iPad Pro’s Impact on the PC Market

I flew out to Brooklyn for Apple’s launch event this week and was pleasantly surprised that they introduced major upgrades to the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro line. Although these were rumored in advance of the event, getting to see them in person and touch them and play with them is much better than just seeing it streamed.

The new MacBook Air is a significant new version of the MacBook Air design that makes it the most powerful thin and light laptop in Apple’s line. And for MacBook Air fans, this upgrade is very welcomed. One of the more interesting things I overheard when the media had hands-on with the MacBook Air after the event is that many said that this is the laptop they would want to buy themselves. It has serious power, a Retina screen, one of Intel’s best Core i5 processors and more than enough memory and storage for even the most hardcore laptop user.

One important technical side note about the new MacBook Air that did not get enough attention is that Apple created a new aluminum alloy that includes some recycled aluminum for the unibody casing from the ground up. In a nod toward their overall approach to creating more green products, this new alloy material does not need to be smelted and is instead created with a new, much greener process, although Apple would not tell me what that process is. Apple has a long history of inventing new materials and manufacturing processes that do not exist if they need it to make any of their products. This is an excellent example of that.

I too would covet this as my go-to laptop, especially for travel, but I found the most exciting product at the launch to be the new iPad Pro’s. This new tablet goes way beyond being a tablet. I think that this is the iPad that Steve Jobs originally envisioned when he said at the iPad launch in 2010 that someday a “tablet” could replace a PC. And with new Photoshop from Adobe, and apps from Autocad and a whole host of new and powerful drawing tools, along with full Office support from Microsoft, I would argue that most of what a person does on a PC can now be done on an iPad Pro. It also uses their Bionic A12 processor that can go head to head performance wise, with most core i5 processors on the market today.

Traditionalists will scoff at the idea that the iPad Pro, even with its increased power, could ever supplant a laptop or PC, but for a lot of people, it already has. Many use it as their primary computer now and only default to a desktop or notebook for apps that need heavy lifting as they call it. Today, the majority of people who have an iPad also have a PC or laptop. But the amount of time they spend on a PC versus an iPad has changed and the iPad, for a lot of people, is where they spend most of their time when doing mainstream computing tasks.

One other thing they did is add USB-C to the new iPad Pros, which now makes it \possible to connect it to a 4K display and even use it to charge your iPhone. Apple did stress the creative aspect of the new iPad at the launch, but they also hinted that they too see the iPad becoming more than a tablet and began positioning it as a laptop replacement. In fact, I think that their initial target is Microsoft’s Surface line and within the next two years will build on this new iPad Pro and add other features like mouse support and better continuity with their Mac platform and, over time, begin migrating more of their customer base to the iPad Pro line as a laptop replacement for general users.

That does not mean they would get out of the laptop business. They will continue to build more powerful laptops and Macs and could even move from Intel-based processors to their own A-series sometime in the future. Although we know they have no plans to merge IOS and Mac OS, that will not matter if they deliver greater continuity between the two and their software developers make versions of their apps for the Mac and the iPad, thus giving users an even broader choice of hardware designs to meet their individual needs. In this case, it would either be the iPad Pro with its tablet-focused design or a MacBook Air, with its clamshell design. Add to that fact that much of what we use in the way of apps are cloud-based and either a MacBook Air or an iPad Pro could meet individual needs in new ways.

From an industry standpoint, the new iPad Propositioned as a laptop replacement could eventually be a big deal. All of the traditional PC players have discounted Apple’s iPad as being too low powered and weak to compete with conventional laptops. This new iPad Pro is now as powerful as most mid-level to even some high-end laptops since almost all use Intel’s Core i5 processors.

Apple had a slide that showed that Apple sold more iPads than any individual PC company sold in PC’s in the last 12 months. That slide was not an accident. It was Apple signaling that they plan to compete with laptops directly in the future. They are not trying to revive the tablet category. They are changing the focus and saying that the iPad Pro could replace a Windows or even a Chrome-based laptop.

How long will this take for Apple to transition the iPad Pro to a worthy laptop competitor? This new iPad Pro with computer-like power is the first step in what I believe is a three-year journey. Their rhetoric on the new iPad Pro, as well as what they shared at the event is interesting. Tim Cook barely mentioned the word “tablet.” When describing the iPad Pro. And the chart, along with the demos of PhotoShop and the mention of Auto Cad and AR-based apps tied to real-world applications, only enforced their view that the iPad Pro is more than a tablet.

I will write more next week on the impact it could have on the PC laptop market.

The other thing that interested me is the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro’s design. When I held it next to the new 11-inch iPad Pro, the size difference and weight is close. You have to see the new 12.9 inch iPad Pro when it hits stores next week. The current 13.1 inch is too big for me to carry around all of the time so I default to the 10.5 inch iPad Pro as my go everywhere device. But I am pretty sure that I will move to the 12.9 version given the new design is so similar in size to the new 11-inch iPad Pro and make it my go everywhere device in the future.

I suspect both products will gain serious attention from Apple fans and even draw in many switchers. Both products, along with strong iPhone sales should help them break unit sales and revenue numbers this holiday quarter.

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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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