Apple's iPad Tech Advances Will Catch the Competition Off Guard

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL) has been incredibly smart about understanding the difference between how people want to use a modern tablet like the iPad compared to how they want to use, say, a notebook computer. Microsoft (MSFT), take note, the status quo is poised to change dramatically. 

The first personal computers evolved into a natural separation of design. Legacy human interactions with a PC or Mac focused on the keyboard and the mouse. Users are comfortable with a notebook computer with a great keyboard and mouse and/or touchpad, and they have no desire to reach out with an aching arm to touch, say, a MacBook Air's display.

On the other hand, it was no accident that Steve Jobs introduced the iPad tablet in 2010 while sitting in a sofa. The natural mode of use is with an iPad held like a book in one hand and touched with the fingers of the other hand. That essential understanding drove the success of the iPad. And yet, to this day, Microsoft's Surface tablet has not come to embrace that reality. Thin, unimpressive keyboards do not make for either a stellar tablet or a substitute notebook computer.

This natural distinction between the two kinds of devices is driven by the state of the art in technology. So long as a traditional PC/Mac in notebook form must interact with a human with a visible file system and a keyboard, the standard PC/Mac will endure.

As a result, a keen understanding of what customers want and need is more important than trying to force a hybrid technology down users' throats. That's why the Microsoft Surface tablet series will continue to have difficulties in the consumer market.

That deep understanding by Apple in how customers approach a tablet differently than a notebook computer has led to avoiding a merger of the two operating systems, sometimes called "iOS-ification." What's best about an OS X is continually refined apart from iOS developments. However, as we saw at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote, on June 2, Apple continues to improve the way these devices work together -- without making them the same.

That's fine for today's technology. However, a change is coming.

Looking Ahead

Soon, all the above will change because Apple announced something very important at WWDC. iOS extensions will allow iPads to be much more oriented towards content creation rather than just content consumption. (For an explanation of this initiative, see this excellent explanation.)

Once users can start to securely share data and functionality between iPad apps, the door is opened to the same kind of creative processes that we've always come to expect from the Mac and PCs. When that capability is in place and routine, it will be time for iPads with larger displays and multi-tasking windows.

All that remains at that point is for creative types to be able to dispense with a virtual (or heaven forbid a real) keyboard. That's where Siri -- which lets users use their voice to send messages, make calls, etc. -- as an artificial, intelligent agent comes into play. Siri is well along in its technical development, but it still doesn't have that science fiction dream of perfect human speech recognition and understanding of human creative intent.

Once we have great inter-app communication, larger displays and the traditional keyboard goes away thanks to great intelligent agents, today's generation of PCs and even Macs will look like dinosaurs. The Post-PC era will accelerate. There will be no reason, for 98% of users, to select a computer than can only be touched on a physical keyboard. PCs and Macs will be regarded as we regard typewriters today.

The timeframe for this is uncertain. I would guess we're looking at no more than five years down the road. In the meantime, Apple is doing a very good job of cannibalizing the PC industry with tablets and augmenting the decline with clever Macintosh tactics.

In time, however, Apple will turn on a dime and let the future generations of iPads take the technical lead. What's important here is both letting that happen naturally but also recognizing the trend and fueling iOS technologies. That means that the leaps ahead will be natural, graceful and amazingly aggressive. This is what Apple does so uniquely well.

Will the Competition See it Coming?

Any company that's trying to hang on to the past with PCs or build tablets in the image of PCs is going to be left behind. Also left behind will be companies that sell tablets as me-too devices, seeing them only as a way to cash in on the popularity of the iPad in its present primitive form and not having an internal technical vision of where the tablet technology and the market are going.

Once again, we'll see that Apple doesn't need a new hardware toy to replace the iPad. Instead, the iPad will evolve faster than the competition can keep up. The iPad of 2019 will be unrecognizable by today's standards. The Mac and PC will be long gone. The prospects for Apple's competitors may be as well.

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At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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