Windows netbooks versus Apple iPad: Victory goes to Microsoft

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Apple's iPad Tablet

In launching the iPad yesterday, Steve Jobs criticized netbooks, calling them little more than "cheap laptops" and adding, "The problem is that netbooks aren't better than anything." But when it comes to overall sales, they'll clearly be better than at least one thing --- the iPad. Netbook sales will continue to soar, dwarfing sales of the iPad.

During the iPad launch, Jobs claimed that netbooks had failed to create a category of devices somewhere between smartphones and laptops --- and then added that the iPad would succeed in that category where netbooks failed. According to APC he said:

"Is there room for something in the middle? We've wondered for years as well. In order to create that category, they have to be far better at doing some key tasks better than the laptop and better than the smartphone."

"What kind of tasks? Browsing the web. Doing email. Enjoying and sharing pics. Watching videos. Enjoying music. Playing games. Reading ebooks."

"If there's going to be a third category it has to be better at these tasks -- otherwise it has no reason for being."

"Now some people thought that was a netbook -- the problem is that netbooks aren't better than anything."

Steve Jobs is well-known for creating a distortion-reality field, and getting others to believe it. But in this case, he's distorting reality so far, even he may not believe his own hype.

Netbooks, by any measurement, have been a raging success, not a failure. In the last several years, when PC shipments were in the doldrums, netbook shipments soared. ABI Research estimates that 35 million netbooks shipped last year, says Computerworld.

Plenty of analysts have been underwhelmed by the iPad, calling it little more than a large iPod Touch. Even by Jobs' description, it fails at key tasks compared to netbooks. It's clearly a great media-playing device. But doing email? Given that it has no keyboard, it's far from a useful email machine. And its form factor is so awkward that I doubt it will be used heavily as a Web-browsing device. As for enjoying and sharing pictures and videos, the iPad may do a good job of displaying them, but it doesn't include a camera for creating them --- something that netbooks typically have.

ABI Research says that it expects a total of 4 million tablets to ship next year, including the iPad as well as the little-known Archos 5. That number pales in comparison to the 35 million netbooks shipped last year, and a greater number of netbooks that will ship this year.

So when it comes to the category of devices between laptops and smartphones, netbooks win hands down. And given that most netbooks ship with Windows on them, this round goes to Microsoft.

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