.  About the only activity you cannot do is document creation (writing, presentation manipulation, large spreadsheet alteration, etc — where a larger screen plus a mouse are desirable, though these are arguably requirements of Office or similar software and not the device).

In fact, even the need for a laptop for document creation is questionable — and may be related more to age and training than anything else.  Personal experience shows that the young can do pretty much anything on a tablet and also the elderly, especially those  who never had mastered mice,  keyboards and operating systems.  Try watching a 2 year old and/or an 80 year old and you will see how fast their take up is.

There are some who argue that tablets and smartphones will be the next ‘crackberries’, that they will invade and consume personal time.  In fact the reverse seems more likely.  You can be watching a movie and move to reading an urgent email, doing the research to reply to it and then return to your movie — all from where you are.  This introduces a flexibility to ‘turn on and to turn off’ that was never true of the misnamed laptop (too often, once you had made the effort to go to your laptop, you stayed).

Watch yourself.  Watch your partner, your children and your elderly relatives. Mobility is changing what and how we do it, at work, at home and in between.


PS  I am particularly interested in the success of the ill and the elderly and tablet use: if you have any stories or evidence (for or against), I would very much like to hear more.  Send me an email at charles@constellationrg.com

3 thoughts on “Laptops are a misnomer; mobility is changing what and how we do it, at work, at home and in between

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