Consumers slowly switching from laptops to smart phones

But where's the external keyboard for the iPhone?

By Cyrus Farivar
Published October 27, 2008 6:30PM (EDT)

In today's Wall Street Journal, there was a piece about how more and more workers are apparently ditching their laptops for smart phones like the BlackBerry and iPhone. This confirms my own hunch about the way people's behavior changes with an iPhone -- observed from a sample size of one (myself).

Since I've had an iPhone, I've found that if I know I'm going to be somewhere like waiting for a friend in a cafe for a half-hour, or just chilling out at a bar for awhile, I almost certainly won't take my laptop with me. My iPhone can easily check my e-mail (Wi-Fi or EDGE only, as I'm on the first-gen iPhone), I can read the newspaper online, and I can  listen to public radio podcasts while doing so. My laptop largely stays at home.

The Journal article also has some data (albeit preliminary) to back up its claim.

In a survey of 460 iPhone users from March by Rubicon Consulting Inc., more than 28% of respondents strongly agreed and 29% mildly agreed when asked whether the iPhone was replacing their use of laptops.

Further, according to data from the research firm IDC, the annual number of smart phones sold overtook the number of laptops sold in 2006. And this year, smart-phone sales are predicted to reach a record high, hitting nearly 160 million units worldwide (laptops are at about 130 million).

But that doesn't necessarily mean that people are buying smart phones instead of laptops -- rather, I read it more as the fact that smart phones are becoming trendier and more user-friendly (read: more like the iPhone).

Indeed, the WSJ also notes:

that the number of people ditching their laptops completely in favor of smart phones is small. In a report published in January by research firm In-Stat based on a survey of 1,402 technology users, only 3% of smart-phone users said they rely exclusively on a smart phone when they're on the road. Indeed, 7% of respondents to the survey admitted to some remarkable pack-mule habits, saying they regularly carry two laptops with them -- one each for personal and business use.

And, see, that's the thing with the iPhone, or any smart phone. As great as it is -- I can quickly glance at it to check e-mail or news headlines -- it's far too difficult to do any meaningful writing on it. At best, I'm able to crank out a few quick sentences, but as anyone who's ever received an e-mail from an iPhone user, there's bound to be a couple of errors here and there.

Really, the keyboard is the main sticking point for deciding whether to switch to the iPhone from a laptop. Theoretically, a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPhone was supposed to be released earlier this year, the MacAlly BTKeyMini. (This site apparently will let you pre-order one for $92.)

But Macworld's Dan Frakes tells me in an IM: "MacAlly hasn't yet released it and, in fact, Apple still hasn't implemented the Bluetooth keyboard profile for the iPhone."

"I would definitely use one," he adds. "Several of the Macworld editors have noted that if we could use an external keyboard with the iPhone, there are times we'd bring the phone and a portable keyboard on business trips instead of a laptop. As for text-editing apps, there are a few, but we haven't spent much time evaluating them yet -- mainly because of the lack of external-keyboard support. It's tough to work on lengthy documents with a tiny keyboard."

So, Apple and keyboard makers, what's taking you so long?

Cyrus Farivar

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