As he unveiled the iPad tablet PC last month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took aim at the Kindle, the e-reader produced by Amazon, the world's largest online bookstore. "Amazon's done a great job of pioneering this functionality with the Kindle. We're going to stand on their shoulders and go a little further," Jobs said. He also took a shot at netbooks, saying, "Netbooks aren't better at anything. They're just cheap laptops."
But e-reader and netbook manufacturers are not about to surrender without a tough fight. They have criticized the iPad as too big to fit into pockets and lacking the performance capability for business applications. Amazon also fired back, saying the iPad costs twice as much as the Kindle and does not match it as a reading device.
◆ The Rise of Tablet PCs
The iPad resembles an iPhone with a bigger screen, and because it uses the same operating system it can run iTunes and the same programs offered on Apple's App Store. The company also announced a new online store called iBookstore which will allow customers to download books, newspapers and magazines.
Other companies plan to roll out tablet PCs this year that are similar to the iPad. Microsoft has teamed up with HP and Taiwanese computer manufacturers to produce one, while Korea's TriGem Computer plans to release its own during the first half of this year.
The main strengths of tablet PCs are their LCD screens which can shift between color and black and white modes, and their powerful computing capabilities. They offer many of the same functions as ordinary PCs, including watching video, browsing the Internet, e-mail, listening to music, playing games and reading e-books. They also have touchscreens, offering much faster response times than e-readers, which require buttons or styluses to navigate.
But e-readers have their own advantages. The typical e-reader can store the equivalent of 1,500 texts in data and go for one week on just one battery charge. Because they use special e-ink technology to display content, they do not tire the eyes like LCD displays. They also cost just half the price of the iPad.
◆ Tablet PCs vs. Netbooks
Some say tablet PCs have more in common with netbooks than they do with e-readers. Jobs defined the iPad as an "entertainment device" that allows users to enjoy movies and games and perform simple tasks. Customers can use their iPhones while outdoors, turn to their laptops while at work, and pick up their iPads for entertainment at home, he suggested. In that scenario the iPad could pose a serious threat to netbooks, which are becoming increasingly popular among young consumers as portable entertainment devices.
But proponents of netbooks say the iPad lags far behind in functionality. The iPad does not support multi-tasking and is not equipped with a USB port or other basic functions such as a camera. Also, the absence of a computer mouse reduces working speed, while the lack of a GPS navigation system makes it less appealing as a mobile device.