Deflated. Disappointed. Let down. Unsurprised. All of those emotions ran through my being at one point or another following Apple CEO Tim Cook’s comments regarding “converged” devices, but if anything, his denial has made me all the more hungry for this particular device. For months — heck, maybe even years — I’ve waited for Sir Jonathan Paul Ive and co. to finally nail the concept of a laptop / tablet hybrid. In many ways, Apple managed to get right on a smartphone in 2007 what I felt was wrong holding a BlackBerry. I still think the iPad’s screen is about 2.7-inches too large for my own personal tastes, but the world at large has affirmed that it nailed that design, too. Oh, and the MacBook Air? C’mon — we all know it’s the thin-and-light you always wanted, and given that it’ll run Windows with poise, it’s arguably the sexiest Windows laptop currently on the market.
The point? Apple has waited for companies to flounder about with certain designs before, all while perfecting its own take for a future release. Windows-based tablets were flooding out in the early noughties, and believe it or not, Toshiba was already giving the tablet / laptop hybrid thing a whirl in 2003 with the Portege 3500. Apple waited over half a decade to usher in the iPad, and the rest — as they say — is history. The iPhone followed a similar path; companies came before it and did their best to produced pleasing, long-lasting, highly usable smartphones, but the iPhone completely changed the trajectory of everything that came after. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to imagine a 2012 with Windows Phone in it had Apple not pinned Windows Mobile in a corner back in ’07.
So, if Apple has shown an ability to thrive with designs that others have experimented with, why is the “converged” laptop / tablet a nonstarter?
During the conference call following Apple’s blowout Q2 2012 earnings — a quarter where it raked in $11.6 billion in pure profit on the wave of monumental iPad and iPhone sales — Tim Cook was asked about the potential for converged devices. More specifically, if Apple had a plan for countering the impending glut of Windows 8-based tablet / laptop devices. His response?
“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren’t going to be pleasing to the user.”
Steve Jobs was well known for his own quips on conference calls, and it’s clear that at least that aspect of leadership has not fallen to the wayside. Cook, of course, wasn’t being serious. At least not completely. Converged kitchen gadgets have actually proven quite popular, but I’ll confess that a ‘fridge and a toaster may have too little in common to mash together successfully. But are tablets and laptops really that far apart? Is Apple really going to let Metro rule the converged space without so much as a fight? Cook continued:
“We are not going to that party, but others might from a defensive point of view. Anything can be forced to converge, but it’s all about trade-offs. Some of these trade-offs leave you with something that doesn’t please anyone. Our view is that the tablet market is huge — we’ve said that since day one — we were using them here and it was already clear to us that there was so much you could do, and the reasons for use is so broad. iPads have taken off in consumer markets, in education and in enterprise — it’s everywhere you look now. The applications are so easy to make meaningful for someone, and as the ecosystem gets better and better — and as we continue to double down on making great products — I think the limit here is nowhere in sight.”
I’ve stated once or twice before on the Engadget Podcast that my dream machine would be an ultra-sleek Windows 8 tablet with 10+ hours of battery life, blistering performance and a no-nonsense method for docking and becoming a full-scale Windows PC. If you need visuals, wrap your gord around a Transformer Prime with Windows 8. The idea here is simple: on the go, I’ve got a Metro-fied device that’s conducive to touch (unlike the Windows 7 that exists today), but when I get settled, I can use the exact same device to access a full file system, and — quite frankly — do things that hamstrung tablet operating systems cannot. Is it a shoehorned approach? Of course — a single OS is servicing two methods of use — but why should that challenge be viewed as impossible? Or, uninteresting?
Apple rightfully suggests that the iPad is fantastic for a lot of things. Goofing off with photos in iPhoto, creating trailers for at-home use, sending the most basic forms of email, checking up on the weather, doling out beautiful presentations and scouring the web for a nonexistent sale on a pair of Jack Rogers sandals. But it’s not a MacBook, and clearly, Apple knows it. Attachments through email on the iPad are painful to execute (if not impossible in some instances), and the lack of support for a wide array of USB peripherals via the Dock Connector is a bummer for power users. To me, this screams opportunity. To Apple, it screams “run.”