Monday, February 8, 2010

The coming war of Tablets vs Netbooks

You may have heard of Tablets, and you may have heard of Netbooks, but one thing you need to hear about is that with the introduction of the iPad by Apple these two product categories will go to war with one another in the near future.

Tablets had flopped until now because they were waiting for a newer generation of components than those on netbooks and for totally new generation of software. Netbooks could get away with the old OSes because frankly they are still used as a laptop. They are like 12inch powerbooks at fraction of the cost. With the iPad, for the first time a tablets have reached the level needed to become mainstream and find their market. What may not surprised everyone is that market may have already been taken by netbooks.

When looking to compare products, one is naturally tempted to look into specification. For Product categories and platform like he iPhone this tends to produce very incorect predictions over time. This is because product categories and platforms tend to evolve in features while keeping their names.

So, a totally new way of comparing netbooks and tablets is needed. One far simpler and much more powerful. One based on fundamentals that will never change. For what is more important than how and where do you use a product. Apps don't matter, interactions do. There are essentially only two variables: number of hands used and product position. In addition we add the all important price consideration and one field to indicate overall capabilities.

How we measure the quality of each product in each category is also important. Exact numbers do not mean much. What is much more
telling is how each product category fares compared to the others in the same field. Consequently, there are only 4 meaningful choices. A products is ether the best there is, does a good job, can be used to work in this way or is unpractical to handle like that. Lastly, when talking about tablets, I am mainly referring to the next generation of iPad like devices that will come to market shortly.

Armed with those assumptions the following battle-gram unfolds by itself.

While some ratings are pretty strait forward, I would like to explain a couple of the ones which do decide the battle and may stir controversy:

  1. You cannot use laptops and netbooks without supporting their weight by something other than your hands.
  2. The tablet win the 1 Hand Stationary Use round, because its main workflow paradigm does not depend on using two hands, while productivity on laptops and netbooks drops significantly to the point of frustration if you are limited to just using one hand
  3. While a Tablet may not run full OS apps, it will be able to do stuff that come out of its inherent design. For example, a whole new types of programs (books, comics, magazines) become practical, when you can rotate the device in portrait mode. Can you work in portrait mode on a netbook? Or can you imagine accelerometer controls on a netbook?

Each product category had something that is best at and its actually no brainer to tell. What is interesting is that Tablets are potentially just as usefull as a full laptop but at a lower cost, meaning that they have a potentially bigger market than either laptops or smartphones. Netbooks on the other hand, just like Steve Jobs said are not good at anything. Their only true quality is their price, which is not enough to keep them competitive on the long run with a much better but slightly more expensive product like the tablet.

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