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 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 netebook, 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.
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.
Some people will argue that, as a stripped-down computer that runs standard Windows apps and has a hard disk, the iPad can’t touch a netbook. Of course it can. Sure, an iPad assumes you have a “real” computer to store your main data — but the netbook is also predicated on the assumption that it’s your “on the go” device. The iPad is personally compelling, but a netbook is not. Plus, you can easily get around the small storage of the iPad by using an Internet-accessible hard drive with a device such as the Pogoplug.
And some will argue that the fact that the iPhone OS is not a multitasking OS means the iPad can’t do anything serious. Well, I do wish my iPod Touch allowed multitasking so I could run multiple apps at once, though I have to admit my netbook’s support for multitasking doesn’t change the fact it can barely run just one app at a time. But I think this issue will be moot soon. The iPhone OS for the iPad is version 3.2 will bring multitasking to the iPad. After all, Apple bought PA Semiconductor, which uses the ARM chip design, two years ago so it could get a low-power, high-performance chip for its mobile efforts.
By the way, I fully expect that IT will hate the iPad because it will mean pressure for allowing in a non-PC platform. After all, most IT shops have resisted the Mac for decades and the iPhone for several years, so I expect iPad resistance to be their initial response as well. But individuals and small business won’t have IT groups with that power of denial, and I fully expect them to jump on the iPad. Maybe IT should try that approach for a change. IT might give netbooks a temporary safe haven, but that haven will be a ghetto that users will struggle to escape.
Google’s Chrome OS now looks sad
And I believe the iPad means Google’s planned Internet appliance based on the Chrome OS is already irrelevant. The Chrome OS vision is that you need a disk-less netbook to run apps via a browser in the cloud. The iPad vision is that you run apps locally and in the cloud; in addition, you can do all sorts of other cool things.
Google has shown little understanding of human needs outside of search algorithms, as its Nexus One debacle exemplifies. A stripped-down, Internet-required netebook is Google’s vision — that’s taking “boring” and “compromised” to another level. The first indications of the iPad point to a device that’s anything but boring, and the compromises it no doubt has made will not be top of mind.
The iPad doesn’t feel like a stripped-down netbook, which in turn feels like a stripped-down computer. Instead, the iPad comes across as exciting and useful, and the price is right. Bye-bye netbooks!