There's been a lot of talk in the media about a possible "iPad Pro" launching sometime next year. And while Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) rumors are never in short supply, there are some tangible reasons why a Pro version of the iPad makes a lot of sense and why the timing is spot on.
Most PCs, as we know them, are on the way out
I've mentioned before that I think the case for an iPad hybrid -- something between a tablet a laptop -- is building, so let's rehash some of those thoughts and add in some new iPad developments as well.
First, IDC data released this month showing that worldwide PC shipments are expected to have declined by 10% in 2013. That's probably not much of a surprise to many people, but it is significant because it's the first year their decline has hit the double digits. So PC shipments are falling fast, while tablet demand continues to rise.
64-bit architecture is here
Apple took a pre-emptive step toward preparing for an iPad Pro launch when it released the A7 64-bit chip in the iPhone 5s. The move signaled to developers that this is the direction Apple is headed, and that it is moving toward even higher high-end productivity and graphics devices. 64-bit tech opens the possibility for more intense video and audio editing, 3D graphics, and other features that take up lots of processing power. Integrating a chip like that in an iPad Pro could put the device on a path toward serious productivity. Apple itself has called the chip "desktop-class architecture."
While there's been no shortage of debate whether the 64-bit chip is a serious move forward or simply a marketing gimmick, competitors like Samsung and Qualcomm have announced plans to release a 64-bit chips since Apple's news. So the market is clearly moving in that direction. An anonymous Qualcomm employee recently told HubSpot that Apple's 64-bit chip "hit us in the gut" and caught the rest of the industry off-guard as well.
But a better chip isn't the only reason why Apple may be on the road to an iPad Pro. Reports have surfaced since at least July that Apple is working on a 12.9-inch iPad, and may bring two of those versions to market. While iPads of that size are obviously rumors right now, it does match up with data from IDC showing that consumers are trending toward larger tablet purchases.
What's in a name?
And then there's the simple marketing changes Apple has made with the iPad. The company dropped number designations from the iPad name first, reverting to just the simple "iPad" name. Then, with the recent launch of the new iPad, it borrowed the "Air" name from its MacBook line, further implying that a Pro may be on the way. A two-tiered iPad lineup (aside from the Mini) makes even more sense when compared to Apple's product structure across much of its key devices: the iMac and the Mac Pro, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s, and, of course, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Even now, it seems Apple has a placeholder in the second iPad spot as it currently still sells the iPad 2.
As for a time frame when the iPad Pro will debut, it seems the calendar fourth quarter of 2014 is a good guess. Apple has launched its last two iPads in October and November, and the holiday season has obviously been a huge sales time for iPads over the past few years.
As for other iPad Pro details, Apple will need to design its own keyboard that seamlessly integrates with the iPad Pro in order to separate itself from the iPad Air. More internal storage space and a faster processor are a given, but an Apple-designed keyboard with some sort of trackpad-like integration will be key. Users will need to be able to do more than just swipe the screen in order to have serious productivity features, whether from a trackpad feature or enhanced home button with sensors.
So there it is, a Foolish iPad Pro prediction for 2014. I'll revisit this article next year to see how I did -- whether I was right on the mark, dead wrong, or somewhere in between.