In a move that would have surprised even the most ardent fans of Apple a decade ago, the computing giant has become the darling of the enterprise landscape – and in a big way. Through the iPhone, and then the iPad, Apple has positioned its products as a staple item within the world of companies, from the Fortune 500 to startups, creating software custom-built for the touchscreen and enabling businesses to successfully use tablets for tasks previously assigned to a laptop.
And it isn't just Apple that is producing software for the 'new era' of enterprise. A whole host of software developers – from Microsoft to smaller companies – have built apps for the iPad, putting an end to the idea that the iPad is simply a content consumption device and opening the platform up to serious content creation.
Companies like the Omni Group have created high-end apps for the iOS platform, selling OmniFocus for $29.99 (£20.99). Speaking to Ben Thompson of the Stratechery blog, Omni Group founder Ken Case said that "the lesson I've drawn is that it's important for us to build higher-value apps" which will ultimately be aimed at businesses or those who use an iPad as a productivity tool, not just a device to waste time on.
While it is true that the iPad is still primarily a 'coffee table' device, used for more casual tasks such as browsing the web or reading, there is a contingent of users who are starting to replace their laptop with an iPad. MG Siegler, a partner at Google Ventures, has been vocal about his use of an iPad for writing, replacing his MacBook Pro.
Elsewhere, artists and designers have taken to using Paper by FiftyThree to draw, and a whole wave of executives are now giving PowerPoint presentations using an iPad, as opposed to a laptop. However, there are still some who are sceptical of whether the iPad can be used as a work device – and Apple may be about to prove them wrong.
The company that has been pursuing the 'work tablet' for the longest is, surprisingly, Microsoft. Having laid the foundations with the original Surface Pro, Microsoft has led the way for hybrid laptop/tablets, creating a 'slate' with the internals of a laptop. The very first Surface Pro was bulky, underpowered and suffered from a painfully short battery life, but as a proof-of-concept Microsoft succeeded in proving that it was at least partially possible to cram a laptop into the body of a tablet.
Fast forward to 2014 and we have the Surface Pro 3, the "tablet that can replace your laptop" as Microsoft's promotional materials proclaim. While this claim may not be entirely true (I, for one, still prefer the rigidity of having the screen attached to the keyboard by more than a magnet), Microsoft has made some significant improvements to the Surface Pro, creating a hybrid that could replace the most low-hanging functions of a tablet or laptop.
iPad meets MacBook
It is from this basis that Apple needs to start for the iPad that will combine an iPad and a MacBook (which, for ease, I shall call the iPad Pro). Rumours originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, claiming that Apple was testing an iPad with a 12.9-inch display (the Surface Pro 3's screen is 12-inch) which, if sold, would place it in direct competition with the Surface Pro and MacBook Air, boasting iPad-like internals and, presumably, a version of iOS. (Note that the most recent iPad Pro rumours have pointed to a 12.2-inch display).
While many will point to this as Apple "copying" Microsoft, it must be remembered that Apple is rarely the first to a product category – be it smartphones, tablets or watches – but its implementation is usually the most polished and, thus, has the most commercial success. The Apple Watch is not the first smartwatch on the market, but the implementation will likely be the most well thought out and thorough, and so will likely sell in the most bulk (the jury is, of course, out until "early 2015").
The actual implementation of the iPad Pro is unknown as yet. From a software standpoint, it is unlikely that Apple will implement a version of OS X into an iPad, especially after ploughing so much time and resources into creating a large ecosystem of apps specifically designed for the iPad, many of which are focused around enterprise use cases.
Versions of both the iWork suite and Office are available on the iPad, as well as a host of other productivity apps that have had iPad-specific versions created (examples include Things, a to-do list app; iA Writer, a text editor; OmniFocus, a task-planning app; and Evernote, the note-taking service). All of these apps have been well received and, crucially, are designed with the finger in mind, not the mouse.
On stage during the iOS 8 announcement, Tim Cook played up the raw processing power of the new iPad Air 2 which uses the new A8 chipset, showing off demos of Pixelmator and a video editing app called Replay, which can implement real-time video effects and editing. It is telling that Apple is choosing to show off apps that perform functions that were historically the domain of the laptop or desktop.
Having owned a Surface Pro 3, MacBook Air and iPad, the experience on the Surface Pro 3 often feels a little mismatched. Windows 8 is, in many regards, a well-made operating system that successfully transcends the complexity of many different input types. It is with legacy apps that the problems arise, requiring delicate presses of a finger or a dedicated mouse. Unfortunately, many productivity apps – such as Photoshop – are only available in the desktop mode, creating an uneven experience. Apple will undoubtedly be wanting to avoid this foible, and so will likely be working on a single OS platform to deliver a coherent experience.
Having only one device is a huge plus for businesses and for those who only have to fit a single device in a bag. The iOS range, from the iPhone 5c all the way up to the iPad Air 2, has become more and more entwined over recent years. The iPhone 6 Plus has blurred the lines between what is an 'iPhone' and what is an 'iPad,' leading to many users ditching their iPad (especially the iPad mini) in favour of an iPhone 6 Plus. This 'one device' mentality will endear users to the iPad Pro, which would reduce the need to carry around a laptop – a much larger inconvenience than carrying around an iPad mini and iPhone.
Apple also has a full stable of iPad-ready apps that are aimed at creating rather than consuming, setting the iPad Pro apart from its contemporaries from launch. Businesses are much more likely to pick the iPad Pro over a Surface Pro when there are already 250,000 apps that are entirely relevant and, moreover, made for the device. Here, Apple could finish what Microsoft has started, endearing itself even further to the enterprise market.