Apple Should Give Laptop-Tablet Hybrids a Second Look

ToasterWindows 8’s arrival will kick off a fundamentally new way to look at mobile computing. I opined not long ago that the new OS would be the first real threat to Apple’s iPad. If it turns out to be true, Apple will need a new game plan in order to keep its number one spot in the tablet market.

The most obvious solution would be to offer its own version of a laptop-tablet hybrid, an idea Tim Cook rejected back in April. “You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user,” the Apple CEO said.

But here’s the thing. Microsoft has a monopoly on refrigerators. They are now sticking a toaster on every new refrigerator they sell, and people will buy them. Apple’s standalone toaster may be more advanced, but to many people, it’s more than they need. The average Joe will not fork out the extra money to get a standalone toaster when they already have one attached to their refrigerator, even if it looks stupid.

Things converge, it’s a fact. Point-and-shoot cameras are losing popularity. GPS navigation devices are losing popularity. Standalone MP3 players are losing popularity. All these devices do their jobs way better than multi-purpose devices, like smartphones, but they’re still fading away.

So toasters could be the big reason the iPad loses its dominance. In addition, Apple can allow itself to lose its dominance, like it did in desktop computing decades ago, by positioning itself as a unique and premium brand. Or it could do something to maintain its grip, either by making a refrigerator-toaster hybrid itself or creating an impossibly good standalone toaster that even the least demanding user will crave.

There’s an upside to the former solution: As the dominant brand in the tablet space, Apple could introduce new users to its Mac ecosystem, which the company insists is far superior to Windows. That’s exactly the type of approach Microsoft is taking, except it’s seeking to introduce users to the Metro interface. Apple has another advantage: iOS and Mac OS are both matured and proven operating systems. Metro is not.

As of now, the barrier to entry for Macs is rather steep considering the hefty price tag attached to most of Apple’s computers — especially when compared to their Windows counterparts. A laptop-tablet hybrid, priced below $1,000, could not only fend off the threat posed by Windows 8, but could also be positioned as an entry-level Mac for first-time users.

That, however, is not the direction Apple plans to take. Aside from Cook’s comments in April, the announcement of the new MacBook Pro with Retina display yesterday at WWDC reaffirms Cupertino’s strategy: Continue innovating and make the best refrigerator and toaster in the world.

Apple is not known to bow down to any trends set by its competitors, especially when it’s enjoying massive success with its own model. But it shouldn’t shun the idea of a hybrid completely.

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Photo: Hersson Piratoba