Apple Eyes 13-Inch iPad Hybrid? 8 Signs - InformationWeek

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10/11/2013
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Apple Eyes 13-Inch iPad Hybrid? 8 Signs

As Mac sales fall, clues mount that Apple is prepping a 13-inch iPad-laptop hybrid. Microsoft, HP and Dell can't be happy about that.

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For at least the third time since July, reports are circulating that Apple is developing a larger iPad, possibly with an attachable keyboard that would turn it into a notebook, a la Microsoft's Surface tablets.

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.

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Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/15/2013 | 6:11:42 PM
re: Apple Eyes 13-Inch iPad Hybrid? 8 Signs
"Microsoft has the right idea about convergence but they have executed poorly (along with their OEM partners)."

I think that's a pretty fair statement. Some of the pieces are starting to align. I think for a certain type of person, for example, that the new Surface tablets could be terrific devices, thanks in no small part to the fact Microsoft's services look to be much better integrated this time. The old Surfaces were compromised in at least some way regardless of one's needs, but with the new ones, I don't think that's the case. But I still think both tablets are niche products, and Microsoft spent the last year basically negating every good idea it had with some kind of execution error.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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10/15/2013 | 6:07:14 PM
re: Apple Eyes 13-Inch iPad Hybrid? 8 Signs
I can't really speak to whether the 25-30% stat is reasonable. Reitzes seemed to base it off the extent to which tablets have already cannibalized PCs, though if he means 25-30% of the remaining PC market, that would obviously change the comparison a bit. Either way, it's a bullish estimate.

Personally, I probably wouldn't be so bold. I don't think an iPad convertible will announce a new world order overnight.

That said, I have no doubt Apple would sell millions of devices, and that the product could impact Ultrabook and Windows tablet sales in meaningful ways. I agree that many people buy PCs either because they need Windows software, or because they need a more powerful machine. But today, a lot of people need neither power nor Windows software, which is one reason tablets are so popular in the first place. But even these users occasionally have to type, and there's enough data to suggest a lot of them would be interested in a device that gracefully integrates keyboards but still provides a luxury tablet experience, in terms of both build and ecosystem. Some of these people might have bought an iPad alongside a cheap laptop in the past, but now they might go for a single device. I think Apple can live with cannibalizing some of its own iPad sales if it eats into more sales of Windows devices.

And even power users could be attracted to this hypothetical device. It might not run Windows software, but the A7 chips can do things that desktop class chips gained the ability to do only a few years ago. If Apple releases a device and builds a user base, I have little doubt that important apps (e.g. not all of them, but the ones that would be important for this form factor) will follow.

Does this add up to 25-30%? Who knows. But I think it could be more than a few percentage points.

Then again, new supply chain rumors over the weekend suggested Apple will release some kind of new 12-inch MacBook this year. If so, perhaps the iPad convertible isn't as far along as some other rumors have claimed; it's hard to know how Apple would market both a plus-sized, keyboard-equipped iPad alongside a laptop of similar dimensions.
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