Apple CEO rejects notion of iOS-powered laptops

Tim Cook dismisses idea of imitating Microsoft's Surface Book with a laptop that runs Apple's mobile OS

Apple CEO Tim Cook has again rejected the idea of following in the footsteps of rival Microsoft to build a notebook that runs his company's mobile operating system, iOS.

"We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad," Cook told The Irish Independent, Ireland's largest daily newspaper, in an interview published Sunday. "Putting those two together would not achieve either. You'd begin to compromise in different ways."

But take Cook's comments with a grain - or more - of salt. "These are tactical communications, nothing about what they might do, or what they potentially will do," noted Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, in an interview.

Cook, who has been on a swing through Europe to meet with Irish officials about an expansion of Apple's facility in the country, and in the U.K. to trumpet the iPad Pro, which went on sale last week, again took time to take a swipe at the competition.

"What that would wind up doing," Cook said, referring to a notebook-slash-tablet analogous to Microsoft's new Surface Book, "is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants."

In earlier interviews while in Europe, Cook had previously bashed the Surface Book, a 2-in-1 with an integrated keyboard and detachable screen that reverts to a tablet when held separately. "It's trying to be a tablet and a notebook and it really succeeds at being neither. It's sort of deluded," Cook said of the Surface Book.

Cook's stance is not new: The CEO has repeatedly said Apple had no interest in 2-in-1 devices, at one point calling tablets with keyboards akin to a Frankenstein mashup of toaster and refrigerator. That, of course, was long before Apple decided to join the market with the 12.9-in. iPad Pro and its optional Smart Keyboard.

But Apple won't take the next step blazed by Microsoft and its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners: Crafting a notebook with a screen that when separated from the body, serves as a touch-enabled tablet. "What we've tried to do is to recognize that people use both iOS and Mac devices," Cook told the newspaper, tacitly encouraging them to buy both.

Cook may be rejecting the idea of a device that merges the iOS software model with the Mac's hardware profile, but some analysts were convinced that, under certain circumstances, Apple would produce a notebook form factor that relies on the iPad's OS.

"If Microsoft and their partners are successful in making 'convertibles' the standard laptop configuration over time, will Apple be forced to follow suit? How long can they stick with their 'laptop is a laptop and a tablet is a tablet' focus if a convertible becomes something business and consumers really want?" asked Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies in a piece posted two weeks ago to Tech.pinions (subscription required).

Because Apple has limited touch to iOS, Bajarin was confident that any Surface Book-esque move by the Cupertino, Calif. company would rely on that operating system, not its desktop OS X. "My best guess is Apple uses iOS on any device that needs a touch interface. Which means, if they do a convertible, it would be iOS based. And they would keep the Mac and OS X focused on the trackpad and very keyboard-centric."

Bajarin also pointed out that, while the reviews of the Surface Book have been largely upbeat, it was no sure thing that Microsoft's vision would result in a decisive pivot by customers to devices that looked and felt like a laptop, but offered a tablet option.

Microsoft's somewhat-similar Surface Pro line, now in its fourth generation, may have boosted the Redmond, Wash. company's revenue, but unit sales of the portfolio have been puny in the context of the total notebook market. In Microsoft's 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the company booked $3.6 billion in Surface revenue, which translated to between 3 and 4 million devices. During that same span, global sales of traditional laptops were in excess of 150 million.

Others were less certain than Bajarin that Apple would react with something similar to the Surface Book, even if that device -- or its design -- took off in the Windows world.

"It's conceivable," said Gottheil when asked whether Apple would build an iOS-powered laptop. Instead, he thought it much more likely that Apple would retain the wall between iOS and OS X, with the former sticking to tablet form factors -- albeit ones sometimes accompanied by a slim keyboard -- and the latter to notebook and desktop designs.

"The point is, though, that a device with a good integration of a keyboard and stylus with a tablet-based operating system is a great tool for lots of people," Gottheil said. He called such a combination -- essentially the iPad Pro when equipped with the Smart Keyboard -- a "simplified PC."

"This actually fits Jobs' vision," Gottheil added. "A PC or a Mac is a truck. It does everything, but it's not exactly fun to drive."

In 2010, Apple co-founder -- and at the time, CEO -- Steve Jobs compared PCs to trucks, tablets to cars. "PCs are going to be like trucks," Jobs said then. "They're still going to be around, they're still going to have a lot of value, but they're going to be used by one out of X people."

Cook also used his time with The Irish Independent to walk back comments he made last week disparaging PCs. ""I think if you're looking at a PC, why would you buy a PC anymore? No really, why would you buy one?", Cook asked in an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph a week ago as he pitched the iPad Pro.

Many, including Computerworld, wondered what prompted Cook's question since Apple certainly sells personal computers under its Mac brand.

Although he didn't retract the question Sunday, Cook tried to clarify it. "We don't regard Macs and PCs to be the same,' he told the Irish daily, apparently separating Windows machines and those that run OS X into two species.

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Gregg Keizer

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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