Barclay's analyst Ben Reitzes provoked the newest round of speculation, predicting in a research note that an iOS tablet-notebook hybrid could disrupt 25-30% of the shrinking PC market. The hit to laptop and desktop sales could be similar to the damage iPads and other tablets have already wrought, Reitzes said.
This forecast paints a potentially grim picture for Microsoft, HP, Dell and other major PC players still finding their bearings in the mobile space. But let's not get carried away. An iOS-infused TV has been hotly rumored for years, but it's still the stuff of Apple fans' unrequited hopes. The same might end up being true of the alleged plus-sized iPad.
Indeed, CEO Tim Cook has spoken critically of laptop-tablet hybrids. He dismissed the devices in April, comparing them to a product that tries to be both a toaster and refrigerator. Last fall he characterized Microsoft's original Surface as compromised and confusing.
[ Take a look at the latest Surface and see what you think. See Microsoft Surface: 10 Best And Worst Changes. ]
Then again, the iPad Mini has become one of Apple's most important products, even though co-founder Steve Jobs said before his death that the company would never build such a device.
Is it likely a 13-inch iPad-laptop hybrid is in the offing, despite Cook's earlier misgivings? Forrester analyst David Johnson told InformationWeek in September that such a product has "interesting potential," noting that many people already use third-party keyboards with their iPads. Here are eight signs Apple is prepping a large-screen iOS product.
1. Apple's been thinking about laptop-tablet convergence for a long time.
Apple's product line doesn't include touchscreen MacBooks or convertible iPads, but the company began filing patents based on these designs long before Windows 8 or Surface tablets were on the market. The patents range from a dock that turns an iPad into an iMac, to an attachable iPad keyboard that runs on solar power, arguably an ideal accessory for a 13-inch model, as Reitzes pointed out.
Apple's knack hasn't traditionally been to invent new technologies as much as to recognize when and how to bring new tech to market -- a point Apple VP of software engineering Craig Federighi alluded to last month when he told BusinessWeek, "New is easy. Right is hard." Having clearly given convergence a lot of thought, perhaps Apple finally feels it can do hybrids right.
2. Multiple sources have claimed a 13-inch iPad is in the works.
Supply-chain rumors don't always pan out, but where there's smoke there's also often fire. Citing supply-chain sources, the Wall Street Journal reported in July that Apple was experimenting with a 13-inch iPad. Japanese website Macotakara reported in late September that a larger iPad was already in production for a planned 2014 debut, and that Taiwan-based manufacturer Quanta, a longtime Apple partner, was building them. DisplaySearch VP David Hsieh said this month that supply-chain research indicates a 12.9-inch model with 2732-by-1536-pixel resolution will arrive next year.
3. Apple reportedly is working on a power adapter for a new mobile device that will sit between current iPads and the MacBook Air.
Citing inside sources, AppleInsider reported in early September that Apple is working on a power adapter that draws more wattage than today's iPads but far less than a MacBook Air. The site said the power supply is for a new portable product that will be released in the next year. It speculated the product could be for a plus-size iPad, or perhaps even an iOS notebook -- conjecture that lines up with the aforementioned supply chain reports.
4. The A7 processor will bring desktop-class power to the iPad.
The iPhone 5s's 64-bit A7 processor is more powerful than desktop chips were just a few years ago. The 5s benefits from the extra power, but the A7 could really shine in devices with larger screens. In addition to providing more computational muscle, 64-bit processing allows a device to support far more than 4 GB of RAM. The 5s uses only 1 GB -- but a 13-inch, Retina-equipped iPad hybrid would demand much more.
5. Apple's A7 chip could allow an iPad to run PC-style apps.
If Apple introduces a larger iPad with a keyboard, more apps will have to accommodate both touch-oriented and laptop-style operation. Apple's iOS 7 documentation teases the possibility of an iOS device that runs desktop apps, noting that "the architecture for 64-bit apps on iOS is almost identical to the architecture for OS X apps, making it easy to create a common code base that runs in both operating systems."
OS X and iOS already share certain aesthetic cues, and are becoming increasingly connected via iCloud. But the documentation's tone, which superficially evokes Microsoft's Windows 8 strategy, suggests deeper convergence is in the cards. The current iPad is too different from a laptop to make a unified code base broadly appealing -- but a 13-inch iPad with attachable keyboard could be a different story.