10 things Netbooks can learn from the iPad (photos)
Don't rest on your laurels, Netbooks: the iPad has some tricks up its sleeve that you'd do well to study.
No. 1: It can play video just like it says it will
Video is rapidly becoming a top feature on any portable computing device; the problem is, Netbooks can handle it only so-so. For downloaded video files, Netbooks usually do well, but for Flash-based video like YouTube or Hulu, it's often a mixed bag...fine in small windows, but unacceptably choppy in full-screen HD. Maybe Steve Jobs is right to leave Flash support off the iPad, because at least its supported video formats play back easily, stutter-free, and crystal clearly. Pictured here: the Netflix app for iPad, which loads pretty quickly and often looks indistinguishable from videos downloaded on iTunes.
That's not to say Netbooks aren't portable, but the iPad is more so. Both require bags, but the iPad is magazine-thin and weighs about half of what even a 10-inch Netbook does. Netbooks also have a hidden bulk: their awkwardly shaped power adapters. The iPad's power cord is smartphone-sized.
Provided you don't reboot your iPad, most experiences turning it on are instantaneous. Meanwhile, Netbooks have boot times that resemble most Windows XP laptops. Attempts have been made to include "Splashtop" instant-on OS environments, but in our experience, these are neither "instant" nor easy to explain to any regular user.
Alas, Netbooks can't play most games--only casual and old-school titles. The 3D engine on an iPhone already bests most Netbooks, but the experience on iPads only gets better. The Nvidia Ion processor will hopefully change that, but its adoption in Netbooks has been spotty at best. Plus, Apple's App Store at least insures that all games are compatible--Netbooks could use a similar gaming portal-type store. Pictured here: Mirror's Edge (EA).
We've always been surprised that Netbooks have largely avoided repurposing their UIs to a smaller screen and smaller resolution environment. Moblin, a Linux environment for Netbooks, begins to offer such a Netbook-geared experience, but Windows XP and 7 Netbook users get no such advantage. The iPad simplifies its environment for streamlined portable use. We'd love a Netbook that did the same.
Even on capacitive convertible tablets like the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t, nothing matches the instant response of an iPhone or iPad. The iPad's zippy graphic navigation is also responsive to the most delicate gestures, such as a slight flick in the Photos app.
On the other hand, the S10-3t has laggy performance at times and a thick body that could keep it from being a definitive iPad killer.
On a tiny display (i.e., 10 inches), getting to the sweet spot in a screen can be even more challenging. Apple wisely added an IPS display for wide angles, just in case you're sharing a viewing with a friend/spouse. This trend should continue across all laptops and Netbooks, because we can't stand the tilting game.
No one has gotten the formula right yet, but Apple has come closer with its extremely attractive $30/month unlimited data plan for 3G-equipped iPads. Some Netbooks have 3G or SIM-card support, but the cost of adding another line of 3G data can often cost $60 a month, which is unacceptable on top of often-high 3G smartphone plans. There's always tethering, too, but the iPad's cancel-anytime contract-free setup is the easiest impulse system yet.
It's the 21st century, and Netbooks are still acting like 20th-century laptops in a small body. Though theoretically it's great that any Netbook can install a wide variety of software, most of it is difficult to run on an Atom processor, and useless on a hard-to-read 10- or 11-inch screen. The iPhone's genius was its large collection of tailor-made apps that turn the iPhone into a Swiss army knife of multipurpose usefulness. Though iPad apps may never be as full-fledged as complete applications for Windows, they may be far more targeted and thus far more useful for most people. We'd love to see a Windows Netbook/tablet-targeted app store-type environment.
For a long time, we've been extremely focused on Mac/Windows as the primary dividing lines of computing, with Linux as a distant option. Android, the iPhone OS and customized OSes like the upcoming Lenovo Skylight are where things seem to be going, and as long as a portable computing device does what the user needs it to, perhaps a big-name qualifying OS won't matter as much. We're still waiting to see more of the ICD Vega Android tablet (pictured).
Anecdotally, we've been asked by many casual and mainstream friends about the iPad. Some of those people had never even heard of a Netbook, despite the category existing for years. You can laugh all you want at the iPad name, but like the Wii, it's a memorable brand representing a category. No Netbook has ever defined its category the same way, not even the Asus EeePC line that helped carve out the territory in the first place.