Why the iPad will kill the netbook (and the Chrome OS)

Apple's iPad is a helluva lot more than a media slate -- it's aimed at casual business users, too

Apple has just fired a death shot at the netbook. The new iPad could easily displace the netbook category, and I believe it will. Cheap laptops are at risk of extinction as well.

Why? Isn't the iPad just a big iPod Touch with e-reader software added? Yes and no. It certainly is a media slate for watching videos, reading books and periodicals, and listening to music, as well as playing games and running the whole gamut of iPhone apps.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Get the key information on the new iPad in Galen Gruman's "What you should know about Apple's tablet" and Paul Krill's "New iPad means iPhone developers need to think different." ]

Why the iPad is a threat to netbooks
But Apple has also made iPad versions of its iWork suite for word processing, spreadsheet editing, and presentation creation -- for just $10 each, and they work with the Mac OS X versions, which can read and write Microsoft Office formats. The iPad versions also can read the Microsoft Office formats, but in a bone-headed move cannot save to them. How much do you want to bet that Apple will change that stupidity soon?

Plus, there's a paint tool for graphics creation and a photo galley app that lets you display a set of photos as a slideshow.

The 9.7-inch screen and support for desktop-style UI elements such as panels and menus mean developers can create desktop-like apps for specific business needs, including sales management and order-taking.

And they will.

Then there's the pricing: $499 for a 16GB model without 3G connectivity and $629 for one with. There are also 32GB and 64GB models, with the 3G 64GB model priced at $829. That's not much costlier than a netbook, and it does a helluva lot more, and it weighs considerably lot less (1.5 pounds). There's a keyboard dock option for serious typing and data synchronization locally through iTunes and no doubt through the cloud. (It's not clear if you'll need a service like Apple's MobileMe or if you can directly sync via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.)

And wireless connectivity -- the iPad will use the much-hated AT&T 3G network, but at very tempting prices: $15 per month for 250MB of usage and $30 per month for unlimited usage, as well as the ability to use AT&T's Wi-Fi hotspots. Compared to the $60-per-month plans for typical netbook and laptop 3G data access, the $100 to $200 savings of a netbook suddenly makes no sense -- you recoup that cost in the 3G savings in three to six months.

Why netbooks can't win
So why do you need a netbook? You get all the media goodness of an iPhone with the tools you need to do your day-to-day work in a box. Now it makes terrific sense why Apple has avoided netbooks and cheap laptops -- not only do they earn little money for manufacturers, Apple was already planning to render them obsolete.

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