By Taylor Martin | January 22, 2014 3:04 PM
In two month’s time, it will have been four, long years since Apple released the original iPad, which disrupted the mobile space and kick-started a new era for the fluttering tablet market.
Since then, Apple has released four new iterations of the full-sized iPad: the iPad 2, third-generation iPad, fourth-generation iPad, and the most recent iPad Air. In 2012, Apple also released a new version of the iPad, a much smaller, 7.9-inch iPad called the iPad mini. And late last year, it added the iPad mini with Retina display to the lineup.
In total, that makes for two different display sizes, and Apple currently sells two variations of each: the iPad Air and iPad 2, as well as the iPad mini with Retina display and original iPad mini.
Despite the late Steve Jobs’ distrust of the profitability lack of potential in a smaller tablet, the iPad mini has quickly began cannibalizing sales of the full-sized iPad even quicker than Apple imagined. That said, the thinner, lighter, more powerful iPad Air disrupted that trend in December.
There is, however, a takeaway from this seemingly useless fact: smaller tablets are interestingly becoming more and more popular. The iPad mini with Retina display, Nexus 7, Galaxy TabPro 8.0, and the LG G Pad 8.3 have all turned more heads than their like-sized predecessors, likely because the display technology has finally caught up with that of the larger tablet counterparts. Resolution, density, color reproduction are all on par with – or only marginally worse than – displays on full-sized tablets around 10-inches.
Further, price plays a major factor in tablet purchases, which are still very largely luxury devices. The smaller option is usually the cheaper option – typically between $100 and $200 cheaper.
As such, the smaller form factor has become a force to be reckoned with in the tablet space.
That hasn’t stopped manufacturers from exploring other form factors, though. At CES this year, Samsung unveiled not one, but two 12.2-inch tablets: Galaxy NotePRO 12.2 and Galaxy TabPRO 12.2. ASUS joined the CES tablet announcements with its own hybrid device, a “4-in-1″ Windows and Android laptop and tablet combo device. And countless other Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets have exceeded the 10-inch barrier.
Rumor has it, Apple is about to get in on the oversized tablet fun. And it all started with the announcement of Apple’s last full-sized iPad, the iPad Air.
Originally, we expected Apple to name the most recent iPad simply “iPad”, “new iPad”, or “iPad, late 2013.” Instead of the conventional naming scheme, Apple did something we never would have expected: it aptly named the latest iPad the iPad Air.
That’s when the speculation began, and questions abounded. Why not call the iPad mini the iPad Air? If the iPad Air is the 9.7-inch model, does that mean an iPad Pro is in the making? Will the Pro be even larger?
Of course, there are no answers to those questions, only further speculation. But if we look into rumors, there is reason to believe Apple may be working on an even larger iPad model – the iPad Pro, a 12.9-inch tablet. And there are just as many reasons why Apple should make a 12.9-inch tablet as reasons why it should not.
First and foremost, options. Why turn down options? Sure, a 12.9-inch tablet might seem absurd. It defeats the purpose of a tablet, right? It’s all about portability, but a 12.9-inch tablet isn’t any more portable than a 13-inch MacBook Air.
That’s only partially true. It would be thinner, lighter, offer substantially more stamina, and have access to one of the most vast software stores on the planet. And let’s be honest, who carries a tablet because it’s “more portable than a laptop”? If you need the functionality of a laptop, chances are, you carry the laptop … or both. People carry tablets because they’re convenient and entertaining. Add a few inches of display real estate, and the level of convenience and entertainment could go up … or down, depending on your individual use cases.
Point being, who are we to decide what someone might want to do with an even larger tablet? If 17-inch laptops still exist, why can’t 12- or 13-inch tablets?
After using an iPad mini with Retina display for several months, the iPad Air feels spacious and … comfortable. But there are plenty of times when I feel the space could be better optimized. In fact, I felt that way with the iPad 2, third-gen iPad, and fourth-gen iPad. As other tablet makers have dabbled in true split-screen multitasking, the iPad has aged poorly and began to feel less useful. I’m constantly switching back and forth, copying and pasting, four-finger swiping up, left, and right, to do things that could very well be display side by side.
Unfortunately, Apple isn’t likely going to change this anytime soon. It just recently released its biggest software update (at least visually and fundamentally) since the induction of iOS in 2007. No further developments in true multitasking were even hinted at.
And that’s why, realistically, a 12.9-inch iPad doesn’t seem to make much sense … unless the Pro moniker is an indication of something more, like maybe a Mac OS tablet, or and iOS/Mac OS hybrid.
Why would Apple do something like this? The better question is: why wouldn’t Apple do it?
Namely, a 12.9-inch tablet would overlap the smallest MacBook Air offering, the 11-inch model.
While Windows tablets haven’t quite been the most successful, they’re beginning to grow in popularity, especially thanks to Windows 8 (i.e.: not Windows RT). Further, thanks to the flexibility of Android, some tablet makers have fixed their hardware with options: full Windows or Android, either through dual-booting or virtualization.
Plain and simple, Apple is (or will soon be) losing its footing in the tablet space. Its software and ecosystem offerings are still vast and largely superior. But the core functionality of iPad – and iOS on tablets – is noticeably inferior to the onslaught of full Windows 8 tablets and even Android tablets; iOS lacks true multitasking, a built-in (user accessible) file system, and the open sharing of information between third-party applications.
None of this is to say a 12.9-inch tablet wouldn’t be usable. But judging by the current trends in the tablet space (read: the growing popularity of smaller tablets), a larger tablet may be a tough sell to begin with. And that’s not even considering price. If Apple were to go with its current pricing scale, the iPad Pro would likely start at $699 for a 16GB iOS model. To make the size-price trade-off worth it, making it a full Mac OS machine (with MacBook Air internals) and bumping the price to $899 (the price of the Surface Pro 2) might be a worthwhile move.
Alas, Tim Cook dismissed rumors of a MacBook/iPad hybrid back in April 2012, making the likeliness of such as device a bit hazy. Granted, this was two years ago and the industry has advanced dramatically since then. Who knows, maybe the scope of Apple’s iPad lineup has entirely changed since then, as well.
No one can be sure what Apple has up its sleeve, or even that a 12.9-inch iPad is even in the making. The iPad Pro moniker does roll off the tongue beautifully, and the current iPad Air branding does suggest a Pro model could someday exist. Whether that will be some magical marriage of MacBook and iPad, however, remains to be seen. According to the latest, at the very least, it could be over nine months out.
I can say this, though. I would not own a 12.9-inch iOS tablet without some major OS upgrades. For my use case, iOS in its current state is no more useful on a 13-inch model than it is a 10-inch model. Throwing Mac OS into the mix would change everything, especially if there were a dual-boot option. I’d buy it in a heartbeat. But a 12.9-inch iOS iPad? Not a chance.