The Case for a Bigger, Badder iPad
Jul 25, 2013 5:00 AM PT
There are some trends in the wind, and from what I'm seeing, I'm wondering if we're not heading toward a larger iPad. First, Mac sales were down a bit last quarter. No big deal -- there haven't been any major upgrades, and the MacBook Air upgrade came late in June. Sold well, apparently. While Apple's Mac sales haven't been slipping and sliding like PC sales, clearly an awful lot of traditional computing has shifted to smartphones and tablets.
Personally, even when a laptop is relatively handy, I'll see friends, family, colleagues and strangers look up things on their smaller mobile devices -- even for email and Web browsing -- rather than go mess around with a laptop or PC that's just a few feet away. As for myself, I'm more likely to download a TV show or movie from iTunes to my iPhone or iPad and then stream it to my Apple TV than I am to download it to my MacBook Pro or directly to my Apple TV. Why?
Here's why: easy portability and the ability to pick up where I left off without worrying about moving things around -- and that's when I'm stuck at home!
Workers Are Still Using Old-School Macs and PCs
This isn't to say that workers aren't using Macs and PCs. They are -- for hours and hours. Still, a lot of activity is undeniably shifting to tablets and smartphones.
Fact is, there are a lot of cool and natural touch-based apps available on iOS that you can't get on a Mac. Previously, I've wanted a touchscreen -- at least in an iMac form factor -- for the kitchen. Quite handy there. But a touchscreen MacBook Air for everyday work purposes, for hours on end? I'm not sure I'd find swiping my screen any better than swiping the trackpad.
Frankly, I find the iPad lacking in two core areas when it comes to any sort of serious work, and therein lies the opportunity.
The first is multitasking, which is a pain in the butt if you're trying to move between apps and see content from multiple apps or websites.
The second is the size of the screen. I'm not talking about pixel density so much as usable screen real estate. If I have to strain to see a Web page, that's not cool for any sort of work effort, much less to touch and tap anything.
Both of these problems could be alleviated with a larger iPad, despite Apple's fetish for making things smaller and prettier.
Imagine an iPad the size of a sheet of notebook paper -- 8.5 x 11 inches. It's not so huge as to be unmanageable, but it could result in a very nice upgrade in screen size. There'd be more room for playing games and watching video, of course, and suddenly Web browsing would become more enjoyable. Working with spreadsheets and enterprise apps would be more efficient. Of course, writing -- being able to see more of what you're doing -- would be more compelling.
A larger iPad would open up the possibility of a truly usable split-screen environment: Write on one side, browse on the other.
What's the pixel density? Would it still be "Retina?" This I'm not so worried about. Apple doesn't avoid creating products because designing them would be hard. The question comes back to whether it's worthwhile -- if there are enough people out there who want a bigger iPad.
Intuitively, the answer seems to be "no." Do you see a lot of Dell XPS 18 big-butt tablets sitting around? How about the Sony Vaio Tap 20 in all its 20-inch glory? Not so much.
Still, I think we're transitioning into the next phase of the tablet, and smaller isn't necessarily the new sweet spot -- especially for iPad owners who already have one or two in their households.
The MacBook Air Ain't iOS
While the MacBook Air is wicked-thin and sports all-day battery life, it's still not a workhorse Mac for many people who work work work all day long on a Mac -- or more likely, a PC. Serious Apple-using workers tend to use heavy MacBook Pros, iMacs or Mac Pros. Not all -- but I'll wager the majority does.
As for the PC, there's a lot of Bring Your Own Device action going on in businesses these days, but that's limited to tablets and smartphones. So the locked-down work unit is often a PC. Try convincing management to buy a MacBook Air so you can travel light. Ha ha.
Oh, but you can easily and quickly connect an iPad to enterprise resources.
Suddenly an iPad seems more doable, and it's not a replication of a PC/Mac resource. Most traveling workers can futz through some work on an iPad. I see lots of people doing this already. At conferences, they used to pull out laptops. Now it's iPads, many of which are in special cases that come with keyboards. Heck, I often travel with a laptop and my iPad, and what do I use when I want to squeeze in a little work before a plane arrives? Before a meeting? My iPad.
So I can see a future when a larger iPad fills a new "pro" sort of niche, which would obviously include enthusiasts who love media, games, and browsing on a bigger screen. For those sorts of users, snagging an external keyboard or keyboard/case combo isn't a big deal -- but Apple could certainly create one, too. With magnets even.
Right now, my next iPad is not going to be an iPad mini -- too close to my iPhone to bother with. A fresh iPad with today's form factor? Uh -- only when my current iPad actually fails to launch or starts smoking. A bigger new iPad? I'd give one a long and serious look.