Which Device for Which Task?

With a cup of hot coffee, most work days begin with combing through email, scrubbing my to-do list, and prepping for any meetings.

No two days are alike. Sometimes it’s all I can do to keep on top of email and put out fires. Occasionally I’m in meetings back to back to back to back. And then some days I am able to do some work of my own. Unless it’s a meetings-only type of day, I need my MacBook Pro to get work done. But regardless my iPad and iPhone are usually close by.

And so I was curious to look at how frequently I use each device for certain tasks I may do on a given day. Secondly, if my preferred device isn’t around, how well do the others fare at completing that same task if and when they have to?

How Frequently I Use a Device for Certain Tasks

Task MacBook Pro iPad iPhone
Check Email Regularly Regularly Regularly
Browse Web Regularly Regularly Regularly
Check Twitter Sometimes Sometimes Regularly
Manage To-Do List Regularly Regularly Regularly
Text Message Never Never Regularly
Phone Call Never Never Regularly
Write Blog Posts Regularly Sometimes Never
Read an eBook Never Regularly Never
Read Instapaper Sometimes Regularly Rarely
Save to Instapaper Regularly Regularly Regularly
Check RSS Feeds Sometimes Regularly Rarely
Write Reports Regularly Sometimes Never
Graphic Design Sometimes Never Never
Listen to Music Regularly Rarely Rarely
Watch Movies Sometimes Rarely Never
Play Games Rarely Sometimes Sometimes
Take Meeting Notes Sometimes Regularly Rarely
Update Calendar Regularly Regularly Regularly
Access / Use Dropbox Regularly Sometimes Rarely

A good example of where quality has affected frequency is with RSS feeds. I rarely check my feeds on my iPhone anymore because checking them on my iPad is just so much better. The same goes for Instapaper — reading things later on the iPad is so fantastic that I practically refuse to use my laptop for it.

Now, if my preferred device isn’t around then how well do the others fare at completing that same task if and when they have to? Here is a chart rating each device’s ability to handle the task at hand.

Device’s Ability to Handle My Regular Tasks

Task MacBook Pro iPad iPhone
Check Email Great Good Good
Browse Web Good Great Good
Check Twitter Good Great Great
Manage To-Do List Great Poor Poor
Write Blog Posts Great Poor Poor
Read Instapaper Good Great Good
Read an eBook Good Great Poor
Check RSS Feeds Great Great Great
Write Reports Great Poor Poor
Graphic Design Great n/a n/a
Listen to Music Great Great Great
Watch Movies Great Good Good
Play Games Great Great Great
Take Meeting Notes Great Good Poor
Update Calendar Great Good Good
Access / Use Dropbox Great Good Good

The ratings are not necessarily based on the scope or limitations of the device. Some of the ratings are due to limitations of the app, or are simply because of my own established workflow.

For example, the only reason Things is poor at managing my to-do list on my iPad is because it doesn’t fully match my work flow. The iPad app, in and of itself, is fabulous. But I can’t map email messages to my to-do list like I do on my laptop, and there is not yet over-the-air syncing. Functionality issues like that make it difficult for me to easily manage my to-do list. (There are times when I email myself a to-do item from my iPad or iPhone because I need to remember it as soon as I return to my laptop.)

What the Charts Don’t Say

Looking at how regularly I reach for my laptop, and how well it handles nearly everything I do all day, it would seem as if my iPad were simply a luxury. Quantitatively, yes. But qualitatively, it’s a different story. Because the scope and feature checklist of the iPad (and iPhone) alone do not accurately convey the value added.

Perhaps a more accurate comparison of devices and tasks would not be based on tasks at all, but rather on context and use-case scenarios. My laptop is what I use at my desk. The iPad is usually with me when I’m on the go or in the living room. One device is not relegated to one type of task. All are for work and, and all are for leisure — the quantity and quality depends mostly on the context.

What the charts don’t say are things like how useful my iPad is on a day full of meetings because it is so easy to carry one place to the next, and its battery is a non-issue. Or how I’m less distracted when using it. Or that I read so much more now.

The only thing missing is how well the three devices work together. As my MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad learn to share the same information at the same time, their usage will become even less task-driven and more context-driven.

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