Survey Shows Tim Cook Probably Right About 2-in-1 Apple Hybrids

On November 15, Cook told the Irish Independent, “We feel strongly that customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad….Because what that would wind up doing, or what we’re worried would happen, is that neither experience would be as good as the customer wants. So we want to make the best tablet in the world and the best Mac in the world. And putting those two together would not achieve either. You’d begin to compromise in different ways.”

His comment made ripples in tech news, and answered a lingering question: will Apple attempt to merge their MacBook and iPad lines into some kind of hybrid product? Such a move would follow computing trends: according to IDC research analyst Jitesh Ubrani, “2-in-1s are the only reason we expect the overall tablet market to experience positive growth from 2016 onward.”

In the week following Cook’s statement, research firm Hit Laboratories conducted an internet survey of 512 US consumers to investigate two questions that arise from his statement:

  1. Do Apple customers want to buy a hybrid device?
  2. Would a hybrid be the best experience for those that want one?

 

31% of Apple customers want to buy a 2-in-1 hybrid

Although Microsoft’s Surface and other Windows hybrids have demonstrated a market for 2-in-1 devices, is it possible that Apple customers have different needs and desires? It doesn’t seem so: among the respondents (of which 47% were Apple customers) there was no statistically significant difference between the groups when asked “what are you most interested in purchasing as your next primary computing device?”

 

Remainder of responses were “I don’t know” and “None of the above.” “Apple customers” were respondents who owned at least one device running the iOS or OS X operating systems. “Primary computing device” was defined to respondents as “your ‘main device’, with a screen 10 inches or larger, which you would use for anything more than simple tasks.”

 

Hybrids would not provide the best experience for everyone

The second question is whether a 2-in-1 hybrid would actually deliver a great experience for those who want one. As Cook implied, designing a hybrid device necessitates design compromises which cannot yet be resolved by engineering. For example, a device cannot have both a large screen (possibly a valued attribute in a laptop), and a small portable screen (maybe better for a tablet).

We examined ten different attributes and found that among people who wanted a hybrid as their next device, their preferences were potentially incompatible with what a hybrid would actually deliver.

 

Larger screen vs. smaller portable screen

On Amazon.com, the average laptop screen size is 14.5 inches, and the average tablet size is 7.3 inches. It stands to reason that a hybrid with an intermediate screen size (around 11 to 12 inches) would be too big when used as a tablet, and too small when used as a laptop. The below chart shows that among Apple customers who want to buy a hybrid, there’s a broad range of preferences which couldn’t be satisfied by any one device.

30% prefer a "smaller" and 59% prefer a "larger" screen size.

30% prefer a “smaller” and 59% prefer a “larger” screen size.

Touchscreen vs. Trackpad

When Apple customers were asked what they’d prefer in a hybrid, only 11 percent wanted a touchscreen without trackpad. Most respondents wanted some degree of trackpad support to complement the touch input, which could be interpreted as wanting a small trackpad. It’s interesting to note that the iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard, the closest thing Apple has to a 2-in-1 hybrid, has no trackpad at all. Fortunately, a trackpad should be easy for Apple to add to any future hybrid design: Microsoft’s Surface tablet has a small trackpad, and the Surface Book hybrid has a large trackpad.

30% tend toward a trackpad, and 55% toward a touchscreen

Performance vs. Battery life

While leading laptops and tablets have similar battery life when being actively used, laptops tend to have stronger processors, and tablets can be used for days in connected standby mode. A 2-in-1 would need both high performance and great battery life to satisfy demand, as seen below.

58% prefer faster a processor; 35% longer battery life.
58% prefer faster a processor; 35% longer battery life.

Tim Cook may be right: maybe Apple customers are not really looking for a converged Mac and iPad, but they are clearly interested in buying a hybrid device of some kind. The next question is if the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard combination, with its relatively small screen and no trackpad, will fill that need.