Tablets are the frequent flyer's tool of choice

Laptops are often described as a must-have tool in the arsenal of the business traveller, but it seems that tablets and 'hybrid' devices are becoming the new norm.

There's a simple way that I measure this, and it's to do a quick tally of the tech I see people using in airport lounges and business class cabins.

I began doing these informal polls some 10 years ago to assess the popularity of different types of laptops.

The standard-issue Windows laptop with a 15-inch screen was in the majority, flanked by older, heavier and uglier models issued by corporate IT departments – and a few of the smaller, slimmer brethren.

Apple takes a big bite

The decade that followed saw a few clear trends.

One was the uptick in Apple notebooks – first the original MacBook, and then the MacBook Air.

Thin, light and stylish, with plenty of battery life allied to an affordable price tag, the MacBook Air was arguably the first mainstream hero product for business travellers.

It also defined the market for Windows-powered 'ultrabooks', which carved up the corporate flyer market to the point where those old inch-thick dinosaur laptops are a deservedly endangered species.

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Then tablets took off, with Apple once again setting the pace as Windows and Android versions followed.

With business-grade apps and Bluetooth keyboards, tablets have begun displacing notebooks among the frequent flyer set.

A recent survey we ran on Australian Business Traveller revealed a trend towards people leaving their laptops at home and relying on their tablet during trips.

One third of readers said their tablets are used equally for business and personal scenarios.

Rise of the 2-in-1

At the same time, three out of four readers indicated that a '2-in-1' device could serve as their next laptop and/or tablet.

That's a trend I expect to see borne out in my informal lounge and inflight tallies over the next few years.

I've already noticed more and more people toting Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, which is one of those 'best of both worlds' devices.

It rolls together a 12-inch screen, Windows and Office software, USB and microSD sockets, a digital pen and a slim but responsive keyboard to nail the formula the first two Surface releases failed to deliver.

Several colleagues have even shifted from an iPad to a Surface Pro 3, which is a radical 'change of religion' in itself.

I'm still packing my MacBook Air along with an iPad – they're two different devices for two different scenarios, which I usually describe as the tablet being for 'viewing' and the laptop for 'doing'.

But given the chance, I can see that I'd happily trade them for a single slice of souped-up tech if it meant no compromises.

What's your choice of travel tech when it comes to working on the road – laptop, tablet or both?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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