Why an Android Laptop is a Great Idea. No, Really!


Misleading and misunderstanding blogging and reporting this week is leading everybody into falsely believing that Intel plans to ship or support Android-based laptops.

This has sparked debate over the wisdom or folly of Android laptops.

I’ll make a case for why Android laptops are a great idea, but first let’s kill the myth that Intel announced Android laptops.

As far as I can tell, the false idea originated with a C|net interview of Dadi Perlmutter, Intel executive VP and chief product officer. The misconception wasn’t C|net’s fault — their report was good. In that piece, Pearlmutter intended to point out that $200 laptops were coming, and that he expected that most of them would be Android devices, rather than Windows 8 machines.

Also: He was talking about Intel’s role as a chip and chipset maker, rather than a laptop maker and seller as some blogs have falsely assumed.

C|net speculated, I think accurately, that these so-called “laptops” would really be Windows 8 style machines — touch tablets with an optional detachable keyboard cover. That’s not a laptop.

A laptop is a clamshell device with a non-detachable keyboard that connects with wires, rather than wirelessly, and gets electrical power from the main battery, not separate batteries or solar power.

As far as I know, no one, neither Intel nor any other company, has announced Android laptops.

But they should do. Android laptops are a great idea.

The critics of the Android laptop idea fall into two camps. The first camp says we don’t need Android laptops because that’s what ChromeOS is for. But ChromeOS isn’t about the clamshell form-factor, but the cloud-computing concept. Cloud-only computing makes sense for certain types of users, but nobody can deny the compelling advantage of the Play Store, and also of a laptop that’s familiar to and fully compatible with one’s phone. (More on that below.)

The second camp says the clamshell form-factor is a lousy one for touch computing. You have to reach over to touch the screen and you get gorilla arm and other phony medical conditions. This is just the human monkey-mind trying to grasp yet another new idea. Remember when everyone was freaking out over the smudges left on the iPad, or the unacceptability of using an onscreen, rather than a physical, keyboard? Remember when everyone got carpal-tunnel syndrome from using a mouse in the 1990s? People react in irrational ways to new ways of doing things, then later they forget about it.

The “gorilla arm” idea is just the paleolithic human mind failing to embrace a new idea. I can assure you that desktop touch computing is coming and five years from now nobody will remember “gorilla arm.”

Why the Laptop Touch Laptop Idea Is a Good One

I have two tablets, a big iPad and a small Nexus, and also a laptop (a MacBook Pro). If I were to estimate usage, I would say I use the laptop 40% of the time and the Nexus about 10% of the time. I use the iPad about half the time. But here’s the thing: When I use the iPad and Nexus, I tend to use them like laptops.

I use an Apple Bluetooth keyboard, prop them up so the tablet is at a laptop angle, and use a combination of keystrokes and touch gestures to do my work and/or play.

(The reason I use the iPad more than the Nexus is because it has a larger screen and a case that props it up. If the sizes were reversed — if I had a Nexus 10 and an iPad mini — I’d use the Nexus more.)

Here’s the thing: I gain so much benefit from the use of a full-size, physical keyboard that if I had to choose I would much rather have an Android laptop (with keyboard permanently attached) than never using a keyboard.

A bona fide Android laptop would actually be something of a benefit. The Apple keyboard I use runs on AA batteries, which I have to remove each time I turn it off (It turns itself on in my backpack because of the awkward placement of the button). And I always have to carry and think about batteries.

I’d love a tablet with a keyboard that sucked power from the main battery. (I’ve owned solar powered wireless keyboards before, and had bad experiences with them.)

That’s just my experience. The larger point is that my experiences don’t matter. I think an Android keyboard makes sense for a lot other types of users.

Why Tech Pundits’ Criticism of Android Laptops Can Be Ignored

I’m tired of tech pundits assuming that every user is like them. Guess what? Some people aren’t tech bloggers and writers.

Imagine if Hollywood made movies only about Hollywood. Imagine if every song was about the life of songwriters.

That’s what the tech punditsphere is like — it pretends like there is no reality except their reality.

It’s time for tech writers to stop being so self-referential and realize that there are other kinds of people besides themselves.

First of all, most tech writers today started out using PCs, and only later started using phones, then smartphones.

But for nearly all kids these days, and an increasing number of adults around the world, the first “computer” in their life is an Android smartphone.

More to the point, there are small business people all over the world who actually run their businesses from an Android phone. They do billing, inventory, payroll, marketing and all business communication using Android apps. As businesses grow, people start hiring people and upgrading to computers that are used in an office or in some other location that involves a table of some kind.

Most business-related work is keyboard-intensive communication, data entry, billing and so on.

Why should these small business people suffer the indignities and needless cost of using Windows PCs?

Why should they have to abandon their apps and move to ChromeOS?

Why should they have to sell their children to buy a MacBook?

Why should they have to learn something new? Why not just buy Android laptops and keep using the apps that are already serving the company well?

My point is that for millions of people around the world, Android is the only operating system they know or want or need. Yet the clamshell laptop form-factor is a compelling one for all of us.

These are third-world problems. Let’s talk about the first-world kind.

Hardware is cheap. So people like to have various devices around the house and for highly specific uses. For example, an Android touch tablet is a great device to use with no keyboard while watching TV. But what about the kitchen?

At $200, what’s the downside of buying an Android laptop for use on the kitchen counter? It’s function could be to pipe in TV, movies and music, enable hangouts with friends while making lasagna, and using some of the many killer cooking and kitchen apps in the Play Store. A kitchen Android laptop would be far superior and more convenient than a conventional Android tablet.

There are some people who aren’t technical, don’t want to experiment with the endless variety of apps in the Play Store, but just want to write. Novelists, screenwriters, poets. Millions of people use their computers to communicate and write, on social networks and so on. An Android laptop is a perfect device. You clamshell it open and go to work with the keyboard.

Sometimes businesses need a computer that does only one simple thing. For example, there are many companies where visitors need a badge. They need some device in the lobby where people type in their name and who they’re meeting with, then a printer cranks out the badge. An Android laptop is the perfect solution for this, and thousands of other dedicated-computer applications.

I could go on and on, and would do if I were paid by the word. The point is that there are all kinds of user types and all kinds of reasons why bona fide Android laptops make sense.

But the biggest reason of all is that Android should lend itself to a gazillion form factors. Android should be the anti-iOS — the free, open, anything-goes platform where choice and variety and flexibility provide a total alternative to Apple’s simple and integrated but ultimately locked-down iOS platform.

In addition to smartphones and touch tablets, we should have Android based watches, glasses, phablets, ATMs, car dashboards, smart refrigerators and, yes, even laptops. Why not?

Intel isn’t building or announcing real Android laptops. But somebody should build them.

The Android laptop idea is overdue. I think somebody should build one.