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How does the original iPad compare to the MacBook and MacBook Air models that were available when the iPad was introduced? Which one is right for my needs?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. However, it can still be quite useful for one considering an original iPad on the used market as well as for general information comparing the iPad to the MacBook and MacBook Air lines.
Apple has positioned the iPad between the Mac and the iPod and intends for it to compete initially with netbooks, tablet computers, and e-readers.
However, based on e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook messages received, users are viewing the iPad as a potential notebook competitor as well -- particularly when placed up against the entry-level White MacBook and the "thin and light" MacBook Air models.
Some also are viewing the iPad as a complementary purchase to a desktop Mac and are considering purchasing a powerful desktop Mac for "heavy lifting" work and an iPad for light "on the go" tasks rather than purchasing a MacBook Pro and trying to perform all of their computing needs with a single -- and perhaps less than optimal -- computer.
Naturally, Apple would be quite happy for one to purchase an iPad as well as both a notebook and desktop Mac, but most have budget constraints that require some compromise.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad with Keyboard Dock Accessory)
Primary Usage Differences
If you primarily use a computer to surf the web, write a modest amount of e-mail, play music, present photos, and watch non-Flash videos, and only sometimes type documents, use spreadsheets, and prepare presentations, it is possible that the iPad would meet all of your needs.
At the time the original iPad was released, you still needed a Mac or Windows PC to load and sync content to the iPad via iTunes, but iOS 5 dropped this requirement (the original iPad can run iOS 5, but it cannot run subsequent versions of the operating system).
If you have more demanding computing needs, particularly those that require multitasking (although iOS 4 added basic multitasking capability) or extensive typing, a Mac -- or an iPad and a Mac -- is a better choice.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (White Unibody MacBook - Left, MacBook Air - Right)
Primary Hardware & Software Differences
With even a casual glance at the iPad and the MacBook and MacBook Air models, it is obvious that there are many differences.
The iPad has a 9.7" 1024x768 LED-backlit IPS glossy touchscreen display with an onscreen "soft" keyboard (and a US$69 keyboard dock option), runs iPhone OS 3.2 (it cannot run Mac OS X applications), and has the option of 3G wireless and A-GPS. For connectivity, it only has a 30-pin USB-based iPod dock port and a headphone jack as well as a built-in speaker and microphone. No other ports are available and it lacks a webcam, but it does include a digital compass.
The White MacBook and MacBook Air models, by contrast, have 13.3" 1280x800 LED-backlit glossy widescreen displays with traditional notebook keyboards and trackpads of varying capability. They run Mac OS X but are not compatible with iPhone OS applications nor do they have 3G wireless, A-GPS, or digital compass capabilities. Connectivity varies between models, but include a complement of ports. Both include webcams as well.
|Display Size:||9.7" (1024x768)||13.3" (1280x800)||13.3" (1280x800)|
|Original OS:||iPhone OS 3.2||Mac OS X 10.6.x||Mac OS X 10.6.x|
|Maximum OS:||iOS 5.1.1||OS X 10.8.x||OS X 10.8.x|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz||2.4 GHz||1.86 GHz|
|Processor Type:||Apple A4||Intel Core 2 Duo||Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Standard RAM:||256 MB||2 GB (8 GB Max)||2 GB|
|Storage:||16, 32, 64 GB||250 GB||120 GB|
|Data Networks:||2G/3G* & Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi|
|Ext Disp. Support:||1024x768||2560x1600||2560x1600|
|Max Battery Life:||10 Hours||10 Hours||5 Hours|
|Dimensions (In):||9.56 x 7.47 x 0.5||1.08 x 13.00 x 9.12||.16-.76 x 12.8 x 8.94|
|Weight:||1.5 or 1.6 lbs||4.7 lbs (2.13 kg)||3.0 lbs (1.36 kg)|
* Only high-end iPad models (US$629-US$829) have 2G/3G networking and A-GPS.
** The MacBook Air models provide Ethernet via an external Apple 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter.
† The iPad with 16 GB, 32 GB, or 64 GB of storage and Wi-Fi is US$499, US$599, and US$699, respectively. Configured with the same capacity, but 3G and A-GPS in addition to Wi-Fi costs US$629, US$729, and US$829.
Ultimately, an iPad possibly could suit one's entire mobile computing needs if tasks lean primarily toward consuming content rather than producing content. If one needs to produce content while on the go, particularly heavy text-based content, a MacBook or MacBook Air is a much better option. Nevertheless, one always would be wise to make his or her own hands-on judgment.
Also see: What are the differences between the "Mid-2009" MacBook Air and the "SD/Firewire 800 - Mid-2009" 13-Inch MacBook Pro?