What Are the Differences Between a Laptop & an iPad?

Apple offers both a full-sized 9.7-inch and a mini 7.9-inch iPad.
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Tablets such as the iPad are proving a big hit with consumers: nearly 50 million tablets were sold in the first three months of 2013, according to analysts IDC. Some users are now buying tablets as a replacement for a laptop, but there are several key differences to be aware of. While tablets like the iPad do have several distinct advantages, including ease-of-use and portability, laptops are typically able to offer a more advanced and capable computing experience.

1 Operating System and Apps

IPads run Apple's iOS, a mobile operating system designed for smartphones and tablets. Standard laptop operating systems, such as Windows or OS X, are much more flexible and customizable: they can run more programs at once, handle more complex applications and give the user greater access to the file storage system. Apps running on iOS are typically more limited in terms of features and capabilities than those on Windows or Mac OS -- the iOS version of Photoshop, for example, includes fewer tools and fewer image processing options than the desktop equivalent, and can only work with one image at a time.

2 Storage and Specifications

The maximum amount of storage space available on an iPad is 128GB, which is usually the entry level amount of space offered by laptops. Laptops provide more room for storing applications, music, movies and other files. High-end laptops also offer faster processors and more RAM than iPads, which means you can work with larger files and more complex apps and run many different tasks at once. The iPad sacrifices some processing power to maintain its thin, light, portable form factor.

3 Form Factor and Portability

The iPad is designed for touchscreen input, making it easier to operate with gestures and taps. The keyboards built into laptops make them more convenient for extended periods of typing, though you can attach a Bluetooth keyboard to an iPad if you wish. The thin and light design of the iPad makes it more suitable for carrying around and working on the move. The more powerful a laptop, and the larger its screen size, the bigger and heavier it tends to be.

4 Hybrid Devices

Laptops and iPads both have their advantages: laptops are more powerful and easier to type on, whereas iPads are more portable and easier to maintain. Hybrid devices, such as Microsoft's Surface Pro, attempt to achieve the best of both worlds by providing a tablet with PC harsware that can attach to a physical keyboard by snapping into it. However, Surface Pro makes use of Windows as the primary operating system, enabling it to run fully fledged desktop applications even in tablet mode.

An information technology journalist since 2002, David Nield writes about the Web, technology, hardware and software. He is an experienced editor, proofreader and copywriter for online publications such as CNET, TechRadar and Gizmodo. Nield holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and lives in Manchester, England.