A Big Honking iPad Could Roll Right Over Apple's Speed Bump
While the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is working to establish itself as the perfect tweener device between tablet and laptop, one hot rumor suggests that Apple's answer for more working space on an iPad will come in the form of a bigger screen -- 12.9 inches of touch-sensitive glory.
The rumor comes from Bloomberg, which vaguely noted that Apple's suppliers are preparing to manufacture the largest-ever iPad, citing "people with knowledge of the matter."
The only way a source could get more vague than that is if the cited source were a little birdie that happened to fly by the reporter.
So is it true?
It sounds true. It smells true -- but it may be supposition and guesswork. For instance, if the screen is a key component in the manufacturing process, and the screen manufacturer is the supplier, someone who has knowledge of the manufacturer might leap to a conclusion that the screen is destined for use in a 12.9-inch iPad.
OK, that's all well and good, but consider this: There also has been a persistent rumor making the rounds that Apple would produce a 12-inch redesigned MacBook Air with a Retina display. If screens were indeed related to the source of this rumor, the supplier components easily could be intended for a new MacBook Air -- and based on Intel's processor road map, the first quarter of 2015 might be the right timing for delivery of said redesigned MacBook Air.
The Rumor Makes Sense
Because Apple has hooked up with IBM in an effort to expand its influence in the enterprise, it stands to reason that the company could make a larger iPad to cater to work environments. A bigger screen gives business-oriented apps more space to deliver information and presumably makes a touchscreen easier to use.
A larger touchscreen could get additional play in fixed environments -- mounted on desks, counters, roving carts or medical equipment.
A larger iPad also could work wonders as a TV replacement for many families, doubling as a traveling device and game or education app-playing machine. Can it compete with the recently announced 20-inch Fuhu BIG Nabi tablet, which is designed for kids and promises to make tablet playtime less solitary? As if letting children play more easily on a tablet is a good thing in the first place. Parents will be the ultimate judges here, of course.
There are other 20-inch class tablets already on the market, but none seem to be clear market leaders in any meaningful way. Physical screen size isn't enough of a draw to offset the desire to buy into a particular operating system and app ecosystem.
Perhaps the biggest reason a much larger iPad makes sense is simply the desire of all sorts of consumers and businesses to have tablets sized to fit their interests and needs. One tablet model to rule them all is a concept that's long gone as the space has matured -- even for Apple's customers.
Does It Matter?
During Apple's financial earnings call earlier this summer, CEO Tim Cook and crew reported a dip in iPad sales, which analysts jumped on to attempt to extract meaning beyond supply chain constraints and timing issues with consumers. Is the tablet just a dying fad? Evolving into hybrid tablet/laptops like the Surface Pro 3? Or is Apple's iPad losing its bright-screened luster?
Just this week, it turns out, Cook told Re/code's Walt Mossberg that he couldn't be happier with the first four years of what Apple has done with the iPad. He acknowledged and dismissed the sales slump in one sentence: "I'd call what's going on recently a speed bump, and I've seen that in every category."
When it comes to business and enterprise use, I have no doubt that the tablet form factor will continue to be desired -- it's just so portable that it will fit into all sorts of modes of computing where users don't often have a desk to work from anyway.
Selling IBM Big Data enterprise apps, on the other hand, is a message best left to IBM. If Apple starts to spin the 12.9-inch iPad as an enterprise workhorse -- without a keyboard -- the extra new size option could turn into a hindrance and simply create more market awareness of hybrid form factors.
So here is what I think will happen if this 12.9-inch iPad comes to market without any other form-factor enhancements like a keyboard case, keyboard dock, or keyboard cover system. Apple's "speed bump" will seem to disappear as IBM sells more iPads to the enterprise, and hungry iPad buyers waiting for the next version see what their options are. The sales figures will be sweet for the next two or three quarters.
Meanwhile, the consumers who made Apple great will mostly shrug their shoulders. They have another size choice. Great! Some will yawn. The haters will do a little touchdown dance.
The criticism that Apple is no longer innovating in eye-popping ways will grow bolder, bigger. Of course, if Apple actually delivers an iWatch -- boom, the company gets an innovation pass for another year.
The 12.9-inch iPad becomes just another item in the product lineup, while Apple sentiment and attention are laser-focused on the iWatch. If it even arrives, that is.