Apple introduced the iPad as a device that lived between the iPhone and the Mac, but that characterization seems quaint given the changes the tablet has seen in the past decade. Indeed, judging by much of its evolution, Apple acted as if it had to reckon with the Surface, which arrived hell-bent on proving that there was really no such thing as a tablet, that everything was a PC, that portrait orientation was for people who played candy-themed slot machines and shared selfies to Instagram. But over time, the iPad would get bigger displays, better keyboard accessories, a stylus, a file system and multitasking, even USB-C and a trackpad-controlled cursor!
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Apple ran TV commercials telling people the next computer wouldn't be a computer. The intrigue of that paradox from a marketing perspective was that the iPad changed notions of what a computer was. But the statement could also be taken literally. After all, if Apple was changing the landscape of iPads, shouldn't it really change the iPad in landscape, moving the location of that front-facing camera to fix the sidelong glance in video chats? Should it not banish all apps that won't auto-rotate when a keyboard is in use? Create some universal way to use iPhone apps when in landscape mode! Offer its own take on a Brydge-like hinged keyboard for better stability?
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Such moves would betray what made the iPad such a hit at its debut -- mobility, simplicity, optimized software, and, yes, affordability, at least at the entry-level. And portrait-only apps were a fact of that life. When Apple touted the iPad's advantages in education versus Chromebooks in Chicago a few years back, it highlighted the camera's augmented reality features. In contrast, few laptops even have rear cameras. When Apple introduced its Magic Keyboard, it didn't allow for portrait orientation (as did the first iPad keyboard dock), but it did provide a quick way to detach and use the iPad off of the desk.
But now it has become clear that there is another reason not to make the iPad sacrifice its portrait-focused features for the deskbound who have long prized its expanded app library and long battery life. For that seems to be exactly what Apple Silicon Macs will offer. With a keyboard connected to a landscape display capped by a front-facing webcam, iPad apps that support multitasking will run in resizable windows on the Mac. (iPhone apps will run in a fixed-size window). Finally, those who prefer the classic clamshell form factor will be able to tap into much of what they have found alluring in the iPad.
As I wrote back in July, though, the key remaining question is at what cost? An oft-neglected point about Apple's iPad line is the range of price points and feature sets it offers. From the $329 baseline iPad to a LIDAR and LTE-equipped 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard topping out a bit over $1,700, iPads accommodate a far wider range of budgets than today's MacBooks. How much, if any, of Apple's savings from Intel's profit margin will it pass on to customers? Launching with a price point below $500 is unlikely, but even a move below $700 would be a huge game-changer for a MacBook, especially for one that could answer many of the needs for those who have long had iPad envy.
When the iPad experience goes sideways
As iPad displays have grown, they have mastered displaying more information and more simultaneous apps. But throw the wrong iPhone app into the mix and the iPad still takes the same hands-off approach it offered at its debut, offering no way to rotate such apps without rotating the device. It's not a pretty portrait.
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In 2012, Apple tried to position iPads as replacing textbooks. Last year, Microsoft tried to position laptops as replacing Chromebooks. Now, Apple needs to hook educators on the power of future-looking tech such as coding and augmented reality.
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