PALO ALTO, Calif.--Watching people line up again for the iPad--this time the 3G version--here on Saturday, one has to wonder what the fate of the Netbook is.
The reasons for the Netbook's popularity--roughly around 50 million sold to date--are clear: highly mobile (typically less than 3 pounds), Windows-compatible, and cheap. In all, an impressively utilitarian PC.
Then the iPad came along. So, the question is--if you're looking for an easy-to-carry device that does more than a smartphone and less than a laptop, which would you choose?
The apples-and-oranges argument can be made, of course: physical keyboard (Netbook) versus no physical keyboard (iPad). Cheap versus not-so-cheap.
But maybe the iPad will prove that a virtual keyboard (with an option for a physical keyboard) is enough. And maybe Apple will demonstrate (as it has done in the past) that millions--if not tens of millions--of consumers will pay more for an Apple device.
And functionally how different are they really? Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Intel all make the argument that the Netbook is for Web browsing, media consumption, e-mail, and light productivity. That sounds a lot like the iPad--with the glaring exception that the iPad does not run Adobe's Flash video player.
Another consideration: will Windows-compatibility continue to play as big a role in the Netbook's future? The mass-market acceptance of Apple's OS X and its derivatives that run on the iPhone and iPad indicate that Windows may not be as important.
But even assuming that Windows and all the compatibility goodness that comes with Windows is crucial, the Microsoft operating system is also one of the Netbook's weaknesses. The Netbook was cobbled together from two disparate parts. Resource-intensive Windows and a low-performance processor. In other words, the two were thrown together at the last minute (remember the original Asus Eee PC and OLPC did not run Windows). In contrast, the iPad is a carefully crafted organic whole.
So, which would you choose?