iPad gives Netbooks breathing room

For many people, Apple's new tablet computer will not replace the Netbook.

For many people, it's a safe bet that the iPad will not replace or preclude the purchase of a Netbook. A quick look at the specifications and it's pretty obvious why.

The iPad is definitely not a laptop and that's not necessarily a good thing.
The iPad is definitely not a laptop and that's not necessarily a good thing. Apple

As this tweet succinctly put it: "What has no webcam, no multitasking, no HDMI port, and (possibly) no Flash, and costs $500? Hint: Not a netbook." This tweet, of course, is referring to the Apple iPad. And, by the way, you can eliminate the parenthetical; the iPad definitely does not support Adobe Flash video. (Also see this post at Gizmodo.)

But specifications aside, here's the most fundamental difference. The iPad is what analysts call a purpose-built device. It does certain things very well (e.g., video, Web browsing, e-reading) and other things (most notably office productivity apps) not so well or not at all.

The Netbook--though not as fast as a standard laptop and handicapped by a relatively small screen--is still a PC and is capable of doing pretty much everything a standard PC does. In other words, it's a general-purpose device.

Then there's the physical difference. Consumers who make the leap from a notebook or Netbook to a tablet will immediately recognize the ergonomic limitations of a tablet. In short, the inconvenience of not having a physical keyboard: the keyboard on a laptop also acts as a ballast--or stand--for the screen. Needless to say, that's why laptops decorate Starbucks tables and airplane trays. (Yes, Apple will sell an iPad case that serves as a stand but that does not make it a laptop.)

That said, preemptively panning the device is foolhardy. Consumers will undoubtedly find novel ways to use the iPad. And I will likely be rubbing elbows with an iPad user at Starbucks as soon as it hits stores.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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