6 Reasons iPad Hybrid Tablets Are Inevitable

Apple's chief executive says he won't consider an iPad that transforms into a laptop. Here's why he may not have any choice in the matter.

Paul McDougall, Editor At Large, InformationWeek

April 26, 2012

4 Min Read

8 Tablets That Will Run Windows 8 Now

8 Tablets That Will Run Windows 8 Now

8 Tablets That Will Run Windows 8 Now (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Apple CEO Tim Cook this week sniffed at hybrid tablet-laptops, like those made by Microsoft and its partners, likening them to an ungainly cross between a refrigerator and a toaster. Cook's remarks weren't surprising. After all, why tout a product you don't offer. But the missing word here is "currently."

There's a number of reasons why it's likely Apple will eventually offer an iPad tablet that converts to a laptop. Here's a look at some of the most compelling.

1. MacBook Losing Air
The iPad is taking a big bite out of PC sales, and it's not just a problem for Microsoft and its OEMs. The iPad is also cannibalizing Apple's laptop lineup, including the MacBook Air. iPad sales were up 132% in the second quarter. By contrast, sales of Mac OS-based portables fell 1%.

Apple won't kill the MacBook Air anytime soon--at a minimum price of $999, it drives big profits. But it's becoming a niche, luxury product. Apple will eventually need to launch an iOS-based laptop for the iPad-addicted masses.

[ Find out why Apple's Cook Won't Find Peace From Competitors. ]

2. Differential Equations
When a product becomes dominant like the iPad, the market tends to get saturated. New versions can drive further sales, but there are only so many bells and whistles that can be added. At some point, Apple will need to introduce iPads in differentiated form factors to maintain momentum. It's already said to be planning an iPad mini. An iPad hybrid could spark demand at the other end of the spectrum.

3. Apple Hybrids Might Not Stink
Cook wasn't far off when he said that most of today's hybrid tablet-laptops are like the ungainly offspring of two kitchen appliances (so that's what they're up to at night). But they don't have to be. If any company has the aesthetic sense to produce a hybrid that is sleek and appealing, it's Apple. But if Cook is true to Steve Jobs' legacy, it won't happen until Cupertino can get it just right.

4. Platform Unification
Microsoft is pursuing a strategy that will eventually see Windows stretch across desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 reportedly already share much of the same codebase.

That's a big selling point for consumers and business users who want to access the same apps and services regardless of whether they're at home, in the office, or on the road. Apple could match that proposition by ultimately merging iOS and the Mac OS. If that happens, hybrids would surely be part of the product mix.

5. Windows Hybrids Will Get Better
With some exceptions, most Windows hybrids on the market today are either too bulky to function as a true tablet or too underpowered to be a true laptop. But that doesn't mean it's going to stay that way. Microsoft is working with some partners that really know how to innovate around hardware, including Nokia, and it's only a matter of time before those partnerships yield a winner.

A Windows 8 hybrid that is light and fast, yet fully functional as a desktop and reasonably priced, could put a big dent in iPad sales. Apple would need to respond.

6. The Enterprise
Captain Kirk wants an iPad hybrid, and dammit Jim, he's going to get one. Kidding aside, Apple needs to crack the enterprise, aka, business, market if it's to continue putting up the big growth numbers investors have gotten used to. Many younger workers are bringing their iPads to the office, but the device is still a bit kludgy when one needs to type a long document or manipulate a spreadsheet. An iPad hybrid that transforms into a laptop at work? Redmond shudders.

It's not likely we'll see an iPad hybrid anytime soon. But soon in the tech business is relative. If Microsoft and its partners get it right with Windows 8 hybrids, soon could be a lot sooner than Tim Cook might want to admit.

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About the Author(s)

Paul McDougall

Editor At Large, InformationWeek

Paul McDougall is a former editor for InformationWeek.

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