Perspective: iPad and the keyboard -- getting inside Apple's head

Noted analyst ponders whether Apple could out-Surface Microsoft, concludes it will do so only if it thinks the category is ripe

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And it's tough to separate the 2-in-1 concept from Microsoft and its Windows 8 strategy of mashing together opposite UIs, one for touch, another for mouse and keyboard. Is the concept itself the barrier to consumer and business acceptance? Or is it Microsoft's execution of that concept?

Bajarin didn't have an answer because, so far, there isn't one. Until someone other than Microsoft and its OEMs tackle the problem -- and Google's Chrome OS, while perhaps a comparative, really isn't because of its anemic app inventory -- no one will know.

But if Apple did, Bajarin was confident the company would do better than its rival. He based that contention in part of the iPhone 5S and 5C launch last month, when Apple ceded the stage to executives from Epic Games, who boasted that they'd turned their Infinity Blade III game into 64-bit to support the new A7 SoC in just two hours.

"I asked an Apple executive how they were able to do this so quickly," Bajarin wrote in a piece on his firm's website (subscription required for some content, including Bajarin's commentary on 2-in-1s). "He said that the game itself was created for the Mac and its 64-bit architecture, but with their software developer tools, all they had to do was modify their system calls for iOS. And since iOS is now 64-bit compatible, it was quite easy for them to make a Mac app work on a 64 bit iOS iPhone."

If that's accurate, Bajarin said, it will put an end to the talk of OS X and iOS merging, a process some view as a prerequisite to an iPad-keyboard combination. "I don't believe they'll blend the two. Instead, they might approach iy through software compatibility at the app layer, not the OS layer. If it's relatively easy to take a Mac app to iOS, then you give developers yet another toolkit and a new palette of hardware to work with," said Bajarin.

An Apple move towards 2-in-1s might be a validation of Microsoft's vision of the personal computing future -- it's famously contended that the world's not dumping PCs, but that the form of PCs is simply morphing -- but it would also be a threat to the Redmond, Wash. company's device strategy and a threat to its decades-long partner, Intel.

"I can see this as a threat to laptops as stand-alone devices," said Bajarin. "If Apple is able to define the iPad with a keyboard as a notebook, it could be very disruptive to both Microsoft and Intel."

It would be disruptive to the former because the bulk of PC sales are the still-traditional clamshell-style notebooks, and PCs will comprise about 85% of the devices shipped next year with Windows, Gartner Research said Monday. And it would be disruptive to Intel because while Apple relies on the chip maker for the processors in its Macs, it uses its own designs, based on the ARM architecture and the ARM instruction set, within the iPad.

By Gartner's reckoning, shipments of traditional PCs will decline 11% this year and fall an additional 7% in 2014. Only the inclusion of what the researcher called "ultramobile," a category incorporating 2-in-1s, will save the PC from those steep declines: Gartner has forecast that about 18.5 million ultramobile devices will ship this year, then more than double to 39.9 million in 2014.

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