Steve Jobs says the iPad is better than a laptop, tacitly implying that the notebook’s days are numbered. Don’t be too sure about that, though.


Steve Jobs says the iPad is better than a laptop, tacitly implying that the notebook’s days are numbered.

Well, maybe.

No Laptop Substitute for Serious Users

Or not. I really like the iPad. I want one, but it doesn’t come within a country mile of being even a halfway-adequate substitute for a real laptop, at least for folks who use their computers as serious work tools. Laptops are going to be around for a long time to come. However, with the iPad’s price of entry at $500, the netbook folks may have plenty to worry about.

Then again, Jobs probably has a point, at least in that while web workers and other power or semi-power users who require multitasking capability, flexible input options, graphics and video editing power, and so forth will be buying laptops (and desktops) for many years to come, for the average consumer shopping at Best Buy or Wal-Mart, their laptop or netbook money may now be spent on an iPad. And if these folks discover that the iPad is all they needed in the first place (plausible in many instances) they may never buy a laptop again, which is probably what Jobs and Apple imagine to be the harbinger of the laptop’s future.

PowerBook Duo Redivivus?

For me, the deal breaker would’ve been lack of support for a real, electromechanical keyboard — I detest and revile touchscreen keyboards — but happily Apple covered that base nicely with Bluetooth support and an optional iPad Dock for the Apple Bluetooth keyboard. I’m a longtime fan of the old PowerBook Duo concept from the 90’s with its various dockable expansion options, and the iPad with dock seems to be a contemporary update of that motif. Reportedly, any Bluetooth keyboard will work — not just Apple’s — so those of us who don’t like living without a numerical keypad will be covered as well.

Pointing Device Driver Still a Question Mark

A remaining caveat is that unfortunately, as of yet there’s been no confirmation one way or the other as to whether there will be mouse driver support for Bluetooth external pointing devices. I’m inclined to think that the absence of mention in Apple’s tech specs means there likely isn’t, at least so far, which means there is no precision pointing device, and even when using an external keyboard with the iPad mounted on its dock, it will still be necessary to navigate and click using the touchscreen interface — really inconvenient for folks like myself who like to sit well back from the screen when working at a desktop with external keyboards and pointing devices.

Still Some Deficiencies

The lack of multitasking support is another major shortcoming, but scuttlebutt has it that iPhone OS 4.0 may add multitasking to its repertoire of features, so that may be addressed by the time the iPad ships.

Another deficiency of the iPad as a laptop replacement is its lack of provision for memory upgrades. Of course we’ve already gone through that with the MacBook Air, but at least it comes with 2GB of soldered-in RAM compared to the iPad’s 1GB.

The iPad a Work in Progress

Accentuating the positive, however, I prefer to look at the iPad as a work in progress, and hopefully some or all of these objections, plus the absence of Flash support, and tabbed browsing in the iPad version of Safari, HDMI or MiniDisplay Port output, an SD Card reader, and any sort of non-wireless data transfer connectivity, will be remedied in subsequent versions.

In the meantime, that surprisingly friendly $500 price of entry to the iPad club should make it a formidable force to be reckoned with in the marketplace right out of the blocks, although I’m personally inclined to keep my powder dry until the Revision B models hit the Apple Certified Refurbished channels in eight or 10 months time and any teething problems get ironed out.

How about you? Eager early adopter or content to wait? And can you envision the iPad ever replacing your laptop?

Related GigaOM Pro Research:

  1. What about printing? In my tech-support experience, the people for whom the iPad might be an adequate laptop replacement are the ones doing the most printing (discounting offices of course).

    1. On the 4.2 update coming out late 2010 – early 2011 will include many things like:

      – Multitasking
      – AirPrint
      – AirPlay
      – Folders
      – Game Center

      all of these updates will hopefully fulfill our customers needs. As for the camera, a FaceTime camera will be included in the iPad 2nd Generation.

  2. I have no doubt the iPad will fill it’s role very, very well – it’s what Apple does. While I can see definite benefits of having one (if only for the simple, easy one-on-one presentations with clients, where it would be fantastic) I agree: There’s simply no substitute for a laptop. The main problems, I see, are the above-mentioned multitasking, as well as lack of a physical keyboard (yes, I realize you can get the dock). Virtual keyboards are great on cramped-real-estate devices, but for working they don’t work. Lack of tactile feel and interaction (“I push button, button makes me a letter”) is a big rift.

    And until they can develop a spell-checker that can actually read my mind, I’ll spend too much time double-checking as I type – making for a slow workflow.

    1. ipad is a unique way to serve on internet.You can get a key board and a ouse speartly and it will be a mac in just a puch f button and it simple you can take it anywhere you want so small and slim.

  3. Actually, I thought Steve made it pretty clear that the iPad’s role was not as a laptop replacement but as the device that fits in the middle of the iPhone and the MacBook. Good for the basic tasks that make up the majority of laptop uses, bigger than an iPhone so better for browsing and reading and movies, but not a replacement for either the laptop or the iPhone. And it’s not priced to have all the features of a laptop, so I’m not sure why people keep thinking it SHOULD have all of those features.

  4. I’ve got a 24″ iMac for the serious stuff. The iPad will be perfect for everything else.

  5. This is perfect for those who have trouble using the track pad or a mouse (my 80+ year old mother comes to mind). A touch sensitive interface is perfect for the really young and the computer illiterate and older folks.

  6. Steve Jobs did not say is was better than a laptop, he said it was better at some things. That is a huge difference.

    Without some major changes in the way we interact there is no way a pad such as this could replace my laptop, but it will probably compliment it.

  7. The iPad is a perfect mobile computer, for ordinary tasks but not heavy duty production. That is why multi tasking is not so crucial on such a device, but the ability to surf the web, communicate, display multimedia, read newspaper or books and do some artistic work if one wants to is pretty slick.I already can see it as a traveling companion especially when Jobs finish talking with international G3 vendors. The data plan on iPhone is just too expensive when you leave the country. The other beauty about this new form of computing is that it is a perfect touch screen device, along with the iPod touch and smart phone. The screen real estate of the iPad is especially appealing to people with failing eyesight. Can you think baby boomers?

    1. I don’t think that the iPad can replace the laptop/desktop machine as it will require a computer to synch with! Every Mac household will still require an iMac/Macbook to synch with for new software, iTunes libraries, Apple TV, etc. I am feeling that there is a redundancy here in requiring all of these different machines to access media. What single machine could provide even most of these?

  8. There seem to be so many blog articles written by people who did not listen to what Jobs actually said… This is a device that sits squarely between the phone and the laptop. It is NOT a replacement for either device!.

    I’m sitting here in front of my dual monitor set up linked to a smokin MacPro because that’s what I need for business…. I don’t need to take it to my customer. I have the iPhone in it’s cradle ready to take a call or check email when I’m away from my office. I don’t have a MacBook simply because can’t justify it (although I’d have one in a shot if I could). But this device falls exactly between all of these stools. It won’t make any of them redundant.

    Journalists, please listen and read before you hoist your opinion on us. Life is too short to be wasting time.

  9. The iPad and the NetBooks shouldn’t be thought of in the same context, since they serve different customers.

    What Apple is doing is enlarging the computing market to serve people who were uninterested in computers before. One of my corespondents on another topic compared the iPad to a toy.

    That is a proper context for the iPad, because,”Who is afraid of a toy?” No one. But many people in this world are afraid of computers, because they are too hard-to-use. You must give up many hours of pleasurable activities to learn how to use one. Hence, computers are difficult and boring to the non-geek. This is why half of the US still does not use one.

    People are often limited by what they can perceive. They think in terms of existing markets rather than emerging markets; they ask if the iPad will replace NetBooks, phones, computer tablets, e-readers and notebooks. The answer is, “Yes and no.”

    There are many areas where the iPad will replace the above devises, but that is not its intent. If a smart one year old can operate an iPhone, then she can do real functions with an iPad, too. This becomes her window into the virtual world. What a great learning tool the iPad will become. And it won’t be necessary to be a geek to run one.

    1. I’m sorry, but the market you’re aiming for isn’t nearly as large as you think it is. In fact, where did you get that 1/2 of the US population figure? It’s just wrong.

      The latest census numbers I was able to find show that 61.7% of American households had both the internet and a computer at home. And that was in 2007. Those with just a computer may be up to 10% higher (based on previous years). Based on the trend, I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are closer to 80% computer in the home and 70% internet use at home. Maybe even higher.

      (See http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/computer/2007.html, Appendix Table A.)

      The number of people who use computers as part of home or work responsibilities almost certainly approaches 95%. It is highly unlikely that those luddites avoiding computers will be lining up for iPad. Like iPhone, it will be purchased by raving Apple fanboys and the technorati. Which, as has been pointed out, is the wrong target audience for the device.

Comments have been disabled for this post