Apple, it seems, would like to see more tablets in briefcases next year. A new report from MacRumors cites noted Apple analyst Ming Chi-Kuo, who says there will be three new iPad models in 2017 — including a brand-new iPad Pro.
The iPad Pro is an interesting device, introduced last year as something more than a tablet, though a bit less than a laptop. What do you call such a thing? Apple’s currently making the case that the iPad Pro, which supports a keyboard and a stylus, is a “computer.”
There’s a good reason to sell the iPad Pro as a “computer” rather than a tablet. Tablet sales have been slowing. And while computers are also in a sales slump, there is growth in the “detachables” category — devices that blend the tablet and the traditional laptop and have, well, a detachable keyboard. Casting the iPad Pro this way is important to Apple to catch the eye of businesses and business people, who may want something light but still functional for work.
It is a bit of a departure from Apple’s past. Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, famously disliked courting businesses. Per ZDNet, in 2010, Jobs told then-Wall Street Journal writers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher:
“What I love about the consumer market, that I always hated about the enterprise market, is that we come up with a product, we try to tell everybody about it, and every person votes for themselves. They go ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and if enough of them say ‘yes,’ we get to come to work tomorrow. That’s how it works. It’s really simple. With the enterprise market, it’s not so simple. The people that use the products don’t decide for themselves, and the people that make those decisions sometimes are confused.”
Given that Jobs thought of Apple’s products as a counter to the computing grip that IBM and Microsoft had on offices, his disdain for the enterprise sector makes sense.
But the business market has changed in ways that blunt Jobs’s old criticisms. He didn’t like that enterprise devices weren’t personal; that’s no longer the case in a BYOD world. Even when there’s a set list of devices approved by a workplace, it almost always includes an iPhone, an iPad or at least some iOS-friendly apps.
And businesses are a great market for the tablet and the “post-PC” vision that Jobs envisioned with the introduction of the iPad. With a more mobile workforce, the iPad and the iPad Pro — along with the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and other 2-in-1 devices — make a lot of sense for moving from hotel room to living room to board room.
It must also be said that the enterprise market isn’t the only that’s changed since Jobs vocally dismissed the sector. Apple has, too.
Chief executive Tim Cook has made enterprise a key focus for Apple. And while some consumer enthusiasm for Apple’s products has ebbed — Target reported its Apple sales were down 20 percent across the board this quarter — businesses are still buying enough to make Apple’s enterprise play a $25 billion business.
In his recent interview with The Washington Post’s Jena McGregor, Cook specifically highlighted Apple’s enterprise market saying:
We’re collaborating much better with key partners because it’s important, if you’re making a decision to use our products or anybody’s products in the enterprise, that they work well together. And so we’re working with Cisco because they’re incredible with the network infrastructure. We’re working with IBM, who’s written a number of apps. We’re working with SAP because they own the back of the house, in terms of the processing. They own three-quarters of the world’s transactions, in terms of it running on their products.
This is an area, of course, that could fire up old rivalries — in fact, Microsoft has already released a commercial calling Apple’s “computer” claim into question and comparing the iPad Pro unfavorably to its own Surface Pro 4.
The commercial raises some good points. The iPad Pro is still functionally a mobile device and lacks features such as multiple ports that traditional “computers” (and, of course the Surface Pro 4) do have.
Then again, Apple has a line of laptops that only have one port, so there’s really no hard and fast definition of “computer” — and Apple’s clearly working hard to stretch the definition enough to fit the iPad Pro under the umbrella.