There's another reaction to the tablet's success that's at least as interesting as how much these devices will replace PCs. I'm at least as interested in how the tablet will change PCs. Adding just one feature, in fact, could blunt some of the tablet's appeal and make the laptop computer far more endearing. It's instant-on.
The iPhone first got us hooked on the instant-on Internet, as really the first mass-market computer to deliver immediate access to the Internet. Before, with our laptops, we had to make the calculation--is this bit of information worth firing up the machine?
The iPad extended that addiction to a more powerful platform for consuming content. When Steve Jobs talked about the development of Apple's newest laptop, the Macbook Air, he described it as bringing the best of the iPad to the laptop. That included bringing in some of the touchscreen functions, via the trackpad. But of all the features Jobs highlighted, only one was the type Apple is famous for-- the kind of feature that gets me to thinking: "Now that would change how I feel about my machine." Yep, it's instant-on.
Will PC makers learn the lesson? Instant-on hasn't been a big priority. There have been variations on instant-on laptops for several years (including a Dell laptop that offered a Linux OS for instant-on alongside a Windows OS), but it has stayed a niche feature. Google considers instant-on one part of Chrome OS's appeal.
Certainly, instant-on is only one part of why the iPad's a phenom. The iPad's a comfortable device for consuming content, particularly when you're kicking back to watch/read/search. In business, it can be a less intrusive tool when you're interacting with someone--a doctor talking with a patient, say, or a salesperson on a show floor.
The message from boffo iPad sales is people want something better than and different from today's laptop, for certain uses. Many people whose jobs require them to create a lot of content don't want a tablet, though; they want to keep their laptop, but they're going to wonder why it can't do some of the tablet's best tricks. In the race to put their own stamp on the tablet, PC makers (and Microsoft) shouldn't forget to bring laptops along as well.
Of course, this could be only one impatient man's take. Does my coveting instant-on only reveal my need to feather back the caffeine and relax? Is instant-on merely a nice-to-have? Or are you with me on this one?
Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.
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