When the new Macbook Air was announced a few months ago I gave it a serious look. I have been on a 2-year refresh cycle for many years. It was the right time to be looking for a replacement for my 2-year-old Macbook Air, yet I was having a hard time convincing myself of a need for an upgrade. Though I had followed this routine for the last 8 years I just didn’t feel compelled to upgrade this time around. I still haven’t, which is… odd.
Upon purchasing my first iPhone years ago I was shocked to learn that it actually took the place of my laptop in a few use cases. Since then I’ve gone through several tablets, finding it difficult to make room for the new form factor between my iPhone and my laptop. Increasingly, though, I find myself reaching for my tablet to the point that I recently asked myself “how close am I to not needing a laptop at all?” Traveling without a laptop this week is my first experiment to try and answer that question.
I nearly reneged. As I was drifting off to sleep Sunday night I found myself thinking maybe I shouldn’t go through with it. Can I really take a four day business trip with only a tablet?! On Monday morning I boarded the plane without my laptop. Burn the ships!
I did hedge my bets slightly: I traveled with both an iPad Mini and a Nexus 7. I decided to use the iPad Mini at the office on Monday. It was frustrating. By the end of the business day the battery was down to 37% and I found connecting a Bluetooth keyboard to be marginally useful. The keyboard is only good for entering text. I mean, I realize that is the primary reason to use a keyboard but on my laptop I’m used to keyboard shortcuts that make navigating an Operating System from a keyboard effortless. My iPad treats my external keyboard as an intrusion: “you don’t need that peripheral! I function perfectly fine without it!”
I left the office and headed back to the hotel feeling defeated. This isn’t going to work. I’ll limp through the next three days and pack my laptop next week. When I arrived at the hotel room I decided I might as well pair my Bluetooth keyboard with my Nexus 7, just for kicks. I leaned the Android tablet on my wallet to prop it up slightly and started exploring. I was flabbergasted! Using keyboard shortcuts I had learned through a decade of using Mac OS X, I found myself using the keyboard to control my Nexus 7 intuitively! Command-Tab pulls up the app switcher; the Esc key cancels out of things; the Tab key and arrow keys allow me to move around the user interface. In fact, it worked better than Mac OS X! After about an hour hope returned. Maybe this could work after all!
To me, this side-by-side comparison underscored something I already suspected: where iOS is designed with Apple’s “we know you better than you know yourself” attitude, Android seems to be designed assuming that, perhaps, just maybe there is more than one right way to use a device. I’ve read accounts of people using a Bluetooth mouse on their Android device along with their physical keyboard. I’m not feeling the need to add a mouse, but that isn’t even possible on iOS! To me, the Android OS has been built assuming that at some point someone might want to use their device with external peripherals. If my only option were iOS my hopes of replacing my laptop would have been dashed. Thankfully not every company is as close-minded as Apple (Yes, that was out loud)!
I’ve just scratched the surface. I have yet to reach the level of using just a tablet in anger. This first week is a simple trial, but I am optimistic that I can turn one week into two. I have some ideas for how to test my hypothesis further. It includes the use of my virtual development environment. For now, though, I’ll continue crawling; walking will come soon enough.