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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Apple and Google need to bring their mobile browsers to equality with their desktop browsers, and Google and other proponents of cloud apps need to start showing the world how to develop good ones. So far, most are pretty limited and clunky -- just go to Google's Chrome Store to see what I mean.

On longer trips, I still bring my iPad or sometimes another device for use throughout the day when I'm on the go. But I leave my MacBook Pro at the hotel so that I have a "real" computer available in the mornings and evenings to do the things I just can't do on a café computer.

Why not use a superlight laptop like the MacBook Air?
Which brings me to the MacBook Air: a laptop that is nearly as thin and light as an iPad (the 11-inch Air version weighs just 50 percent more than an iPad and is not even twice as thick at its thickest point) but brings the horsepower of a midlevel Mac and still offers battery life of four to six hours. Why not make that my sole device instead of going back and forth between a full laptop and café computer?

I was very tempted to do so, believe me, but as a primary computer, it's not quite what I need. If only the Air had more processing horsepower and larger SSD capacity, for running the full (and slow) Microsoft Office and the full (and decently performing) Adobe Creative Suite. And if only it supported FireWire -- all my drives are FireWire because I find that Time Machine backups can really bog down my MacBook's USB channel, so I needed to keep the drives on their own bus. Maybe the Air's next version or the one after that will close the performance gap. Also, as a second computer, an Air is too pricey compared to an iPad, Xoom, Chromebook, or Atrix/Lapdock duo. PC makers' MacBook Air wannabes have similar trade-offs, if you're a Windows kind of person.

But by the time there's an Air I could use as my primary computer, I'm hoping that the concurrent generations of iPad, Android tablets, Chromebooks, and dumb-laptop docks for smartphones will have desktop-equivalent browsers, that cloud apps will really be desktop-class, and that the mainstream apps on a PC or Mac will all have capable iOS and even Android equivalents. That way, I get a thinner, lighter computer I can use 80 percent of the time from an iPad or similar device, and need to rely on a shared PC or Mac server for only the occasional heavy-duty loads. I can see homes shifting to have one Mac Mini or equivalent PC running as a server, while tablets and other café computers become each family member's regular system. Offices could do the same for clusters of employees.

If that future doesn't arrive in the next few years, I'll still have my recent-model MacBook Pro for the heavy lifting and my iPad for the airplane, conferences, and café. I just need to be careful not to spill the coffee.

This article, "Café computing: iPads, Atrix Lapdocks, Chromebooks, and MacBook Airs," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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