KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (via 9to5Mac) predicts that Apple will release several new products in mid-2014, including a 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display in an entirely new form factor. The theory sounds plausible; Apple is always exploring new hardware designs and probably has a MacBook in every screen size imaginable somewhere in its labs.
But consider the rumors of a larger, 12.9-inch iPad that began making the rounds via Korean site ETNews.com in early August. What if both are actually the same rumor? Pictured above is an artist's rendition of a 12.9-inch iPad (left), next to the current 9.7-inch iPad and 7.9-inch iPad mini, courtesy of MacRumors.
Could 2014 be the year that Apple finally takes the wraps off its first convertible notebook? Imagine a 12-inch iPad as the display and a detachable Bluetooth keyboard that "converts" it into a MacBook. When connected, they're a traditional "notebook" computer, but for light duty the "screen" could be detached and used as a stand-alone iPad.
It's not as far fetched as you might think. The real question is which operating system would it run? My guess is that we could finally see OS X and iOS morph into a new hybrid OS in 2014, let's call it "Apple OS," or "aOS" for short.
Convertible notebooks consisting of a computer with a detachable tablet/screen have been around on Windows for years. The hybrid design offers the benefits of both a tablet/touch interface and a traditional menu/window interface and has been recently popularized by Windows 8 and the Microsoft Surface hardware.
So why doesn't Apple release a convertible?
The cynical part of me thinks that Apple would rather you purchase both a MacBook Air (or even better, a MacBook Pro) and an iPad. The rational part of me thinks that Apple has largely stayed out of the convertible notebook space because it hasn't nailed the user experience yet and because convertibles are generally compromise machines. They're not great notebooks and they're not great tablets.
Notebooks have compromises (price, weight) and tablets do too (CPU power, lack of keyboard and mouse) and when you attempt to combine the best of both you also inherit the worst of both. Look at the reviews of the original Surface RT and Surface Pro. The former was sluggish, clunky and lacking apps (I returned mine), and the latter was expensive and lacking in battery life.
After taking a $900M write down because of unsold Surface RTs, Microsoft seems to have made significant improvements to the Surface RT 2 and Surface Pro 2, available October 22, but the jury is still out on them.
Could Apple be letting Microsoft do its convertible R&D for them? There is a distinct "second mover" advantage and Apple's famous for not jumping into something new because it's popular (NFC comes to mind). You'd be foolish to believe that Apple isn't keeping a very close eye on Surface. In fact, I'm sure that Apple tears apart each model shortly after it ships.
The issue with an Apple convertible comes down to the operating system. Apple ships the iPad with iOS and MacBooks with OS X and to date, the two haven't come together. They're two dramatically different operating systems, iOS is a touch-based, single window OS with no visible file system, while OS X has windows, true multitasking and is keyboard and mouse driven UI. There's no question that Apple could merge iOS and OS X into a single "Apple OS," but it would need to be optimized for its Ax line of processors and meet a higher standard of battery life (at least 10 hours).
Will Apple finally combine its desktop and mobile operating systems in 2014? Only Cupertino knows for sure, but I bet that Apple takes a page out of Microsoft's book before 2014 is out.