"If Microsoft and their partners are successful in making 'convertibles' the standard laptop configuration over time, will Apple be forced to follow suit? How long can they stick with their 'laptop is a laptop and a tablet is a tablet' focus if a convertible becomes something business and consumers really want?" asked Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies in a piece posted two weeks ago to Tech.pinions (subscription required).
Because Apple has limited touch to iOS, Bajarin was confident that any Surface Book-esque move by the Cupertino, Calif. company would rely on that operating system, not its desktop OS X. "My best guess is Apple uses iOS on any device that needs a touch interface. Which means, if they do a convertible, it would be iOS based. And they would keep the Mac and OS X focused on the trackpad and very keyboard-centric."
Bajarin also pointed out that, while the reviews of the Surface Book have been largely upbeat, it was no sure thing that Microsoft's vision would result in a decisive pivot by customers to devices that looked and felt like a laptop, but offered a tablet option.
Microsoft's somewhat-similar Surface Pro line, now in its fourth generation, may have boosted the Redmond, Wash. company's revenue, but unit sales of the portfolio have been puny in the context of the total notebook market. In Microsoft's 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the company booked $3.6 billion in Surface revenue, which translated to between 3 and 4 million devices. During that same span, global sales of traditional laptops were in excess of 150 million.
Others were less certain than Bajarin that Apple would react with something similar to the Surface Book, even if that device -- or its design -- took off in the Windows world.
"It's conceivable," said Gottheil when asked whether Apple would build an iOS-powered laptop. Instead, he thought it much more likely that Apple would retain the wall between iOS and OS X, with the former sticking to tablet form factors -- albeit ones sometimes accompanied by a slim keyboard -- and the latter to notebook and desktop designs.
"The point is, though, that a device with a good integration of a keyboard and stylus with a tablet-based operating system is a great tool for lots of people," Gottheil said. He called such a combination -- essentially the iPad Pro when equipped with the Smart Keyboard -- a "simplified PC."
"This actually fits Jobs' vision," Gottheil added. "A PC or a Mac is a truck. It does everything, but it's not exactly fun to drive."
In 2010, Apple co-founder -- and at the time, CEO -- Steve Jobs compared PCs to trucks, tablets to cars. "PCs are going to be like trucks," Jobs said then. "They're still going to be around, they're still going to have a lot of value, but they're going to be used by one out of X people."
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