As a fun exercise, I often like to predict what direction an industry will take, and test my ability to strategize. Analysts make predictions based on leaks or news, but raw speculation on the future of a product category is conflicted among opinionated users of that product.
The common Achilles heel in that line of reasoning is the thought that everyone else uses that product for the same thing you use it for.
Since I haven’t been in the stock market since 2007, I think I’d like to try my hand at some public prognostication on this blog. I hate being wrong, and I like to cover my ass with maybes and distinguishing fact from opinion, but this time I’m just going to give you my gut instinct. As dogmatic as possible. No equivocating.
How hard is it really, to predict the actions of hundreds of researchers, executives, designers, and supply chain managers responsible for the creation of a new product? How hard is it to predict in spite of company politics, bean counters, and illogical decisions that creep up in any large organization scared to tell the boss the truth?
Let’s find out.
In a fit of madness in December 2013, I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 and returned the iPad Air I had, because I desired a tablet that could get more work done, rather than be primarily a consumption device. It turned out that Microsoft’s OS and app ecosystem just couldn’t cut it for me, and that despite a precision Wacom stylus, an LTE iPad Air was in fact able to accomplish more work for my particular needs than the Surface.
Email was better on the iPad; browsing was better too. Switching between apps was easier. All my music was iTunes based anyway. All the apps I used for work were available on the iPad. I had an iPad data plan with grandfathered unlimited data from AT&T. I could easily VPN into my home server from anywhere in the world.
24 hours after I bought the Surface Pro, I returned it. I did the walk of shame back to the Apple Store hoping no one recognized me as the guy who returned my iPad Air only 24 hours earlier, only to buy it again.
So why did I try to make the switch in the first place? Well, I was kind of mad at Apple, and I wanted to reward a company (like Microsoft) for actually innovating in the tablet market, something Apple hadn’t really done since iPad 2. Furthermore, Touch ID had just come out in the iPhone 5s, and they didn’t include it in the iPad Air. That upset me, because the Air was pretty powerful, and they could’ve added it no problem, but Apple was being Apple.
What does that mean? It means that they only upgrade their products just enough to make your old product feel old, and not enough to actually give you cutting edge technology and functionality.
It’s because of this that Apple’s iPad has taken a hit in sales lately, and I think they’re noticing it. Apple needs something to re-invigorate their tablet market.
Honestly, since getting the iPhone 6 Plus, I just don’t use my iPad as much. The big screen on the Plus is beautiful and it’s ultra convenient to have only one device on me.
For about two years now, Apple’s been rumored to be designing an iPad Pro to compete with the Microsoft Surface, and offer the professional market something they might not have known they wanted.
With the rumored iPad Pro around the corner, here are my predictions:
12 inch screen with 2K Retina display. The iPad Pro will have a bigger screen than the 9.7 inch iPad Air. Rumors say it will be between 12.2 and 12.9 inches.
4 GB memory. To drive the larger display and make multitasking as fluid as possible, Apple will add 4GB of memory. They could add 8GB, but they won’t because they’re Apple. They won’t even advertise the memory, because they’re not a company that sells you on specs. They sell you on the ecosystem and sexy design.
A9 CPU, quad core. The iPad Air 21 uses a tri-core A8 processor. iPhone 6s, the next iPad, and the next Apple TV are all slated to have Apple’s next gen A9 processor. Apple’s not going to have an Intel M processor, like in the new Macbook, because the iPad Pro will not run OS X natively. More on that later. The iPad Pro will have an A9 quad core CPU.2
Force touch, Stylus, detachable keyboard/keyboard-case, Touch ID, and USB-C. iPad Pro will have a pressure sensitive precision stylus that will be sold separately from the iPad Pro, simply because not that many people need a stylus.
How force touch will integrate with the stylus, I’m not completely sure. That’s above my pay grade.
iPad Pro will have the same all in one USB-C port they debuted in the Macbook, to keep things simple. No need for a bunch of extra ports all over the place. You can thank Johnny Ive for that. Apple is looking forward to a completely wireless future, and you can expect the iPhone 7 to have wireless charging. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. The phone of the future is a black-box with no physical connectors at all.
The detachable keyboard/keyboard-case will use the butterfly mechanism developed for the Macbook, to keep things as thin as possible. It will also be sold separately. The keyboard is going to be connected to and powered by the iPad, so you don’t have one more thing you have to charge. This makes things tricky because of the periphery connector. If you connect the keyboard on the landscape side, then you’ve taken up the single port, and you’ll need a second port on the portrait side3 to connect to. I don’t think Apple will have two of the same periphery connector on the same device. It’ll add bulk to the iPad, make the internals more complicated than they need to be, and take away from the sexy. The attachable keyboard will have have its own pass through USB-C input with at least two ports, so the device itself won’t need a second port.
It’ll have Touch ID, and NFC; not because you can use it for Apple Pay, but because businesses can use it to accept Apple Pay. Yes, Apple’s going to enable small businesses to combine Apple Pay with something like Square, and bypass all the credit card processing merchants.
12 hour battery. Traditionally, iPads since the iPad 2 have had around a 10 hour battery. The newest iPad Air 2 is about 9 hours, just because it’s much thinner. With the increase in size, and the efficient A9, I predict a device with a 12 hour+ battery. This is actually going to be one of the biggest selling points of the iPad Pro. It’s going to be a device that can replace your laptop and your tablet, and you can have it with you all day long without having to charge it. This is going to mean great things for the education and enterprise markets.
Operating System Predictions
One of the biggest debates about the iPad Pro in Apple fan forums is whether it will run OS X, or run iOS. This topic especially suffers from the Achilles heel I mentioned earlier.
The IT guy thinks that an iPad Pro will run OS X because OS X is a professional OS with a terminal and filesystem access, and access to enterprise software like Cisco Anyconnect4, and pro means “professional,” right? How could Apple create a professional device, with no filesystem access?
The artist thinks it will run iOS and OSX so users can choose and switch between both, while ignoring the technical limitations of such an approach, and the UI nightmare it might be. It’s the “best of both worlds” mentality. He totally wants to be able to be able to use Procreate with a stylus and the desktop version of Adobe Photoshop.
The key here isn’t what’s good for the IT guy, or the artist, or you, or even me. We need to figure out what’s good for Apple!
This is especially fun, because I get to pretend to be Apple’s CEO and take the company in a certain direction in my mind. If I turn out to be right, then I get some catharsis that, “Hey, maybe I wouldn’t make a bad CEO.” If I’m wrong, no harm no foul, I didn’t lose anybody millions of dollars.
What’s right for Apple?
If you’ve been paying attention over the years, iOS has grown a lot. It was first called “iPhone OS,” and it didn’t even have copy and paste. Can you imagine that?
Then it was renamed to “iOS” when the iPad came out in 2010, and it’s feature set has been growing at a steady pace every year. We now have Siri, Maps, Touch ID, Apple Pay, app switching, multitasking, text styling, custom keyboards, Continuity, Messaging, iCloud drive, Personal Hotspot, app extensions, and a more robust pseudo filesystem.
We’ll be at iOS 9 in the next month, with new multitasking and split screen capabilities.
What does all that say about iOS? iOS is powerful, and Apple is interested in building it into a professional operating system!
Mark my words: iPad Pro WILL NOT have OS X.
OS X, Apple’s desktop operating system, isn’t dying. It isn’t going anywhere. It’ll be here for another 20 years at least, in various forms and new names. iOS will simply continue to evolve to fill in the functionality it lacks, with the iPad Pro getting access to some tools that the regular iPad and the iPhone won’t have.5
That already happens now. There are iPad apps, and iPhone apps, and Universal apps. Developers already have to modify UIs for larger screens. They’ll either continue that for iPad Pro, or they’ll go back to making two separate apps.
Moreover, phone carriers with grandfathered customers won’t be thrilled about being forced to offer unlimited data packages for a product that’s basically a laptop with a desktop OS.6
“But muh OS X!”
Not to worry, iPad Pro will have Apple’s Remote Desktop app, and you can login to your desktop or server from anywhere in the world, using your 4G LTE connection.
The model for computing in the future is that professionals that need a filesystem will have a filesystem on their home desktop or server. Those that don’t, which is pretty much everyone else, will use the cloud. The tablet of the future doesn’t need to physically store your most important data. It’s a hub for you to access that data more than anything else.
What’s Apple’s Tablet endgame?
Education and Enterprise. Students will no longer carry a laptop, an iPad, books, and an iPhone to class. They won’t have a desktop at home. They’ll just carry the iPad Pro with stylus and keyboard case, and an iPhone in their pocket.
Apple is going to make the iPad Pro something you can get work done on. If you want to type, you can type on a thin physical keyboard. If you want to precision draw using a paint tool, or autocad, you can do that. The iPad Pro is going to be the laptop replacement, and it’s going to be ultra customizable.
Sometimes you’ll want the keyboard case and the stylus. Sometimes just the stylus. For some, just the bigger iPad Pro alone will do.
What does this mean? No more backpacks and suitcases if you don’t want them. You don’t need a pen to take notes in class.7 You don’t need to have a desktop, a laptop, an iPad, and an iPhone.
Obviously having all those things will make Apple money, but Apple’s biggest demographic aren’t people like me who have all of those things. It’s people who have an iPhone and iPad, or just an iPhone, or just an iPad. They want to sell their biggest demographic on an iPad Pro to replace their PC laptop, and get them to finally upgrade their iPad.8
Apple’s endgame is for every college student to get an iPad Pro, and have it be the only work-device they need for their entire 4-year education.
It’ll be expensive, but even some high school districts will buy them for their students. The idea is to nuke the backpack. Backpacks are going the way of the caveman. All you’ll really need for school is an iPad Pro running your textbook on iBooks or Kindle on one half of the screen, and a note taking app on the other half. You can follow along and take notes for any class.
Apple’s Notes App will receive an upgrade to incorporate the stylus.
Apple’s going to build out iTunes U to make a more coherent educational experience that will serve as a supplement to learning at school, and allow people no longer in school to pick up some new skills, like coding.
The iPad Pro will be a working and learning device.
The Khan Academy future
Khan Academy is going to take the iPad Pro and run with it. They already have an iPad App with finger-writing functionality. But when the iPad Pro comes out, they’re going to be able to do more with that device than any other app developer out there.
If I were Apple, I’d be looking at a partnership with Khan Academy and IBM to make some of the best personal learning software the world has ever seen.
Nuke the backpack, nuke the school. Looking bigger picture, like 5-10 years down the road, the education bubble is going to burst. Once an accreditation model hits learning tools like Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, and even iTunes U, people are going to stop paying exorbitant amounts for a college education.
Most people go to college, just so they can get a job. They leave with 100k in debt, and can’t find a job. That’s going to end. As education becomes more expensive, and businesses like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Telsa find it harder to find talent in America, they’re going to adopt an accreditation model between themselves, and smaller companies are going to join in. By partnering with organizations like Khan Academy, they’re going to go completely over the heads of the education system and make their own accreditation.
All businesses care about is if you can prove you know the material, and they’re going to find a way to let you prove it without getting a college degree.
Imagine a world where you can learn to read and write, and speak in a language all on a tablet. Where you can learn math from basic counting all the way to Integral Calculus, and Astrophysics. Where you can learn to draw, and play an instrument, and read Shakespeare, and learn world history.
And when you’re all done and you’re just as good a computer engineer as someone who went to MIT, and you’re looking to work at Google, or Boeing, you can just present a Khan Academy proficiency certificate and take a test.
People that want to become doctors, and astrophysicists, and geologists and palentologists and archaeologists and publish peer-reviewed research papers will probably still get Bachelor’s and Master’s and Ph.D degrees, but because of supply and demand, and the disruption of the education market, it’ll be much more affordable for them.
Others, who are just looking for a job somewhere or to start their own business, won’t need that. The next generation of pioneers – unlike Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg, all college dropouts – won’t even find themselves in college in the first place. They’ll just self-teach to the point where they think they’re ready to build their new idea, and they’ll go do it.
You’re going to have 13 year olds building their own startups and getting investors, if they’re advanced enough. No longer will students be forced to learn at the pace of their peers. Learning will be customized to fit each individual person, and homeschooling is going to take off.
The Renaissance Man will be reborn.
That’s the future, and the iPad Pro will play it’s small role in facilitating it.
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Image Credits: All Apple Inc. related imagery came from Apple.com
Which I refused to buy because it’s such a barely incremental upgrade that it makes no sense, and I vowed never to buy an iPad again until the Pro comes out.↩
Beware the bean counter on this one. It might be a tri-core.↩
The current iPhone and iPad have a single connector on the portrait side↩
Companies like Cisco will often make an organization pay extra for licenses to use products on a mobile platform.↩
This coincides with the Post PC era. Desktops and even laptops will be seen as professional tools only used in the most specialized of cases: Software Developer, Hacker, Engineer, Movie Producer, Music Producer, etc.↩
I’m operating under the assumption that your regular iPad sim card, will be interchangeable with your iPad Pro sim card, because it might be too much of a customer satisfaction nightmare to have to ask current iPad owners to open a third data account.↩
I know, I know, this has been true since at least 2001, but the implementations were clunky and suffered from a sub-par ecosystem. Apple’s going to fix that.↩
iPad users seldom upgrade their iPads, compared with how often they upgrade their phones.↩