Tablets and Laptops are Used for Different Things

There is a lot of talk about tablets replacing PCs (desktop and laptops). The people who make this point usually cite the decline of PC sales which coincided with the rise of tablets.

I have always been rather skeptical of this view because for me, laptops and tablets served very different roles. It’s not that I program therefore I need a laptop kind of thing. It’s that for any kind of work that I do in my office, a laptop is more convenient. On the other hand, when I am on my sofa playing with kids, then a tablet is much better.

The general tendency is to segment by people; i.e. power users who do a lot of stuff vs. casual users who mainly just do email and a bit of the web. I think this is the wrong approach.

The correct approach is to segment by the jobs-to-be-done. Hence even for a single person, he is sure to have multiple jobs-to-be-done in the course of a day. Some of these are better suited for a laptop and some are suited for a tablet. Or they may be an old lady who just wants to see photos of her grandchildren. A tablet would be ideal for her. Since this discussion is about form factors, the posture is also very important; are you at your desk, are you standing, are you reclining on the sofa, are you lying down on bed, or are you crouching in the toilet.

In March 2013, Chitika published data that showed when people used their respective devices to surf the web during the day.

  1. Smartphones dip during working hours, but are still used during work hours, especially during commute hours.
  2. Tablets are used a lot less during working hours and are mainly used for leisure.
  3. PCs usage peaks during working hours and also during leisure hours.

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From the charts above, it is evident that tablets usage is not replicating PC usage. Although there is likely to be some overlap, it is clear that they are being hired for different jobs-to-be-done.

According to a recent interview between Apple executives Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi and MacWorld, Apple seems to think the same way.

“It’s not an either/or,” Schiller said. “It’s a world where you’re going to have a phone, a tablet, a computer, you don’t have to choose. And so what’s more important is how you seamlessly move between them all…. It’s not like this is a laptop person and that’s a tablet person. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“Sometimes you want a large display, with many different windows open, and sometimes you just want to lay back on the couch or are standing at the bus stop. There’s a natural form factor that drives the optimal experience for each of those things. And I think what we are focused on is delivering the tailored, optimal experience for those kinds of ways that you work, without trying to take a one-size-fits-all solution to it.”