Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) latest Surface Pro 3 has hit the shelves and I now find myself wondering if Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) will provide its own alternative to the larger, highly productive tablet. Considering a rumored iPad Pro which is expected to sport a 12-13" display, it seems that it will likely happen. Those in doubt must remember that Apple followed suit of the popular 8" tablet with the iPad Mini and is also readying iPhones with larger displays. A thin iPad with a large screen would be a great solution to filling the ultra-portable productivity market the Surface Pro created.
The Surface Pro 3 is a sweet spot for many
When Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 3 it made a very good point about laptops and tablets by stating that there are too many people who unnecessarily own both. This is a problem because the tablet originally started off as a simple, portable product that could do basic tasks like email and web browsing extremely well. Due to its impressive portability, people with basic needs ended buying tablets instead of laptops. However, those who only need just a little bit more are stuck with bulky computers. For some, this small difference in functionality ends up being the difference between owning a lightweight iPad Air versus a heavier weight laptop.
This is why the Surface Pro 3 acts as a real sweet spot for many users seeking a portable and productive device. For example, I as a student could use the Surface Pro 3 to write essays, take notes via a stylus, view textbooks, multitask, and enjoy entertainment when I want. Pair that idea with a nice case that can store a few old fashioned pieces of paper when necessary, and my whole day can be centered around one portable device without the need of even a backpack. On an even greater extreme, I could buy a dock for work or home and slide in the tablet to be a desktop PC.
The iPad Pro needs to be more than the current iPad
While there are iPad owners for various reasons, I find that it is mostly an additional luxury without being a compliment or replacement to many other products. However, if you pair the iPad with a high-quality stylus and attachable keyboard cover you can end up with an incredibly useful and functional device.
Yes, I remember how Steve Jobs joked about an unwanted stylus when he introduced the original iPhone. However, I still believe that a stylus and tablet make a great combo and I'm not alone. Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is almost entirely centered on the stylus and recent patents by Apple for a stylus and attachable keyboard indicate that is could also be interested in this move. A dedicated stylus by Apple would be a great alternative to the current "styluses" for iPad that only mimic the input of a finger.
iPad Pro can be much thinner and lighter than Surface Pro 3
By developing a large screen iPad without ultra-high performance internals and a full computer operating system like the Surface Pro 3, Apple could make a very thin and lightweight tablet. At 1.76 pounds, and 0.36 inches, the Surface Pro 3 was praised for being light and thin but its thickness was limited by its need for a fan to keep the high performance Intel processors cool. The iPad Air is only 0.29 inches thin and is a featherweight at 1.05 pounds, so by using a similar approach, these dimensions could be carried over to the iPad Pro.
It's not hard for me to imagine a tablet-dominated world where many people find their basic needs fulfilled by a tablet. Microsoft stated that 96% of the people who own an iPad also own a laptop and maybe this limitation is why tablets haven't fully taken off yet. While this may eat into the sales of the MacBook Air, a productive iPad Pro could create a stronger ecosystem without necessarily replacing anything. I believe it would just be fulfilling a gap in the form of a new product.