Can Apple Disrupt the Hybrid PC Market with an iPad Pro?

Apple gets a lot of credit for innovation, but what the company really does is move decisively into existing markets, hone their products to new heights of perfection, and then leave a pile of broken, sad-looking competitors in its profitable wake. The company did this with MP3 players, music services, smart phones and tablets, and it may do so with wearables next. But can a long-rumored iPad Pro run away with the market for hybrid PCs too, leaving today’s leaders like Microsoft Surface as collateral damage?

Betteridge’s law of headlines states that “any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” If only life were that pat and simple. And sadly for Microsoft, Apple can very clearly dominate this market.

The reasoning behind this is simple: Where Windows is still an awkward fit on a tablet—remember, Surface Pro 3 is “the tablet that can replace your laptop”—iPad is already a successful tablet, with a well-understood user experience. Extending the capability of such a device—both the hardware and the software—to handle the basic productivity tasks that most users require is a lot simpler than dumbing down the complex and legacy-heavy Windows to work on a tablet.

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Put another way, yes, I’m sure that Surface Pro 3 and other Windows tablets will continue to be more powerful than iPad Pro. But this distinction won’t matter to the majority of users who neither need that power nor appreciate the ongoing headaches of what is still very much a complex PC.

Put yet another way, Apple has long-running success boiling down complex technology to the basics only—i.e. not doing everything but making sure that what they do support “just works”—whereas Microsoft has an even longer track record of trying to please all users all the time, a practice that results in complex, inconsistent design.

Of course we may be getting ahead of ourselves. The iPad Pro is, for now, just a rumor. But when stories about this device start appearing in such august publications as The Wall Street Journal, it’s probably wise to start paying attention. Here’s what we think we know about this device so far.

The iPad Pro is described as a bigger iPad, with a 12.9-inch screen and a keyboard cover. This puts the device decidedly in Surface Pro 3 territory, if not Ultrabook territory, which should worry any PC maker, not just Microsoft. Were one to get a PC/tablet/hybrid with this type of screen, the result would of course be an unwieldy tablet at best, which can be proven by looking at any similarly sized Windows device today. But the iPad is incredibly thin and light. There is no reason to think the iPad Pro won’t be as well.

According to the WSJ, Apple is currently “considering” putting USB 3.0 ports on the iPad Pro, which tells me two things, if true:

One, this device isn’t coming to market any time soon—such a dramatic decision wouldn’t be made at the last minute. (And sure enough, Reuters is reporting a September release, which is coincidentally when I expect Windows 10 to launch.)

And two, if so equipped, this device will take on PCs in ways previous iPads simply cannot. Again, scary.

PC purists will freak at this sort of conclusion. They will point to Windows 10 for Mobile, which will offer a simpler, desktop-free, Windows Phone-like experience. But I’d argue that the choice between this platform and iPad Pro would fall apart in the face of the iPad’s vastly superior apps ecosystem. And they will point to Windows 10 for PCs, which will indeed be a more acceptable choice for some business customers and power users. But don’t underestimate the allure of Apple: all these guys need to do is show up for the most part. And that may be the scariest thing about iPad Pro of all.

Bottom line, I think Apple should make an iPad Pro. And if they do, the impact on Surface could be devastating.

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