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Focusing On iPads

The latest report from AppleInsider claims that, after a meeting with CEO Tim Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer, Citi analyst Richard Gardner left with the impression that Apple is focusing on iPads, leaving little or no possibility for an ARM-based MacBook Air, which was previously rumored.

Apple doesn’t refer to iPad as a PC, but as a “post-PC device,” leaving the ARM-based tablet distinct from the company’s Intel-based Macs. Gardner further indicated the meeting dispelled the notion that Apple might introduce ARM-based Macs, countering rumors that a new MacBook Air featuring an ARM processor might appear sometime soon.

Gardner cited Cook as alluding to “rapid innovation on the iOS platform” that will “significantly broaden the use case for tablets,” and stated he “walked away from this meeting with the impression that Apple feels iPad satisfies—or will soon satisfy—the needs of those who might have been interested in such a product” as an ARM-based MacBook Air.

The rumors of Apple switching from Intel to ARM-based architectures on Macs left many wondering when they first surfaced online. And whilst it wouldn’t be a surprise to know that Apple has at least tested A5-based MacBook Airs and other sorts of ARM CPUs for portables – of course a company like Apple wants to experiment with as many hardware alternatives as possible – many debated whether it would make sense for the company to switch in the near future, when quad-core ARM processors are seemingly ready for the next-generation of iOS devices.

That Apple doesn’t believe an ARM-based MacBook Air – or, as the competitors would call it, an ARM Ultrabook – would be needed on the market isn’t a surprise, either. Assuming there is a market for users who want a low-power, battery life efficient portable machine in the range of 11” and 13” – a machine that, in theory, should be used for tasks such as word processing, lightweight image editing, browsing, and email – Apple believes that market can be satisfied – or will be “soon” satisfied as AppleInsider writes – by the iPad.

From a user’s standpoint, I think Apple’s reasoning here is that, ultimately, someone who’s seeking an 11-inch or even 13-inch machine with the technological perks of the iPad would be better off with an iPad, which is lighter, more portable, and has a richer selection of apps (from Apple’s perspective in looking at simple App Store numbers). There are edge cases, such as people who would strongly argue against iOS’ virtual keyboard, but I believe what Tim Cook is saying here – again, at least according to AppleInsider – is that the hypothetical market for an ARM MacBook Air should just settle with an iPad, as it’s a versatile, innovative machine that will get more feature soon. I don’t always want to look much into reports about interviews out of their original context, but if that “soon” is to be believed, I wouldn’t mind seeing more productivity-oriented software from Apple at the next iPad event – apps such as Aperture and, who knows, maybe even a portable programming suite would be perfect to further showcase the iPad’s capabilities as a “real” PC.

More importantly, Gardner’s “impression” that Apple feels satisfied with the iPad is also backed up by the numbers: in the past quarter alone, Apple sold over 15 million iPads, and “only” 5.2 million Macs. In the amount of time that Apple should spend transitioning a Mac product (the MacBook Air) to a new CPU architecture and getting developers to begin supporting this new “hybrid” machine, the company could easily sell another 20 million iPads. That’s not to say Apple will never switch to ARM (never is a dangerous word) on the desktop and that they haven’t considered it, but I’ve never believed it could happen in a short period of time as some of the early rumors claimed.

Looking at the first quarters of iPad sales and reception, I’d say Tim Cook is right to be focusing on iPads.

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