The tablet or the laptop?

Reporters use laptop computers, iPads and ink and paper to take notes during a panel discussion

Mobile devices have had a good run lately. First there was news that more wireless devices are being used in the United States than there are people to use them. Then we learned that accessing the Internet by mobile device doubled in 2011. Now we have the prediction that tablet sales will approach 500 million per year by 2015.

This, of course, is bad news for traditional PCs — desktop and laptop computers alike — that also officially will fall behind tablets in sales by 2015, according to projections from Business Insider Intelligence, an Internet industry research firm.


Alex Cocotas, a BI Intelligence research analyst, went so far as to declare that "the post-PC era has arrived." That's clear at home, where reading a book, checking your email and finding recipes has become a far more fluid activity on a tablet than a PC. But how that impacts business travelers — for whom laptops are only slightly less essential than oxygen — is to be seen.

Apple said last year that more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies are testing or using iPads and iPhones. But don't expect laptops to disappear any time soon, especially among business travelers, Cocotas said. The following discussion was edited from a longer conversation.


Q: Does the "post-PC era" mean the end of the laptop for business travelers?

A: The main knock on the tablet has been that it is a leisure device, and for business travelers, how useful it is depends on your needs. If you're trying to run programs running a lot of data, a laptop is still the perfect device. Tablets are great but not suited to that kind of work.

Q: Is the issue simply hard-drive size and the fact that tablets are rarely (if ever) larger than 64 gigabytes? Can they catch up?

A: Tablets don't have as much memory as laptops, but also the number of shortcuts and functional features make using and searching large data sets quicker on laptops. It's tough to say if that will ever come to tablets, but I imagine storage and battery life are two things they're working on.

Q: So where will tablets make inroads over laptops among business travelers?

A: We'll see a lot more customized tablets with customized apps, like product or inventory information unique to particular companies. You can really use tablets in any number of ways. That's one of the exciting things about them.

Q: How big is the role of smartphones for business travelers in the "post-PC era?"

A: Huge. People are increasingly using smartphones over computers. Every business traveler has a smartphone, which most people really use as a mobile email device more than anything. It has become a cliche to see a business traveler walking through the airport, looking at their phones. You certainly see that much more than them looking at laptops in the airport lounge.


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