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The iPad Pro is a pilot fish for Apple's ARM Laptop

Glenn Fleishman | Sept. 16, 2015
The latest iPad is a distinctly different creature than its predecessors, and Apple openly compared it to a laptop in specs. But is it a sign of even greater convergence?

The chips in Apple’s Mac lineup will outperform mobile-class processors for the foreseeable future, because mobile devices can’t tap into enough power—nor dissipate enough heat—to use the best-performing CPUs and GPUs. Some GPUs calculate specialized operations hundreds of times faster than desktop-class CPUs, which in turn can run dozens of times faster than equivalent mobile chips.

Rather than eschew the fork and take both roads at once, as Microsoft did, I see Apple’s convergence meeting at a paper-thin margin. On one side, trailing off on a curve from cheapest/smallest/slowest to richest/biggest, are iPhones and iPads. On the other side, you’ll see an array from Mac Pro down to MacBook Air.

new macbook primary
As the space between mobile and desktop performance shrinks, people might wind up choosing based on preferred form-factor and which software they need. Credit: Jason Snell

From a use-case perspective, the interstice is very thin between an ARM-based OS X laptop with a MacBook-style keyboard and iPad Pro specs, and an ARM-based iOS tablet with MacBook capabilities but a touchscreen and only an option—not a requirement—for a keyboard. The two devices might even look quite similar, but a buyer will pick one over the other for distinct reasons: the way they input and interact with data, and the range of software they need to use on a daily basis.

We could speculate that Apple is aiming towards hybrid convergence: a single device with the next generation of A-series chip that runs both iOS and OS X as a dual-boot, or is an OS X laptop with all the touch advantages of an iOS system. But Apple doesn’t make these sorts of compromises. It tries to avoid producing equipment that’s neither fish nor fowl—not fully in one world or another.

Rather, the iPad Pro lets Apple test the parameters of how far it can push its current technology toward providing laptop performance without making an underperforming OS X-based ARM system. It’s an experiment the end goal of which isn’t to follow Microsoft down a path already shown to diverge in use case and users’ needs.

Apple doesn’t have to converge entirely. It can have two distinct, parallel, and separately useful general computer operating systems with their own strengths, meeting just in the middle without ever touching. Apple could take the path less traveled by, and it would make all the difference.


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