PCs learn new tricks, but can tablet/notebook hybrids rescue Windows 8?
Summary: What does a PC maker do when the PC market is shrinking and demand for tablets is exploding? One option is to design hybrid PCs, which can switch from conventional PC to tablet and back again. In this post, I look at clever hybrid devices from Samsung, Dell, and HP.
By Ed Bott
for The Ed Bott Report
March 13, 2013 -- 01:00 GMT (18:00 PDT)
No, the PC industry isn’t vanishing anytime soon. But it has reached a level of maturity where year-over-year growth in sales has stalled, and most new purchases are replacements.
Devices that we traditionally think of as PCs - towers, all-in-ones, and clamshell-style laptops with a keyboard and pointing device - are still selling by the hundreds of millions every year. After decades of steady growth, however, those numbers are now declining year over year, as consumers (and to a lesser extent businesses) choose tablets and smartphones as secondary devices instead of buying an additional PC.
The net effect? The overall population of computing devices is expanding tremendously, with the mix shifting toward devices that are more mobile and require less management.
That’s the environment into which Microsoft released Windows 8 last fall. In a world where mobility is king, the single most important feature is the ability to work well as a tablet, when a touchscreen is the only input device. For this new generation, Microsoft and its partners are betting you want that same device to workas a PC when conventional input devices (and maybe a large monitor) are available.
It’s a bold attempt to redefine the PC. These new hybrid devices have the innards of a conventional PC, making them compatible with existing software and peripherals, while still being capable of acting like tablets.
Microsoft’s vision of this dual-purpose device is the Surface Pro
, which can go from tablet to full-strength PC with a click of its innovative keyboard/cover combos. But it’s not the only competitor in this new hybrid category.
Last September, at the giant IFA tradeshow in Berlin, I saw three hybrid devices from three of the world’s largest PC OEMs. Each one tries to tackle the same problem as the Surface Pro, with very different design decisions. For the past month, I’ve been using the final, production versions of these three machines in real-world work settings.