The Fall of the Laptop

I've been using laptops for over 20 years and during that time, I've seen them evolve from chonky bricks with shitty screens and poor battery life to thin, light, capable portable computers. More recent developments in this space have made me less interested in laptops than ever before and this isn't just the result of the pandemic and that #WFH life... this trend started back when I got my hands on the Dell Latitude 5285 in 2017... To me, this is when things starting going downhill.

Story time, kids... gather around.

Remember that Apple keynote where Steve Jobs took the first generation Macbook Air out of the envelope?

To me, this is what started this fundamental shift in consumer expectations around what a laptop needed to be. Extremely thin, extremely light... but also capable. Intel's response to the Macbook Air was to establish the "Ultrabook" spec and marketing designation, and the result was that manufacturers had to lean-in on this or be left behind.

So what was the problem?

Well, in my opinion the problem was actually Intel's innovation, or lack thereof. This caused a pressure point where the consumer expectation for sexier laptops went beyond the capabilities of Intel's mobile CPUs. I first noticed this when transitioning from a Dell Latitude 7270 (6th generation "Skylake" CPU) to a Dell Latitude 5285 (7th generation "Kaby Lake" CPU). I never felt that the 7270 was chonky, but when you compare that to the Dell models that followed... well, I guess it was a little chonky.

The 5285 was a thermal mess. I can't tell you how many units I saw die in the field and if it wasn't crashing due to overheating, you had to contend with the fan whining if you were doing anything beyond the most basic of workloads. Following the 5285 came the 5290 and while it was better, it was still consistently loud. After that, I had a 5300. Hated it. After that, I had a 5310. Hated it. I found this to be especially bothersome during the height of the pandemic when we were all at peak stress levels.

While this may sound like I'm just dunking on Dell, I saw the same issues on the Apple side. I bought my wife a 2020 Macbook Air with a 10th generation Intel i3 CPU... guess what? It was an absolute mess. The battery life was a sliver of the 2014 Macbook Air it replaced. Even when having a FaceTime call with family (a pretty common use case), the fans would spin and the noise would ramp to unacceptable levels.

... and then the Pandemic happened

The perfect storm against the Laptop continued... as everyone started that #WFH life in March of 2020, most of us took our work laptops with us and started using Zoom or Microsoft Teams 8 hours a day in our work. This negated the primary function of a laptop... which was to be a mobile computer and exacerbated this emerging thermal management issue. Teams, especially, remains poorly optimized and it just killed laptop thermal solutions.

After a few months, I abandoned the laptop entirely for a Dell Optiplex 3020 I bought off ebay for a song. Imagine replacing a laptop manufactured in 2020 with a desktop manufactured in 2013 and having a better experience.

Then, I ended up taking a new job that was 100% remote. My new employer sent me a new Lenovo laptop and while it was a beautiful piece of hardware... it still suffered from the same noise issue I'd grown to detest. Back in the box it went, and I'm fully committed to that desktop computing lifestyle. I even upgraded my Optiplex 3020 to an Optiplex 7040 (Oooh, from 2015!) just to treat myself.

The Rise of the Tablet

The other thing that has happened over the last couple of years, is the iPad has gotten way better and is a more capable mobile computer than ever before. The most significant addition to the iPad experience was mouse support, something many of us have been yammering about for years...

So now factoring in the context above, think about the "Pros" for the iPad in 2021:

  • Thin and light
  • Completely silent. No fans!
  • Beautiful screen. Even on the base iPad
  • Keyboard and mouse/trackpad support
  • Excellent battery life
  • The ability to charge from a portable battery

Thinking back to when Steve Jobs launched the iPad in 2010, he positioned it as a third major computing category for the regular consumer... if you recall from the keynote, he used this graphic:

After watching all of these trends converge during a global pandemic, I actually think the graphic should look more like this...


In retrospect, maybe it's less about the Fall of the Laptop and more about the Resurgence of the Desktop coupled with the Rise of the Tablet.

Kirk out.

Previous Post