The 2-in-1 Debate: Why Apple Is (Mostly) Wrong

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Apple CEO Tim Cook has never been shy about bashing 2-in-1 devices, and this week he took a swipe at Microsoft's new Surface Book, which transforms from a full Windows laptop to a tablet. "It's a product that tries too hard to do too much," he said. "It's trying to be a tablet and a notebook and it really succeeds at being neither. It's sort of diluted."

As you might imagine, the Windows camp heartily disagrees. I shared Cook's quote with Mike Nash, vice president of customer experience for HP, which just launched a Surface competitor in the Spectre x2. "I can't tell the difference between what [Cook] is saying about Surface and what he's trying to do with iPad Pro. It seems like iPad Pro is trying to do that."

It's true that the iPad Pro has a $169 accessory keyboard that turns the tablet into a quasi 2-in-1, but it's not a full PC like the Spectre x2, Surface Pro, Surface Book and a large number of other Windows-powered hybrids. The iPad Pro is first and foremost a 12.9-inch tablet.

MORE: Surface Book vs. MacBook Pro 

However, that doesn't mean comparisons between the iPad Pro and traditional laptops are completely unfair, especially since the iPad Pro costs $1,067 with its keyboard and Apple Pencil -- or about the same as a MacBook Air. Many have pointed out that the iPad Pro's keyboard doesn't have a touchpad for controlling the cursor, clicking on links, etc. Yes, you can reach out and touch the screen, but it's still annoying.

"Giving up the touchpad is a problem," Nash said. "Customers don't want to have to constantly reach up to do little navigational things. They don't want to feel like they've given things up. They want full travel. They want touchpad. They want a palm rest."

As Intel's chips powers the vast majority of Windows 2-in-1 devices, the company just doesn't share Apple's view. "We're seeing huge growth in the category, and I don't think that's because there's a bunch of dissatisfied users," said Karen Regis, Intel's mobile marketing manager. "We're seeing this huge year-over-year growth since we introduced the concept."

Regis also shared that people are buying 2-in-1s out of want rather than out of need, and they're refreshing their purchases faster than the average consumer. 2-in-1 owners upgrade every 9 to 12 months, compared to a 3-to-4 year cycle for laptop users. 

It's important to recognize that not all 2-in-1s are the same. Most fall into two camps right now: flip-around, convertible 360 devices like the Lenovo Yoga 900 and HP Spectre x360 and detachables like the Surface Pro. According to HP, 64 percent of convertible 360 hybrid owners prefer laptop mode, versus 56 percent for detachable owners. 

In a way, the iPad Pro is a detachable with its keyboard, but its mobile operating system doesn't deliver the versatility of OS X or Windows when it comes to multitasking, even after iOS 9 introduced the ability to switch apps more quickly. Swiping in from the right or pressing Alt-Tab on the Smart Keyboard isn't as easy as just looking down at a dock and selecting an item.

The iPhone-like homescreen is also a missed opportunity given all of the real estate on the iPad Pro. There has to be something more useful Apple can dream up than just cramming more icons on the display. Even within apps there's a lot of wasted real estate. In Hipchat, for example, I can't see the list of rooms for chats once I'm within a room. I can see it all when I'm on my Mac. Hopefully, app developers will update their wares to optimize for the bigger iPad.

On the other hand, Windows hybrids aren't very compelling tablets right now, mostly due to a lack of high-quality apps that are optimized for touch and pen input. And that's where Apple is winning.

"There's a bit of a chicken and an egg problem there," Nash admitted. "Someone's gotta step up first to go cause the ecosystem to happen. To get this flywheel to work, it's easier to get critical mass by getting the hardware to come first, so I’m really committed to making sure we built a device that can handle the apps, even though the apps probably aren't where we want to be at yet."

There needs to be an ecosystem of so-called Universal apps that are compelling both in desktop and tablet mode, but developers are just getting started.

Ultimately, both Windows 2-in-1s and the iPad Pro deliver compromised experiences, but Windows is starting from a stronger position because there are less trade-offs in everyday usability. The iPad Pro could very well be successful in its own right, especially with creative types who take advantage of the $99 Apple Pencil that works with Apple's new tablet, but it's more of a niche device. 

It's telling that when you purchase an iPad Pro from Apple online, you're asked whether you want an engraving before you get to a separate screen to add the keyboard. Apple is resisting the urge to converge tablets and  laptops, even as it's offering options to get users closer to that type of experience. Microsoft is already there, but it needs to improve that experience to make 2-in-1s realize their full potential.




Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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    and all the sudden chromebooks roll in with android and linux support screwing the ipad and halfing the windows market

  • Thomas Gunther Says:

    I own a MacBook Pro and an iPad. Both do very different things, and I use them for very different tasks. Trying to combine them is like combining a car and a motorcycle. It just doesn't make any sense if you really think about it. It's a cool idea though. Just saying.

  • J. Harks Says:

    This article is definitely on point. I am currently in a phase of migration from all things Mac (iPhone, iPad, iMac) to Windows. Why? I got my hands on the surface pro, and my view drastically changed. To be fair, I can't really say I was ever a fanboy of any company or product. I am a lover of technology and my chips fall where I believe my hard earned money will be best place when it comes to technological longevity (if that can ever be considered a thing!). For me, Apple products are overly expensive, and in many ways overly simplified. Do their products work? Yes, their mass appeal to such a diverse demographic is testament to this. However, the true question here is: Is apple innovative? In a nutshell: NO. Their commercial success has dampened their desire to innovate. Look at their product line up, it has been the same for several years. Windows 10 for me is moving in the forward thinking direction. Let's look at the Surface Pro; a device which does two things: Provides a really good laptop experience but also provides a great tablet experience. This the direction we need to go in, One operating system that can handle multiple purposes. Tim Cook in my perspective, is a business man and a good one at that, making profit sacrifices innovation. Despite their branding, as time has shown Apple is one to jump on technological bandwagons and add great refinement, but less known for being a game changer. I give apple by 2020 to offer a very similar Surface Pro Product. By that time, I think we will all being using our phones as replacement desktops...

  • Mark Badia Says:

    I have to agree with this article. But it has been a purposeful and very much self serving strategy for Apple. OS X is a much more user friendly operating system than Windows was and people have been moving there. Windows 10 has made up a lot of that difference. IOS is great for a phone and a tablet, but is not a real operating system for serious work (creation of non-trivial work product). Microsoft is finally waking up and has realized the future is a convergence of both PCs and tablets. They have done an excellent job with the Surface Pro and Book. Apple on the other hand is hanging on and continuing to convince consumers they need separate devices. No one, including Cook, believe that you will ditch your Mac and move to an iPad Pro running IOS. And why would he, Apple has been able to get people to part with their hard earned dollars to pay Apple premium prices for multiple devices ( and yes I am one with a Macbook Pro, iPad and iPhone), but I will not pay the $1,100 plus for the iPad Pro, not counting extras. I am in fact looking seriously at the Surface Pro or Surface Book as a replacement for my Mac and iPad. The challenge is of the 50 plus apps I have there are about 10-15 that I use regularly and need to have working on Windows to facilitate my move. So Microsoft get out there and woo those developers to take advantage of what is a stronger overall platform.

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