Could Apple be Reinventing The Hybrid Notebook / Tablet?

I was quite intrigued by an article in CNET that shared a research report from Barclay’s Equity Research that speculated on the idea of Apple creating an iPad with a larger screen and using their new 64-bit processor in it.

The CNET article states that “In a note to investors Tuesday, the firm laid out why it believes the new 64-bit architecture paves the way for a 13-inch model of the iPad that would be aimed squarely at replacing laptops for both casual and business users. That includes some of Apple’s Mac portables with more productivity features.” It went on to suggest that it would “Pack more RAM than current iPad models thanks to the newer 64-bit architecture; Sport a Smart Cover with a built-in keyboard and trackpad along with a battery pack to add additional running time.”

On the surface (pun intended) it would be hard to believe that Apple would create a Microsoft Surface-like device given the fundamental failure of that product to date. And while the concept of 2 in 1’s is the next big thing Intel and Microsoft are pushing to try and reignite the demand for laptops, it is too early to tell if consumers really want this type of product given the lower cost of tablets that are being used as companion devices to existing or even new laptop purchases.

If you look at Apple’s history, they normally don’t jump into a market until they see it as really valid, and then they do so by adding their design expertise, great software and services and a rich ecosystem that together delivers a better solution than any other versions already on the market. They did this when they reinvented MP3 players with the iPod, reinvented smartphones with the iPhone and reinvented tablets with the iPad. And then with each iteration of these products they made them better and rely on economy of scale to lower prices yet add more bang for the buck.

While the Barclay Equity Research Research report states that this idea is speculative, I believe they are actually on to something. While Microsoft’s Surface has been an unsuccessful product, the idea of adding a keyboard to the iPad is not new and in fact dozens of companies now create third party Bluetooth keyboards for the iPad and they actually sell pretty well. In fact, when I go to meetings I no longer take my laptop anymore. Instead I use the larger iPad and the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard with it and using a cloud based note taking app like Evernote, Notes or even Pages I create my notes in this manner. This has worked for years and interestingly I have often thought that an even larger screen iPad with even more powerful apps would be nice, especially where true mobility is important. Surely Apple has seen the attach rate of keyboards for use with the iPad as more than a small trend and must have learned much about how people value a keyboard with the iPad.

When Apple introduced the new iPhones in Sept, they had one of the game companies show off a game they modified for the iPhone that took full advantage of Apple’s new 64 bit processor. According to them, they were able to make it work with this 64 bit chip and iOS in only about 2 hours. After the event I asked an Apple executive how they were able to do this so quickly. He said that the game itself was created for the Mac and its 64 bit architecture, but with their software developer tools, all they had to do was modify their system calls for iOS and since iOS was now 64 bit compatible, it was quite easy for them to make a Mac app work on a 64 bit iOS iPhone. Also, iOS and OSX use the same code base that underline each operating system.

For some time many Mac observers have suggested that iOS and the Mac OS were on a collision course. The fact that a Mac app could be easily and quickly adapted for iOS is quite telling. While I do think that Apple will continue to create more powerful versions of Mac OS, especially for use by their high end customers who need its raw power to handle graphics apps, engineering and other complex tasks, it would not surprise me if the Mac Apps and iOS apps are the ones that collide and delver a new type of mobile computing experience suggested in the Barclay’s report.

One could imagine a 13″ iPad/Macbook combo device that runs both Mac apps and iOS apps. Or for that matter this could work in reverse too. A 64 bit Mac OS based MacBook could easily run all iOS apps that could be modified for use on a traditional OS X MacBook. If one thought that adding 64 bit to the iPhone was a gimmick, they would be proven wrong quickly. Clearly Apple’s move to 64 bit was much more strategic than many may have thought and if this scenario is even half right, it shows that Apple has a much greater and longer vision for both of these products that could be designed in many ways, shapes and forms.

If Apple were to reinvent 2 in 1’s in this creative way, especially if the apps become cross OS and for use on all devices Apple creates, Apple could develop a whole host of new types of laptop/tablet combos that could be tied to their rich eco system that is already pretty much cross platform and deliver some rather innovative and powerful mobile computing devices in the future. Apple clearly wants the iPad to become more focused on delivering productivity as well as consumption and this could become part of their design guidelines and goals for all iPads 9″ inch’s and above. In fact, given Apple’s design chops they could even create various tablets, laptops and keyboards that could be compatible and fully interchangeable. Keep in mind, iPads are already invading the enterprise in big numbers and making them laptop like could only help them gain more ground in IT.

If this should happen, the ramifications for the industry could be very interesting. At the very least, it would validate Intel and Microsoft’s 2 in 1 designs but at the same time it could become a highly competitive product that could hinder the Windows 2 in 1’s from gaining ground in IT. And for the Android in enterprise crowd, it too would become a powerful product that could keep Android at bay for some time since Android could not even come close to delivering the same type of cross OS capabilities. And this would impact Intel if more and more of Apple’s mobile devices, including a potential 2 in 1, uses Apple’s own 64 bit processors instead of theirs. While Apple will probably never drop the MacBook, a 2 in 1 that favors Apples processor could be where the real volume will be.

Like Barclay’s, my analysis is also speculative. But given the indicators we have seen, especially how easy it is now to take Mac apps and put them on iOS, it would not surprise me at all of Apple does have various types of 2 in 1’s in the works and could try and reinvent this category of devices even if the Windows 2 in 1’s are still in the early stage of adoption by the enterprise and consumers.

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Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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