by Shane O'Neill

The iPad and Netbooks: Comparing Them Is Stupid

Feb 02, 2010
Data Center

Apple wants you to believe that the iPad and netbooks serve the same users, but don't believe the hype.

Since the Apple iPad announcement last Wednesday, there have been a a slew of articles written about how the iPad is better than a netbook and vice versa.

Steve Jobs started this fight. He wasted no time disparaging netbooks in his opening remarks at the iPad launch event, calling them “cheap laptops” that “aren’t better than anything.” He set up direct competition between netbooks and his new creation.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils the iPad.

But this is just a good-old Apple tactic. Jobs focused on netbook weaknesses as a way to downplay their popularity, which, lest you forget, is enormous — ABI Research estimates that 35 million netbooks shipped in 2009 and more will ship in 2010.

But while netbooks and the iPad are both fruit, they are apples and oranges (no pun intended). They are both claiming the same real estate between smartphones and laptops, yet they serve different purposes.

The iPad is primarily for watching video and listening to music from iTunes and e-reading, with some very cool touchscreen capabilities. Netbooks are deficient in these areas yet prevail over the iPad in price, in e-mail usability because they have real keyboards attached, and in the ability to run multiple apps at once and use Adobe Flash technology to enhance Web video and Web-based apps (the iPad supports HD but not Flash). Netbooks also have a built-in Web cam for video-conferencing, and the iPad, surprisingly, does not.

But if you want to square them off head-to-head, as Mr. Jobs seems intent on doing, the netbook wins in my book.

Reviews of the iPad have been mixed with a slight lean to the negative. Everybody agrees it’s gorgeous to look at, but many also agree that it lacks a true purpose. What does it offer that an iPhone, iPod Touch or MacBook doesn’t?

If this were a battle of aesthetics, the iPad and its elegant touchscreen win. Netbooks are heavier (by comparison) and that whole keyboard and mouse thing is getting ugly. The iPad is definitely the hot girl.

But last I checked computing wasn’t a beauty contest. A netbook simply has more practical features for less money.

To name a few advantages netbooks have over the iPad. Netbooks: are cheaper, costing between $200 – $400 (the iPad starts at $499 and extends to $829); have USB ports; allow you to run several apps at once; have bigger screens (the biggest netbook screen is 12 inches compared to the iPad’s 9.7 incher); use faster processes; use a full client OS (Windows or Linux) versus the iPad’s iPhone mobile OS; have many different designs and models to choose from; do not limit you to one wireless carrier as the iPad does with AT&T; do not limit you to iTunes as the only place get apps.

It is for these reasons that I would choose a netbook, but again these two players are in different games. My priorities are not the same as someone who watches lots of iTunes videos, is an avid e-reader and has disposable income.

In other words, the iPad is for lounging, watching TV, browsing through photos and reading novels and the New York Times. But if you want a lightweight portable laptop that can help you get some actual work done, go with a netbook.

It’s quite possible that if the iPad is a smash success all those netbooks out there will soon morph into tablets and Microsoft will make Windows 7 more touch and tablet happy.

But for now let’s stop comparing the iPad to a netbook.

Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at Follow him on Twitter at Follow everything from on Twitter at