Could Apple's Smart Connector signal an iPad Pro / MacBook hybrid?

What if a future version of the Smart Connector could handle video output? A Mac OS X keyboard base might use an attached iPad as a passive monitor until you remove it for your lean-back tablet use.
Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributor

I've continued to contemplate my next computer purchase to let me just carry one device and the contenders are an iPad Pro, Surface Pro 4 and the Dell XPS 12.

For a week, I used an iPad with Bluetooth keyboard case since that gives me an idea of how well the iOS 9 split-screen apps handle my workflow.

Yes, the smaller 9.7-inch display is limiting for writing hundreds of words daily but clearly the 12.9-inch iPad Pro screen resolves that issue. Missing mouse / trackpad support combined with numerous fields to jab at on-screen to write here are a bit frustrating.

Over the last week, I went back to a Surface Pro 3 with Type Cover and it handles my work needs better than the iPad.

It's falling short when I'm not working though. Fewer apps, mobile apps that don't have Windows equivalents and even apps that are available but occasionally can't be downloaded are the pain points for me. Battery life is worse than on my iPad as well.

However, I did order a Surface Pro 4 with new Type Cover; it shipped today and Microsoft offers a generous return policy.

I don't have a Dell XPS 12 in hand yet but hope to soon. Regardless each of these solutions will require some kind of compromise; it may come down to which of those I want to -- and don't want to -- make.


That got me thinking: The only real compromise I'd need to make for the iPad Pro and what I need a computer to do is the lack of trackpad support.

Yes, iOS 9 does add it via software but you still have to reach out and touch the screen. That's why I tweeted out this week a hope of mine (and some others based on the responses): "I'd love to see "one more thing" in the unreleased iOS 9.2: iPad Pro support for a BT mouse or trackpad."

Then I remembered my colleague Adrian Kingsley-Hughes who said he didn't want an iPad Pro; he wants a Mac OS X tablet. There's merit in that desire too, although OS X isn't touch friendly.

Maybe there's some compromise here in a future product and Apple has quietly given us a clue. What if that Smart Connector on a next-gen iPad Pro could gain the additional ability to handle video output as well as power and data?

Clearly, with the iPad Pro, Apple is targeting people like me who want to use the product as both a lean-back experience tablet and laptop replacement of sorts. A key feature of the iPad Pro is the connector that attaches to a brand new keyboard specifically made for the tablet, for example, plus the device has 4 GB of memory -- double that of any other iOS product.

But think one step ahead: Adding video output support to an iPad Pro Smart Connector or similar port could allow Apple to out-Surface Book Microsoft's Surface Book.

How so? A hardware keyboard base could run Mac OS X on a removable display that is essentially an iPad tablet when not on the base.

Think about it: Inside the base would be a traditional MacBook, complete with Intel processor, flash storage, batteries, wireless radios, etc.... Instead of a fixed, non-removable screen, what's essentially an iPad could render the OS X environment, working with the keyboard and trackpad. Inside that screen, however, are the guts of an iPad with Apple processor, more flash storage, radios and batteries.

Image: Apple

Essentially, the "iPad" in this case shows video output from the Mac OS X keyboard base. Pull the screen off the base and it's no longer just a passive monitor. Instead, you've got a fully functioning iPad for the casual experience.

Granted, systems running a dual operating system configuration haven't been effective in the past. And obviously, Apple would need to engineer this theoretical product to be bulletproof and simple to use when switching from "laptop mode" to "tablet mode."


If any company can engineer that, however, in a way to make it appealing and simple for the masses, my money is on Apple because that's the company's core competency.

And I think the battery life of such a product would be better than that of the Surface Book.
The tablet, or clipboard portion of that device runs for around 3 hours. In the Apple product I'm envisioning, the laptop alone would get around the same as Mac laptops today: About 9 or 10 hours. The tablet portion? Since it runs a lighter operating system on an ARM-based system, it too should last for around 9 hours, the same as iPads today do.

Unfortunately, this product doesn't exist yet; it may never. If it did, however, I'd be sold on it and it would make my current 2-in-1 computing device decision far easier. Instead, I'm going back to the drawing board to keep evaluating the best option currently available for me.

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