Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
11/26/2013
09:06 AM
Mike Feibus
Mike Feibus
Commentary
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Black Friday Looks Bright For Hybrid PCs

Cool 2-in-1 laptops, a bit of tablet fatigue, and pent-up demand could make this the best holiday season for the PC market in years.

10 Best Tablets Of 2013
10 Best Tablets Of 2013
(click image for larger view)

The American holiday season must feel like it's turned on its head for those engaged in the consumer market. This Thursday, retail folks will sit down with the rest of us, giving thanks at the traditional harvest feast. And then the next day, they'll go to work for the first sign of how bountiful their harvest will turn out to be. So for them, at least, it might be more appropriate to call Thanksgiving the Hope-having holiday.

For those with a stake in consumer PC sales, there is cause for hope this year. The environment is much improved from 2012's disastrous holiday season. For one thing, the tablet market is fatigued. The pace of change in media tablets has slowed, so those devices aren't nearly so alluring this year. That's probably just as well because most people who wanted to buy a tablet already have one. Or two. Plus, demand has migrated to 8-inch tablets from the 10-inch range, so it's now much easier to differentiate even the smallest new Windows 8 machines.

Innovation may be plateauing in media tablets, but it's alive and well in the laptop space. The new 2-in-1 hybrids -- laptops that also function as tablets -- are noticeably thinner, lighter, and sturdier than last year's crop. They're uber-responsive, so you won't think twice going to your go-to device. And the battery life is far better, which means you won't regret depending on your laptop so often.

The shopping is also much better this year because there are so many 2-in-1 devices to choose from. The major manufacturers are all offering a range of models, from the sharp, clever envy-inducers all the way down to entry-level dual-mode models as low as $500. There's a 2-in-1 for everyone, you might say.

[Looking for new apps for your tablet? See Google Simplifies Android Tablet App Shopping.]

Displays span from tablet size all the way up to the 15.5-inch range. And there are different schemes for switching to tablet mode, as well. HP's Split X2 sheds the keyboard, while others, like Lenovo's Yoga2 Pro or the Flip from Sony, tuck the keyboard away. There are even tablet-first 2-in-1s like Asus's T100, which can pinch hit as laptops.

Retail layouts are much improved from last year, when about the only way to figure out which systems incorporated touch was to go around poking screens. Stroll into a store today and it's much easier for consumers to figure out what choices they need to make. The traditional notebooks are now separated from the touch-enabled systems. And the touch PCs are further divided into clamshells and 2-in-1s.

Consumers are really warming to the notion of double-duty systems. Microsoft's Surface ads -- and now Intel's new spots promoting the 2-in-1 concept -- are resonating with consumers, who are far more willing to listen this year. For one thing, their PCs -- many of which were ready to be replaced last year -- are getting pretty long in the tooth. And while consumers may not be bolting to the store to snap up a new Surface, the messages are affecting consumer preferences. I've been toting a Surface Pro on the road lately, and I'm surprised how often people tell me that they want something like that. They want a PC that can function as a tablet. And they really want a USB port. I mean, they really want a USB port.

It could be tablet fatigue. Or it could be that the pendulum is swinging back toward fewer electronic devices.

The demographic, I've observed, that buys into the 2-in-1 value proposition with more conviction than any other is the 25- to 34-year-old crowd. They're just starting to build disposable income, so they're much less inclined to have dropped hundreds of dollars on a tablet over the past several years. They've been making do with an older laptop or netbook. They type on their keyboards and longingly watch tablet users across the coffee shop cradling their devices and touching the displays.

They know the price of investing in the wrong system -- particularly those saddled with netbooks. They want to replace their PCs, not add to their device arsenal. And they want something that is willing and able to scoot the keyboard away and sidle up to them when they sit back to watch a movie or read a book.

It's not just the 25- to 34-year-olds, though. There are lots of consumers out there with old PCs they're ready to replace. For them, there is a stable of spectacular systems to entice them, a sales channel that is far better prepared to help them hone in on what they want, and fewer distractions to obstruct the purchase.

Sounds like a pretty good Hope-having holiday season to me.

----

Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research firm focusing on mobile client technologies. You can reach him at mikef@feibustech.com.

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anon4847084484
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anon4847084484,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/7/2013 | 10:04:06 AM
Re: contend
That's why I say, just get a Tablet and normal PC. There are so many great Tablets and if you read the right reviews at places like http://tabletreviewer.org you will end up witha  pretty cool device.
Shepy
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Shepy,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/28/2013 | 7:25:36 AM
contend
"Last year, there were a lot of people saddled with 3- to 5-year-old PCs, but many of them decide to wait out the Windows 8 mess. So now there are a lot of people out there saddled with 4- to 6-year-old PCs! The time is right for them to replace, I think. "

I think people are still hesitant about the Win 8 situation, i dont see that changing much with 8.1
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2013 | 5:44:50 PM
not yet for me
Yes, hybrids or the 2-in-1 (catchy?) are very appealing to replace an old laptop, and why not as a new tablet? Nonetheless, I am not ready to ditch my main computer for it. Even when she dies (probably soon), I will get another box, where I can customize (build) it to fit my needs.

Would I buy a hybrid instead of a laptop as a second device, if I've got the extra bucks this Black Friday or on Cyber Monday?
In a heart bit!
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
11/26/2013 | 3:58:53 PM
Re: Hybrid ahead of its time
Well said, Shane. As you point out, no one is going to trash their tablet investment to buy a new Windows 2-in-1. If they're replacing an old PC, though, the 2-in-1's are compelling systems.

Last year, there were a lot of people saddled with 3- to 5-year-old PCs, but many of them decide to wait out the Windows 8 mess. So now there are a lot of people out there saddled with 4- to 6-year-old PCs! The time is right for them to replace, I think. 

 

 
MFeibus
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MFeibus,
User Rank: Strategist
11/26/2013 | 3:47:24 PM
Re: Hybrid PC Vs. iPad
Laurie, I think there are more people looking to get a PC to do double-duty than the other way around. When the iPad first came out, there were a lot of proclamations calling for the death of the PC. Now, the iPad did deliver a few good body blows.

The vast majority of folks still want PCs. Those with tablets don't do as much on their PCs as they used to. So they've waited longer to replace their PCs than they would have had the iPad not appeared.

But they still don't want to be without a PC. And if they can get it to be their tablet too, so much the better. That's the allure of the 2-in-1's. At least, that's how I see it. :-)
Kathy5000
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Kathy5000,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 2:51:49 PM
Don't forget users upgrading from older Windows XP PCs
Some people might be finally upgrading from older PCs running Windows XP. Now that many companies such as Dell are offering newer PCs with Windows 7 instead of the blighted Windows 8, maybe more people will bite and finally upgrade, knowing that Windows XP will be "going away" next April. The aad thing to me is that many of these older, still serviceable PCs will end up in landfills while they could still easily run say Linux in the form of Ubuntu and be used by many disadvantaged kids and familiies here in the US or abroad if only they would be made available to them.
sfreeves
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sfreeves,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2013 | 1:19:26 PM
Which is right for you
It will be interesting to see how black friday sales pan out for tablets vs hybrid PCs.  The ease of having a compact built PC is very appealing, but also black friday shoppers are shopping for personal use and I feel that many will stick to what they know either a tablet or a laptop not a hybrid.  Which one is right for you?  Having a 5 year old laptop and a work laptop, I will be going teh tablet route.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2013 | 11:08:37 AM
Re: Hybrid PC Vs. iPad
It's not just the cost of Apple devices, it's also how it does business -- extreme lock in, lack of open standards for both hardware and software (what's wrong with MP3?), and taking the concept of planned obsolescence to rather obscene heights.

How many connectors are in landfills because the company refuses to go with mini USB, as just a small example? Is a slight boost in performance worth the cost to customers and the environment?

For some users, like graphic artists, the app ecosystem makes a Mac a better choice. And at one point there may have been a security advantage, but I also think that is over, or ending soon, and Mac/iOS users are left with a false sense of safety. Unix is not intrinsically more secure than any other OS.
Alex Kane Rudansky
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Alex Kane Rudansky,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2013 | 10:55:40 AM
Re: Hybrid PC Vs. iPad
I've seen this as well - people who refuse to buy Apple because they think they're being taken advantage of. However, I don't think that population has a large effect on sales (Or does it?). 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2013 | 10:24:23 AM
Re: Hybrid PC Vs. iPad
I'd imagine some of it is moral. A lot of people just don't like the way Apple does business. Offering an alternative that's comparable is always going to sell reasonably well. 
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