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6/5/2014
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8 Hot Windows Hybrids At Computex 2014

After years of weak sales, will the PC industry finally bounce back with new Windows 8.1 hybrid devices?

As you probably know, the PC market's seen better days.

Yes, the past few years' epic downturn in computer sales has begun to level off, and yes, tablet sales have started to slow too. But PC shipments are still nowhere near their peak levels. Moreover, Windows XP's end-of-life deadline forced a lot of reluctant PC owners into upgrades. This raises an important question for traditional PC powers such as Dell and HP: Are recent bright spots a sign of recovery, or just a short-term boost tied to XP's demise?

At this week's Computex trade show in Taipei, Taiwan, PC makers attempted to put such concerns to rest. Diversity beyond conventional PCs was part of the approach, typified by announcements such as Acer's new smartphones and HP's continued investment in Android and Chrome products.

But the diversity of course included Windows machines, which now come in all shapes and sizes. A number of OEMs, for example, showed off high-end laptops and all-in-one desktops, demonstrating that though tablets have replaced PCs for some, others still demand bigger screens, lots of power, and legacy applications.

But manufacturers also doubled down on their most controversial post-PC tactic: 2-in-1 Windows hybrid devices. Hybrids haven't sold well so far, but OEMs' continued interest makes some amount of sense. Tablet sales can't overtake PC sales if laptops and large slates become the same thing, after all. Plus, as long as Windows includes both a desktop UI and a tiled Start screen, 2-in-1 models are inevitable.

In the aggregate, there's clearly a market for such devices. But so far, it's been a niche market that leaves little room for individual models to pivot toward the mainstream. Prompted by Microsoft, OEMs promised a single do-it-all device. However, most early hybrids have proved decent as laptops and unwieldy as tablets -- at best.

The Surface Pro 3 set a high bar for Windows hybrids. Were Computex announcements up to the challenge?
The Surface Pro 3 set a high bar for Windows hybrids. Were Computex announcements up to the challenge?

Based on the devices announced in the last few weeks, new hybrids might avoid many of the compromises that have dogged earlier models. Last month, Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 earned praise as one of the best Windows 8.1 devices yet released. It set a high bar, but at Computex, Microsoft's partners did their best to meet it. Indeed, given that some of them touted ultrathin devices built around Intel's forthcoming Broadwell processors, the bar might have already risen.

The new options span a variety of attitudes toward hybridity, from 2-in-1 tablet-keyboard combinations to clamshell designs that act first and foremost as laptops but also cater to touch where it makes sense. Some devices will be available immediately, but those with next-generation processors won't hit the market until next year. Crucially, many of the devices will be cheaper than their predecessors.

Is it all enough to boost Windows hybrids to mainstream popularity? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Asus
Asus offered some of the most diverse and eye-catching hybrids at Computex. Not content to offer another mere 2-in-1, Asus showed off the Transformer Book V, which it bills as a "five mode" device: an Android smartphone, an Android tablet, an Android laptop, a Windows tablet, and a Windows laptop.

The Asus Transformer Book V.
The Asus Transformer Book V.

The phone runs Android 4.4 KitKat and docks into the back of the tablet. It features a 64-bit quad-core Intel Atom processor, a five-inch 720p display, and LTE support. The phone must be docked for the tablet to switch between Windows

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Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio

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ANON1250793525637
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ANON1250793525637,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/24/2014 | 3:54:31 PM
Re: Windows usage has peaked
Let's not forget that Windows 8.1 sucks so badly that a lot of folks are probably waiting for Windows 9.

 

I have Windows 8.1 on my laptop (SSD, expensive) and Windows 7 on my desktop (3 years old, slow), switching back and forth Windows 8.1 is just plain annoying in so many respects with 5 extra clicks here, and 3 extra clicks there.


As a home/entertainment device, Windows 8.1 is pure garbage.  Refuses to play movies unless they fit in a narrow range of formats, forces users to hunt for a video player and confuses them with choices.


ALL of the metro apps are embarrassing on a laptop, every single one of them.
AsokS489
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AsokS489,
User Rank: Strategist
6/7/2014 | 12:13:25 PM
A Rose by any other name ...
"But the diversity of course included Windows machines, which now come in all shapes and sizes"

But here's the problem: they can change the shape and size all they want, but those devices all still run Windows 8, which is crap. Changing the shape and size isn't fooling anyone: Windows 8 is still garbage.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
6/7/2014 | 1:35:24 AM
Re: Windows usage has peaked
"I think device-makers might finally launch some devices that appeal aesthetically and functionally."

It seems that they are already doing that or they will pretty soon. In any case, I believe even though the new tablets and hybrids are beautiful, as long as the price tag is so high, it won't be enough to "boost Windows hybrids to mainstream popularity", even with the up coming Core M and Windows 9.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2014 | 12:14:59 PM
Re: Windows usage has peaked
@asksqn... I agree about the economic piece but disagree that windows 8.x will not go any further. MS has improved alot since 8 and you simply cannot do everything from a droid tablet that you can from a windows one. In my eyes they are not even comparable.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 10:53:12 AM
Re: Windows usage has peaked
I recently helped a family member select a tablet. Didn't consider the $300 price range. As you say, many compromises.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
6/6/2014 | 10:20:35 AM
Re: A Tablet that is a phone
The Transformer V markets itself well -- all those device and OS options in-one look great together. But I wonder if people will bother to dock the phone to get the Android experience on the tablet/laptop screen. It's a nice option but probably a novelty that'll wear off. The user experience on a 5-inch phone is compelling enough to stand on its own for most people. But even if you find no reason to dock the Android phone, you still end up with a Windows 8 hybrid and an Asus Android Phone, which if the price is right is still an appealing purchase.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
6/6/2014 | 1:46:55 AM
Re: A Tablet that is a phone
Nowdays the burder between tablet and smartphone is blurred. iOS 8 supports picking up the phone call on your iPad and iMac. Samsung has smartphone product with big screen, which resembles a tablet. I do not think there is any technical difficulty why tablet cannot be made into a smartphone. It's just a matter of product design and positioning.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 2:38:28 PM
Re: Windows usage has peaked
I think you're making some good points about the economic factors.

Point-by-point, the $700+ Windows 8 devices are almost all nicer than the <$300 devices-- which is isn't surprising. The problem is, lot of the cheaper devices are too compromised; there are few I'd recommend without heavy qualifications, especially given the somewhat misleading way hybridity is marketed. At the same time, it's not easy to recommend the nicer, more expensive devices either, as they're just too pricey for most of us to easily afford.

Yes, unemployment is down and there's allegedly an economic recovery, etc-- but companies have replaced high wage jobs with low wage jobs; younger people have the kind of debt out of college that used to entail buying a house and having kids; and even most people people with "good" jobs who get raises end of losing purchasing power. San Francisco is on the verge of historically-low unemployment, for example, but in the last few years, literally 95% of people who work in the city have lost purchasing power. A lot of the people who might have bought a new computer every 3-5 years just don't have the flexibility, even if they'd like to. I suspect this partially explains why tablet sales have also cooled, though that also has to do with category fragmentation, smartphones, and several other factors.

That said, I think there's more than the economy to consider. Before Windows 8 tablets came along, conventional desktops and PCs had settled into a pattern of incremental improvement. That trend largely continued, with exceptions like tacked-on touchscreens and new iMac-like all-in-one designs, after Windows tablets. The first few generations of those tablets, meanwhile, were a mess. So, for several years, buyers saw non-persuasive updates to more traditional machines, and unappealing "innovations" in the others. In 2015, I think device-makers might finally launch some devices that appeal aesthetically and functionally-- so perhaps, even with ongoing economic doldrums, there's room for growth.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 2:22:09 PM
Re: A Tablet that is a phone
While some people might like the device's Swiss Army knife strategy, I bet a lot of people interested in Windows 2-in-1s would probably rather choose their own phone. But maybe Asus cooked up a great smartphone. We'll have to see.

I also think it's interesting that the smartphone provides the Android side of the experience, whereas the chip inside the tablet portion only runs Windows. Asus had a laptop at CES that switched between Windows and Android-- all from the same chip, without the smartphone acting as a bridge. But that device has been shelved, reportedly because Microsoft, Google and Intel weren't all on the same page regarding dual-OS processors. I wonder if this new approach is in response to earlier political squabbles, or if Asus just figured, "If we're gonna make something with both Windows and Android, we might as well throw in as many degrees of hybridity as we can."
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
6/5/2014 | 2:21:11 PM
Windows usage has peaked
The fact is, Depression 2.0 is still very much in effect for the US.  Despite the happy, shiny, profoundly massaged for maximum propaganda effect Obama BLS stats, half the country is either unemployed or underemployed, and, very few have disposable cash for a laptop or desktop which starts at $1k at a minimum.  That being said, any uptick in PC sales was directly attributable to the XP debacle, in my opinion.  Personally, I bought a Win7 beater laptop and made it a triple boot OS by partitioning the HDD and installing two distros of Linux to further enable migration away from MS products.  Further, tablets were previously enjoying decent sales because you can buy a very decent one for $300.00 vs. the $1k entry level pricetag of a desktop or laptop model.  I don't see Windows 8.x going much further for a lot of reasons, mostly pricetag and redundancy given that an Android product is so much more affordable.
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