iOS 8 split-screen hints at iPad's enterprise ambition

Chatter about multi-app display might be Apple figuring out how to boost tablet sales to businesses

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Her thinking wasn't from left field, as Cook spoke kindly about Office last month, perhaps giving Apple-ologists another clue of its iPad intentions. "I do see that Office is still a very key franchise in the enterprise, in particular," Cook said. "And I think having it on iPad is good, and I wholeheartedly welcome Microsoft to the App Store to sell Office. Our customers are clearly responding in a good way that it's available. So, I do think it helps us, particularly in the enterprise area."

An iPad designed with Office's kind of productivity in mind would benefit enormously from split-screen -- Word open on one side, Excel on the other -- probably also a detachable keyboard, making it the kind of hybrid 2-in-1 modeled by Microsoft's Surface and similar devices from other Windows OEMs.

"Split-screen gives you something to do with all that space of a larger iPad," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analysts at Moor Insights & Strategy. "So it fits in with the rumored larger commercial device."

Like O'Donnell, Moorhead saw an Apple push, whether explicit or through the backdoor of BYOD (bring your own device), as a way to grow sales. "It's really about what they have left to conquer, isn't it?" said Moorhead. "The last bastion [of the PC] is the commercial market. And although the iPad has been pretty successful in the vertical [business] markets, with a side-by-side [multi-app view] it would give the iPad more of a horizontal commercial application."

But some remain skeptical of the split-screen rumor.

"iOS gaining access to multiple screens would chip away at another advantage the Mac has versus the iPad," noted Ross Rubin of Reticle Research on his Techpressive blog.

Apple has become famous for its stance on cannibalization -- it's always better to cannibalize oneself rather than let someone else do it, and rake in the dollars you're losing -- so perhaps that wouldn't stop Apple. Except Cook has slammed 2-in-1s, devices that try to be a part-time tablet, a part-time PC, once deriding them as akin to creating a combination toaster-refrigerator, then again as "a fairly compromised and confusing product" analogous to "a car that flies and floats."

That doesn't mean Apple wouldn't add split-screen to iOS, nor that it would never build a bigger iPad. There's plenty of time for Apple to change its mind, as it has notably in the past on big decisions like the iPad Mini or selling e-books. Notably, Cook hasn't mocked hybrids since 2012.

"Businesses move much, much more slowly than the world actually thinks," said O'Donnell, implying that Apple doesn't have to shove its way into the enterprise overnight. "Businesses are notoriously conservative."

"Apple may want to keep the MacBook and iMac as their PCs," said Milanesi, "but they have to be wondering about the next step for the iPad, too, because as time goes by, the line between the two is going to get very, very blurred."

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

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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