Key difference: iPad is a tablet mainly used for multimedia and web surfing. A laptop has computational properties and is meant to be a substitute for a desktop computer.
When Apple launched iPad in 2010, it started a new trend for tablets. iPad is a type of tablet PC. It was originally promoted as a cross between an Apple iPhone and iPod Touch with added capabilities of computing. However, it is not meant to be a replacement for desktop personal computers or laptops. iPads have computational properties that can do some tasks as laptops but not all.
The immediately noticeable difference between the iPad and laptops is the way they look. iPads look more like a tablet or a slate, i.e. a bar shape, whereas laptops have more of a briefcase like design. Laptops are hinged together that open up to reveal a screen and a connected keyboard. iPads have the screen size of 9.7 inches with multi-touch display, whereas, screens of laptops vary in size from 12-17 inches and are usually not multi-touch. However, some tablet computers do have a touch display, which can be used by touch or with a stylus. iPads have a capacitive screen, which means that they can only be operated by the touch of a finger.
Another noticeable difference is that while a laptop has a physical QWERTY keyboard, iPad has a virtual keyboard. The full QWERTY touch screen keyboard appears when one needs to type something into a field, such as a logon screen, email, or in a spreadsheet or word processor, and goes away when it’s no longer needed. The lack of a physical keyboard and the screen size makes the tablet very portable. However, if one often needs to type out entire documents, a physical keyboard would be better, as it can be a bit awkward to use a virtual keyboard for prolonged use. A number of manufactures now sell physical keyboards that can be connected and used with the iPad. Still, spreadsheets or word processors are much more user-friendly on laptops, as oppose to iPads.
iPads are intended as devices for a multimedia experience, reading e-books, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, browsing the Internet, or retrieving e-mail. It has a software structure more like that of a mobile phone. It also has a very simple user interface, which can even be easily operated by children.
A disadvantage of iPads, as compared to laptops, is that iPad tend to have limited memory. iPads have a memory capacity that ranges from 16 GB to 64 GB, while laptops usually have a memory capacity between 250 GB to 500 GB. Also, the memory capacity of laptops can be increased by use of peripheral devices, such as external hard drives, USB flash drives, CDs and DVDs. iPads have no such provision to increase storage capacity. They don’t even have an SD card port.
This also presents another problem; one cannot install just any application on to the iPad. The iPad is limited to only applications that can be downloaded from the Apple app store. One can’t create their own programs for iPad either, as some tech savvy people are used to doing on their laptops. Also, one can’t change any programs or use any specific programs other than what is already loaded on the iPad by the manufacture or is available from the Apple app store.
Furthermore, iPads lack the ability of true multi-tasking. One can only work on one application in an iPad, as opposed to laptops, in which one can surf the net, work on a word processor and listen to music, all at the same time. This is a limitation imposed by Apple on the iPad in order to prevent users from running too many applications which will slow down the iPad, as the iPads have a much slower processor and less RAM then laptops in general.
iPads are also faced with several hardware limitations, as compared to laptops. The battery of an iPad is built in and it cannot be replaced by the user in case of problems. This also means that if the iPad runs out of battery charge, one cannot just use a spare battery but has to look for an outlet to charge. However, the battery of an iPad tends to last longer than most laptops.
Furthermore, one cannot upgrade any part of the iPad, whereas in a laptop one can upgrade the hard drive, the RAM, etc. individually. The only way to upgrade the iPad is to get the newer version as and when released by the company.
Also, iPad lacks Flash, software that a number of websites use to display content. So, iPad cannot load these pages. This limits the web surfing experience. This is not the case for laptops, where one can just download and upgrade Flash at any time. Furthermore, photo or video editing on the iPad is very limited and exasperating. On the other hand, photo or video editing on the laptop is seamless. An iPad is not designed to be a content creation device; a laptop is a much better option for that.
An iPad is built mainly as a portable media device with limited computation abilities. A laptop on the other hand is meant to be a portable alternative to a desktop computer. A typical iPad is meant to be used in addition to another computer, not as a replacement to one. This is the reason that iPads are cheaper than laptops.