Opinion: Tablets won’t knock out netbooks

Steve Jobs said netbooks were just "cheap laptops"

Steve Jobs said netbooks were just "cheap laptops"

At the launch of Apple’s iPad, Steve Jobs argued that netbooks were good for nothing. He was completely wrong, says Adam Maguire.

It is a foregone conclusion that anything Steve Jobs says at an Apple conference will be well-received. Contribute it to the reality distortion field around him or the careful selection of attendees but either way it’s a fact.

At the conference that launched Apple’s tablet computer – the iPad – one line in particular went down very well with the crowd; the one where Jobs argued netbooks weren’t “better than anything” and were just cheap laptops.

It was a straw-man argument and a bad one at that. Obviously when netbooks are compared with laptops on single features they will always lose out but they were never meant to compete. It is the combination of benefits; namely their portability, functionality and price; that make them a worthwhile proposition.

The netbook segment has been successful because it appeals to a wide range of users, particularly students and professionals. Netbooks are easy to take on journeys and unobtrusive in a bag, they work just as a laptop would (albeit with considerably less power behind them) and they are a cheap supplement to a proper home computer.

They are a work-horse machine and not the media solution Apple wants the iPad to be.

The iPad is of no use to the people who tend to use netbooks. It may be portable and relatively – for an Apple product anyway – cheap. However it lacks a huge amount of the functionality necessary to make it a back-up computer device and is probably more awkward to type on than even the fiddliest of keyboards.

People use netbooks for on-the-go work and web-browsing and little else;  in fact many netbook users would only use them for off-line work while travelling. The iPad does not even have USB so people cannot transfer files they are working on from one machine to another – which is likely the first thing a netbook-user will do once they get near a proper PC.

The iPad will almost certainly to a good job of handling media – even if it is locked-in to specific formats – but this is not what is needed to replace the netbook. By targeting this market segment Jobs took a cheap and mis-guided shot at a product that Apple won’t even be competing with once it arrives.

But there is no reason why people don’t use their netbooks as a video and games machine – bar the 10″ screens that are never going to be a first option for users… that said Jobs will certainly hope otherwise.

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