Is that a Chromebook killer in your pocket, Tim Cook?

“An iPad, a Mac, a personal productivity device, an iPad, a Mac, a personal productivity device, can you see what it is yet?”

Apple may be planning a cheaper portable Mac to rival Chromebooks, according to DigiTimes. If that claim is true, then might this device be the combined iPad/Mac system that has been speculated on, discussed, and fantasized about for many years?

Part iPad, part Mac, and all productivity, it’s a system that could be the ultimate in affordable portable flexibility within the Apple ecosystem.

A hybrid happening?

There are some signals Apple may think that, too. Universal Control, Stage Manager, the increasingly useful iCloud Drive, and the many ways in which Macs and iPads already share some of the same user interface and design principles point in this direction.

Macs and iPads also share the same processors, with M-series Mac chips inside all iPads (other than the entry-level model). Same chip, similar user interfaces — there’s a whole lot of synchronicities going on between these platforms.

Or a low-cost Mac?

A low-cost MacBook system doesn’t need to be part iPad/part Mac, of course, tempting as it is to imagine it could be. It might simply be an M-powered lower-cost system using cheaper components and low-cost screen. At introduction, it could be unveiled as the MacBook (last made in 2019), to accompany the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, filling out the “Good, Better, Best” approach the company seems to be adopting across all its products.

DigiTimes claims the system will still use a metal casing made of “different materials” and will use lower-cost mechanical components. It’s easy to imagine the materials could reflect new advances in aluminium recycling and materials science, as we know Apple is working hard on developing circular manufacturing systems.

We won’t know Apple’s approach until later, if ever.

So, why is Apple doing this?

I think the company is chasing growth. It knows that the market for consumer PCs is in decline and that the only way to achieve growth in a declining market is to grab market share from competitors.

Just as Apple already has in the enterprise computing space, where it is growing share as Windows becomes increasingly less relevant, it now wants to make a grab for consumer market share — particularly in the education sector.

It needs to. Chromebooks are in wide use across education, and Apple already knows that the computers children learn on are the systems they want to use once they leave school. Cupertino’s huge market gains since the arrival of the iMac, iPod, and iPhone reflect that reality.

The reason employee choice schemes favor Apple is because your incoming workers all grew up using Apple’s kit. To maintain that trend, Apple needs to deliver systems that compete with Chromebooks in the all-important education and consumer markets. An affordable MacBook — or hybrid iPad/Mac device — could help bring the fight there.

Apple has new tools in its chest

There’s no corroboration to the claims at the moment, so it is important to take them with a pinch of salt. Merely because Apple could do something like this doesn’t mean it definitely will. But the one grain of truth I see here suggests Apple is ready to become a lot more aggressive in its search for growth across its product range.

In contrast to even five years ago, Apple has powerful new options:

  • Not only is Apple Silicon cheaper per chip than those made by others, because Apple owns the designs, but its frugal energy requirements mean it can be deployed in a range of different products, from phones to supercomputers. That’s a gift to product designers.
  • When it comes to product sale price, Apple’s growing range of accessories and services mean the revenue it generates per user is growing. That $500 MacBook sale might generate $50 gross, but the AirPods and Apple Music subscription it also sells to that customer bump up those earnings, effectively enabling the company to play with price where it makes sense to do so. Now imagine a low cost, highly recyclable MacBook you could rent as a service.

Will Apple release this product?

We don’t know. We also don’t know if such a system would be a bona fide Mac or an iPad/Mac hybrid. But I do know that Apple Silicon and Apple services, combined with an increasingly tough business environment means the company might well try some fresh approaches.

When it comes down to it, Apple is playing hardball. Company execs don’t just want to survive the current business challenges, they want to thrive and then bounce back bigger and better into eventual recovery. To achieve this, they are going to push hard on every single unique Apple message and challenge on every front, including user satisfaction, durability, cost of ownership, privacy, and commitment to the environment.

With this in mind, an affordable MacBook makes complete sense, but don’t hold your breath. It might never happen at all. But PC market positions will shift fast when it does.

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