It has been quite some time since the era of handheld devices dawned upon us. Smartphones, tablets, eBook readers – you name it! With each passing day, it seems as if the gadgets we use and the technology we employ is shrinking in size.
So, how many of these super portable handheld beauties do you own? An iPad? Amazon Kindle? MS Zune?
Something? Anything? Everything?
And as with any new trend in technology, debate is in the air – will this new trend kill the old one?
You may ask, which old one? Well, here the ‘old one’ refers to devices such as laptops, desktops and anything that can’t be held in your hand.
Before we proceed to answer the question, let us be clear about certain things. The definition or classification of ‘handheld’ itself is not rigid – I mean, you can carry a notebook/laptop/netbook with you, but it’s not considered a handheld device. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, devices such as tablets and smartphones shall be treated as ‘handheld devices’ in this article, and laptops and desktops shall be called ‘mainstream/traditional devices’.
Now, let’s simply dive head-first into our main question: will handheld devices kill the mainstream?
Before we go on to address the question, we shall attempt to arrive at the answer using two different methods – sheer empirical facts and figures, and analytical opinions and viewpoints.
Handheld Devices will NOT Replace Traditional Devices, says Market Research
Allow me to start bombarding you with numbers and figures (unrelated info: I always loved Statistics back in college). As many as 56% of the market experts think that handheld devices will not replace or overpower mainstream ones anytime soon.
You may argue that with the rise in innovations related to tablets and other handheld devices, laptops and desktops are as good as over. In fact, Rupert Murdoch once told Fox Business Network that tablets are the “end of laptops”. A strong statement that can be debated. However, there isn’t much to support it as of now – when asked about handheld devices as compared to traditional ones, only 12% of iPad users said that their iPad can totally replace their laptop.
Along similar lines, most experts are divided when it comes to handheld devices as opposed to mainstream ones. 4% of them think the rise in handheld devices will leave the market for traditional devices unaffected, whereas 7% feel that handheld devices will have a huge impact on laptops. Over 36%, however, feel that there will be some impact of handhelds over laptops and desktops, but not too huge.
Partial replacement? Yes, anytime.
Total extinction? Nope.
Reasons why Mainstream Devices will not Perish Anytime Soon
1. Creativity > Consumption
Does this sub-heading baffle you? Fret not.
What exactly is the purpose of your iPad? Read and answer emails on the go, scroll through your Twitter feed and check your Facebook notifications while commuting, play that Angry Birds game, edit some urgent document, and so on? If you are an author, do you use your iPad to write full fledged books? No, chances are, you turn to your laptop for that (at least I rely on my laptop for this purpose). Similarly, if you are a photographer, what will you use for editing and retouching your photos — your iPad or your computer?
I think that drives the point home – for serious creative usage, a laptop or desktop is still unbeaten. Even if you take a look at the App Market or Google Play store, you’ll notice that the majority of the apps are for casual usage or consumption, rather than serious creative work.
2. Generic Usage > Dedicated Usage
Another baffling sub-heading? Again, fret not!
Truth be told, handheld devices are ideal for serving a dedicated cause. For instance, Amazon Kindle is a perfect companion to keep you hooked for hours and satisfy your thirst to read awesome stuff. Yet, you can’t really do anything apart from read books on it, can you? A Sony Walkman or iPod will help you enjoy your favorite music, watch some videos, and…what else?
At the end of the day, laptops and other mainstream devices live well to the tag of ‘all-encompassing’. Perhaps your laptop will not beat Kindle when it comes to reading while in an elevator, but then again, there are a zillion things that the laptop can do, and Kindle can’t.
3. Affordable > Eye Candy
Yet another baffling sub-heading? Fret not…ah well, I guess I should stop mentioning this line now.
Yes, handheld devices are seeing a drop in price, and this trend is likely to continue, but so are laptops and desktops. Eliminating desktops from this discussion for the time being, a laptop with a dual-core processor is still way cheaper and more powerful than a popular tablet. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself: how much did your current laptop cost you, and what’s its configuration? Now compare the same with the cost and configuration of the iPhone 4S.
4. Usability > Non-feasibility
How many pages can you type using a touch screen and/or an extra-cramped keypad, before you finally give up?
No matter how awesome the touch support on handheld devices is, at the end of the day, nothing comes close to beating a physical keyboard. And when I speak of ‘keyboard’, I do not refer to the super-cramped keypads that certain tablets ship with.
Thus, while handheld devices are awesome for sending that urgent email right away, they do not really beat traditional devices in terms of feasibility for prolonged usage.
5. Specialized Audience > Special Audience
A very popular argument often cited in favor of handheld devices over mainstream ones is that handheld devices satisfy the social networking addicts’ urge to stay connected, and since such internet users are a good segment of the market, they will eventually move away from their laptops and opt for tablets or smartphones.
Well, hardcore internet users and social networking lovers form a ‘special’ segment of the market. It cannot be denied that this ‘special’ segment can indeed consider moving away from laptops completely, sometime soon.
However, a ‘special’ audience is different from a ‘specialized’ audience. If you are a graphic designer, you will probably opt for a tablet or smartphone, but you won’t leave your laptop, because you need it. Similarly, if you are a programmer/coder, you need your computer to do the debugging and coding, even though you may have a tablet and a smartphone to help you stay connected.
Gaining a special audience for a product is not the same as gaining a specialized audience. The special audience may consider leaving traditional devices and switch to handheld devices entirely, but the specialized audience, like it or not, needs the traditional devices.
So, are handheld devices that bad? Should you just drop your plan of gifting your spouse a handheld device?
It can be said that handheld devices come with tools of their own, which, over time, may evolve to challenge the dominance of mainstream tools. For instance, apps for dictation can considerably reduce your reliance on touch screens for typing (though this leads to another inevitable peril: accent). Plus, tablets tend to present text display with a great level of clarity – imagine viewing a document on a 264ppi screen!
Further more, a built-in camera means you have a handy scanner wherever you go. Also, if you insist on having a real keyboard (for me, a ‘real’ keyboard is something which isn’t cramped), you can very well make use of Bluetooth to pair it with your handheld device.
Hence, handheld devices have advantages of their own. Such advantages can allow handheld devices to partially challenge the authority of mainstream devices, but won’t be sufficient to replace mainstream devices altogether.
Lastly, Shall I Discard My Laptop and Go for that Handheld Device?
In simple terms, NO.
In the end it boils down to what your needs are – I couldn’t have written this article on an iPad, I needed my laptop. But each morning when I get up, I turn to my Android smartphone for checking emails, rather than switching on the laptop and connecting to the internet and then launching the browser to open my Inbox. I cannot picture spending a day without my smartphone, but at the same time, I cannot ever imagine a tablet coming anywhere close to replacing my laptop. My smartphone does a lot of things for me – emailing, social networking, gaming, photography – the list goes on. But there are limits to what it can do. I draw and write using my laptop, code stuff and do the odd amount of gaming every now and then – none of this can be (properly) accomplished on a handheld device. To sum it up, handheld devices, no matter how good, cannot yet replace or eliminate mainstream ones. Of course, if you have a smartphone or a tablet, it will serve you well. It can surely co-exist along with your laptop and make your life easier. But it cannot REPLACE your laptop, period.
Will handheld devices ever manage to eliminate the need of a laptop/desktop? What do you think? Feel free to share with us in comments!
Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of "Sufism: A Brief History". He blogs about technology, Linux and open source, mobile, web design and development, typography, and Content Management Systems at Code Carbon. You can learn more about him, follow him on Twitter or friend him on Facebook and Google+.