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Toaster, refrigerator, meet tablet, notebook: Apple and Microsoft trade takes on 2-in-1s

Gregg Keizer | May 22, 2014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella pushed the need for blending tablets and notebooks at the unveiling of the Surface Pro 3, countering earlier arguments by Apple CEO Tim Cook that the trade-offs from such devices don't please anybody.

Some saw a clash as inevitable, not because the two companies needed to duke it out — Apple has much bigger threats to its bottom line than Microsoft and its Surface Pro 3, Microsoft arguably has more to worry about from Google than from Apple — but because of a developing tablet trend.

"Apple's already on their own path," said Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, talking about a larger-screen iPad, one with, say, the 12-in. display size of the Surface Pro 3.

With that much glass, an iPad would cry out for a keyboard, she's convinced, if only to make use of the real estate for the kind of productivity tasks that benefit from multiple windows, or a split screen where two apps share the space, like Office.

Her logic? Apple's gone smaller than the original 9.7-in. display to make the iPad Mini. What's left is to go bigger, likely to put the iPad in a better light in business, where Cook has recently expressed a desire to push. "A keyboard would make all the difference, it would give an iPad the full productivity experience," said Milanesi. "I think they need to do something."

And if the iPad took on the space the Surface Pro 3 covets? Milanesi was confident that the former would give as good as it got, even though corporate is predominantly Windows. "Remember, it's the apps and the services that you can run that are also part of the debate. People are developing apps for the iPad in businesses. That's what makes it successful in the enterprise. It's the form factor and the apps. That's why its often easier to being an iPad into the enterprise than a MacBook Air."

With Windows still stuck in the low single digits of tablet shipment share, far fewer companies have bothered to build internal apps for the touch-first "Metro" mode of Windows 8.1. The enterprise mobile app action is in iOS, not Windows or Android.

But what about Cook's toasters-refrigerators slam? Or his likening a 2-in-1 to "a car that flies and floats" a little later?

Apple has eaten its words before. Think the iPad Mini or selling e-books. And more importantly, Cook hasn't mocked the form factor since 2012.

Or maybe everyone has it backwards. Maybe Nadella's talk of toasters and refrigerators wasn't a spur to make Apple compete, but a way for him to say that, in fact, the two companies are on the same hardware page.

Nadella certainly sounded like he could have come from Cupertino.

"We want to build experiences that bring together all the capabilities of our company, from our cloud infrastructure and application services to our hardware capabilities, to build these mobile-first productivity experiences. That's the mission," Nadella said. "Our goal is to create new categories and start new demand for our entire ecosystem. That's what motivates us."

If that's not a little Apple-esque, what is?


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