Laptops

Chromebook or iPad: Choose your post-PC device wisely

Andy Wolber looks at how each of these devices offers connectivity, applications, and access to data that may transform how you work.

In 2003, the New York Times reported that laptops outsold desktops for the first time. In Q4 2012, NPD forecasts that tablets will outsell laptops for the first time. People are rapidly adopting devices that are lighter, simpler and less expensive than standard corporate laptops.

The Chromebook and iPad represent very distinct approaches to the post-PC device world. The iPad relies on installed apps and a touchscreen. The Chromebook gives us a web browser contained in a traditional laptop form. The iPad 4 and Samsung Chromebook 550 represent the "best available" models, respectively.

Here's a brief look at how each of these devices offers connectivity, applications, and access to data that may transform how you work.

Spec Summary & Comparison

The Samsung Chromebook 550 and iPad 4 both deliver simpler computing experiences then many conventional corporate laptops:

  • Boot times measured in seconds
  • Battery life of 10 hours (iPad) or 6 hours (Chromebook)
  • Weight of 1.5lbs. (iPad) or 3lbs. (Chromebook)
  • Limited access to the file system
  • Streamlined updates of the operating system, apps or extensions
  • Built-in cameras, microphones and speakers for video conferencing
  • Ubiquitous connectivity, thanks to WiFi or WiFi plus cellular data connections.

Some of the newest iPads connect to fast LTE networks; the newest Chromebooks with cellular devices max out with 3G connections.

Samsung Chromebook 550

Both systems encourage user focus, although in different ways. iPad applications inherently fill the screen, encouraging mono-tasking. Chromebooks essentially run a single application - a web browser - complemented by user-added extensions and web apps.

The Chromebook and iPad are distinctly different pieces of hardware. The iPad uses touch, the Chromebook, a conventional trackpad and keyboard. The iPad display changes orientation as the user rotates the device; the Chromebook doesn't. iPad versions with cellular connectivity include GPS; the Chromebook doesn't. The iPad has a back-facing camera for shooting photos or video; the Chromebook doesn't.

Enterprise management features differ, as well. The iPad supports Mobile Device Management of iPads with third party software. Google's own Google Apps' control panel provides controls for management of Chrome OS devices.

Both product lines include multiple models. The Chromebook line now includes devices with 11" screens and slower performance (the $249 Samsung Chromebook), as well as a less-expensive device with a conventional hard drive (the $199 Acer C7 Chromebook). The iPad mini (starting at $329) is considerably smaller and lighter than the iPad, but lacks the "retina display" of the larger iPad.

Apple iPad

Four decisions

1. Internet: Do you need cellular connectivity?

Devices with built-in 3G or 4G connections enable the truly mobile workforce. Give the same workforce WiFi-only devices and you significantly restrict the number of locations from which work can be done.

The hardware cost pales in comparison to the cost of Internet access. Over a two-year period, $10 per month on a shared data plan adds up to $240. A more typical $20 per month accrues to $480. And many plans cost more.

The Chromebook and iPad may change the cost calculation overall for enterprises accustomed to spending $1,500 to $2,000 for traditional WiFi-only laptops. A few hundred dollars for a device, plus several hundred dollars over two years for mobile data becomes an attractive expenditure.

2. Data: How do you access, create and store data?

Input devices matter. Nearly any device handles email and basic document editing. But typing on a physical keyboard may be the fastest way to enter large quantities of data. And drawing a quick sketch with your finger might convey your point clearly. Personal preferences and habits play a significant role when choosing input devices.

Internet-connected iPads or Chromebooks make it possible to redesign data flows. There's no need to write up a paper work order. Instead, take a picture, type text directly into an app or web-form. Hit send. The data is captured and accessible for the next step in the workflow.

3. Applications: What apps do you need?

Legacy application requirements may represent one of the biggest barriers to adoption of "Post-PC" devices. Microsoft Office, notably, is not available for either device. Office Web Apps work in a browser and may be sufficient for some users. QuickOffice Pro HD or Documents to Go enable editing of Microsoft Office documents locally on the iPad.

In other cases, virtualized solutions work. Nivio provides virtualized desktops and software - solutions previously only feasible for large corporate IT teams. Citrix Receiver for iPad enables enterprise desktop access, while GoToMyPC and LogMeIn provide remote desktop services.

In the long term, choose solutions that work both in a browser and as installed apps. Google Drive is moving toward this rapidly: Google Drive works fully in the Chromebook browser, while the Google Drive app on iOS lets you create and edit Docs and Sheets. Evernote is similarly useful, working in both a browser and via locally-installed apps on many platforms.

4. Device: What task do you need to accomplish?

Choose devices best suited for the tasks you need to accomplish. Note the use of the plural: devices. In a browser-and-app world, you should be able to seamlessly switch devices. The device matters only to provide access to data and an application. The data lives in the cloud; the application is either a browser or installed app.

Choose a Chromebook when you want a keyboard and a 12" screen. Choose an iPad to maximize mobility. Above all, choose information ecosystems that move data off inherently insecure and fragile devices and into secured, managed cloud systems. "Post-PC" devices matter. But the whole system - Internet, data, applications and devices - matters much more.

Also read:

Samsung Chromebook 550 - Cracked Open

Apple iPad - Cracked Open

About

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

14 comments
gigaimage
gigaimage

I see here  Apple crowd Vs Google crowd.. then enter MS loyalists who want us keep using their software/app on cave age hardware technology.

seen before such discussions, iphone vs android phones vs win phone!

a humble note to vendors/makers/manufacturers..... show us your offerings..and the benefits. But please don't tell us your solution is the only answer to our all needs.  B'coz we are smart enough to know what will work for us in each situation/context. 


ethan_white
ethan_white

its amazing blog, I'm interesting to hear about tablets, ipads, or any other new or latest technologies for every day life thanks for sharing.

Gisabun
Gisabun

First off, I'm not a fan of iPads. that said, it can do a lot more than Chromebook. This is the second attemp to pin Google's Chrome OS to hardware. It failed the last time with Chromeboxes. It will fail again with Chromebooks. Chrome OS was a total waste of R&D by Google. It will be dumped in with the other failures and future ones like Google+. What is REALLY the difference between Chrome OS and Linux? Nothing. As for coimparison, I can't see anything on the hardware side where the Chromebook is better than the iPad [overall]. Still neither can replace the laptop - Windows or Mac based for horsepower or anything else for that matter.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

Nothing about IT strikes me as hard as the dismissive and whiny nature of a developer faced with the possibility that other people have different work requirements than his. I've seen sysadmins working through Citrix on an iPad while attending meetings so that they didn't have to leave to respond to issues. I don't care that much for the iPad but I would love to have something Chromebook-sized to take to meetings rather than heaving this widescreen Elitebook (with DVD drive that I never use, etc) around.

stren
stren

It is interesting to me that this is even a topic. Anyone with any knowledge of anything technical knows that both the IPad and the Chromebook are for children. Neither has the power or the sophistication to be any more than something for non-technical people to surf or play. This does have its place in society but certainly not for anyone performing serious (knowledge worker, etc.) tasks. Anyone who disputes this fact is oblivious of the reality of the products.

rgeiken
rgeiken

If it has the possibility of being the go to device,how come I have never heard of it before. If you have complicated things that you want to do, the go to device is the P.C. There is not one mobile device out there that has the power of my i 7 Lenovo Desktop with 6 gig of ram. The i Pad may be fine for what it can do, but you have to stretch to call it a computer. I have a Nexus 10 which I consider to be a tablet, but it will not substitute for my i 7 computers by any stretch of the imagination. The i Pad resource wise is just about equivalent to one of my old XP computers. Basically i Pads and Android Tablets are being sold to people who have different things to accomplish than a true computer user. A lot of people have both computers and tablets. I will use my Nexus 10 for the things that it does well one of which is give me good portability, and will use my I 7 machines for what they do give me excellent power with limited portability. Tablets are also a favorite of people that don't need the complexity of a modern computer. when the chips are down, most people will retreat to the power of a computer when that is what is required.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you use a Chromebook or iPad, or both? Has doing so changed the applications you use on your "old-school" laptops or desktops?

Mah
Mah

The big advantage of Chromebooks over iPads, Windows, and Macs in a business (and consumer) context are: Zero Maintenance, Zero Touch, and Statelessness. Their power is in the servers they connect to. Zero Maintenance - means exactly that. The only maintenance you will ever need to do on a Chromebook is to switch it on. Zero Touch - means that no IT Admin has to ever touch or log into a Chromebook in order to get a secure, managed, domain authenticated, networked client. The user gets a Chromebook posted to him/her from the T Admin, and it works. No configuration, no disk imaging, no application installs, no support calls. Statelessness - This means nothing including settings is stored on your local device. If you lose, damage or have your laptop stolen, no data or settings are lost or are compromised. You simply buy or get hold of another Chromebook, log in, and continue where you left off as if nothing happened. You clearly don't understand what Linux is. Linux is the operating system behind Android, ChromeOS, 99% of the worlds top 500 supercomputers, the majority of servers on the Internet, and most routers, set top boxes and embedded systems. Linux dominates dominates the world of servers, supercomputers, embedded systems, and mobile phone OSes. ChromeOS is just one particular customisation of Linux.

SKDTech
SKDTech

It is one thing for a sysadmin to take care of a small problem remotely using his iPad/Android/Surface. But I seriously doubt they are using that as their only or main device for carrying out their duties. Sure, there are some workers that could carry out their jobs with only a tablet. But there are just as many, if not more, who can not. As for the Chromebook, I would rather have a fully functional 13" inch laptop or 10" netbook than a portable thin client. I am sure there are plenty of people out there who don't need anything more capable than these devices, but that is not generally true in the business world.

DWFields
DWFields

The iPad and Chromebook are far more functional than you want to believe, though I don't deny they are nowhere near as functional as a much heavier laptop. What they offer is mobility where mobility is needed, rather than forcing you to find a place to set down that piece of clamshell lead.

Mah
Mah

Cloud computing devices that rely on server back ends are a lot more powerful than your i7 Lenovo desktop. They can handle the huge databases i/o and computing resources to do a Google Internet search, speech recognition in umpteen different languages and Google Translate from and to umpteen languages, zoomable maps of the entire world down 0.5m resolution or less with linked in satellite navigation and live traffic updates. Your Lenovo desktop is laughably puny by comparison - why just haven't realised it. The new cloud devices simply leverage the massively powerful server based computing power of the cloud far more and the puny local computing power of your puny Windows desktop less. There are huge advantages to the cloud based computing approach when you function in a communication centric work or leisure environment, but the Windows disconnected desktop based model has its advantages when you do not have good connectivity. One question I have to ask you is do you carry your Lenovo desktop and its local data around with you everywhere you go. If you do not, then that answers the question of why people get smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks - because you can carry your computing devices and data around with you. Chromebooks go one step further than tablets and smartphones in terms of portability because in addition to carrying your cheap secure and lightweight Chromebook with you, it goes even further by allowing you to access all your data without carrying anything with you - something which other devices can't match. Chromebooks store all their data in the cloud, so you can access your data from any device with a browser - for example a netcafe, a friend's computer etc. Wait - what is that you say - Windows can do that as well? No it can't, not if you have saved your data on the local hard drive. With Windows you have to upload the data you need to access before you go out, and unlike Chromebooks it isn't transparent. The Windows disconnected operation metaphor has huge disadvantages associated with it. It is just that people have gotten so used to working around those disadvantages that many of them can't understand other ways of working other than in the disconnected context.

DWFields
DWFields

Neither the iPad nor the Chromebook are intended to be full-powered computers; they're intermediate devices that give you access to your data with some editing capability when you are not sitting at your desktop. Beyond that, the iPad permits that functionality when you simply have no place to set down a clamshell device. In other words, they are supplemental devices to your desktop, not replacements. They make mobility easier by not forcing you to lug around a 5# plus laptop that only gives you two-to-four hours of functional battery life. An iPad, used as a desktop supplement, could offer as much as two full days of mobility function per charge by simply understanding and working within its capabilities and not trying to force it to be more than what it is.

Mah
Mah

Businesses move very slowly, so most won't be shifting to Chromebooks or iPads overnight - and most won't be shifting to Windows 8 for some time either for the same reasons. There are some businesses - those with a server based IT infrastructure and those employing info workers - which can make the change with little difficulty and make big savings in IT costs and improved user productivity though, as 1:1 Chromebook deployments in schools has shown. However this requires that the business is able to deploy local server based web based applications such as database, inventory control, accounts, CRM, document management, workflow management and project management systems rather than their desktop based counterparts, and also that any Windows desktops and applications that are required are deployed on local Windows terminal servers or virtualised Windows desktops running on local servers. This is not difficult to do, and will lead to higher user productivity in any business where connectivity and sharing and rapid access to information is beneficial.

DWFields
DWFields

For almost three years now Apple and others have touted the iPad and tablets in general as SUPPLEMENTAL devices, not primary replacements to a desktop or laptop. There are simply times and places where you can not use even a laptop due to time, space or power constraints. These are the times and places where a tablet or "thin client" have the advantage. Desktops and laptops are tools; so are tablets and thin clients. Using the right tool for the job makes you much more efficient. Trying to force one tool to do another's job guarantees frustration and busted knuckles.

Editor's Picks