Apple iPad vs. Tablet PC: A Comparison
January 28, 2010
With the recent announcement of the iPad, I thought this would be a good time to do a comparison with the modern Tablet PC. As an on and off user of Tablet PCs for the past 7 years, I’ve had a lot of experience with the platform as it has moved from Windows XP Tablet Edition and Pentium III processors to modern Windows 7 versions on Core2 Duos. Still, I’m intrigued what Steve’s demonstration yesterday, and while I obviously haven’t had a chance to hold the new iPad, I have watched a number of demonstration videos and read several hands on, and I’ve used an iPhone on and off for almost two years. Thus I feel qualified enough to do a high-level comparison between the Apple iPad, and my Tablet PC, the Dell Latitude XT2.
The Latitude XT2 has a larger, more high resolution screen with the added advantage of having a built in stylus, which gives it the win here. The stylus also allows for effective note scribbling, something that is difficult to do with fingers. That being said, even with Windows 7’s new gesture support, Tablet PCs just don’t have the finger-friendliness of the iPhone, and, as an extension, the iPad. The iPad’s screen also looked a little brighter, and overall more fun to use.
While my XT2 feels fairly light, the added components and keyboard can’t compete with the slim, streamlined iPad. While I haven’t held one in my hand, I have to imagine that an iPad would be more comfortable for long periods of reading or browsing, though I haven’t really had issues with my XT2.
Apple has flexed its hardware muscles after the acquisition of P.A. Semi almost 2 years ago. The 1Ghz ARM-based A4 chip appears to be very fast, especially when paired with Flash memory and optimized software. The Core2 Duo chip in the XT2 may be a little faster, but without the level of software optimization that the iPad has, I’m going to rate this as a tie.
The iPad can hold up to 64 gigabytes of flash memory, compared with 256 gigabyes for the XT2 (and likely 512 gigabytes soon). Download some high-definition movies, and 64 gigbytes goes pretty fast. In addition, the XT2 can use ExpressCard and USB external storage and even USB Blu-Ray drives.
With 10 hours of battery life, I’m going to have to give this one to Apple. The Latitude (and most Tablet PCs) can get an extra battery, but it adds cost and weight. The iPad battery is not removable, unfortunately, but this seems to be the Apple trend of late.
Both machines have full 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-fi and Bluetooth, and also 3G access. The Latitude offers a greater variety of carriers for 3G, but the iPad has a much cheaper data plan at $30, so I’m calling 3G as a tie, depending on whether you value price or flexibility.
This is where the decision to make the iPad a larger iPhone rather than a small Macbook begins to hurt. The lack of any real connectivity options means that it will be difficult to expand the iPad’s built-in memory, and a large range of USB devices, such as webcams and DVD drives, are not going to be available. The docking connector does allow video out with an adapter, but at a paltry 1024×768 resolution (the XT2 does up to 1920×1080 over VGA, and can do HDMI over the docking station).
Accelerometer/Keyboard and Gaming
The lack of a hardware keyboard on the iPad will probably be more off-putting than the lack of an accelerometer on the XT2. The XT2 can also use a mouse, which allows for a wide variety of mouse/keyboard gaming options. While I’ve enjoyed the accelerometer on my iPhone, I generally find it a bit gimmicky for gaming, and first-person shooters just don’t play well with touch-screen controls.
Another major Achilles heel for the iPad, and something I really hope is fixed in the iPhone OS 4.0 update. The lack of multi-tasking is problematic enough on the iPhone, but I know I’ll really find myself missing it on the almost 10″ screen. Why can’t I run an IM window next to my Flash game with Pandora streaming in the background (a common occurrence on my XT2)?
Adobe Flash Support
Similar to multi-tasking, this moves from a weakness on the iPhone to a serious flaw on the iPad. Steve called out the iPad as the ultimate browsing experience, especially over “underpowered” netbooks, but browsing without Flash means a decent chuck of the web is not available. Again, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an OS 4.0 update, but I see this as less likely than multi-tasking support, though arguably more important.
I think that App developers may come up with some really neat applications for the iPad, but for the present, the 140,000 pixelated iPhone apps don’t compare with the huge library of Windows software available. In addition, Apple has rather draconian application development policies. Without full access to the iPad file system and hardware, I fear that it will again fall on the jailbreak community to develop useful utilities.
Tablet PCs have failed to get mass-market adoption for almost a decade, and a major reason is that they are more costly than a laptop with similar specs. Apple made a smart move by offering a model with less persistent memory and no 3G at a lower price point. To be fair, the XT2 is one of the most expensive Tablet PCs on the market, as you can find models like HP’s Touchsmart at a $949 price with up to 20% discounts. In addition, most people using Tablet PCs do not have another laptop, which many iPad users will still want to price in a laptop as well as the iPad, leaving less available budget. Still, the bottom line is that the iPad runs away with this one.
The iPad has received its share of criticism in the past 24 hours, and much of it centers around a key design reality: the iPad is not a “Macbook Light”; it is an “iPhone heavy”. As a result, it has significant weaknesses compared to traditional laptops, unlike Tablet PCs, which are “Laptops Plus”. The comparison chart illustrates this, as the iPad only really wins on weight, battery, and price. The iPad is really for people that want a lightweight, cheap, limited device in addition to their laptop or instead of their laptop. In that respect, it fills the same niche as netbooks and eReaders, rather than today’s Tablet PCs, and netbooks and eReaders will be the real competitor, especially as more netbooks add touch capabilities.
The final piece of the puzzle is the full iPad experience. On paper, the iPad has a tough time competing with today’s Tablet PCs, and even today’s netbooks in many respects. Having not held one in my hand, I haven’t had the “magical” experience, but a combination of killer apps and a seamless, pleasurable UI may allow the iPad to make a name for itself. Time will tell.
As for me, I’m still waiting for the Microsoft Courier.