The absurdity of the “can the iPad replace a laptop” debate

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

Matt Gemmell in a recent piece:

So you want to potentially not use a laptop anymore, but you also want a computer that does all the same things as a laptop, in pretty much the same way. In which case, I think the computer you’re looking for is a laptop.

Matt is right on point here. I think the iPhone is the personal computing device of our generation. Our parents had the PC revolution, and it was a massive change unlike almost anything we’ve seen before. The PC was the center of everything for decades, but the smartphone is the new king of the hill. In the first quarter of 2017 it’s estimated 348 million smartphones were sold worldwide, while 62 million PCs we sold in the same time period.

But we get into tricky territory with iPads. I would say “tablets” but let’s be honest, the “can an Android tablet replace your PC?” conversation isn’t happening to any meaningful extent. But people get amped up about this discussion of the iPad. “Can the iPad replace your laptop” is a common question, and it’s often answered “no!” by people who need their computer to do specific things. Dave Lee, who I like a lot, made this video about the new iPad Pro in June, and he says the iPad running iOS “will never be as fast as a laptop or a 2-in-1 running a full fledged operating system.”


It’s a cliché example, but my mom never used computers. To this day she does not like them one bit. They’re intimidating and the learning curve is just too high for her. Hell, up until a few years ago she didn’t have an email address and told people to email my dad, who would then print out her emails and she’d read them on paper. I’m sure that sounds crazy to most people reading this, but it’s how she felt about computers. She could not see the value in them to justify the learning curve.

But she got an iPhone and an iPad a few years ago and now she’s using them constantly. She’s not converted into a “techie” or anything, but she’s doing her own email, using the web, and is messaging family and friends with a slew of messaging apps on the iPad.

The iPad is not a “laptop replacement” for her, it’s a “laptop alternative.” It’s not a replacement because there’s nothing there to replace. For her, the iPad turning into a laptop isn’t the goal, the iPad is great for her specifically because it’s not like a laptop. The iPad has taken something that was completely unnatural and uninviting to someone and gotten them to be more productive with computers than any PC or Mac in her entire life.

This is a single example, and I don’t mean to suggest that it is some universal truth that everyone will be better off if they use an iPad, but it is a telling example that the conversation over the iPad’s place in the world is being framed incorrectly. The iPad may not be something you personally can use instead of a laptop, but let’s not confuse that with the fact that the iPad is a powerful computer that maybe, just maybe can exist as an alternative to what’s out there instead of a straight replacement.