This year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is making it official: “convertible” laptops and tablets are apparently the way of the future.
How else to explain manufacturers’ devotion to the form-factor? Lenovo’s new ThinkPad Helix features an 11.6-inch screen that can separate from the keyboard base and operate as a tablet. The manufacturer claims 10 hours’ battery life on the Intel third-generation Core processor; it also comes with a touch-screen pen and a full-size keyboard.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad Yoga 11S works on a similar principle, with a screen hinges around in a way that converts laptop to tablet. It relies on an Intel Core i5 processor (third generation) and Windows 8.
Not to be outdone, Asus opened its own CES experience by whipping the proverbial curtain back from the VivoTab Smart tablet, which features Windows 8 running on a 10.1-inch HD display. The device, backed by an Intel Atom Z2760 dual-core processor, also comes with a cover that doubles as both a keyboard and a stand.
Meanwhile, Intel has announced that Ultrabooks that rely on its fourth-generation Core processors will also need to support touch-screens and WiDi wireless display technology. That opens the door to future generations of ultra-light, super-portable devices that blur the line between laptops and tablets.
If this is indeed the future—at least in the short term—the reasons are multitudinous. For starters, while sales numbers for tablets remain robust (at least those tablets produced by Amazon, Samsung, and Apple), PC sales are increasingly anemic; hardware manufacturers view this phenomenon and probably think the solution is to make PCs more like tablets. Helping them in this quest is Microsoft, which just released Windows 8—an operating system built for touch control, with its interface of colorful tiles linked to applications. (Microsoft offers a sorta-convertible of its own, the Surface tablet, which comes with a cover that doubles as a keyboard.)
Second, netbook sales are plunging. While netbooks sold in massive numbers over the past few years, the ultra-cheap laptops helped drive the Average Selling Price of Windows devices through the floor. “Netbooks didn’t just rejuvenate the market just as Windows 7 appeared, they also destroyed it from within,” Windows expert Paul Thurrott wrote in a recent entry on his SuperSite for Windows. “Now consumers expect to pay next to nothing for a Windows PC. Most of them simply refuse to pay for more expensive Windows PCs.”
As netbook sales fall off, hardware manufacturers need to goad consumers into paying a higher price for shiny new Windows devices. The best way of making that happen: Release a range of convertible laptops, each loaded with an operating system that works best with a touch-screen, and argue that consumers and businesses are getting the best of both worlds.
Whether or not these manufacturers succeed, it’s clear based on the announcements from CES that they’re making a very big bet.