Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Desktops, Laptops, and Tablets, Oh My

October 2015

By Mike Gould

I made a service call to help out a client with some Mac problems, and discovered that she had switched from a large iMac to a fully loaded MacBook Pro (MBP). This was surprising to me because she is a graphic designer and I had assumed that designers always wanted the largest amount of screen real estate possible. She just uses the screen on the laptop, eschewing an additional monitor. My friend Tom has switched his entire workflow to a MBP, and he is a multimedia specialist who does a lot of video work.

So what is going on? Is the desktop computer going the way of the floppy disk? (That’s an obsolete storage medium, for you young people out there, who may have never seen one.) There is a lot of debate in ‘puter pundit land over the evolving landscape of personal computing.

Below are snippets from various stories that have recently appeared in the media about this:

eWeek
About 300 million portable PCs were sold in 2014, a tick up from the previous year, and prospects look good for sales increases to continue in 2015.

Wired
Market research outfit IDC has revised its prediction of PC shipments in 2015 downward. It’s projecting a drop of nearly 5 percent this year, worse than its earlier forecast of a 3.3 percent decline.

LAPTOP Magazine
…the grapevine was buzzing with commentary about a massive decline in desktop and laptop sales. Predictably, pundits repeated the popular mantra that "The PC is dying," a piece of common wisdom that's become a dangerously self-fulfilling prophecy.

And of course, the most used computer of all is the phone you have in your pocket. Today’s smartphone has capabilities that dwarf the most advanced desktops of decades past, but no one is suggesting you can do a lot of work on a pocket-sized screen. You can, but why would you, when you can do it easier on a laptop or desktop unit? So let’s concentrate on the desktop vs. laptop issue for the moment. Oh, and tablets like the iPads and their PC cousins, who are also said to be threatening both desk and lap computing.

I think that the main issues are portability and screen size. Some tasks are better suited for large screens, and some require schlepping of equipment to the worksite. Let’s talk screens:

Screenage
Me, I like a lot of monitor real estate, my wonders to perform. I have 3 monitors hooked to my Mac Pro (picture here: http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.196.shtml) - a big 24” Apple jobbie for the bulk of my work (web coding, Photoshopping, laser show programming), a medium 20” Acer unit for parking pallets and stuff I’m cutting and pasting from, and a baby HP 15” unit to see what things look like on the average laptop screen when on the web. All these are fed from the standard video cards in the Mac Pro. No way I’m gonna get all this to work (easily, at least) on a laptop.

But… you can always add a bigger monitor (or two or more, depending on how determined you are) to a modern laptop. This is how my multimedia buddy with the MBP above works.

And Apple just announced the iPad Pro, which has a much larger screen (12.9”) and computing power than its predecessors. This goes head-to-head with the various PC touchscreen tablets out there, and there are those who predict that these will eventually replace the laptops of the world (as they did on Star Trek, but that’s another story…).

Portability
This is the biggie; it would be quite a hassle for me to schlep my full setup around, so I am pretty much confined to my office for most work. Ah, but I also have a MBP, albeit a 5-year old relic, that I can use for on-site stuff. For me, this means having a means to show my photography clients their photos instantly during a shoot. I plug the camera into the laptop, fire up Photoshop and away I go. And I can also hook the laptop into an additional monitor or projector if need be.

My buddy Tom also makes it a policy to keep a minimum of files on his laptop, opting instead to use the various online storage sites available. This is good from a security standpoint; if your laptop is destroyed or stolen, you have backups available, and if everything is properly encrypted, your data isn’t available to the thief. A lot to be said for this approach – does it foretell the demise of the desktop in the near future?

My Take
I think it all comes down to “horses for courses”: different tasks require different tools. The desktop has a number of advantages: it is at home in an office environment, where it can be secured to a desk and regularly updated and maintained. You can update the monitor and keyboard more easily than a laptop, and a desktop is designed for large and multiple monitors.

All the above you can also do with a laptop, but at a cost. Laptops can be difficult to maintain: I remember endless hassles in my previous life as a UM computer tech getting professors and staff to remember to bring in their laptops regularly for servicing. If the computer is a desktop on a desk, we could work on it after hours. And laptops are much more prone to breakage as they are out facing the slings and arrows of the world.

But even six years ago, when I left the UM, the trend was for fewer desktops and more laptops. And tablets were just coming in, so I imagine a lot of things have changed since then.

So I don’t think desktops are going away completely, at least not any time soon, but I see a greatly reduced number of them compared to laptops and tablets in the future. And I don’t see tablets supplanting laptops, although there is a lot to say for the hybrids out there with the detachable keyboards, etc. Me, I have one of each and they all serve different computing purposes. Your Mileage May Vary.

LAPTOP Magazine
http://www.laptopmag.com/articles/buying-pc-death-hype-is-dangerous

eWeek
http://www.eweek.com/pc-hardware/ces-2015-death-of-laptop-desktop-pcs-isnt-about-to-happen.html

Wired
http://www.wired.com/2015/07/death-pc-not-greatly-exaggerated/

Mike Gould is still happy with his Mac Pro Desktop, (although he likes his MBP and iPad as well) was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a laser artist, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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