Can I replace my laptop with an iPhone?

Can I replace my laptop with an iPhone?

You have been a part of an experiment. I have been sending you emails, getting to your office, and looking up information for you using my iPhone. Like many iPhone owners, I have been experimenting with the question, “Can I replace my laptop with an iPhone?”

I was talking on my iPhone with Kelly Macy, a designer who does some really fun stuff, about how tired we are of lugging around a laptop. It’s always great to have the power to tweak a photo in Adobe Photoshop, but do I really need that kind of power all of the time? Definitely not. Yet, access to a full fledged email program, being able to look up maps, and a real web browser have often been the compelling reasons.

Dave Monk, the founder and CEO of ArcSource Consulting, Inc., took Kyle MacLean and I to the Office 2.0 Conference in the beginning of September. The organizer of the conference Ismael Ghalimi had the brilliant idea to offer each attendee an iPhone as part of the conference to inspire discussion about the role of a mobile device for getting work done in an internet based office. My iPhone arrived about a week before the conference and the experiment began.

At first, I was extremely religious about responding to as much email as I could with the iPhone. Each day before I left, I made sure that I synched my ArcSource IMAP email account so that I could download the messages using my Airport Base Station’s Wi-Fi to get them quickly. While on BART, I reviewed messages from clients and responded with normal length messages. I remember during this early period of using my iPhone Frank Merritt at Jensen Architects asked me some really great questions. The ride from El Cerrito into San Francisco is a long one. Thirty minutes later of pounding on the iPhone, my index figure felt a little sore.

The iPhone is not so great for writing long messages. Unless of course, you want your index finger to look like a gnarled ginger root.

The iPhone is great for writing messages in twenty words or less. I find that it’s particularly great for making quick responses while waiting line. For example, a woman at Bank of America was lecturing the teller this morning about her opinion of current tax property laws. As I waited for the lecture to be over, I started tapping on my finger on the iPhone instead of tapping my foot on the floor. George Kim wants to be my friend on Facebook. Yes, George Kim is cool! The entire Gunderson clan wants to send me a hot potato through Facebook. Don’t throw potatoes me, what do I look like, some kind of potato press! In the spirit of GTD, I am able to take advantage of these small moments by processing messages that take less than 2 minutes with my iPhone–or about 20 words or less.

After visiting my clients, I write up a service report telling them what I did. Once the report is

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done, I email it to them, then copy the text and paste it into our online time billing system called the ArcSource Desktop. These reports take too much typing time to do well on the iPhone and the iPhone doesn’t have a copy and paste feature. So I can either bring a laptop to write out reports or I can use Notepad on a client’s Microsoft Windows workstation or SubEthaEdit on a client’s Macintosh to type these reports. I have more often than not opted to not bring the laptop during this experimental period.

Before I had the iPhone, I frequently visited MapQuest each morning, got the directions I needed for the day, printed them out, and jammed them in my laptop bag. All too often, I found myself having a slight panic attack on the streets of San Francisco when I had forgotten the print outs on the kitchen table because I was too busy keeping my cat Chance happy. Now I can pet Chance to his heart’s content because I can get directions to anywhere I need to go with just the slightest trickle of cell phone connectivity for my iPhone.

A few years ago, my friend Jacob Jin showed me how he looked up restaurants and movies on his cell phone. Cool, but really expensive at the time. Even more, the layout was nearly as ugly and useless as MySpace. Apple has created not only some of the most beautiful hardware but also some of the most beautiful software. Safari renders web pages as if each one were a piece of art–even when they’re not. The iPhone has a gorgeous 320 x 480 screen which feel like about the same resolution as my first laptop, the PowerBook Duo. Actually, the PowerBook Duo had a resolution of 640 x 480 so one dimension was twice the size as the iPhone–but only one dimension. Safari performs really well on the iPhone. I love being able to cruise web sites for a quick bit of information. That said, Safari still has a lot of growing up to do. A handful of JavaScript based applications like TinyMCE still break with Safari though many libraries like script.aculo.us seem to perform flawlessly. Some complain about the absence of Flash. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, but I’m sure that will be remedied soon. The JavaScript problems in Safari have been long standing. Let’s hope Safari 3.0 will fix them.

The iPhone has opened up a lot of new possibilities for me including using Twitter as a kind of two way radio. However, I have had to give up on writing Perl applications. Yes, some clever hackers have managed to install Perl on their iPhone. Then Apple updated the firmware. Blam! Perl and all the other goodies are gone. I’m not willing to go through the back and forth between Apple firmware updates in order to have Perl on my iPhone. Once Apple gets through issuing the initial updates and adding core feature, I’ll look to have Perl on my iPhone. Until then, a laptop wins hands down for anything related to writing code.

Each day I don’t bring my laptop, my back and neck thank me for not slinging that hunk of metal and plastic around. So far, I have found some excellent uses in the iPhone that have made for compelling reasons to leave the laptop at home. Still, some basic content creation–like writing reports–is nearly impossible given that the iPhone doesn’t have a full-sized keyboard.

When Joshua Wait isn’t teaching himself new programming languages or computer tricks, he’s hiking, swimming, cooking and playing outdoors with his family.