A report surfaced just yesterday indicating Apple was moving forward with plans on shipping an iPad Pro keyboard with a trackpad later in the year. With companies like Brydge having already introduced their own take on this idea, it almost feels odd that Apple isn’t the first to market with this very new idea on what the iPad may become.
I’m not here to talk about whether or not Apple is really leaning into full-blown mouse support on the iPad or not. For what it’s worth, I’m of the opinion that this will simply be marketed as an optional keyboard for added accessibility, and I’m all for that. The current mouse input is set up as an accessibility feature only, and I don’t think Apple is about to undo the years of success it has had selling iPads as touch input devices just to try to cram legit mouse support in. After all, they’ve been quite bullish about the iPad being a touch-oriented productivity/media machine and the Macbook line being your non-touch, mouse/keyboard workhorse.
We’ll see how all that shakes out if/when we actually see this thing in production later in the year. Whether I’m right or wrong about the previous paragraph matters little in what I’m about to say. You see, it really doesn’t matter what Apple decided to do or not to do with mouse input on the iPad or iPad Pro. What does matter is the fact that people are clearly interested in the idea after all these years. Despite what we’ve had, where it’s all failed, and what’s been promised, many of us still want a device that is great at being both a laptop and a tablet.
Google’s first real stab was a bit of a miss in the Pixel Slate, but that had to do with the OS not being fully ready (which has changed in recent months by a long shot) and the tablet being a bit too big to be a good in-hand experience. People have tried with varied levels of success to make an iPad their only computer, but most come away still a tad frustrated by the workflow, the lack of a mouse, and other productivity issues. Again, not an absolutely abysmal experience, but not optimal, either.
Then we have Microsoft’s Surface line of devices, and with the Surface Pro X, perhaps Microsoft got pretty close to getting the hardware just about perfect. Again, the OS isn’t ready for what they are doing, though, and the device simply can’t live up to being a great tablet and a great laptop at the same time.
So, are we chasing something that is simply not doable? Are we all still so excited by this enticing future where a device is at one time both a great tablet and a great laptop that we’re willing to just keep trying and failing? It would appear from the buzz around Apple’s trackpad-toting keyboard being a possibility that we are. We’re intrigued by the idea of a machine that can pull it off even if the idea is nearly impossible.
And, you know what? I think what Lenovo has put together alongside Google with the IdeaPad Duet Chromebook might be the closest attempt yet. If comments, emails, and questions around Chrome Unboxed are any indicator, people are ready for this new Chromebook and ready to give the entire tablet/laptop hybrid another try. From our time with the device in Vegas at CES 2020 a couple months ago, I can tell you that I think Lenovo has a real winner on its hands.
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While this won’t be the fastest device you’ve ever used, it moves along just fine. While it wont’ be the size you’d want to work on for 8 hours a day every day, it is fine for tasks and short work cycles and can be extended with a simple USB-C to HDMI cable. While it’s app selection won’t be up to par with the iPad, the trade off of a full desktop browser and the ability to fully leverage web apps, Android apps, and Linux apps easily make up for that.
What also gives this little guy a huge leg up is the price. Starting at $279, the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet Chromebook comes with the magnetic back that acts as its kickstand and the magnetic keyboard all in the box. All for $279. That is undercutting the most bargain-minded mid-range tablets out there, and this thing doesn’t feel bargain or cheap at all. The high-res screen (400 nits) is impressive, the weight is under a pound (perfect one-handed use), and the quick-connect keyboard is more than capable of making this tablet quite productive in a lap or on a table.
If people are still as interested in the tablet-that-can-still-do-real-work phenomenon as the buzz around Apple’s new keyboard suggests, I think there’s a good chance Lenovo could have a runaway hit on its hands. I can’t wait to get one in the office to really put it through the daily paces and see how it holds up, but my hopes are high. I’m very glad Google and Chromebook manufacturers decided not to pull the plug on trying to get Chrome OS to a place where it could be a great tablet OS and laptop OS. Looking at where we’re getting with the tablet mode on Chromebooks and the dearth of upcoming hardware that will be in line to take advantage of it, it feels like we could be getting close to getting there.