Apple CEO Steve Jobs took a few pot shots at netbooks during the iPad announcement yesterday, saying they’re “not better at anything” than laptops or smartphones. And that’s kind of true. A netbook isn’t better at playing videos, surfing the web, playing games, or editing documents than a 15 inch laptop with a speedy processor and GPU. And a netbook doesn’t fit in your pocket or turn on as instantly as a smartphone. But you know what netbooks might be better than in a lot of respects? The iPad.

Basically the iPad looks like a wonderful device for consuming digital media. A 1.5 pound device that’s virtually all-screen could really provide a better experience for reading eBooks or web pages or watching videos than a 2.5 netbook with a keyboard that kind of gets in the way.

But if you want to create content, then a netbook seems like a much better way to go. A nearly full sized physical keyboard is much easier to use than an on-screen keyboard. And while Apple pointed out that the on-screen keyboard on the iPad is nearly the same size as a laptop keyboard, all the promotional pictures and videos I’ve seen of people successfully using the on-screen keyboard showed them lying on a couch with their legs up and the iPad precariously placed on their thighs.

Try placing it on a table and typing with 10 fingers without hurting your neck. Or try pulling the iPad out on the train or an airplane and typing with it on your lap. Same problem. You could try to use your thumbs the way you do on an iPhone or Blackberry, but I doubt they’ll reach from one side of the 10 inch tablet to the other.

Apple will be selling a $69 keyboard dock. But there are at least three problems with this approach:

  1. You’ll need to set the dock down on a table to type; it’s going to be tough to use on your lap.
  2. The dock only works with the iPad in portrait mode, which means you’re stuck with an awkward screen resolution of 768 x 1024 instead of the other way around.
  3. It’s a clunky two-piece solution which drives up the physical weight and drives down the mobility factor. If you might need to do some writing on the go, now you need to grab two items and throw them in your bag, not just one.

I’ll admit, netbooks aren’t necessarily the best devices for watching movies, reading books, or playing games. But a device that treats people simply as passive media consumers feels very outdated. If you want to send emails, write documents, leave comments on web sites, update your blog, or do any of the hundreds of other things that we’ve come to expect computers to let us do over the past decade, netbooks seem to trump the iPad.

And that’s without even getting into the fact that netbooks are cheaper, support multitasking, work with Adobe Flash, allow you to choose your OS, and fun full desktop applications.

The point of this article isn’t to say that the iPad is useless. I think it’s actually a pretty slick device and for the right price I might even consider picking one up to use as an eBook and movie player. But it’s hardly a replacement for a netbook.

What does seem clear is that Apple has no intention of launching a 2 pounds, 10 inch mini-laptop capable of running OS X for under $600. Fortunately, the hackintosh community has no intention of letting this niche go unfilled.

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32 replies on “Does the Apple iPad spell the death of netbooks?”

  1. I don’t understand this Apple move. Just turning the pdf anticlockwise, “voilá”, I can use even my old Asus 1000H for reading e-books in bed. And, as you say, for a lot of other things. Yeah, maybe not watching HD video, but again, a lot of other things.

    Now, I’m planning to buy another netbook, maybe a lighter one with Nvidia Ion, so I can play newer games and improve video. I just wished I could find one with a non-glossy screen, so my children can continue watching their videos in our car, even in daylight, as they do now.

    I think our friends at Apple missed this time.

  2. Jobs is one cocky bastard. He puts out stuff like the iPad which are severely limited and crippled, and then talks crap about the competition. The worst part is, he KNOWS Apple’s crap will sell no matter how weak & proprietary their offerings are. I can’t believe Apple has such a cult following. I have used their products and I am wholly unimpressed. And I cannot believe that ANYONE would actually buy an iPad, aside from the fanbois & maybe tweens who just wanna do myspace, facebook, and twitter.

  3. you hit the nail on the head. i want an iPad myself but i don’t think there is a pressing need for it right now. i’m happy with my mac mini at home and my asus netbook on the road. the iPad may fill a niche but in no way does it spell the end of netbooks.

  4. The ipad looks to be better than a netbook at consuming digital content downloaded through itunes and the app store but for just about everything else it’s not.

  5. Situation is exactly same when iphone was lauchded. I hope that same road will be also in this case.
    1st ihone sell “quite a good” but until 3GS it was not technically enough, that’s why early adopters claims that their had been ropped due to better version comes so soon after 1st release and those were 2y prison with operators.
    I will now wait revB /revC that will contain most important featurs missing this one: flash, java, gps chip and face-camera. I hope also that apple will open their environment for all applications (like poker clients), add hdmi and integrated sd-card slot. Don’t mind if also dvb-t will be integrated. So let’s wait till 2011.

  6. A big iPhone – without the phone…..hmmmm….worth 500 bucks?

    Nope – maybe 200, tops.

    1. Precisely! I looked at this and thought, “Hey! This is exactly what I’ve wanted, at a $200 price point, for the past fifteen years!” At $500? Uhm, no. I would get a netbook or two instead.

  7. Unless you’re hooking it up to an external keyboard, mouse and, most importantly, display, I don’t know how much content you’re going to ‘create’ on a netbook.

    Yeah, yeah. There’s a few users here and there that will say “I do all the time!”, but the majority of the people using Netbooks use them to surf the web, write e-mails and such.

    1. I update my Facebook and MySpace accounts with my netbook. I also upate my web site with it. I also do some writing using a word processor on my netbook.

      Most netbooks come with a keyboard and mouse built in. Are you confusing a nettop with netbooks? There are other tablets that have no keyboard or mouse but they – unlike the iPad – have USB ports to attach them.

  8. If I were to look for something positive about the iPad, I’d say that the keyboard dock is one. It may be the only thing about it that makes it superior to a netbook (unless there’s already a netbook with a touchscreen and detachable keyboard)

  9. No multitasking. No MKV container support. No physical keyboard. No hardware decoding of h.264 above the main 3.1 profile. No 1080p. No support for rendered soft subtitles. No real OS.

    iPad? More like iFail.

    1. Took the words right out of my keyboard. No multitasking is the killer for me.

      and c’mon, no flash animation? I realize that we are anticipating the HTML5 takeover, but still…

  10. Is it a tool for media creation or full-time writing? No. That said, it has Bluetooth and thus will work perfectly well with nearly any Bluetooth keyboard out there — it even says so on the Apple iPad site. I also see the large screen inspiring entirely new classes of applications. I use Logic in my home studio, and something like this could give me a “touch mixing surface”, a remote control, lyrics notepad…I can see it replacing those pricey, proprietary flatscreen sheet music e-readers (Apple iNotation Store?) too. You can have a virtual Tenori-On controller or other performance controllers for MIDI, show control, lighting, etc — I’m sure people will come up with clever multitouch apps for nearly any industry.

  11. Nawp. People still like their keyboards.

    Everything it does has already been done before, now it’s just being done by Apple. I think people will be struggling to find a use for it. Tech users, that is. Regular folks will be quite happy with 4:3 resolutions and non-multitasking. And when compared to the Kindle DX, it’s a similarly-priced eReader with scads more functionality.

    But I think it will be difficult. I can’t see myself with one. The input is bollocks and hard to do for me with one hand, holding the awkwardly dimensioned thing in the other. I can’t type like that on touchscreens, either, and that is speaking from personal experience. I need my keys.
    Also, Apple is not incapable of failing. The Apple TV comes to mind. If memory serves me right, it was also lauded as something we never knew we needed. If that’s right about the iPad as well, I’ll be perfectly fine without it.

    I don’t see this as being the paradigm shift in the internet and how people consume content that Apple is making it out to be. It’s too middling.

  12. Great post Brad. If anything, I think you don’t give netbooks enough credit!

    The iPad looks like a very interesting device, and I agree it will sell. The point of a netbook, though is a cheap solution for editing documents, browsing the internet, and (increasingly) watching video content.

    Who out there would ever consider replacing their computer with an iPad? I think a lot of people can get by with a netbook (obviously, there are some limitations here).

    OR, if you were going to take an iPad on the road to, say, update your blog or work on a project. The iPad would be seriously inferior here without a physical keyboard.

  13. Ergonomics suck, and that was my exact thought when I saw the concept. Reading? Sure, makes sense. In a cafe? Hardly. It needs a cradle to sit in quite honestly. Like the flaps on a keyboard. You also forgot to mention battery life and the fact the iPad is coming in second place in that regard. Do you really think the 10 hours is going to be realistic? I’m skeptical. Regardless, I think he forgot to mention that at the release party. Netbook battery life > iPad.

  14. What a quality comment: “But you know what netbooks might be better than in a lot of respects? The iPad”.

    That put a smile on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I think the tablet thing is great and if this gets other manufactures to release better tablets then fantastic! My ideal device seems to be on the way.

    But for now, I think I’ll stick to a netbook. My NC10 does voice and video chat on the move, it lets me browse the web and use millions(?!) of PC/web applications (I laughed at the boast of 100k+ apps for the iPad!).

    I love the tablet idea, but let’s see an open system!

  15. I remember something similar being said about the iPhone when that came out. Didn’t seem to hurt it’s sales too much.

    1. I’m not saying that the iPad sucks, or that it doesn’t serve a purpose. And I’m certainly not saying it won’t sell. What I’m saying is it’s not going to kill the netbook, because it doesn’t necessarily serve the same function as a netbook for a lot of folks, myself included.

      1. Agreed. That was my point above, apparently I wasn’t clear enough to @richardpaul.

        It serves a purpose. It does not serve a purpose in my life.

        I just had a conversation yesterday with a colleague who has seen my netbooks and expressed interest for travel. He wants a laptop for work and a netbook for travel. The iPad won’t fill that niche.

        That’s the niche where I am too. Netbook for travel, desktop computers for my day to day work.

      2. I hear ya- and truth be told- I dont think I have much need for one either- seems to me- my itouch can give me everything an ipad can- but the fact is most people who by netbbooks- do so for surfing- they are called “net” books. I see little future for netbooks- why bother? Tablets will soon be the item to have.

        1. While netbooks are called netbooks since they are used for surfing the net, they are also useful in updated ones social network sites since it has an actual keyboard. I can also do some light word processing and creating e-mails with a netbook. While the tablets that I have seen have USB ports for keyboards and mice, the iPad does not. Most netbooks are also less expensive than the iPad. One gets more features with most netbooks than one does with the iPad and get them for less. I can see some one getting one for entertainment but I think it will not kill off netbooks.

          1. On the mac side- we have something called bluetooth. The ipad does also. So…….keyboards- not a problem- just use my apple bluetooth keyboard or any third party bluetooth keyboard.

            Now- try looking at your webpage or soon to follow- read your morning paper in portrait mode- hmmmm- the netbook dosnt flip- does it?

            Look- I have no doubt the netbook will have a use- but let face it- supply and demand create the market. Next month- when you see the long lines waiting to get the ipad- and the other mfgs start to follow apples lead- the netbook will be begin to disappear. The ipad (and tablets) will fill the netbooks current role- as a web surfer- emailer- social media updater.

            So now I have an ipad, a desktop and a laptop. Why would I need an netbook???

          2. IIIRC; I have read of software that allows one to turn the netbook sideways and allows it to be seen in portrait mode. There are netbooks that turn the screen and they become tablets.

          3. Yes, all the fanbois will be camping out overnight & lining up around the block to get one, but I hardly think that a severely limited overgrown iTouch is gonna kill the netbook market, lol…

  16. I think alot of you MS fans boys are missing the point. The ipad user does not create content! They simply answer short emails- surf the web and IM. Thats makes up about 98 percent of the users out there. Im already hearing from alot of non- computer people say they want one. My 68 year old dad- who just got his first PC last year- said ” now thats what I wanted”!

    1. Who are you calling a MS Fanboi? As a Linux desktop user I think the article is spot-on!

      Both have their place, but I can’t imagine the iPad (an overgrown iPod touch) having much place in my life.

      1. The reason netbooks are flying off the shelf today is because users want to sit and watch American idol, IM and surf the web. The ipad (and the hordes of other tablets soon to follow) will replace them. In two years from now- people will say- “whats a netbook” !

    2. “MS fans boys”? I don’t think you are reading what you are replying to.

      Like Daze, I don’t deny that it might be filling a niche, but it also won’t scratch the itch of anyone who wants OSX (not an OS made by Microsoft, incidentally — where did you get that impression?) in a smaller form factor.

    3. I’m an Apple fangirl myself but I do think Steve Jobs made a not so smart move to equate the iPad to netbooks. My own perspective is that while the iPad and netbooks (and soon to be tablets) may fill the same general niche of mobility and connectivity, they diverge in terms of market in that niche or category:
      my dad who’s never used a computer in his life but is starting to learn e-mail will appreciate the iPad better than a netbook with any OS on it. I, on the other hand, from this present generation wants a gadget more capable for content creation (albeit light) and for which a hackintoshed netbook satisfies better.

  17. I’m a devoted Mac user but I think your article is right on the money. the iPad does treat its users as if they are grannies and only mean to do a few certain things. Sure, then obviously, the target demographics doesn’t include me for sure. But the lack of a real keyboard takes away the true power of this thing. So for now, the Netbooks are indeed much better in terms of running any application you wish and virtually any OS you wish because you can throw it in your “man purse” and not worry too much about lugging a keyboard around. The iPad has its place, but so will the Netbooks. There, I said it.

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