At Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) recent iPhone 5s launch, CEO Tim Cook accused his competitors of being "confused." In fact, Cook went so far as to mock the notion of laptops trying to be tablets as well as the reverse. However, Evercore Partners, which is very bearish on Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), is claiming that Apple is going to do precisely what it mocked Microsoft and the entire PC ecosystem for trying to do.
Apple's MacBook Air is stale...
A look at the PC market shows that there is a very real push toward touch-enabled, differentiated form factors. Some have simply become exceptionally thin and light laptops with touch, but others have become things like sliders, "flip" designs, detachable mechanisms (i.e. tablets with integrated keyboard docks), and so on. While the Apple MacBook Air is a good machine with well-designed internals, and a very nice OS, it isn't "exciting."
What would an iPad Pro accomplish?
While some are betting on Apple to go all-out with next year's redesign of the MacBook Air (which could end up fanless as a result of Intel's very low power Broadwell chip), it seems that others (namely those bearish on Intel) believe that Apple is looking to simply supplant its MacBook Air with an iPad Pro.
Now, it's not too difficult to see this working, particularly as Apple has been very aggressive in bridging iOS and MacOS (although it has been happening in a much subtler, iterative way than what Microsoft tried to do with Windows 8/8.1). iOS has a very rich ecosystem and with enough work and a thoughtful design, an iPad Pro could very well be a viable "convertible" device that could replace the MacBook Air.
Just one little problem, though
It seems like "doom and gloom" for Intel here, but it may not be as clear-cut as you might think. First off, it seems very unlikely that Apple's next-generation A8 system-on-chip will have the CPU and graphics performance that the Haswell processor inside the current MacBook Air currently has, let alone what Intel has in store with 2014's Broadwell.
If such an iPad Pro were to be released in a bid to outright replace the MacBook Air, it would suffer a performance regression from the product that it replaces. Further, while Apple has been aggressive in unifying the software ecosystems, there are still plenty of applications on MacOS that would need to be ported over. Apple can do it, but it seems like a lot of unnecessary hassle.
If Apple does indeed go ahead with the iPad Pro, there is little doubt that for some users, it would replace a MacBook Air. However, for users who need speed (CPU speed, faster/more robust storage, etc.) or simply a more traditional clamshell form factor, the MacBook Air -- particularly one with an updated industrial design and Intel's upcoming Broadwell processor -- will still be the device of choice.
Foolish bottom line
If the rumors are true, it will be interesting to see Apple expand its product lineup to include a larger tablet. Further, while Intel may seem like the big "loser" here, it is unlikely that Apple will cease to develop and iterate its MacBook Air/Pro line of products. Could an iPad Pro serve to cannibalize MacBook Air sales? It seems likely to some extent, although the degree to which it does depends on how Apple positions it.