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?
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 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
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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