Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) long-rumored iPad Pro could be arriving soon, according to Japanese news site Macotakara, which claims that the tablet will have a 12.2-inch display and be roughly as thick as an iPhone 6 (6.9 mm) and 6 Plus (7.1 mm). Macotakara also claims that the iPad Pro will sport speakers on the top and bottom of the tablet, similar to the iPad Air 2's stereo configuration, and be equipped with the same iSight camera, Touch ID Sensor, and Lightning connector.
While Apple hasn't confirmed or denied the existence of the iPad Pro, a Wall Street Journal article last month stated that the company had delayed the device until early 2015 so that its suppliers could concentrate on meeting demand for the iPhone 6.
But would launching an iPad Pro make sense for Apple, which has seen its iPad sales slide for three consecutive quarters, and could it blur the distinction between iPads and Macs?
Although the iPad Pro initially seems like just another screen size extension of the original iPad, it could actually fit in well with Apple's recent efforts to enter the enterprise market.
The enterprise market has traditionally been Microsoft's territory, since various versions of Windows are still installed on over 90% of the world's computers. For iPads to be used for work-specific purposes, they generally require a mobile app to be synchronized to the cloud or a companion PC app. While that setup works for small start-ups without any legacy hardware, software, or databases, it's not ideal for larger institutions and companies. Some larger businesses preferred to replace their aging PCs with Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface Pros, which were compatible with older Windows software and could be mobilized in tablet form. That's why sales of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 more than doubled sequentially and year over year to $908 million last quarter.
Apple realizes that enterprise is a weak spot for the iPad. Macs only account for 3.7% of the world's PC market. iCloud trails Microsoft and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) cloud-based products in terms of Web-based apps and cross-platform convenience. To compensate for these weakness, Apple struck an enterprise deal with IBM (NYSE:IBM) in July, which gave it unique IBM cloud services for iOS (device management, security, analytics, mobile integration), a suite of industry-specific native iOS apps tethered to IBM's cloud, and a new AppleCare service for enterprise-specific needs. IBM also agreed to sell these iPads to enterprise customers, which could help Apple push back against Microsoft in the workplace.
That's where the iPad Pro comes in. A larger display could offer a roomier digital workspace than the iPad Air 2's 9.7-inch screen. If Apple throws in a keyboard-type cover, it would have an instant rival to the Surface on its hands.
How this would shift the balance between Macs and iPads
The introduction of an iPad larger than the 11-inch MacBook Air would blur the lines between Macs and iPads. If a keyboard cover were added, it would also tread closely to all-in-one iMacs.
While that would be a great way to overlap the iPad and Mac lines, the two product lines run on two different operating systems. Apple only recently introduced partial compatibility between the two platforms with Continuity, an iOS 8 feature which allows users to "Handoff" selected tasks (Mail, Safari, Contacts, Maps, Messages, and others) between the two devices. Meanwhile, Google has started rolling out Android apps on Chrome OS, while Microsoft plans to unite all of its devices with Windows 10.
Therefore, for the iPad Pro to become Apple's ultimate productivity device, it should offer both iOS mobile apps and OS X desktop ones. A previous rumor from Digitimes suggested that Apple would offer two versions of the Pro -- an iOS one and another two-in-one device that utilizes elements from both systems.
Regardless of whether Apple markets the iPad Pro as a hybrid device, it could boost Apple's iPad sales by reducing the importance of the iPad Mini 3, which might be cannibalized by the iPhone 6 Plus. The iPad Pro would also reset the upgrade cycle by finally giving existing iPad owners a reason to upgrade.
Not just another iPad
If the rumors about the iPad Pro are true, then it won't just be another addition to Apple's crowded iPad line, which currently consists of six devices.
Instead, it could be a new flagship device which could help Apple expand into the enterprise market and possibly combine its iPad and Mac lines. But it would also raise serious questions about a possible convergence of iOS and OS X, which could be beneficial to Apple if it lets different devices run different views (mobile, laptop, or desktop) of a single operating system.