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What About an iPad Hybrid?

With iPad sales on the rise — at least for a single quarter — I wonder about Apple’s plans for its future. I wonder about Apple’s plans to penetrate different markets to expand its reach. Mostly, I wonder if Apple plans any variations on the current design to give it more potential.

Now the current variation on the original iPad theme is the iPad Pro. But the main changes has been to make them more feature-rich. They include a better display, faster processor, and the display sizes are now unique to these models: 10.5-inches and 12.9-inches. The classic 9.7-inch version is confined to a legacy design based on the iPad Air, and some current parts.

At $329, it’s also the bargain iPad, and a great way for people with older models to upgrade to something current and save some money. It’s also useful for school systems since it’s not terribly expensive.

But will it stem the erosion of Apple’s market share in education? At one time, years back, perhaps the biggest Mac penetration was at school systems. As an example, I remember visiting the tech person at the main headquarters of the Scottsdale, AZ Unified School District in the 1990s.

It was a first class computer lab, where they set up hundreds and hundreds of educational Macs to be deployed at individual public schools. It was also a working example of a terrific way to boost the Mac market, as students learned their computing schools on an Apple product, and one hoped they’d take those schools into the working world.

Of course, the working world used Windows, so maybe it didn’t help so much, at least then. It wasn’t terribly helpful that Apple didn’t cotton to the enterprise.

These days, school systems are cash-strapped. I won’t get into the political ramifications or the causes. That’s how it is, and it means that Apple has more difficulty moving Macs into such systems. Even the cheapest MacBook Air, the 11-inch model now consigned strictly to the educational marketplace, is too expensive. Many school systems are using Chromebooks running Google’s Chrome OS.

When you can buy a notebook computer for maybe $200 or so, it’s hard to justify paying several times that amount — even allowing for large quantity discounts — on a Mac.

Apple has certainly made progress with the iPad, with one million being sold to school systems during the last quarter. It’s a hopeful sign, but not much more. So while grade school children might find an iPad suitable, as they get older, a more traditional notebook computer will be better, particularly when they have to type reports and other homework assignments.

So how does Apple comptete?

Or is the educational market a place where Apple might keep a limited presence, but it won’t be the good old days anymore?

One possible solution I came up with on this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE is what I call the iPad Hybrid. It’s probably a foolish product name, but you’ll see where I’m going over the next few paragraphs.

So you can outfit any iPad with a keyboard case. Apple’s Smart Keyboard uses the custom connector on the iPad Pro. But in each case, the keyboard is subpar, partly due to limited key travel. So it has a mushy feel. Whether typing on fabric or plastic, I cannot go near as fast or as accurately as on a regular keyboard.

This layout also reveals the shortcoming of a 2-in-1 PC, where you use the touchscreen for navigation. It’s an awkward reach, and I often wonder if it was possible to affix an iPad keyboard with a touchpad to act as a working notebook. Sure, Apple would have to enable such features in iOS, but that should be no big deal once the concept is accepted.

So as it stands, the iPad-as-notebook is a clumsy substitute for the real thing. It exists in this gray area where the need for a touchscreen is uncomfortable, and the keyboard feels awkward. All right, I realize some of you are perfectly happy with such a layout.

But what about putting an iPad in a real detachable notebook case? In other words, it becomes a 2-in-1 computer that runs iOS and serves as an iPad and as a true notebook alternative.

When fully assembled, the iPad Hybrid works as a traditional notebook in every way. The keyboard has the traditional feel of a MacBook, with a genuine touchpad. You could literally use it in a way similar to a Mac except for running iOS. Now that iOS 11 will sport some Mac-style multitasking features, plus the Files app, it would make for a competitive alternative for school systems.

How much will it cost? I would think that Apple would charge $499 for the educational version and perhaps $599 if it were sold through regular retail outlets.

It may seem like a foolish idea, but putting a keyboard case on an iPad is already taking you in that direction. Why not go all the way?

Will it help boost Apple’s prospects at school systems? Well, it would make for a reasonably affordable upgrade to the iPad, and it wouldn’t require learning a new OS. It would be the logical extension of the regular user experience. It might just work. Or it might just be a silly idea that Apple would never consider seriously. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide which.