Can the iPhone Replace Your Laptop?

iPhone 3.0: Tethering Hero

Daring Fireball's John Gruber posted the following last night:

A decade ago, my first PowerBook was a secondary machine to the desktop anchored at my desk. Now, my main machine is my MacBook Pro, but it feels a bit like an anchor now. My mobile secondary computer is my iPhone

A couple of friends of mine who work in IT administration have been telling me the same thing since the iPhone 3G launched. One of them recently left his laptop behind and took only an iPhone with him on a motorcycle trip and conference, and was still able to keep on top of his servers.

While the sheer volume of writing and editing demanded by TiPb still keeps me chained to a laptop, I'll also admit to leaving the MacBook behind and running out with only my iPhone whenever I can -- and yes, I've been likewise amazed at not only how much I can now accomplish with a mobile computing device, but how easily I can accomplish it.

Have you been using your iPhone as a laptop replacement? How does it fit your work needs, and what have your results been so far?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Can the iPhone Replace Your Laptop?


I have also begun leaving my laptop computer at home. With the new 3.0 software and the addition of search and copy paste it functions just like a laptop at least for my needs. At the most I just miss the larger screen.

As soon as someone makes a keyboard (either BT or dock type) for my iPhone I will be able to truly use my phone to replace my laptop. Typing ability is the one thing holding me back.

Seconding Tom here... I cannot believe that someone is not working overnight to get one out... Especially since they've opened their accessory port to 3rd party...
But I'd prefer Bluetooth...

not only have I stopped using my laptop as much, my 360 is getting dust too....Just upgraded to the 3G S, and I LOVE IT! The games that will be coming out soon are going to be insane!

As an attorney, the iPhone has been invaluable (yay Exchange!). However, I have YET to find software that can edit or even view Wordperfect files on the iPhone. While I despise Wordperfect with a passion, it is unfortunately the "software of choice" (by choice I mean many in the legal profession have used it so long they don't want to switch). I use Word documents when I can, however I feel shackled because of Wordperfect. While I have to draft way too many documents for the iPhone to replace my work desktop, I could foresee it completely replacing my laptop as a work device.

Maybe if I had a 3GS I'd feel the same way, but with my 2G iPhone I'd have to say. It's definately my 2nd mobile computer and having it on the road has been a life saver in numerous scenarios. At the rate Apple's going by the 5th or 6th gen iPhone, it should be pretty damn close.

Not at this point in time. Yes you can do A LOT with the iPhone but it takes some serious time to do it. Yea running a power point presentation will be easy, but try editing it or preparing it on the iPhone, wont happen yet. Try responding to a lengthy email or preparing one. There is no physical keyboard which makes this easy and the screen size is not there for day-to-day laptop functionality.
As for the future.... When they come out with a keyboard to connect to the iPhone I still do not see it replacing the laptop. Think of this, your on a business trip and you want to create/edit/whatever a presentation and or document/email. Now you need to carry around your iPhone, keyboard, TV connectivity cables. Why not just have your laptop and be done with it?
Yes the iPhone is a great phone but it will always be a secondary device to a laptop for users as it will not and cannot replace a laptop.

I have a 20" iMac as my desktop. A 13" Black Macbook and my iPhone 3G as Mobile units. Lately my iPhone goes on the road with me almost exclusively. Especially on quick 2-3 day trips. The only time my Macbook sees road action is when I have a presentation, or will be gone for a week or more. I would love to update my Macbook to one of the new 13" Macbook Pro but really can't justify it for now.

I'm in the process of getting all my files and programs off my Macbook onto our iMac at home. I've hacked a Dell mini 9 with OS X, in case I need something a little more substantial for email/web browsing while traveling. Other than that... the iMac and and iPhone seem to do the trick. While I'm ambivalent about getting rid of the Macbook, I can't really justify owning it anymore.

Its almost there for me with 3.0 and my 3GS. The only thing I can't do (unjailbroken) is ssh. I would even settle for being able to download and upload files using safari, but again nope!
I'm currently considering writing a browser just for myself to achieve this (I'm guess it would not get appstore approval or someone else would have already done this though).

I am a consultant and the need to do heavy Word & Powerpoint on a daily basis as well as taking copious notes, and take it all with me has led me to a tablet. The multitasking ability, large enough screen to work remotely from the office (12"), drawing & recognition of writing has been a boon for my workstyle. I admit I do use iPhone for some task management and evernote while I'm traveling, but the small form factor means it is just one of the tools on my toolbelt.

Yes, it can, and it has. I have my iMac and my iPhone, and my iPhone gets the most use, even at home (I'm writing this comment using my iPhone). My wife mainly uses the Macbook now.

Strangely enough, it occured to me a couple of days ago, that pretty much all my web activity (browsing, Facebook, instant messaging etc) is now done on my iPhone (as well as most of my gaming). It has almost completely replaced my Windows computer. I just love the fact that I have all this stuff in my pocket with me all the time.

I almost never take my laptop around anymore. Unless the trip is longer than a weekend it stays at home. Nothing is better than showing up at the airport and the only thing your carrying on is your iPhone.

I've tried using just my iPhone for as long as possible. It usually works for EVERYTHING i would use my MacBook or Mac Mini for, BUT NO FLASH video!!???

I wish it had ajax enabled so I could edit Google Docs. If I could do that, I really wouldn't need my laptop anymore :)

sure, but it's certainly not exclusive to the iPhone - our Director uses a palm treo 750 for email, managing servers through SSH and updating markup on client websites.

heck no. are you serious?
The iPhone is nice, but whenever I leave my house for extended periods i have my laptop and phone. When I can't use my laptop i'll use my phone
But as soon as I get a chance, I connect my phone to my laptop and get the tethering going. Just easier to work with...

cheers for the heads up on iSSH, will take a look at that later. If only it supported sftp too though, damn you sandbox, I understand why, perfectly good idea etc, it just gets in the way of what I'd like to do.

I use my iPhone for everything. I have a laptop, and a netbook, but I still prefer the convenience of the iPhone. Recently, I've noticed that I'm not only checking e-mail, I'm also updating my facebook and twitter statuses, and surfing the internet. The iPhone is quickly becoming my choice for, cames,email and internet access. It's so convenient, and it all fits right in my purse. :)

I use my iPhone for everything. I have a laptop, and a netbook, but I still prefer the convenience of the iPhone. Recently, I've noticed that I'm not only checking e-mail, I'm also updating my facebook and twitter statuses, and surfing the internet. The iPhone is quickly becoming my choice for, games,email and internet access. It's so convenient, and it all fits right in my purse. :)

Without Flash on the iPhone, no one who regularly needs to access internet sites could risk relying on the iPhone. While they are few, there are major business sites that rely on Flash (and do not have the sense to offer non-Flash versions).

Flash is crap! It's only used for nonsense and there's a huge move towards Html5 which obviates the need for Flash. Don't hold your breath for Flash... it ain't coming.
Also, if you iPhone supported Flash, your battery life would be a 1/3 of it what it is.
Not having Flash on an iPhone is a feature that I like.

When I leave work, I almost never need to turn my laptop on at home. As many have said, the typing is the only thing that keeps me from using it full time

love my iphone, but will it replace my 15" macbook pro? no effing way. it has pretty much replaced my eee netbook though.

I use my computer for gaming as well as Flash features on certain sites. But every morning, I check my email, twitter and FB right from my phone, whereas before I'd have to turn on the computer, wait for boot, etc., etc. There is no doubt that I use my computer much, much less since I've had my iPhone.

@mike, word. Totally agree, there have been zero times I actually had a real "need" for flash on the iPhone. The times when the little box shows I just say, wait until I get to my computer.
@apples, I'm getting the same way. The facebook app needs a major update though as it doesn't mirror the website now and has some issues. But email, twitter, IM, weather, stocks, even news I barely ever check on my laptop anymore. Almost all is done on my iPhone now. Only open Gmail on my laptop when I have to type a fairly long email.
My laptop is pretty much just a media hub at home now as when I'm on the couch it's my iPhone that is with me. I also game a lot, but the iPhone hasn't really cut into Xbox time yet.

I agree that the iPhone can almost be a replacement, the only reason it won't replace my laptop is because I can do things a lot faster on my computer and need one to update it. lol. also if it werent for computers we wouldnt be able to have third party apps.

I have to say, that if I can be outside or on a train, connect to VPN and use Jaadu RDP to provision a BES account ;-) or Jaadu VNC to restart a Mac OS X service, I am grinning the whole time.
The iPhone is a damn fine usable device. I can't say I have made any Word docs or spreadsheets the way I used to on my Newton MP 2100 (my Palms and BBs weren't that great at that either, BTW), but it does LOTS of things far better than any device I have ever used.

Yes!!! I always u my iphone and plus the 3gs connection to the internet is almost if not faster den sum ppls desktops soo i most def use mine

Just as a follow up: I have the original EDGE (2G) iPhone and VPN, VNC and RDP run fine if a little bit slow over the EDGE network. Fast enough to be a hero in a pinch!

If Fennec could go through the app store and the iphone could connect to a bluetooth keyboard - Yes! In it's current standing no way....We'll just have to wait for Apple Tablets :D for true freedom from desktop computing...

I have never owned a laptop and might not ever because of my iPhone. Although I would consider a netbook but would be more inclined to buy one made by apple.

As a developer, I have an entire category of tasks for which the iphone does not and likely will not ever be able to replace a regular computer. However, my iphone had definitely reduced the number of times I turn to my laptop, as for email/IM/light administration/light office work, it fills in admirably.

The only problem I see is we can't upgrade the hardware as we do it for our lappys, however the only phone in the world that stands for a discussion like this is ";)"

My iphone has in some ways replaced my laptop, though its true that without a LARGE physical keyboard and larger screen, it can't replace a laptop. The keyboard is my biggest issue though... If they could release a BT or even accessory keyboard for the Iphone, I would no longer need my laptop to take notes anywhere, as I could take them just as fast with the phone as with a laptop. I personally believe that one day the mobile phone will replace the laptop, but it might be a while.

After a lot of thinking about this question I have come to realization that the iPhone can NEVER replace a laptop. It will certainly decrease the amount of time you might use your laptop or desktop. But as a single device it will never replace it. In order to do this you would need to allow some type of quick connectivity to a larger screen, keyboard, mouse and also allow standard PC functionality like flash, downloading files, multitasking. The iPhone in its original state cannot multitask.

It would be if it had a front-facing camera for video blogging. I still sold my laptop when I got my iPhone though :P

With Jaadu VNC, Jaadu RDP and SSH clients I am able to do everything from the road. But I still don't leave home without the laptop. There are nights I will come home and leave the laptop in the bag though. But not often. :)

@Windbreak247, convince Apple to add better multiplayer support to their poker game in the app store.

I need a way to do web and image design and video editing. Which I do on my iMac. Once I can do that, I will NEVER need a laptop!
I can type on my iPhone (which I'm doing right now), but I would love a keyboard dock!

I use a computer to sync my iPhone once every week. That's it. The iPhone IS my computer!

I think if you use a computer to do real work and not only entertainment like FB twitter games, than the iphone is by far not good enough. Real work needs a real machine. The iphone still is a communication device.

It's close...
REALLY close...
It's effectively useless when it comes to documents though. I can't get a spreadsheet emailed to me, edit it, and email it back (or certainly not without a hell of alot of mucking about)
It's going to need some sort of "finder", or user accessible file system - to take over my laptop completely.

Until the iPhone has BT Keyboard and mouse capability it'll never replace my computer even though it has potential. In order to *completely replace it though it would need:
1.) Hard Drive storage capacity
2.) Video output to a monitor (via a dock I would assume)
3.) BT Keyboard and Mouse capability.
Funny though that I feel I can get by on the current processor as my computing needs have dropped way off in the past few years. I'm no longer playing all of the games and such.

I actually sold iPhone to couple of my customers that were looking to by a laptop and an air card. iPhone worked for them and saved them some money... Only if it would have a cd drive or and SD slot I would stop using my laptop. ;)

No Multitasking
No Flash
No Video Chat
A ton of crappy apps
No Keyboard
Hell I can't even scroll down a website with swiping my hand a million times.
Answer: HELL NO.
It is a complement not a replacement. Besides even though the phone is great lets not kid ourselves its not exactly on the cutting edge, leave that for more powerful devices.

My iPhone is a great way to stay in touch and up to date with e-mail and browsing, but it still has too many limitations. I agree with others; a BT keyboard (or even cable connected) is the next breakthrough accessory.

I have a netbook (hackintoshed dell mini 9) but I will echo others and say if there was an external keyboard (like I used to have for my palm) wireless or docked via usb, I think I would be able to travel with only the iPhone. I took that palm and external keyboard when traveling to Tibet and Taiwan and on a multi-day bike trip and it was great.

It seems most people saying yes barely use their laptop unless they on Twitter/FB/Myspasce/etc.
I could see a phone being a great replacement for your media needs...but real work. I just don't see it.
I, the limitation of hard disks pace. 32 is very nice.
But who is ONLY using 32GB or less on their current laptop.
Most these people saying yes should never have gotten a laptop. Should've just invested in a netbook. Then let it go when they got a iPhone (or your choice of smartphone...because basically this applies to every smartphone one the market)

As a designer, there's no way my 3g could ever replace my MacBook Pro (imagine trying to design a magazine on an iPhone, wouldn't that be something) It's definitely my second choice though.

I'll echo all those who say that with occasional use of a peripheral keyboard then iPhone OS 3.0 could replace a heck of a lot of what I do on a laptop whilst on the road. I'd settle for a keyboard that plugs into the dock connector with a passthru dock for further peripherals/power. Less batteries to manage. Keyboard must be bigger than, say, Atari Portfolio, but could probably be smaller than a regular MacBook keyboard. It should also include a stand to hold the iPhone up at a comfortable viewing angle too I guess.
I have terabytes of company data. On the company intranet, not held locally on my device.

32GB? lol
download my torrents, do my my homework, log into my work computer remotely-COMFORTABLY, watch pornography (jk)
and many other things I can't think of right now.
I do need my iphone to tether though, so i guess i need both!

I agree with some of the previous posts that suggest it's hard to get a lot of real work done using just an iPhone. While the iPhone can do many things, it's much slower than trying to accomplish many of the same tasks I can do on my laptop. For quick Tweeting or Facebooking or blogging or online research or checking website analytics or managing a few emails the iPhone is great, but a full sized keyboard and big screen are the way to go for maximum work efficiency. A good compromise is to take both a netbook and an iphone on a biz trip if you're looking for flexible lightweight option and don't want to pack a whole separate laptop bag.

It seems if you have nothing to do but email and web surfing the iPhone does ok.
If you have any REAL work involving real applications, real documents, editing, originating, responding to professional communications, or in any way manipulating something other than email files, the phone is a strict NO GO.
I think iDavey hit the nail right on the head. Had netbooks been available earlier many if not most casual computer users would be better served by something of that nature.
Its not like I haven't tried.
I've been a long time users of iSSH, and the newly integrated Xserver and VNC server built into it are great, but realistically its for emergency use only where I have to access a server half way across the country while I'm sitting in a restaurant. How often does that happen?
iPhone won't run anything related to my work other than the Email/IMs I get from my customers. Its a miserable platform for terminal emulation. I couldn't dream of taking a business trip without my Laptop.

I agree w/ iDavey. I don't have a laptop but its here to replace my mobile media / web-browsing needs primarily. I'm sadly one of those nerdy people who always has to have the internet handy, not to mention a good assortment of my tunes, navigation, etc.

With the exception of Quickbooks, which I use on my Laptop for invoicing, I use my Iphone for most of my picture framing business activities. With the ability to send several photos in one email, I now have clients email me images of the artwork they wish to have me give a quote for framing and I then email back images of the artwork with framing sample options that would work best.
This service is being well received.

Replace my laptop? Not a chance!
But previously I took my laptop everywhere. It's easily cut out 20%-25% of the dragging around. If I could get a bluetooth keyboard (or even a wired keyboard the plugs into the dock) I think I could drop it to 50%-70%.
I'd have to buy a more convenient external battery pack for the iPhone though.
RIght now I throw one of these ( ) in my bag for when I need to charge it (which I picked up cheap on Woot). But it's still a new toy so I use it a lot...

I sold my MacBook 2 months after I got my iPhone because everything I would use a laptop for I can do on my iPhone now! I love it.
I can forsee a time when you will get a little fold-up keyboard to plug into it, and a cable to hook it up to a display and that will be your basic, mac mini-esque machine.

Last year I made the jump from Microsoft to Apple. I am definitely glad I did. This past month I switched to a iPhone 3g from a BB Storm & again Glad I did. I was recently on a trip to the west coast and being i own my business I need to stay connected. I usually have my Macbook with me at all times. But I decided to take my iPhone only & Wow. No mind you It took a little longer to get things accomplished, but I was able to get them done in a reasonable amount of time. Now When I am out on the road iPhone only.

From day 1 the Iphone became my computer and a lot more..
One man operation limousine service in Hawaii i get my bookings by e-mail, i confirm them with a couple clicks, sing my signature is the confirmation details to customers.
Then i enter the reservation on my online dispatch, i get lots of requests from Japan and here is where copy and paste save me the trip to my house to translate it and respond.
I use Translate app. It works amazing and i run my whole business from the iphone.
On sundays when on the job I can listen with allradio app.
my favority soccer game from Argentina live.
I have in my pocket so many devices more than my laptop
aloha all!

Not quite able to replace my Macbook Pro. Bring out a dock that allows connection of keyboard and monitor. The biggest problem for we use is lack of flash.

Before I got my MBP, my iPhone was basically my computer. I was stuck with a windows desktop that ran at a snail's pace, so being that the iPhone was faster, it was a no-brainer.

My iPhone has definately replaced my laptop. In fact, I am in the market to buy a netbook, but really what will if give me that my iPhone does not.
I sync over air my calendar, email, contacts with free tools provided by Google (Google Sync) and Apple.
The same goes for my documents. Since I use Google Docs for spreadsheets, documents and presentations, all of those can be access and edited on my iPhone.
I am an Internet Social Media Marketing manager for many clients so most of all the sites that I regularly need to access, all have apps build for them for the iPhone.
Lastly, I do my banking, invoicing, keyword bid management, blogging, social networking, and analytics analysis all on my iPhone.
I am thinking twice about purchasing the netbook. Maybe I will wait til Apple develops one.
-Peter Leshaw

I also use my laptop less now since I have the iphone 3GS. It seem that the iphone is more fun to use. Even using the onscreen keyboard is fun because Im trying to master it with as few mistakes as possible.

No. It is great to have a mobile internet device when in a pinch and you need to see something on the internet or play a game...but it is not a replacement. If I know I'm going to need net access I'll bring along my netbook with my tethering cable (which I keep in my netbook's sleeve at all times).

Unfortunately, I have to use my laptop for work, since I work in graphic design. But if I'm not working, I'm not using it. My iPhone handles everything I need to do online, including blogging.

I've just read this post and I had to respond, as I've only had an iPhone for 4 days and it never leaves my side. My wife used to moan about my 'lover', my laptop, and she now complains about my new lover, which has taken my attention away from my laptop.
I think I made a wise move by getting her an iphone as well, so we both have new lovers!

The iphone has pretty much reached the end of it's design. The only way it will drastically change again is if it used a roll up display to reduce it to the size of a pen. Now imagine that this device can be paired up with 3D glasses, allowing the pen to act as a remote pointing device... and i do mean pointing, because you will be able to point at anything bluetooth enabled to activate a feature... perhaps to discover special deals advertised via the bluetooth network. Now imagine the ibook has evolved to dime novel size as a slate tablet (in response to the netbook), which you can touch to draw on using photoshop. Combined with the glasses you can finally navigate 3D websites (via low tech shutters in the glasses) by tilting your head, looking at a link, and blinking. Unfortunately in the future the MacBook Pro, having shoddy NVIDIA processors in it, is shunned by the public at large.

Iphone 3g:
Check mail
Pay bills
Transfer $
Instant portable liesure
...and more for $300
HP 2510us laptop w/ ati radeon gc & wacom touch screen:
Now only used to play games
...and it cost $1,100
Oh well

Has anyone checked to see if someone has created a voice recognition that would be bluetooth and type words that you say? I mean they have the voice activated calling on my phone (not the iphone, my iphones being shipped now) so wouldn't they be able to make something like that?

I haven't turned my laptop on since the iPhone 3GS came out. I really do a lot of WORK on my iPhone. With the Documents To Go app and Quickoffice app, and the AWESOME browser, and the best email on the planet. I pretty much have everything I need.

I use the iPhone completely as a laptop...and I use my desktop now just to do word/pp/excel/etc. documents, even though my iPhone has a word document viewer/editor app, which is great. My iPhone does everything - calling and texting, music, netflix, internet, kindle, document editor, calendar, maps, youtube, contacts, and games. Whether I use for necessary things or if I'm ever bored, all I have to do is pick up my iPhone and I have plenty to do! :) So yes, I use my iPhone as my laptop. My desktop comes in handy only for typing things up. I do have two laptops, but I barely use them, if at all anymore! It really depends on your style, though. the iPhone is perfect for me as a laptop, but some people just NEED the keyboard and huge screen for work.

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There are some interesting deadlines in this article but I don't know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well bags