Backstory: One of our developers had his computer crash, and he needed a new one ASAP. We decided to send him my brawny Macbook Pro, because its power was sadly underused. I don’t do any heavy lifting—like coding or Photoshop—anymore; my job these days mainly consists of composing emails and managing HR. I didn’t need such a heavy-duty machine anymore, so we decided it was time for me to downgrade.
Hence, my laptop was shipped off to a better home in Florida, and I started a grand experiment: doing all my work on an iPad and my iPhone. I was excited to answer a question we’ve been floating around the office: Do you really need a computer anymore? What does the future of software look like? What will we be building in five years? Will it be desktop-oriented or will everything be an app? Will people even still be using desktop computers? Will corporate America replace its towers of gray CPUs with slim touch-screen tablets?
I have seen the future, and I’m telling you: those desktop computers are gonna be around for a while.
What I’m going to say next will surprise no one, but I have empirical evidence that it’s true: typing on the iPad is not good for business. That’s the first hurdle to a touch screen-based workplace. I don’t care how responsive and awesome that screen is; Mavis Beacon taught me to type with a real keyboard, and that’s where I can get stuff done. I’m pretty sure we’d would lose an automatic 30% in productivity if we all had to switch to touch screens for day-to-day business. (Yes, there are bluetooth keyboards for tablets, but if you’re going to buy a keyboard, where’s the point in using a tablet?)
The other hurdle, again, perhaps unsurprising, was the lack of tablet support by conventional desktop applications. For example, Intuit Payroll has a tablet app, but it’s a watered-down version of the desktop application, and there’s no way to opt out of the tablet version. (My partner Trey suggests that’s because the desktop version relies heavily on functionality that doesn’t work in tablet form—like hovers—and in the next breath he points out that shouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle to a good mobile browsing experience). I’ve been waiting for years for Intuit to release a Mac-based Turbotax for business; since I’ve yet to see that, I have little faith in that behemoth’s ability to adapt to mobile devices. Intuit isn’t the only company guilty of this, I’m sure.
So there you have it. If you don’t need to type a lot and you don’t rely on slow-moving enterprise software for your day-to-day job, then yeah, maybe you’ll be working on a tablet in five years.
As for me, I am going to work happily with my tiny new Macbook, knowing that the world is going to need online software developers (and companies like mine) for a long time to come. It might not always be Ruby and Rails that we’re writing, but whatever it is, I know we’re going to continue to be awesome at it.