Where netbooks still beat the Apple iPad

One analyst said the iPad is no sure thing

Despite the introduction of the iPad and the harsh words of Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs, netbooks will continue to thrive , say analysts and commentators, who cite the tablet's missing features and relatively high price.

During the launch today, Jobs called netbooks "cheap laptops" that tried but failed to create a third category between smartphones and notebook PCs.

"The problem is that netbooks aren't better than anything," Jobs said.

Au contraire, said commentators, who called the iPad nothing more than an overgrown iPod Touch. Others suggested Apple should have launched an iNetbook instead.

ABI Research Inc. analyst Jeff Orr said the iPad is no sure thing.

"Several functions — front-facing and still/video cameras, external storage interfaces, support for Flash in the browser — are absent," he wrote in a research note. "The iPad prices and gaps in functionality are likely to leave the door open for other media tablet vendors."

ABI predicts 4 million tablets such as the iPad and the lesser-known Archos 5 to ship this year. That's a fraction of the 35 million netbooks ABI said had shipped last year — a number ABI expects to grow this year.

"Most netbook purchases are based on a 'value' decision for portable and mobile usage, while media tablets will initially be a premium, luxury device focused on the home," Orr said. "ABI Research expects little impact on netbook shipments in 2010 from the introduction of media tablets."

Here's a rundown comparing netbooks versus the iPad in several key areas, with the winner highlighted in each:

Design: iPad. One-half inch thin, 1.5 pounds. That is less than half the size and weight of most netbooks, which are weighed down by their keyboard. The iPad also boasts Apple 's trademark style.

Camera: Netbooks. The lack of a video Webcam or a still photo camera — cameras being standard on even low-end smartphones today — has been criticized. "The lack of a camera on the iPad is a serious problem, we think," wrote ReadWriteWeb. "Images and video are a big part of the interactivity on the Web that people have become used to, and we're not sure how they'll react to a device that, on the surface, seems like it should have these capabilities but is instead sorely lacking."

Input: Toss-up. iPhone and iTouch owners will no doubt love the touch experience on the iPad. But independent analyst Jack Gold questions whether users will be able to "do any serious work" without a keyboard. The iPad does come with a dock to attach an optional keyboard, but that negates some of the form factor advantage over netbooks.

Screen: Netbooks. Size-wise, the iPad's 9.7 -inch LCD display is on par with most netbooks today, but there are also many models with 11- or 12-inch screens. Also, score one point for netbooks, which are this year moving to brighter, lower-powered OLED screens. And dock the iPad for its wide bezel (outside frame), which caused some to criticize Apple for not swapping in a larger screen instead.

Software: Toss-up. Those in entertainment consumption mode may prefer the smooth, tight integration of the iPhone operating system, the iTunes media player and store with the iPad hardware. But for running your company's applications or e-mail, Windows-based netbooks are better, Gold said.

Web surfing: Toss-up. Designed by an Apple acquisition, P.A. Semiconductor , the iPad's 1 GHz CPU is reportedly fast. And the iPad will come with Wi-Fi or optional 3G from AT&T for connectivity almost anywhere. The 3G option costs an additional $130 but offers all-you-can-surf for $30 a month, or 250 MB of data per month for $15 — and without a long-term contract. That is cheaper than netbook or laptop plans for 3G, which average $60 a month. On the other hand, the iPad lacks support for Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash player, which is near-ubiquitous on the Web and available for the Linux and Windows OS on most netbooks.

Storage: Netbooks. The iPad comes with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of flash memory. That's the same as SSD-based netbooks, but less than the hard drive-based netbooks. Netbooks also have USB and/or SD slots for more storage — both of which the iPad lacks.

Price: Netbooks. The iPad starts at $499 and increases to $829 for a fully-loaded, 3G-enabled version. Netbooks start at about $250 and top out to at $600 or $700 for premium models.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai or send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Eric Lai

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?