Return of the iBook?

Return of the iBook?

Summary: The rumor mill is in full cry with reports of a 12-inch iPad, or a 12-inch MacBook Air. But why both? Technical competitive analysis tells us there's an obvious — once you think about it — middle ground that moves Apple both up and down.


The reports — some from respected analysts and others not so much — talk about a 12-or-12.x screen "something" from Apple. One theory is this is the dubbed iPad Pro. The other is a 12-inch MacBook Air with a Retina display.

Conveniently, the 12-inch display would support four-times the pixels of the current 13-inch MacBook Air display as well as the same number of pixels for a current iPad Air. Both are also supposed to be fanless.

But that description raises questions.

Fanless? People do real work on the MacBook Air, so even with a more efficient Intel processor there is still a lot of computing, graphics, and networking overhead. If so, that means a way more efficient processor.

12-inches? The people who want a Retina display, and will pay for it, are the folks who buy the 13-inch MacBook Air today. They want less screen real estate? I know I don't.

Intel or Apple?

At the heart of the question — iPad Air or MacBook Air? — is the processor. Apple's current A7 Cyclone 64-bit dual-core, which Apple tipped as offering desktop-class power, handles demanding games at less than 5W — in a tiny, fanless enclosure.

The upcoming Intel Broadwell chip, expected later this year, was demoed last year running the CPU-intensive Cinebench at less than 5W too. Yet that's with Intel's newest 15nm process, while the A7 does the same today with 28nm technology.

Intel is tight-lipped about their technology, especially when they're having problems, but recent reports have Intel promising volume in time for holiday sales this year. Hardly confidence building.

With a process shrink to 20nm, the A8 would be both faster and have lower power, as well as lower cost. There's technical risk on both sides, but the A8 seems to have the edge on getting to production volumes sooner.

The Storage Bits take

Apple won't introduce two overlapping products as a 12-inch MacBook Air and a 12-inch iPad Pro. They like — and customers appreciate — clear lines between products.

Looking at all the — admittedly speculative — evidence, it looks like Apple is coming out with its first clamshell iOS-based system: A new, revitalized, iBook.

Think about it.

With a 20nm A8 they'll have desktop power with even lower power consumption than Broadwell. The coming multi-window iOS 8 enables a traditional notebook workstyle — which only makes sense on a larger screen.

With less RAM, no Thunderbolt, no Ethernet, smaller SSD — 32GB vs 128 for the MacBook Air — and Apple's own A8 processor, they could come in at a much lower price point too. Not $899, but $699 for a real Apple notebook with a Retina display.

Toss in improved iCloud services and storage and you've got a premium Chromebook competitor that can do more than Google Docs or stream music.

You can work locally, without an Internet connection, on polished iWork and iLife apps. You can create music, edit video, design graphics. Real apps, not a browser window to a real app.

Whether you think of it as an iPad Pro or a MacBook Air Mini, it extends Apple's product lines both up and down: Lower-cost notebook and higher-end iDevice.

While it wouldn't replace my MacBook Air, it would give millions of iOS customers a new reason to buy. For the tech-averse, it would be the hassle-free notebook that Chromebooks strive to be, but with the power to replace most business notebooks.

Topics: Apple, Intel, Storage, Google Apps

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  • Good analysis with well reasoned speculation

    I hope your vision comes true.
    • Speculation

      It's probably true. It's safe to assume that tech giants know about each other's secret products, so it would match with the Surface Pro 3 release.
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  • That would be a nice evolution instead of revolution

    It would make sense: a clamshell iOS device. We all know Apple would love to have one single platform and this move would straighten the path to get there in due time.
    Whether techies like it or not: consumers love iOS a lot more than Android so I guess lots of them would go for an iOS laptop once their current device needs replacement
    • What in the world makes you think Apple would love

      to have one single platform? There has been ZERO evidence the company is in the least bit interested in unifying iOS and OS X. Name me ONE iOS interface paradigm that has moved from iOS to OS X, or one OS X interface paradigm that has made the move to iOS.

      This talk that Apple wants to unify iOS and OS X is nothing more than hot air intended to give credibility to MS's schizophrenic Windows 8 operating system.
      • Why would they merge iOS with OSX?

        Having it all run on Ax chipsets is a big win, along with having one unified code base.

        (This is a 5 year goal; not for now.)
        pk de cville
      • Name me ONE iOS interface paradigm that has moved from iOS to OS X

        The Launchpad on current versions of OSX look a lot like the iOS springboard to me:
        • While not untrue

          Launcher is a somewhat obscure program that you don't even see unless you do a four fingered gesture on the trackpad. Its a pretty minor player in the OS X world (I actually like it, which is why I know the gesture.)
          • Launchpad (not Launcher)

            In addition to the four-fingered gesture, Launchpad can also be accessed via a single function key which is labeled for this use. On my Apple Bluetooth keyboard, it's F4, although I've seen the predefined functions migrate on various MacBook keyboards. Mission Control even lets you define your own method of accessing it and other features, including using Hot Corners. So it may not be as obscure or minor as you think.
      • iOS to osX

        Although I agree with you that Apple DOES NOT want one OS for both ipad and osx, the ipad has influenced osX as of late... Launchpad, gestures (on track pad), and soon, the icons on osX will be flat like iPad....
  • It would be a good product

    I love my Windows RT laptop (Yoga 11), but I know I'll have to give it up eventually because this product gained absolutely no traction in the market against Intel-based Windows 8 laptops. I love the desktop-free simplicity of apps on a traditional clamshell form-factor, and while Microsoft is giving up on that I'd happily jump ship to iOS if Apple made a similar product.
  • Cheap laptop - not tablet

    Apple has commanded higher prices for many years because they were a better product than the generic PC. They commanded higher prices because some were elitist. Part of the cost is truly an uncompromising design that refuses to be inferior for the sake of a cheaper model. Part of the ability to charge more is because of the nut-job down the street who flaunts expensive stuff that not everyone can afford. Neither is likely to disappear, though being one of the elite should be possible based on making a smart choice, rather than mere elimination of the non-elite because of income alone.

    Tablets have a purpose. They really do. Replacing a real computer isn't it.

    I think we're at the cusp where Apple needs a $200 computer, and ideally a laptop at that $200 price point. It needs to run Mac OS X, not iOS. It needs good resolution, though a retina display isn't necessary. 1280x800 / 1440x900 would be a good compromise.

    - Usable display resolution (see above)
    - 10"-13" would be a good target for physical screen size.
    - Cheap hard drive option (Ideally a standard 2.5" HDD)
    - Multiple USB 2 or better (At least 2 ports. USB3 if the same cost)
    - Mini-display port would be nice.
    - This budget unit need not be crazy ultra thin.
    - Wireless would be nice.
    - Bluetooth would be nice, but could be reserved for an extra upgrade charge.

    The world went from no computers > to main frames & dumb terminals > to desktops > to cloud (basically main frames & dumb terminals.) In many ways, we're seeing a reduction in total processing power needed. A multi-core Atom processor or similar x86 compatible processor might be a good avenue. Not looking to ARM just yet.
    • Needs?

      Apple doesn't need to make a $200 computer. First of all, they make billions of billions of dollars doing what they do best - beautiful devices that work wonderfully well. They are not in danger of going out of business. Second, find a halfway decent $200 windows machine. You may be able to find a tablet for $250+. An 8" tablet. Most laptops are still $300 plus, for basic functionality. Maybe you should say "I really WANT apple to make a $200 laptop". That might be more accurate.

      If you want a cheap computer, the Mac mini is only $500. If you want a cheap tablet, for mobile browsing, it's easy to find. If you want a top notch computer or tablet, you will pay for it. Even Microsoft doesn't make cheap Surface tablets or computers.
  • "a real Apple notebook"?

    You call out many of the differences between tablets and notebooks that show this device to be a tablet, and then call it a "real Apple notebook":

    "With less RAM, no Thunderbolt, no Ethernet, smaller SSD — 32GB vs 128 for the MacBook Air — and Apple's own A8 processor, they could come in at a much lower price point too. Not $899, but $699 for a real Apple notebook with a Retina display."

    Apart from the lack of RAM, storage, and connectivity, the primary thing is that it doesn't have MacOS, so it wouldn't run existing Mac applications. This would be a clamshell tablet, not a micro-notebook. Or maybe they'll just call it, iBook RT?
    • "a real Apple notebook"?

      Or a slightly bigger iPad with a keyboard wielded on.

      Mouse support?
  • OSX RT?

    It's already been rumored that Apple are working towards convergence. Maybe, ARM or Atom, this is the device that'll do it. At 12in the form factor would be large enough to support a full-sized keyboard, if the aspect ratio is 16:9, and certainly the "full-sized" MacBook keyboards. Apple would also have the benefit of working on monitors of that size and aspect ratio, in the form of the MacBook Air, so they would also know which features to add, in order to use the extra space, and which to leave out. It could be, the MacBook Air Air, so to speak.
    • It's been rumored for years

      that Apple is working toward convergence. In spite of the fact that the past two iOS and OS X releases have had absolutely NO elements of either OS moving to the other.
      • Dual boot

        How about a dual boot convertible Mac? osx for laptop type stuff, convert to tablet and boot to ios. It sound intriguing to me.
      • Rumored by whom?

        Apple has stated numerous times they have no plans to merge the two.
  • Not everyone is as fortunate as you

    Your repeated bashes at anything not Apple is really concerning. Chromebooks are not meant for people to do work on. Even some of the more popular advertisements of Chromebooks indicate that they're meant for education. For kids and schools where full desktop computers are rarely used to their full capability. These are economic devices meant for kids to learn educational information. These are devices meant for older generation to learn about technology. The Chromebook does not "strive" to be a full laptop. The Chromebook is meant to be low-end and strips away all the OS hassles.