What the laptop can learn from the tablet (and why it better do it soon)

What the laptop can learn from the tablet

The rise of the tablet has been a surprise. While now an accepted addition to a world once dominated by PCs, the initial unveil of the iPad was met with skepticism from many. Would people really go for a device without a keyboard? They have, and are, and will – but why?

That’s an important question for many companies in the PC business. While Microsoft tries to convince the world that its new touch-optimized operating system isn’t a dud, computer sales have experienced the greatest downturn in history. If this trend is to be stopped, or even reversed, the lessons taught by tablets must be understood.

The eyes buy

Computing is a visual experience. The marvel of seeing a screen react to our input is what makes a computer engaging. Yet, at some point over the last decade and a half, the companies that build PCs forgot this. They found they could sell more units if prices were lower, so they slashed the display, knowing that most buyers wouldn’t have a chance to judge it before buying.

That strategy seemed sound from an accountant’s perspective, but it bred weakness into the computer. When the iPad and other tablets arrived with beautiful IPS panels, the blemish that is a cheap laptop display became apparent. Then, Apple poured salt in the wound by placing Retina in a device that starts at $500.


Some PC manufacturers have responded and improved quality with surprising speed, but they’re playing catch-up. Laptops sold for $600 should have IPS displays. They should have them yesterday. Unfortunately, change may come too late; neglect of the display has caused manufacturers to prioritize other costly components.

Features don’t sell

Windows 8 is the most robust version of Microsoft’s operating system ever released. It has so many features that most reviews don’t even name a quarter of them for fear of putting readers to sleep. And still, Windows 8 has been ill received by customers, and how can this be?

What manufacturers rarely understand is that most features don’t matter to most people. Here at Digital Trends, we care about features. But we’re also professional writers with a love for electronics and the activities they make possible. To others, including many of our readers, the particulars of this or that feature aren’t so dire.

The reality is that most consumers don’t care about face recognition, third-party software, thumbprint readers, custom docks, and the plethora of other extras added by manufacturers. None of these “features” make laptops better. They only confuse consumers and add cost.

The experience is the top priority

If features don’t sell, what do? According to Apple, it’s the experience. And since Apple’s currently the leader by far in the tablet segment, the company probably knows what it’s talking about.

… PC manufacturers have operated for decades with little regard for the end-user experience.

This may seem like an obvious point, but PC manufacturers have operated for decades with little regard for the end-user experience. We’ve tested countless portable laptops with pathetic batteries, numerous gaming PCs with sub-par performance, and plenty of tablets with bad displays. Flaws like these only make sense when business concerns like costs and marketing obscure the quality of the product.

Want proof? Look no further than the iPad. When it was revealed, some outlets predicted it would flop like every tablet that came before. Yet 1.7 million iPads are sold every week. Why? Because it’s portable, powerful, and intuitive in a way its predecessors were not – and all of which leads to an excellent user experience.

PC manufacturers, on the other hand, are filling the market with heavy, bulky, confusing convertibles, most of which aren’t selling well because most aren’t enjoyable to use.

No room for cynics

Computers are complex. They have cores and drives and USBs, most of which aren’t understood by the average consumer. This has created a cynical business culture at major PC manufacturers that focuses on marketing instead of innovation.

I’m reminded of graphs posted on the website of a well-known gaming laptop manufacturer several years ago. The graphs compared dual-core with quad-core performance, and guess what? The bar for the quad was twice the size of the bar for the dual! Of course, the truth is not so simple, but the company hoped users wouldn’t find out until after they’d bought a laptop.


This approach worked because all the major manufacturers used similar tactics. But nothing lasts forever. Smartphones and tablets are now teaching consumers that specs aren’t important. And if specifications aren’t important, they can no longer be used to confuse (and up-sell) customers. PC manufacturers will have to reform their old ways and refocus on building excellent, cutting-edge computers that provide a seamless experience.

But don’t just take our word for it. Though the latest numbers show the PC industry took a huge hit last quarter, two companies – Asus and Lenovo – managed to hold ground. These companies build some of the most interesting and innovative laptops sold today, yet also offer affordable pricing. In other words, they provide what consumers want, and (surprise!) people are buying from these two companies. 


Trends like touch and mobile are often portrayed like boulders rolling down a mountainside; inevitable, unstoppable, and destructive. In truth, these trends exist because smart people at powerful companies came up with new and creative ideas.

That’s good news for PC manufacturers because it means they aren’t helpless. They too have smart people and a lot of cash, and that provides a choice. Will laptop makers learn these lessons and pursue new ideas? Or will they continue down the same path until it leads them off a cliff? That story is still being told.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.


Amazon strikes $100 off the price of Microsoft Surface Go tablets

If you've been eyeing Microsoft's Surface Go for its compact size and portability, now may be a great time to buy the tablet. Amazon has a $100 discount on the Surface Go, bringing the price of this slate down to just under $400.

Breaking news: Samsung responds to reported Galaxy Fold display issues

The Samsung Galaxy Fold has arrived, and it goes on sale soon. Folding out from a 4.6-inch display to a tablet-sized 7.3-inch display, this unique device has six cameras, two batteries, and special software to help you use multiple apps.

Best Buy drops the lowest price on Amazon’s Fire HD 10-inch tablet, one day only

When it comes to tablets, Apple's iPad isn't the only sought-after device. Amazon's Fire HD tablets is great for streaming shows, playing music, reading, and playing games. Amazon's 7th-gen Fire HD 10 is down to its lowest price on Best Buy…

Need a new tablet? Here are the best iPad deals for April 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for April 2018.

Mueller report releases on CD, forces Congress to find PCs with disc drives

The Mueller report was released this week to Congress via CDs and congressional members had to find PCs with working disc drives to access the 400-page document. The redacted report was also released to the public on a website.

Kick off your streaming career with our complete guide to Twitch broadcasting

Streaming games on Twitch for the first time can be daunting to say the least, but with a few simple steps, it's remarkably easy to do. Here's how to do so using a PC, Mac, Xbox One, or PlayStation 4 console.

Google Chrome will get a Reader Mode for distraction-free desktop browsing

If Google's testing of Reader Mode on the Chrome Canary desktop browser is successful, soon all Chrome users will gain access to this feature. Reader Mode strips away irrelevant content on a webpage for distraction-free browsing.

Former student uses USB Killer device to fry $58,000 worth of college’s PCs

A former student used a USB Killer device to short circuit more than $58,000 of computers at a private New York college earlier this year. The student pled guilty to the charges and sentencing is scheduled to begin in August.

AMD Ryzen CPU prices get slashed ahead of Ryzen 3000 release

AMD's Ryzen CPUs have had their prices slashed as we edge towards the release of their third generation. Whether you're a gamer or someone who needs multi-threaded performance, there's a deal for everyone with some heavy discounts to take…

The number pad on HP’s Chromebook 15 makes spreadsheet work a breeze

HP's Chromebook 15 comes with a 15.6-inch display, a metal keyboard deck with full-size keys, and a dedicated number pad, making it the second Chromebook model, following Acer's Chromebook 715, to be suited for spreadsheet work.

Worried about your online privacy? We tested the best VPN services

Browsing the web can be less secure than most users would hope. If that concerns you, a virtual private network — aka a VPN — is a decent solution. Check out a few of the best VPN services on the market.

Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Gaming desktops are powerful, but they tie you down to your desk. For those of us who prefer a more mobile experience, here are the best gaming laptops on the market, ranging from budget machines to maxed-out, wallet-emptying PCs.

Here's how you can download the best free music players for your Mac

Tired of your Mac's default music player? Take a look at our picks for the best free music players available for your Apple rig. Whether you're a casual listener or an audiophile, you're sure to find something that fits your needs here.

Want to make calls across the internet for less? Try these great VOIP services

Voice over IP services are getting more and more popular, but there are still a few that stand above the pack. In this guide, we'll give you a few options for the best VOIP services for home and business users.