Friday, November 2, 2012

On Mobile Computing

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/on-mobile-computing-45907e0a5f63

I think that tablets are going to supersede laptops. There, I said it. Two years ago when I bought my laptop I wouldn't have imagined that I would be replacing it with a 10-inch block that doesn't even have any USB ports, but it looks like that is what is going to happen very soon.

Obviously at the time buying a laptop was the only thing that made any sense; I couldn't get a desktop because the internet at my house was atrocious and tablets really weren't a thing yet. Buying a nice gaming laptop (a Sony Vaio rocking an i7 processor and an Nvidia GT 425M) was perfect, and Vera has served me quite well for these two years. Until recently I wouldn't have thought that I would be thinking about replacing her so quickly.

Several things happened that have made me reconsider my position.
It started last May when Max Payne 3 came out. The combination of the game's awesomeness and the heat of the newly arrived summer caused Vera to overheat in about 20 minutes. I started resorting to placing ice packs under her to get as much gaming time as I could.
In September I finished acquiring components for my new desktop and since then I have stopped wanting to do most things with Vera. All I really use her for is taking notes in class and watching things on the TV lounge with everyone. At this point I started thinking that I might want to replace Vera with an Ultrabook (maybe even a Chromebook), as that would certainly have a better battery life and be quite a bit lighter.
A friend of mine here in Morris had an Asus Transformer that he was trying to sell. After I researched it I realized that it would actually make sense to buy it and sell Vera. However, the bidding went higher than I could at the time.

Then Windows 8 released and Google announced the Nexus 10.
I really like the direction Microsoft took the Surface in terms of hardware; it is a very slick device, and the way that the cover doubles as a keyboard and it has a kickstand makes it clear that they want the user to be able to get actual work done on it.
On the other hand, Google is my favorite company and I use tons of their services. This coupled with the strides the Android operating system has taken in the last year mean that I am definitely going to get an Android tablet. And the one that I can be sure will have continued support in the future is the Nexus.

I think that laptops occupied a weird time in our technological journey. They were the first successful attempt at making personal computing portable, but there are inherent problems in the system. Basically, manufacturers took smaller versions of desktop parts and smooshed them into a tiny package and installed an operating system that wasn't designed for that kind of form factor.
Everything about it- spinning hard drives, disc drives, big old CPUs and GPUs- create lots of heat that a fan has to eject from the system and all of this eats up battery power like no other. They are also rather large and not usable while walking around.

Tablets solve all of these issues. ARM chipsets use less power and create less heat, flash memory uses no moving parts, and operating systems built with tablets in mind have much less overhead because they do less multitasking.
For a while you could have argued that the operating systems on tablets just didn't have the functionality necessary for them to be viable, but they are definitely fine now. Windows 8 in particular is blurring the lines between PC and tablet, and I have seen some intriguing commercials for Ultrabooks that easily double as tablets (I'm not sure if they use ARM chipsets or not).

As for the things that I can do with a tablet that I can't with my laptop, it mostly has to do with the touch interface. There are some intriguing games that are coming out with touchscreens in mind, and the ones that integrate themselves with other games (like Mass Effect Infiltrator) are very enticing. Also simple things like being able to listen to music while walking around campus and not having to worry about battery life all day would be nice.

So there you have it, that is my reasoning behind the decision to replace my laptop with a tablet. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I am replacing my laptop with a desktop and a tablet, but details.