27 January 2010

The iPad: What is it?

There's quite a discussion going on at the Crave blog over just what the new iPad is: Is it a computer, or is it something else?

Well, of course it's a computer. But so is my hopelessly outdated cell phone, which lets me do little more than make calls and maintain a basic calendar but still has more computing power than the computers aboard the first manned spacecraft. When they ask whether the iPad is a computer, what they're really asking is if it's a portable substitute for a desktop computer with all the flexibility that such as device has.

My conclusion: No, it's not a portable desktop. It's more akin to a netbook except that its form factor is that of a tablet rather than of a small, foldable laptop computer.

Although the iPad undoubtedly is cool-looking and has some neat features — the thinness, low weight and 10-hour battery life are incredible — I can't say that I'm all impressed by what Apple is offering. I have a Linux netbook that I recently purchased, and there's plenty that it will do that the iPad won't, such as:

  • Connect to USB devices including external drives and flash memory gizmos.
  • Easily connect to my digital camera via USB (or by inserting its memory card) and manage its photos.
  • Run Skype or its competitors using a built-in webcam.
  • Display web sites that use Flash, and that's a lot of them.
  • Run more than one application at a time. If I'm writing a document and need to look something up on the Net, I can do so while still keeping the document open.
  • Basically do anything that a desktop computer will do, although a bit slower.
  • Let me freely change software and even the operating systems.
All that, and it cost me less than $300.

Despite the limitations of the iPad, I expect it will sell well. The coolness factor will be a big selling point, and with an optional external keyboard it is easily capable of performing office tasks.

And as to what label the iPad and the soon-to-come imitators should be called: My vote is for netpad.

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