Will Handheld Devices Replace Your Laptop?

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.

Statistics and Numbers

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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.


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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!

Amazon Kindle

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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.


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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?

Tablet Device in action

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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.


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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.

The Counter-Argument

So, are handheld devices that bad? Should you just drop your plan of gifting your spouse a handheld device?


Tablet Device

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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

Sufyan bin Uzayr writes for various magazine and blogs, and is the author of several books. 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+.

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  1. Mark says

    I feel like this article is 2 years late, and a couple points short.

    Everyone else covered this topic over a year ago, and they had more points. You might say that no one had covered it recently, but if we were to be honest — nothing radical has changed that would provoke the question being asked again. Performance and specs may have increased, but that is not really valid support for an article, this is a process all things go through.

    Not only that, but many of the points are circumstantial, and do not include the required information. Editor, please.

  2. Jon A says

    A very important topic to think about and discuss. Agree that it depends on your needs..

  3. says

    I love my tablet for surfing the Internet, social media, and playing games but there are some things that are just easier to do on my laptop. I can’t see replacing it right now for work but personal time on my laptop has definitely been reduced.

  4. says

    rightly said, we can’t write tons of stuff with ipad,
    Its just a substitute to small things like updates for social networking sites, it can never beat mainstream(laptop or comp).
    With the growth of smartphone technology the Mainstream comp. tech. will also grow and will always keep an edge

  5. says

    Nah its wont happen, not yet anyway. Im a graphic designer, and i cant see that it would happen.
    The screen is to small to work with, every designer need the biggets creen you can get, if not two :)
    The quality og video, who want to sit and watch a movie og play a game for longer period of time on such small screen without hurting their eyes.

  6. says

    Mobile devices will become faster and more powerful, but laptops and desktop computers are better designed for the limitations of the human body, whereas mobile devices give that up in order to be able to fit in your pocket. Our fingers our big, and don’t have the accuracy of a keyboard for typing or tablet pen for drawing, our eyesight is limited too… so we had to simplify designs for small screens. I don’t think that mobile devices, as they are today, could replace laptops.. but maybe something different and unheard of that addresses our limitations.

  7. says

    I love my smartphone although I admit that it certainly has its drawbacks. I recently had internet connection problems, which apparently has been common with myTouch phones, highlighting the fact that there are a lot of improvements still to be made before we say goodbye (if we say goodbye) to mainstream devices. When I lost internet access, my smartphone became far less appealing because of the dependence on the internet to check my email, Google a local restaurant, find directions, or purchase apps. While handheld devices can be marvelous when they work (their speed is a definite advantage as you pointed out, Sufyan) there is still no reason to dismiss the mainstream devices. Douglas may be right in his prediction of phasing out the use of mainstream devices as handhelds continue to develop (which they surely will given their popularity and the resulting competitive market) but I think I will hold on to my PC – it is how I wrote this response!

  8. Marie says

    I may be one of the few who still absolutely loves my iMac. I love all the real estate, where I can have multiple photographs or documents open. And I hope they don’t stop making desktop PCs for people like me, who work with graphic heavy media. It’s also my favorite place to write, it’s like breathing room and i don’t feel crowded. This is important to me, along with ample disk space. I do love the portability of the iPad or a laptop…but I still do most of my work on my iMac.

  9. says

    I think we’ll see mobile devices carry ALL the capabilities of a full computer in the next 3-4 years, at which time everything will be in the cloud, and you and plunk your phone down next to a monitor and keyboard and have the full desktop experience. If you lose your device, you can disable it, get another, sync to the cloud and keep going. Same with a desktop. The cloud will be the OS and filesystem, and devices will just consume views of it…as much or as little as you want.

  10. Ben says

    I think Ipad’s are more practic than laptops outside, but when you are at home nothing can replace your good big machine! Anyway good article and topic to discuss.

    • Cuanq Gigabyte says

      yep, i agree with you, Ben…
      but let’s hope someday that a portable device will have a same spec with the big machines ;)
      so we could work easily anywhere using our ultra thin device…

      • says

        Exactly…iPads and other portable devices are good for usage when you’re on the move, but for long-term power usage from home/office, iPad can’t beat a laptop yet.
        “let’s hope someday that a portable device will have a same spec with the big machines”
        –I’m waiting for that day badly. :)

  11. says

    I can’t imagine hand-held replacing laptops or notebooks anytime soon, certainly not as far as I am concerned. If I want to write something longer, make a blog entry of similar, there is no way I will be doing it on my hand held (Samsung Galaxy Note) simply because it takes too long and is too difficult to watch over, to work through.

    • says

      Reminds me of a movie (forgot the title) where a man submits his draft to his publisher via a blackberry, I think. I mean, who would write thousands of words in a smartphone?

    • says

      I totally agree with you. Especially to those “power-user”. There are things that hand held devices can’t do. Besides, i don’t have a steady hands and really suck at touch screens. lol

      • says

        Touchscreens aren’t my thing either. In fact, even with my Android smartphone, I settled for one with a slightly lesser memory, simply because it had a QWERTY keypad along with the touch screen. I can’t imagine typing lengthy emails using a touchscreen.

    • says

      i agree with you Viktoria, when there’s work to be done laptops will always come first.. but there i times when i prefer to use my phone to check the email and chat with my friends… plus if you think about it there are more casual internet users than professional ones – people that actually require a bigger screen to complete a certain job… my bet is that handheld devices will outrank laptops in just a couple of years, but still the usability of a notebook will never be replaced by a smartphone