Did Tim Cook Miss A Meeting On The Hybrid Computer?

Tim Cook in comments to the Independent was outspoken in his belief that the combination of a MacBook and an iPad would be stupid.  Even though he carries an iPad Pro, which is effectively a Tablet centric hybrid computer, he argued this wasn’t a trend and that Apple had no plans to bring out a converged device.  So let’s net this out, the guy carries a tablet/laptop hybrid that he personally authorized and yet he doesn’t actually believe in the concept.  What’s going on?

He apparently is channeling Steve Jobs badly but the  issue is  he doesn’t want to collapse either iPad or Mac sales which would happen if it looked like Apple was about to make them obsolete, but his comments at best make him look out of touch and at worst dishonest.  Steve Jobs was expert at doing the same thing but not looking nuts while doing it. 

Let’s talk about Steve Jobs and hybrids this week. 

Steve Job’s And The Reality Distortion Field

The Reality Distortion Field was a term used to describe what surrounded Steve Jobs in the early years of Apple.  His beliefs seemed to be in constant conflict with reality and folks created to term to describe what it was like being around him.  In later years, after he returned to Apple, he repeatedly was outspoken but either uninformed or outright lying and people didn’t seem to care.  Some memorable examples were praising Apple products right after he took over even though he’d referred to them as crap just prior to this move.  This was because he knew he had to sell what they had long before he could put in place a process to fix what really were horrid products at the time (well they weren’t that bad compared to what else was out there, but they clearly weren’t at Jobs’ standards level). 

Next he argued that Apple would never move to Intel technology because Power was so much better even though it later came out that he’d started the migration process nearly as soon as he’d returned to Apple.  This was also to make sure he didn’t stall product sales while he got his house in order.  He argued that solid state drives in MP3 players and displays on them were stupid until the he launched the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch having these capabilities and he was famous for calling tablets stupid until the iPad launched. 

Let’s just say the truth and Jobs had only a passing acquaintance and that this didn’t seem to hurt the guy one little bit.  His goal was to make sure that folks didn’t stop buying his products until the company had a competitive response to whatever had likely scared the hell out of his product managers.   And his strategy worked but Jobs had trained in India under religious leaders and picked up a skill only seen in questionable religious leaders and confidence men, the compelling lie. 

Tim Cook

Tim Cook took over the company that was built, or more accurately rebuilt, around Steve Jobs and he had two choices either become Steve or rebuild Apple around his own skill set.  He seems to be doing little of both but I’m not convinced the lying thing fits his personality which is why it seems to be coming across kind of lame.   I mean if you are going to argue smart people carry both a laptop and a tablet then he should carry a MacBook Air and an iPad-Mini not be leaving the MacBook at home and carrying the iPad Pro which makes him a walking contradiction. 

What he apparently doesn’t get is that Steve Didn’t lie about what he was actually shipping, well except for the quality thing, but what he wasn’t yet shipping.  The iPad Pro is a laptop/tablet hybrid.   It just maps to Apple’s strengths not Microsoft’s.  

Microsoft vs. Apple

Microsoft’s strengths are on Windows and thus their hybrid is based on that platform.  That’s where the apps are.   Apple can’t match Windows with the MacOS but the iOS is arguably the strongest in current generation apps so they lead with that product.  The problem for Microsoft is there aren’t many tablet apps for Windows and the problem for Apple is there aren’t many legacy desktop apps for iOS, what they do have is on the MacOS. 

Ironically the problem for both companies is Intel vs. Arm.  For a tablet the long battery life and superior wireless modem technology favors ARM and particularly Qualcomm’s radio, but legacy for both Apple and Microsoft is on Intel which favors the laptop configuration.   If they had performance headroom they could emulate or virtualize the legacy apps but ARM lacks the headroom and for Apple putting iOS on top of an Intel machine running the MacOS would be ugly and Microsoft doesn’t have much of an app base on ARM to justify the effort.

A perfect hybrid from Apple would have the Windows on an emulator running on top of the MacOS on a VM which in turn would run on iOS and the result would be laughably difficult to use.  For Microsoft it would be Android running on a VM on top of Windows 10 to get app support and they’d likely jump out of window, no pun intended, before licensing Android even though they are rumored to make more money from licenses on Android then Google does due to intellectual property violations in the product. 

Neither company has an ideal approach with the beautiful Surface Book being a showcase of just how wonderful a Windows Hybrid can be and the nicely engineered though clearly more compromised (no track pad really?) iPad Pro Apple’s response.

Wrapping Up:  Hybrids Are Real; Get Over It

Hybrid computers are real but the question is are they necessary.  For a Windows user if you have a Surface how often do you really use it as a Tablet or is it just a really nice looking very portable notebook computer?   For iPad Pro users do you still have an iPad Mine or Kindle for tablet stuff and are you missing all the focused apps on your MacBook Air when you leave it behind?  I think the iPad Mini will shine when it is fully wrapped with Cloud based services from Apple partners Cisco and IBM who should be able to stream desktop legacy applications to it.   But that means it is no compromise only when connected to a fast wireless network.   The Surface products work well connected or disconnected but will shine when developers come across and develop for Windows and Tablets natively. 

And this is the race, if Apple can get their back end good enough the iPad and the Tablet centric hybrid model wins, but if Microsoft can migrate either the Android or Apple apps to their platform successfully they win.  Neither company has control of this outcome either, not fully anyway, Apple depends on their partners and Microsoft will depend on getting back or successfully migrating their developers.  That old Steve Ballmer “Developers, developers, developers” video sure looks prophetic all of a sudden.  

We’ll see how it plays out but Cook may want to reread his Steve Jobs’ notes as this isn’t the way he played this game at all.