PC & Servers

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.
6. An iPad hybrid could offset falling Mac sales.

Apple's MacBooks and iMacs were initially unaffected by the PC market's decline. That's no longer the case; the industry-wide slump has now stretched for six consecutive quarters, and in the most recent one, Apple's computers fared worse than the market average.

The company could bounce back in the current quarter; it just launched new iMacs and is about to release OS X Mavericks, the redesigned Mac Pro and, presumably, new MacBook Pros with Intel's energy-efficient Haswell chips. But if Apple senses that its OS X machines are poised for long-term decline, a 13-inch iPad could make sense. It could cannibalize MacBook sales, but based on Reitzes' estimates, it could also sell more units than all the current MacBooks combined, maintain high profit margins and potentially discourage the sales of scores of Windows hybrids.

7. The revamped iWork suite might signal an iPad that is more productivity oriented.

Apple recently made its mobile productivity software iWork available as a free download with new iOS 7 devices. The company will also release new desktop versions later this year, as well as a cloud-based version that's been in public preview for the last several months.

Several possibilities could explain Apple's iWork motivation. The company could believe its ecosystem needs productivity software to compete with Microsoft and Google. iWork also pressures Microsoft to make its eventual release of Office for the iPad both excellent and aggressively priced. But if Apple wanted to prove that iOS is the best mobile platform for both work and play, a 13-inch, keyboard-equipped iPad that runs iWork could be a good start.

8. There's a demonstrated market for an iPad hybrid.

A Forrester study published over the summer found that 62% of information workers are interested in using tablets with keyboards. This interest hasn't yet propelled sales of Windows hybrid devices, which suggests two possibilities: 1) the survey overstates interest or 2) many users want keyboard-equipped tablets but prefer iOS to Windows 8 and Windows RT.

There's additional evidence of the second possibility. As Forrester analyst Johnson noted, many iPad users have already turned to third-party keyboards. There appears to be demand, in other words, for an iPad designed for both touchscreen and keyboard use, a combination the rumored 13-inch model could deliver.

Analysts also believe hybrid devices could become more popular in the enterprise, as they allow employees to have both a laptop and a tablet experience but only require IT to manage a single device. Apple doesn't currently have anything to offer these customers -- but an iPad hybrid would change that.