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Why Apple Wants You to Believe iPad Pro Is a Computer

August 3, 2016, 1:44 PM UTC
Apple's iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard.
Photo by Jason Cipriani

Apple really, really wants you to believe that its iPad Pro is a computer—and there’s good reason for that.

The tech giant recently released an iPad Pro ad called “What’s a Computer?” In it, the company extols the virtues of its iPad Pro, a high-end tablet designed first for corporate users, showcasing how with help from its keyboard-cover combination, it can act like any notebook you’ve used before.

“Just when you think you know what a computer is, you see a keyboard that can just get out of the way. And a screen you can touch—and even write on,” the ad’s narrator says as iPad Pro is shown in-use. “When you see a computer that can do all that, it might just make you wonder, ‘Hey, what else could it do?'”

The ad ends with “Imagine what your computer could do if your computer was an iPad Pro.”

Even on Apple’s (AAPL) website, the company makes the pitch that the iPad Pro is a computer, calling the device “Super. Computer.

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To many, Apple’s argument might seem odd. The iPad, which launched in 2010, has long been known as a tablet, and has been bundled in every analyst report on tablets since its inception. Now, though, Apple wants customers to believe that at least one of its models is really a computer.

Admittedly, making such an argument could be difficult. The iPad Pro is running a mobile operating system in iOS that customers would find elsewhere in its iPad mini and iPad Air 2 tablets, as well as the company’s line of iPhones. Apple’s computers, named Macs, run on a different, desktop-friendly operating system.

But pitching customers that an iPad Pro is really a computer could be critical to Apple overcoming what has been a troubled tablet division while appealing to what appears to be a growing customer base interested in so-called two-in-one hybrid devices. Indeed, never before has the line between computers and tablets been so blurred.

What exactly is a hybrid?

Defining exactly what a two-in-one hybrid isn’t even simple. While they’re nearly all running on Windows and each features a touchscreen, they come in a slew of variants. PC makers like Dell, Lenovo, and others, sell devices that have hinged keyboards, allowing them to whip around and use the device as a tablet or as a standard notebook with ease. Others, like Acer, offer products with detachable screens that similarly allow them to be used as both a notebook or tablet.

The only reasonable definition for a hybrid computer, therefore, is that they should be convertible from a tablet to a notebook.

In that respect, then, Apple might be right that its iPad Pro is a computer. After all, if a hybrid is a traditional computer, the iPad Pro isn’t all that different, even if it’s running a mobile operating system instead of a desktop operating system.

Characterizing the iPad Pro as a hybrid (and making customers believe it) also helps Apple fill one, huge gap in its product lineup: it’s the only major computer maker that doesn’t sell a traditional hybrid.

According to research firm IDC, hybrids are boosting an otherwise troubled PC market. In March, IDC said that the PC market is “bottoming out.” Soon after, IDC reported that hybrids would see shipments grow, despite declines in both the PC and tablet industries.

PC makers witnessing that growing demand is likely why so many companies are launching more hybrids than ever before.

It’s also likely why Apple wants to demonstrate how its iPad Pro can transition from a tablet and notebook with ease.

For more about the Apple iPad Pro, watch:

But there’s more to it than that for Apple. While the company’s iPad division (which the iPad Pro is still included in) is in decline, in its last-reported quarter, Apple said that its iPad average selling price was up, due in no small part to the higher-priced and higher-end iPad Pro. The iPad Pro, in other words, could be critical to rebuilding Apple’s iPad business.

The Apple conundrum

All of that—market demand, lack of a true hybrid, and iPad dynamics—apparently left Apple with a conundrum: how can it attract customers to a tablet?

Based on Apple’s latest ad, it seems clear the company has seen demand for hybrids soar and, with nothing quite like a hybrid to offer itself, is pitching its most-powerful iPad as an option for those seeking hybrids.

But there are some important items missing from that equation that Apple will need to address to make its case. Hybrids today mostly launch with desktop operating systems that are more powerful than iOS. In order to truly get the full two-in-one experience, customers will need to buy an attachable keyboard either from Apple or a third-party accessories maker. Out of the box, the iPad Pro is just a big tablet.

With the right accessories, though, it could be a hybrid computer.

Therefore, it’s not as simple as Apple or its critics who say the iPad is just a tablet might claim. Maybe the definition of “computer” is just changing.