Thinking Tech

iPad showing notebooks the way

iPad showing notebooks the way

Posting in Design

Pundits have described the new Apple iPad as a bigger iPod Touch or a netbook killer. I can see it as the beginning of the end for 25-year-old clamshell notebook design.

Just about every story on the iPad following its introduction Wednesday said it was just a bigger iPod Touch or iPhone. It's crisp display, touch capabilities and thin profile are trademark iPod Touch (and iPhone) features just in a bigger enclosure with a bigger display. Evolutionary not revolutionary.

Indeed, the CNet review of the 64 GB model described the iPad as an "Ipod Touch with a glandular problem." Another review said Apple has reinvented the netbook.

The iPad strikes me as a bigger iPod Touch, but that comparison also misses the iPad's potential to begin the end of the very long-in-the-tooth clamshell notebook computer.

Granted, the iPad is nowhere near as powerful as today's notebook computers. As the CNet review points out, the operating system on the iPad is a version of the iPhone's operating system, not OS10. The storage tops out at 64GB, the display is a netbookish 9.7 inches and the whole thing is driven by a weakling 1 Gigahertz Apple processor.

DG/One, the first clamshell notebook

TRS-80 Model 100

But the iPad addresses some of notebook's biggest weaknesses: IPad's weight is 1.5-1.6 pounds v 3-7 pounds for notebooks. IPad is a thin monolith with with no moving parts.  The notebook clamshell design hasn't changed much in 25 years and has plenty of moving, hence breakable, parts.

Remember the first notebook PC, the DG/One which came out in 1984 and replaced the luggable? That's still the notebook's form factor today. Ironically, the iPad more closely resembles the DG/One's predecessor, the single piece Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 portable computer.

Mechanical keyboards in notebooks are often the first thing to break. They get filthy and expose notebook innards to bagel crumbs and spilled coffee. The iPad's soft keyboard is on screen and has no mechanical keys. I don't know how good it is, but in the Apple introduction video (below), Steve Jobs says "it's almost lifesize. It's a dream to type on."

What's more, Jobs breathlessly proclaims "it's the best browsing experience you've ever had...way better than a laptop...[it's like] holding the Internet in your hands." The cloud is where I spend most of my time on this HP Pavilion notebook I am using to compose this post.

Sure, Jobs is prone to hyperbole, but he also has a peerless track record. Remember my Nov. 3 post urging Apple to cut prices 25 percent to grab market share? The iPad embraces this idea with aggressive $500-$830 pricing and is Apple's newest notebook, in my opinion.

The Kindle had the form factor right, but it's only a reader with a Ford-like display: you can have any color you want as long as it's black (gray & white). From what I can see, the iPad does everything a notebook does.

Overall, CNet gave the iPad 2.5-3.5 stars out of five which okay as in okay, but not great. Even if the first iPads aren't notebook killers, they are a big step in that direction. It's high time, too. Good to have you back, Steve.

Follow me on Twitter.

Share this

John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure