Apple (AAPL 1.56%) is working on a keyboard cover for the iPad, according to AppleInsider. The publication cites a newly uncovered patent that could improve Apple's Smart Cover for the iPad by incorporating a multitouch keyboard -- similar to Microsoft's (MSFT 1.50%) keyboard cover for its Surface tablet.
Apple's iPad keyboard (should it choose to release it), combined with Microsoft's decision to bring Office to Apple's tablet, could pose a significant problem for rival tech firms. In particular, Logitech (LOGI 2.94%) and Intel (INTC 1.81%) could face substantial pressure.
Microsoft finally brings Office to the iPad
On Thursday, Microsoft finally unveiled Office for the iPad. Subscribers to Office 365 can now create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents on Apple's popular tablet. With virtually every major corporation using the iPad in some capacity, Microsoft stands to gain substantial revenue from its new version of Office -- perhaps as much as $2.5 billion on an annual basis, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley.
But how useful is Microsoft's software suite without a keyboard? Microsoft has gone to great lengths to make Office for the iPad touch-friendly, but it's difficult to imagine doing much work in Word or Excel with just a touchscreen.
Why Logitech investors should be weary
Right now, owners of Apple's tablet can purchase a third-party bluetooth keyboard if they want -- indeed, many of them already do. So many, in fact, that Logitech's tablet accessories business has been booming -- up 95% last quarter.
To be clear, Logitech's tablet accessory business includes more than iPad keyboard covers, but a quick perusal of Logitech's website shows that the vast majority of its tablet accessories are keyboards for Apple's tablets.
Logitech also makes keyboards for two of Samsung's Galaxy tablets and a generic stand-alone bluetooth keyboard that it markets for "Windows and Android" tablets, but nothing aimed at the Surface. That's probably not a coincidence; Microsoft has that base covered, with a variety of its own keyboards that it advertises alongside the Surface.
Logitech's tablet accessories only account for about 13% of its revenue, but it is the company's single biggest growth area. If Apple releases its own keyboard cover, it's hard to imagine Logitech's tablet business remaining unscathed.
More PC cannibalization
Like Logitech, Intel could also feel some pain, though to what extent remains unclear. Traditional PC shipments declined 10% in 2013, and IDC expects the market to continue to contract in the years ahead. Tablets, particularly Apple's iPad, have weighed on the market for PCs and, by extension, Intel's processors.
But this cannibalizing effect has largely been limited to the consumer market. On its last earnings call, Microsoft admitted that for consumers Windows demand declined about 20% last quarter. Enterprise demand, meanwhile, has remained robust -- although businesses are employing Apple's tablets, they still need Microsoft's Windows and PCs powered by Intel's chips.
That might change if Apple releases a keyboard cover. With Microsoft's Office now on the iPad and a keyboard solution from Apple, some business users might be tempted to replace their Windows laptops with an iPad. Obviously, there's still a lot of unknowns, but if Apple does release a keyboard, investors should see it as a negative sign for Intel.