Café computing: iPads, Atrix Lapdocks, Chromebooks, and MacBook Airs

Leave the heavy laptop at home and try one of these lightweight alternatives instead, with or without a latte

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iPads and other laptop replacements everywhere
Certainly, when I fly these days, I see about as many iPads and now occasionally a Motorola Xoom here and there as I do MacBooks and PC laptops. The tablets have the advantage of actually fitting on the tray table, and if the person in front of you oh so rudely lowers his or her seatback, you can still see the screen -- just try that with a laptop. Plus, an iPad will easily run for an entire cross-country flight, as well as during your wait to board the plane and your transit time to and from the airports. An Atrix/Lapdock duo, a Xoom, or a Chromebook will usually last at least the flight time.

I also see iPads increasingly at tech conferences, fast replacing laptops as the note-taking and diversion device of choice. Even CIOs, not known for embracing the latest gear or Apple products in their professional lives, now often have one at the ready. Outside of tech, friends report seeing them increasingly at conferences; they're no longer novelties, even if they're not as common as in the tech industry's get-togethers.

In my professional work, it's clear that reporters have quickly adopted them rapidly. At Google's announcement of Chrome OS last December, the room was evenly split between journalists filing their stories on iPads and those working on laptops. A PR colleague told me that a recent media event was chock-full of reporters taking notes and filing stories via iPads, a real change from six months earlier when it was all laptops.

When I covered the recent announcement of the iPad 2, I used the Atrix/Lapdock duo for the live reporting, as I never quite trust my older work MacBook's battery, and the theater seating for these events makes using a laptop really uncomfortable anyhow. I could have used my iPad, but the Atrix/Lapdock has the advantage of running desktop Firefox, which works better with InfoWorld's Internet-based Drupal content management system than the iPad's mobile Safari does. I could also have used the Chomebook, but my test unit's trackpad is unreliable, so it's unsuited for live work. (It is a beta, after all!)

How much can you rely on café computers for "real" work?
Which raises the fit issue: These devices work really well for Web access, email, and other communication tools, and the iPad has some truly amazing office apps that you can use on the road to edit docments or create slideshows. However, they can only go so far. For café computing, any of these devices is perfectly fine.

For extended use over one to three days, I find the iPad is the only device I can rely on for doing my routine work. The issues the mobile browsers have with supporting the contenteditable HTML feature and the related TinyMCE Web editor mean it's twice as much work to edit and write stories for InfoWorld on it. However, the iPad makes up for that in its native apps for email, calendar, contacts, office productivity, and entertainment that I find just aren't well handled in the cloud-only devices such as the Chromebook and the Atrix/Lapdock duo. (Sorry, Android apps pale in comparison to iOS ones as well.)

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