Time for a MacBook Air and iPad 2-in-1

Summary:Imagine a MacBook Air with the latest version of OS X. Thin and light laptop with everything you expect from Apple. Until you detach the Retina Display and discover it’s a full iPad Air.

MacBook iPad hybrid

Hybrid computers, laptops with detachable screens becoming a tablet, started with Android systems and are now being made by major Windows PC makers. They offer dual functionality as laptops and tablets, although not everyone likes Windows on the tablet.

Now picture this scenario: you take your MacBook Air out of your gear bag, open the lid and you're working away as usual with the familiar OS X desktop. No delays, just get to work. You do all the work functions as usual with your thin and light MacBook Air.

After a while you want to do some simple things, perhaps check your social networks or read a book. You hit a button near the screen, pull the display off the keyboard and your iPad Air presents the familiar iOS home screen.

I am convinced that a device with a dual Apple personality could be a big hit with both consumers and the enterprise. A full laptop and iPad in one would be a great value to most Mac and iPad owners.

The hardware

On the surface it doesn't seem like a stretch for Apple to build one of these hybrid systems. Put some sort of hinge on the 11.6-inch MacBook Air portion, which shouldn't have to be changed much otherwise, and you have a familiar MacBook Air with benefits.

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The OS X laptop components would be in the keyboard unit as they are now with standard MacBooks. Apple wouldn’t have to change a thing, just leave the laptop guts where they are now.

The same applies to the iPad unit. The iPad Air wouldn't have to be changed much since it's already just a pound in weight and so thin. Leave a full iPad system inside just as it is now. The hardware should automatically switch between the two. With the iPad connected to the MacBook Air, OS X is run using the Intel processor. Detach the iPad from the keyboard and it runs iOS with the tablet processor.

What Apple could do with the merged unit to increase value is let the MacBook share the battery life of the iPad. It wouldn't do so unless the MacBook battery ran dry, but imagine a MacBook Air with 20 hours of operation away from an outlet. One with a touch screen at that.

Another way this hybrid could bring value to owners is to let the MacBook use the 4G LTE in the iPad unit. MacBooks have long needed integrated LTE, and this could happen with little effort on Apple's part.

The software

This is where such a hybrid from Apple would have a big advantage over Windows hybrids. When the display is in place on the MacBook the system would run standard OS X. It would be just like the MacBook Air today, and the iPad would only function as a screen.

There is no need to get fancy and have a dual OS function on the laptop. That would complicate things so just run OS X as a laptop.

The magic would happen when you detach the iPad from the laptop. This would force an instantaneous switch to iOS. The iPad would work just like iPads have always worked. This lets the tablet run a real mobile OS, rather than saddle it with a full desktop OS. That avoids the hurdle Microsoft is trying to jump over with Windows 8. It does too much on the tablet and many are not comfortable with that.

Some will no doubt say that Apple should let the user switch between the two OSes, but I say absolutely not. I don't see a need to make the two sides of the hybrid exchange data, either. The cloud is already there to do that. The key is keep both the Mac and iPad operation exactly as it is now. They are already familiar, and that's a big selling point

Benefits to Apple

Building the MacBook Air/ iPad Air 2-in-1 (MacBook Ultimate?) would do several things for Apple. First, it would address those clamoring for a MacBook Air with a Retina Display.

Second, this could play into the IBM alliance for the enterprise by offering a one-size-fits-all laptop and tablet for the corporate world.

Last but not least, those wanting a bigger iPad would have one with this 11.6-inch tablet to fit the MacBook Air. It's a win all around for the folks in Cupertino.

This hybrid from Apple would be big in both the consumer and enterprise spaces. Many MacBook owners also have an iPad and would see immediate value in having both with one unit. I predict Apple would sell over a million of these things in a very short period after launch.

Such a dual purpose device would appeal to the enterprise, too. It's easier to deploy one device than two, and cheaper to maintain. Throw in special software from IBM into the mix and you have what could be the best enterprise-class mobile device in the corporate world.

See related:

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iOS, iPad, Laptops

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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