It’s an interesting question.
Since 2000 a laptop has been my primary computer. That changed when I shifted to a desktop-first mindset earlier this year, and I now have the opportunity to do some rethinking about what sort of machine fits in the gap between a phone and a desktop.
Let’s start with tablets. I bought the iPad when it first came out in 2010, and I haven’t gone two years without an upgrade since. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be buying another one for my own use. My feelings about tablets have been mixed for a while, but they basically come down to what Steve Jobs once said about netbooks - they’re not better at anything.
The 2010 iPad launch addressed this “in the middle” question directly, so let’s take a look at Apple’s suggested roles for this class of device.
The iPad is pretty good at all these tasks, but my iPhone is better at most of them and it’s already in my pocket. Where the phone falls short, there are more capable options. I read on a Kindle. I play games on my desktop. Email is either triage or work. The first I handle better on a phone, the second on a device with a hardware keyboard.
Which brings us to the topic of actual work. With a desktop-centric workflow, I need to be able to handle contingency tasks away from the office. I deeply admire Federico Viticci’s iPad-centered workflow, but my job doesn’t lend itself to that sort of refocusing – at least not anymore. I write code and do graphic design for a living, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, the iPad just isn’t a workable solution in those areas.
So far, my answer has been to find a laptop with the right balance of power and size. Today I can’t think of a better option than the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro, but I can see that changing over the next few years. Gabe Weatherhead, Carl Holscher, and Dr. Drang have eloquently discussed this topic recently and we seem to have similar perspectives.
This quote from Carl rang especially true:
When I think about what I want, it’s a powerful portable with an integrated graphics card. But when I think about what I actually use my machine for, it’s a writing tablet. It’s a place to browse the web and like Rob, I need more power than an iPad, or at least a full operating system. I don’t think I need a Mac Pro Portable.
The new MacBook certainly has me intrigued. In its current state it feels like a reworking of the original 2008 MacBook Air. I wouldn’t touch that machine with a ten foot pole due to its lackluster connectivity, power, and battery life, but as soon as the redesigned models came out in 2010 I used a MacBook Air as my primary machine for the next three years.
With that hope, I can’t wait to see what they do with the next version of the MacBook. They may leave it exactly as-is. At the current price point, that would be too costly for me. But if they drop the price or add another USB-C port, it might just end up being the perfect middle-machine.