iPad, the netbook killer? I think not!

Why the rumor of the netbook's death has been greatly exaggerated, and why the iPad's fans are way off base

What's with all of the netbook hate? Apple launches its flawed -- and, arguably, disappointing -- iPad and suddenly everyone is piling on the anti-netbook bandwagon. The iPad will kill the netbook, says one expert. The netbook's days are numbered, says another.

Even my colleague, InfoWorld's Galen Gruman, is on board with the whole iPad über alles thinking. It's like a big chunk of the industry media decided to shelve their respective intellects for a day and drink the Apple Reality Distortion Field Kool-Aid. The real story out of the iPad announcement is not the device itself -- after all, it really is just a supersized iPod Touch -- but rather how Apple CEO Steve Jobs managed to sway so many by sheer force of personality. It's almost creepy.

[ Read the article that sparked the controversy over the iPad's potential to displace the netbook. | And check out readers' impassioned criticism of the "iPad as netbook-killer" concept. ]

But back to the issue at hand: Those of you who follow this blog know that I'm a huge netbook fan. Perhaps more than any other IT journalist, I've immersed myself in the netbook lifestyle. My primary -- and most of the time, only -- work machine is a Hewlett-Packard Mini 2140 HD netbook.


I moved to the Mini from a quad-core mobile workstation (a Dell Precision M6400 with 12GB of RAM and a RAID), a fact which in itself is quite telling. It means that even for a die-hard power user and sometimes Visual Studio, ASP.Net, and SQL Server developer, the advantages of the netbook form factor are sizable enough to inspire me to trade horsepower for portability and convenience.

So when I read all of these headlines about the iPad being a netbook killer, I have to laugh. Nothing about Apple's new "toy wonder" inspires me to consider it as a netbook replacement. The iPad is less functional and less flexible than a netbook, and it comes with a laundry list of compromises and missing features. If anything, these comparisons to the iPad remind of just how much more I can do with a netbook than with any other similarly sized mobile device.

For example:

Multitasking: I'm talking about more than just switching between applications. By multitasking, I mean actually having the device do more than one thing at the same time. For example, writing a blog entry while downloading a movie and playing an MP3 file in the background (using my Bluetooth headset). Throw in an ad-hoc video chat (did I mention the iPad has no camera but my netbook does?) and we're already way beyond what an iPad can do -- at least as currently constituted.

Playing back media: I mean all media types, from any conceivable source. With a 10.1-inch, 1,366-by-768-pixel, 16:9 aspect ratio screen, I can enjoy HD-formatted content in all its borderless glory. If I want more, I can bring new content into the device via any number of well-supported conduits: Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet, USB, media card reader, and so on. With iPad, it's iTunes or -- well, not much else.

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