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Apple's interest in supersized iPad signals mimicry of Microsoft

'2-in-1' could be in the cards, say analysts, envisioning a Surface-like iOS productivity device

July 22, 2013 04:20 PM ET

Computerworld - Apple's reported interest in a larger iPad tablet with a 13-in. screen shows that the Cupertino Calif. company is thinking along some of the same lines as its rival Microsoft, analysts said today.

"A 13-in. iPad would be an improved productivity device, particularly when connected by a wireless keyboard, [and] would be like a Windows 8 detachable," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email Monday. "The improvement in content creation and editing [would come from] being able to see more of the content."

Moorhead and others envisioned a larger iPad -- Apple's current tablet line maxes out at 9.7-in. -- as a hybrid combining traits of traditional personal computers and touch-enabled tablets.

Microsoft has placed a huge bet on that category -- which it dubs "2-in-1" to reflect the dual threat -- by pitching its own Surface line as such, and encouraging its OEM partners to get more creative in what defines a PC.

Is Apple leaning that way, too?

Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal, citing sources at Apple's Asian component suppliers, claimed the U.S. company has asked for designs and prototypes of 13-in. tablet screens.

While Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, could see a 13-in. iPad as simply a supersized tablet -- a "coffee table tablet," as he put it -- that size would also lend itself to a thin, battery-sipping device somewhere between Apple's current tablets and its MacBook Air.

"Apple long ago gave up the keyboard-based device market outside of the wealthiest countries," said Gottheil, referring to Apple's miniscule personal computer market share. "But with the price and portability of a tablet, a way to couple the keyboard with the tablet and some basic windowing in iOS, they could complement the MacBook Air on the lower [price] end."

If Apple was serious about a bigger iPad -- as the Wall Street Journal noted, prototypes do not a shipping product make -- Carolina Milanesi of Gartner also imagined it as a 2-in-1, but by necessity.

"A 13-in. [iPad] would only make sense if it came with a clamshell design and a detachable screen, as a piece of glass that big needs securing," said Milanesi via email. "But it also implies a use case more similar to a notebook, [that] basically you sit down more than walk around with it."

A move on 2-in-1 devices would require some tap dancing by Apple executives, who have ridiculed Microsoft and its tablet-plus-notebook concept.

In April 2012, CEO Tim Cook dismissed the idea that Apple would imitate Redmond and its partners. "Anything can be forced to converge. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user," Cook said then. "We're not going to that party."

But Apple has retreated from passionately defended positions before.

"Apple could work around [that] with a statement along the lines of, 'People love the iPad so much that it has become their productivity device of choice, and because of that they use it in a more traditional way,'" said Milanesi, putting words in Apple's mouth.

"They have been reluctant to do this," Gottheil acknowledged. "Mostly, I think, because they think Jobs wouldn't have done it. But I can see Jobs doing exactly this. They're not going to lead into that market, but in their minds, iOS is a modern, 21st century OS, the next step in the evolution of operating systems, a hassle-free computing platform."

This article, Apple's interest in supersized iPad signals mimicry of Microsoft, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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