Could the iPad Pro Cannibalize MacBooks?

In my main column on Monday, I talked about how iOS could become the enterprise OS of the millennial generation. I argued that, as Gen Z and Gen Y become millennials who cut their computing teeth on iOS, they would take tools based on this into the business world and, over time, iOS would become defacto for this younger generation in business. But I also mentioned that, if Apple is successful in getting this younger generation to make iOS the standard business operating system, then its impact on Microsoft, Intel and their OEM partners would be impacted by this over time.

If you look at kids in college, high school, and even grammar school, iPad and Android devices dominate their mobile tools and the Mac is their preferred computer for most in college and high school. When I spoke to an MBA class at a major university last year, there were 101 students in the class and all but one had a Mac. Although one could argue that if these kids move into the business world and are forced to adapt to Windows they would. But it is more likely that, because of BYOD, Apple-based products would come into these IT departments in increasing numbers. Also, there have been many stories written in the last three years about companies realizing they need to support Macs and iPads if they want to entice the type of top talent they need to run their businesses in the future.

Apple’s new iPad Pro gives this younger generation a new tool to add to their Apple product mix when going into the business world. Apple could use this to drive iOS into mainstream business and, over time, make iOS the primary business OS. In the article, I talked about its ramifications for vendors in the Windows ecosystem and the challenge this has for Microsoft in trying to keep the Windows franchise the center of the business computing world in the future. Had Steve Ballmer invested in Windows Phone once the iPhone came out and made it a serious competitor, perhaps this younger generation would have this option and, if enough people were Windows Phone users, that could translate into them keeping Windows as their business tool once they went into the workforce. But that ship has sailed and the momentum has swung, particularly to Apple, when it comes to making a mobile OS grow up to become something even business users could embrace.

If this plays out as I suspect it could, it also presents an interesting problem for Apple. Unless the Windows crowd can find a way to convince a younger generation to switch to Windows, iOS seems to be on track to become at least a major enterprise alternative in business settings for this next generation of workers. But the iPad Pro could be problematic for Apple.

Apple seems to have purposely positioned the iPad Pro directly at the business community and if successful, its flexible nature could end up being the preferred business tool of the millennial generation and end up cannibalizing sales of the MacBook and Macbook Air line of Apple laptops.

This is only problematic in that they have spent decades positioning the thinner and lighter MacBooks in this area and it would be a change of direction. From Apple’s standpoint, they would still get the revenue and, as Cook has stated, the iPad Pro is more in line with their purest vision of portable computing in the future.

However, its impact on Intel could be significant. For years, many people have wondered if Apple would use their own chips someday in their MacBook, Mac Pro and iMac line. But I’ve always thought Intel’s processors made more sense for these products and, with Intel constantly upping the power threshold as well as lowering the energy draw, that Apple would use Intel’s chips for a long time. I still think that is the case for the MacBook, MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, iMacs and Mac Pros. But the MacBook and MacBook Air represent about 50-55% of all personal computers Apple’s ships. If the iPad Pro catches on and can deliver a more flexible MacBook-like experience, then this product could eat into Apple’s MacBook demand and Intel would lose significant business — fewer Intel chips would be shipped to Apple customers.

As I have written a couple of times over the last week or two, I see the iPad Pro as being much more disruptive to the market for laptops. Even Apple’s own laptop business could be affected by this move. The good news for Apple is even if it does affect them, their revenue stream will not be impacted and indeed it will probably grow. But for those in the Windows world this could, over time, impact their current business model and strategy. It will be interesting to see how the iPad Pro influences the overall market in the next three years. I sense that it will present a serious challenge to the Windows crowd.

Published by

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.

19 thoughts on “Could the iPad Pro Cannibalize MacBooks?”

  1. I’m very interested in the impact the iPad Pro will have on enterprise sw. It was quite stunning to see MS and Adobe on stage at its introduction. I guess I’m inviting a comment or column about this.

    It seems to me at the very least, both companies are wheeling around their strategies to embrace iOS (and ARM) fully. They are boldly affirming Apple’s sw and hw strategy and Apple now has the opportunity to deliver millions of customers to these two giants ensuring they will continue to write native sw for iOS/ARM.

    I believe this is key as current Macs in the enterprise are disadvantaged because they don’t run Windows without a virtual PC layer of sw. In the future, after iOS wins the enterprise : ), Windows will need to run on iOS (Whoops! Seems to now.)

  2. I think the million dollar question here is, will the iPad Pro offset the current decline in iPads and if so, when?

    Apple is certainly a patient company, but shareholders aren’t.

    1. Currently the iPad is seen as inferior to the Mac. The product itself needs to be such that I’ll want to throw my Mac in the trash. They’re getting closer with the iPad Pro as it is a very attractive product. I think they’ve still got work to do but I like most of the details in the direction that they’re taking.

      1. “I’ll want to throw my Mac in the trash.”

        What strange alien world do you come from where one throws away perfectly functional objects with good resale value? Instead of throwing it away, if you cannot be bothered with the immense, daunting task of taking it to a pawn shop or hawking it on Craigslist, please send it to me instead, I will pay postage.

        Yes, I am aware you were probably not speaking literally. Please forgive my kneejerk reaction.

      2. Yes. The questions are;

        When will the iPad get close enough to the Mac? What will the iPad sales be like by then?

        Is cannibalising Macbook sales (and maybe Windows sales) enough to offset the decline in iPad sales? Considering that the iPad Pro is 2-3 times more expensive than the average PC, how many Windows users will the iPad Pro be able to lure?

        What else must the iPad do if cannibalising a declining market (PCs) is not enough to revive the tablet category? Do the iPad Pro and iOS 9 provide clues as to what Apple might have in mind?

        The observation that iPads are getting closer to PCs was totally predictable long-term, and in many ways realised by the less interesting features of the iPad Pro; the features that the MS-Surface already had.

        I’m a bit disappointed that the discussion isn’t shifting towards the more difficult but interesting issues of which there are many.

        1. Don’t forget that people’s app-etite is changing as well. Apps that people use these days tend to be smaller and lighter – and the majority seem to be web apps as well. Which means the iPad/iOS ecosystem doesnt really need to be just-as-powerful as the Mac for most people.
          It then comes down to what people mean by ‘real work’ and what a computer or similar sort of devices are meant to do… and personally i think an iPad covers most people’s use cases already except for the more technical (or specialized) use cases such as for example IT work which requires specialized software, and heavy media work which requires a fair bit of horsepower to do.
          We can probably look back and compare the movement from Desktop to Tablet/Mobile with the move from the back then where Server Based computing were the norm to the Desktop/Personal Computing?
          2) Personally i am more in the opinion that it wont. The pro seems like a very specialized device at this point. But i could be terribly wrong again. And i would assume that people who buy a mac/book will have a specific need requires them to use desktop class app or a keyboard. Otherwise they would probably go for the iPad air?
          3) Dont forget the decline of the PC market and relatively low uptake on tablet devices may also be caused by the rapid adoption of smartphones which to some could easily replace the need for a PC based device.

          1. What you say clearly outlines the bear case for iPads and tablets.

            I tend to agree. I don’t see the iPad Pro reviving iPad sales either. Although I still see long term potential in the category, and I especially cannot imagine a future where all business is conducted while crouching over a small screen, I think what will take us there is not simply a larger, more powerful tablet.

            What Apple is doing with IBM is probably much more interesting.

    2. When people start replacing iPads. Although I’d love an Air 2 or Pro, my ipad 4 still runs quite well, and so does my 5s. I’d also love a watch and 6s + and a 17″ retina pro, but our pacific peso is sinking faster than a new android.

  3. I think it is a step in that direction and a sign of things to come. It is a strong signal to developers to start developing more laptop oriented productivity applications.

    Eventually I expect to see a permanently attached keyboard version that will start to gobble up the low end of Apples laptop lineup.

    But the iPad Pro is a strong first step.

  4. I’m considering it, as it’s faster than the MacBook Air it would be replacing. My only issue is how will I get it to drive my 27″ Thunderbolt display? which I really love.

    1. How about my four teenagers, Generation Z I guess is what they’re called, coming up after the Millennials? They all want the iPad Pro rather than a MacBook of any kind.

        1. I suppose that could apply if my teenagers were middle-aged. They want what they want, and it’s the iPad Pro. I realize that doesn’t align with what you want, but maybe Generation Z isn’t aligned with Millennials. They’re younger than you (I assume), to them you’re the old guy. I guess they’d say “Nothing like a Millennial telling us what Generation Z thinks.”

          My kids use iPads, iPhones, Macs, and MacBooks. They use their iPads most of all, they really dig the touch UI and they are very excited about the iPad Pro, especially the Apple Pencil.

          1. I suppose that could apply if my teenagers were middle-aged

            Not really. This is you telling me what your teenagers want.

            Nothing like a Millennial telling us what Generation Z thinks.

            I’m not the one making claims about teenagers. I’m laughing at people making the claims.

            My kids use iPads, iPhones, Macs, and MacBooks.

            It’s kind of obvious your kids aren’t representative of teenagers.

            they really dig the touch UI

            specially the Apple Pencil.

            The hypocrisy is staggering.

          2. Heh, so your argument is that all four of my teenagers are lying about what they want for their next computing device. Or that I’m lying about what they want. That’s a safe default argument, when presented with evidence that doesn’t agree with what you want to believe, simply say that evidence is false.

            You also don’t seem to understand that the Apple Pencil is part of the touch UI. Please proceed to quote Steve Jobs re: stylus. My kids also use hardware keyboards with their iPad 2s.

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