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How can a small screen iPad compete with a laptop with 13″ or more?

First, the screen on an iPad is 9.7″, but you’re not an arms length away like you might be with a notebook. The screen can be held at a distance appropriate to what you’re doing, which makes the relatively smaller screen a non-issue in my experience. I’ve watched full movies on the iPad and never wished for a larger screen.

Second, the iPad lacks an “abstraction layer” that computer operating systems use. Without a keyboard and mouse to get in the way, you don’t manipulate an arrow on a screen to tell the computer what you want, you just touch it. It’s a more direct, intimate experience and as a result it makes it easier to learn. The upshot is that most people find it much more enjoyable to surfer the web, read email, etc. on the iPad.

Third, the iPad is only 1.5 lbs., or 1.6 lbs. if you have the 3G model. That’s significantly lighter than most laptops. My laptop is 15″ and weighs in at about 5.5 lbs plus charger and accessories. The difference in weight is striking; I can (and do) take my iPad where I’d never have bothered to take my laptop because the hassle was too great.

Fourth, the battery life is significantly better than most laptops. (In terms of hardware, the iPad is really a big piece of glass, some chips, a couple antennas, and two huge batteries.) That means people can leave it in a standby, or sleep, mode and wake it instantly. There’s no more waiting for something to boot up or shut down. Most people never turn off their iPads. They just recharge them whenever needed.

Finally, the iPad is more stable than traditional operating systems. An occasional program may crash (typically a programmer error that’s patched within a few days), but I’ve never seen the iPad itself crash. With Apple controlling the whole experience, hardware and software, it’s a very user-friendly environment from a stability and security perspective, which is to say there are no viruses or malware either.

Ultimately, most people are looking to surf the web, read and answer email, word process a little, and maybe use social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). The iPad does all of these things exceptionally well. If the user has other interests, the iPad can probably accommodate those as well, but the key point is that in the essentials, the iPad is fantastic. I’ll be stunned if within 5 years 70%+ of laptops sold aren’t tablets. They won’t all be iPads, but the iPad will have a significant market share, and, more importantly from Apple’s perspective, revenue share.