What it is: Apple has patented a unique Macintosh/iPad hybrid idea. The question is will this hybrid ever reach the market?
Microsoft’s Surface tablets were initially slow sellers with the Windows RT version being especially useless. However with the Surface Pro 3 and the upcoming Surface Pro 4, Microsoft has finally started selling a decent number of devices. The Surface Pro is actually best as a super portable laptop with tablet capabilities thrown in like an after thought. Few people are buying Surface Pros because they want a tablet. Most people are buying Surface Pros because they want an ultraportable laptop running the full version of Windows (not the bastardized version of Windows found in Windows RT).
The Surface Pro tries to cram Windows as both a desktop and tablet operating system, but it really succeeds as a desktop operating system first and a tablet operating system second. What Apple has patented in the past is a combination iPad and MacBook device where the iPad plugs into the MacBook chassis and acts like a dumb screen to display OS X programs. The moment you pull the screen out, the screen becomes a full-fledged iPad running iOS. Now you get the operating system optimized for each particular task. OS X is optimized for desktop work while iOS is optimized for tablet use. Unlike trying to force Windows to work as both a desktop and tablet operating system, Apple’s patented idea gives you two operating systems for the price of one.
The real question is whether this is a good idea or not. Right now people have to lug around a MacBook and an iPad, so they often choose one or the other. With this potential hybrid device, they would have no compromises other than potentially higher cost. Then there’s the physical question of whether you could shove any newer iPad into this hybrid device to use as a screen or if you could only buy special iPads that could do this.
Would such a desktop/tablet hybrid appeal to more than a niche market? Apple would still sell dedicated MacBook laptops to people who only want a laptop and dedicated iPads to people who only want an iPad. Then they could sell this hybrid device to people who want both, but could the cost of the hybrid device be lower than buying two separate devices? The weight would be less, but if the cost isn’t less there’s less of a reason to buy one.
Also would people want a MacBook that needs an iPad as a screen? What if you want to upgrade your laptop? Would you need to buy another iPad or could you use the current one as a screen? What if you want a more powerful iPad? Could you buy a different one to act as your laptop’s screen? Having more products to sell means also more inventory to worry about and more compatibility issues to wreck everything.
The biggest obstacle to this hybrid device beyond the physical clumsiness of making one will be the long-term convergence of the iPad getting more powerful and the MacBook getting smaller and lighter. With a more powerful iPad or a MacBook just as light as an iPad, would you really want both in one device?
This rumored hybrid device is more like a temporary bridge to convergence than a long-term product line. For that reason, it’s unlikely we’ll see this hybrid device any time soon. The longer we wait for it, the less likely it will appear as iPads get more powerful and MacBooks get thinner and lighter.