Apple will unveil a larger iPad today at its annual iPhone event, analysts bet, as a way for the Cupertino, Calif. company to boost tablet sales by targeting creative professionals, mobile office workers and perhaps field forces with more screen real estate.
The question they continue to wrestle with, however, is whether Apple will follow Microsoft into the 2-in-1 market by offering a keyboard of its own design that would make the iPad Pro a reasonable replacement for a notebook.
In other words, will Apple "Surface-ify" the iPad?
"I'm expecting an Apple option. It will be really tough for Apple [to target the notebook replacement market] if there's not an option for a keyboard to come into play," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
"It's a possibility," said Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research, countering with a more cautious prediction.
While a larger iPad has been the butt of speculation almost from the opening days of Apple's tablet business in 2010, talk of a "Pro"-grade device, with a screen in the 12-in. neighborhood, has grown much louder this year. Many, including Moorhead and Gottheil, anticipate that Apple will introduce a new-sized model on Wednesday as it hosts an iPhone roll-out presentation in San Francisco.
An iPad Pro, they said, nicely meshes with already-in-evidence moves Apple has made, including a 2014 partnership with IBM; the professed confidence in growth expressed by its CEO, Tim Cook; and the availability of Microsoft Office, still a standard in business, on iOS for the last 18 months.
"A larger iPad plays into their corporate strategy of interfacing with the back end of business," said Gottheil about Apple's interest in the enterprise as defined by the IBM deal, and more recently, one struck with Cisco.
"There will be two audiences for a larger iPad," opined Moorhead. "First of all, creative professionals, and second of all, mainstream business [workers] who would use an iPad as a primary productivity device."
Moorhead sees the 164 million portable PCs expected to ship in 2015 -- the number IDC forecast just last month -- as an opportunity for Apple, which already competes in that market with its MacBook line of laptops, to increase sales and share by introducing another alternative in an iPad Pro armed with a keyboard.
Third-party accessory makers already offer keyboards for existing iPads, but they suffer from flaws, including separate chargers and charging regimens. And they are not Apple branded, which makes a difference to some customers.
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