Tuesday, May 18, 2010

iPad - forget Netbook killer...PC Killer?

As a Canadian, I hadn't spend much time with the iPad...until yesterday at a customer site. Very impressive. Programmer types may not like it because it's restrictive, but end users love it. Reading newspapers is an unbelievable experience...not to mention photos, video, browsing, etc.

And this is only the start for apps (not to mention OS4 and some major needed updates like multi-tasking).

So, let's talk about netbooks. What are (were?) they? Crappy, low-cost laptops. For $400 I could get a small clam-shelled device that tried to keep up the PC experience. Aside from the price point, ultra-portables like some of the VIAO's were much, much better. The user experience of a netbook was generally poor compared to a true laptop. And suh...low....

Basically, Netbooks are too confusing for the market. Check out these stats from last year:

  • 60% of the people interviewed by NPD who purchased a netbook instead of a notebookthought their netbooks would have the same functionality as notebooks.
  • 58% who bought a netbook instead of a notebook said they were “very satisfied” with their purchase, compared to 70% who planned on buying a notebook from the get-go.
  • In the 18- to 24- year old group, the group that many commenters said would embrace netbooks, 65% said they bought their netbooks expecting better performance; only 27% said that netbook performance exceeded their expectations.
  • Portability is a big selling point for netbooks and a point that many commenters brought up, but 60% of the people surveyed said that they never even took their netbooks out of the house.

One interesting question is: Isn't the iPad a netbook? Let's look at Wikipedia's definition of netbook:
Netbooks (sometimes also called mini notebooks or ultraportables) are a branch of subnotebooks, a rapidly evolving[1] category of small, lightweight, and inexpensive laptop computers suited for general computing and accessing Web-based applications; they are often marketed as "companion devices", i.e., to augment a user's other computer access.[1]

Aside from the implied meaning of laptop (ie clam shell), it's hard to argue that the iPad is not a netbook.

Ok, how about previous tablets? We all know Microsoft tried over and over to bring a tablet PC to the market. The pitch was great, but ultimately they couldn't get any traction. More recently, Microsoft has failed pretty hard at tablets:
Windows 7 is a wonderful operating system, but when coupled with a small screen and a veneer of touch capabilities, it is hardly a pleasant experience. In other words, even if the hardware was excellent, the user experience was destined to be lacking. That it died is merely indicative of larger problems, and not real cause for upset.

So....what's the difference?

Well, as many others think, I tend to agree that this is because Apple come "up" rather than "down". Both Netbooks and Tablets suffered from trying to take the PC or laptop experience down to a tablet/netbook...rather than a smartphone experience up.

Sure, there are people who still believe in Netbooks - they have flash, a camera, USB ports and a full OS.

Let's go back to that customer discussion. A few who have bought an iPad (and have a high-end ultra-portable) are now ONLY taking the iPad on business trips. They don't use cloud-apps - but for presenting (ie PPT), reading email (web-based corporate email), news, and stock-tracking...there isn't any need for the laptop.

So yes, I wonder as well if the iPad is truly a game-changer and will ultimately affect the entire laptop market. As a traveller myself, I can see a BlackBerry and iPad as all I need.