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Apple's dilemma: 'Surface-ify' the iPad?

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 9, 2015
Analysts wrestle with whether Apple will arm a larger iPad Pro with its own keyboard.

If Apple is to Surface-ify the iPad, it must take control of the keyboard, Moorhead argued. "Apple has to make it be the best, particularly if it's part of a case," he said. "A keyboard needs to pull power from the iPad, it has to be backlit."

"An iPad keyboard must really work well when [the device is] open, it can't fall over or be awkward," added Gottheil as he criticized some of the existing third-party options.

The idea of a keyboard-equipped iPad would not be controversial if Apple's CEO hadn't dissed the concept. In October 2012, shortly after Microsoft introduced its first Surface tablet, chief executive Tim Cook called it "a fairly compromised and confusing product," and in the next breath, compared it to "a car that flies and floats."

A few months earlier, Cook had been even more dismissive of 2-in-1 devices. "Anything can be forced to converge," Cook told Wall Street analysts in April 2012. "You begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn't please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."

Walking back the toaster-refrigerator and flying-floating-car comments may take some fancy dancing, but Apple hasn't been averse to eating its words. Long after co-founder and at-the-time CEO Steve Jobs waved off smaller tablets as a joke, Apple introduced the iPad Mini.

Nor has Apple hesitated to enter a market as follower rather than leader, religiously ignoring what ridicule is heaped upon it for by those who see copying, as with Apple Music this summer.

But an Apple-branded keyboard isn't assured, as the analysts pointed out. Evidence of one has been virtually invisible -- few Apple products escape the leak industry that is the company's supply chain -- which points to either no keyboard or one that has yet to start production.

An iPad Pro sans keyboard would still be useful, Gottheil reasoned. "I can see both artistic and data analytics apps where more inches [of screen] would pay off," he said. "And doing quite well in field work, like service manuals, where a lot of data or text on the screen at the same time pays off."

In the end, keyboard or not, Apple hopes to restart iPad growth with a larger screen, the experts said. With sales down in the last six quarters, and in seven of the last nine, the company's wait for an elusive replacement cycle hasn't worked.

"[An iPad Pro] is part of Apple's grand plan for the next five years," asserted Moorhead, who was bullish on the prospects of a larger tablet making inroads into the workplace as, like Microsoft's Surface Pro 3, a substitute for a notebook.


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