As both an Mbed user and an Arduino user, this is my perspective on the differences between the platforms.
- The IDEs are completely different. The Mbed IDE is an in-browser compiler that allows you to easily import other people's source code. It is a full c/c++ IDE that saves your code to your online Mbed account. You must be signed in to do any development work (requires internet access). Code completion exists, but is clunky. Project format more closely mirrors c/c++ programming than does Arduino's environment.
- Programming the board is different. The Mbed uses a custom boot loader. The Mbed shows up as a flash drive when you plug it into your computer via USB. You compile your code using the online IDE, download the .hex file, and copy it to the Mbed. It's actually pretty neat, but more time consuming than clicking the 'Upload' button in the Arduino IDE.
- The Hardware is different. This means different pinouts, as well as different capabilities. Take a look at the Mbed platforms and compare them to the Arduinos. Mbeds are generally more powerful than Arduinos (cpu speed, mem size, build in capabilities).
I use my Mbed when my Arduino isn't powerful enough or fast enough. It would replace Arduinos for me if it wasn't for the online IDE. The IDE is a little awkward to use, and it takes too long to program the board (downloading/copying and pasting is much more inconvenient).
I'm able to use all my same sensors and peripherals that I purchased for the Arduino with my Mbed (Except for shields due to the physical layout differences). I sometimes have to rewrite code to get it to work on the Mbed, but that's a good learning exercise.