It is tempting to think that in the history of the evolution of the computer, the laptop (or at least the laptop accessed through a trackpad and keyboard) will be a mere stepping stone on the road to touchscreen/tablet dominance. This stance would fit with our general view of technological progress – whereby the latest innovation replaces all that came before it, effortlessly rendering the previous generation a hopeless anachronism. In reality though, the laptop and the tablet are now crossbreeding, engaged in a symbiotic relationship that has all but erased the previously solid dividing line between them.
Perhaps the most eye-catching form that this new relationship has taken is the series of new laptops that can be switched from conventional laptop to tablet at will, and that are known as convertibles. This new range is exemplified by the Lenovo Yoga, a convertible that was launched with a dramatic TV ad that sought to mimic the frenetic chase sequences from espionage films, a bold move that showed real intent to cement the convertible as an important new entry into the list of must have gadgets.
Perhaps more significant for the future of the laptop/tablet relationship, though, is Windows 8. The latest iteration of the operating system that has dominated the computer world for decades is now optimized for touchscreens, while still being compatible with the traditional laptops and PCs that are its spiritual home. Moreover, the promotional materials for Surface, Microsoft’s tablet, have highlighted the device’s detachable keyboard, something which has left some commentators questioning whether the Surface is a tablet, or just a laptop that has been amputated at the join between screen and keyboard.
Of course, the use of a conventional keyboard with a tablet is not in itself revolutionary, with the majority of tablets that have been released thus far being compatible with wireless Bluetooth keyboards for those users who simply can’t get used to a virtual onscreen keyboard or who do a lot of typing on a regular basis. The decision to portray a detachable keyboard as an intrinsic part of a tablet is, however, important, as it suggests that the PC/laptop architecture that we thought we had left behind in the age of the tablet (specifically, the keyboard), may still have an important role to play in our computational future.
It remains to be seen whether the prediction in the opening paragraph will come true, whether the tablet will wipe away the conventional laptop. One thing seems to be clear, though – if the launch of convertibles, Windows 8, and the Surface tablet are anything to go by, the laptop won’t go away without a fight. And, the laptop is determined to leave its mark on the evolution of the tablet.