The MacBook Air. It’s a very powerful machine, all the more so because of its mobility. It can do anything a desktop can do. So why is it that the iPad is outselling it by huge numbers (aside from its price)?
For average people who aren’t geeks, the answer is easy: none of the problems with PC’s are prevalent. No anti-virus baloney, no crapware, no crashes1 and a simple, intuitive interface. Power users, however, have overcome those issues through experience and research. So what’s left for the iPad to appeal to them?
It is a joy to use even for power users, of course. But what do you actually do with it? Though the iPad is capable of a lot, I’ve only wanted to use my iPad for the tasks below:
- Watching Netflix or Amazon Instant Video on the couch or other PC-unfriendly spot
- Taking notes in meetings at work
- Being a giant touchscreen jukebox next to my work PC (the Deck app is awesome for this)
For every other task I have said “Oh, hey, that’s cool” when I first tried it, and then promptly forgotten to ever do so again. My phone or desktop work just as well - and usually better - for just about every other task. If the desktop was worse at the task, the phone was better at it. In addition, I’ve since replaced typed notes with written notes imported into Evernote for OCR-powered searches (which seems to work OK), and my new iPhone 5 is what I’m using for music.
So, my iPad really isn’t useful to me - certainly not $500 useful. To drive the point home, I realized while writing this that there was no real reason to keep my iPad, so as of now I have my iPad listed on eBay. It didn’t feel wrong at all to put it there - it’s been a long time coming. Therefore I expect to go tablet-less for the forseeable future. And when I do get a portable machine, why not go with the MacBook Air?
Well, there is one other thing to consider: Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Forget for the moment that it’s an awkward competitor to the iPad, just compare it to the MacBook Air:
The MacBook Air:
- Available now
- Runs OS X
- Keyboard is integrated into device
The Surface Pro:
- Available maybe 3 months from now
- Runs Windows 8
- Keyboard is a floppy appendage
- Has some tablet apps and can be used as a tablet
Let’s assume that you’re willing to consider Windows at this price range - a lot, if not most, people do. Let’s also asssume that the prices and hardware specs are identical - this will require the Air to have a 1080P display and might also require it to have a beefier battery. The differences between the two are then limited to the OS, the integrated keyboard, and usability with a touch interface.
The integrated keyboard only really matters when you’re actually using the device on your lap. Of course, travellers will like this feature. Others, however, might decide that being able to use it as a tablet - even if they can’t use it for a lot to start with - is worth the poorer desktop environment.
I think that the comparison is close enough that the Surface might be the first tablet that actually succeeds on its own merits2. It won’t be iPad-like success. However, it could be the first tablet for power users, signalling the decline of the laptop. This is all assuming, however, that Windows 8 in this form factor is not an irritating mess of UX frustrations that annoy its users. If Windows 8 is usable both as a tablet and as a desktop, then it should work.
Let’s not kid ourselves here, though: it isn’t going to be as clean, as fluid, or as elegant as the experience on the iPad. Perhaps not even as elegant as OS X on the Air. However, if you need a laptop more than you need a tablet, then this kind of device makes a lot more sense. Normal users won’t fall into that camp, but power users certainly might. This is where Microsoft’s opportunity lies. Don’t expect them to steal Apple’s thunder, though.