Last week, Samsung unveiled a rather unusual device: the ATIV Q, billed as a PC-tablet hybrid with a high-resolution screen. The 13.3-inch device came with Windows 8 preinstalled, but could also run Android apps.
It was that last part, the ability to run Android apps atop Windows, that made the ATIV Q unique. The hardware was more typical: even before Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would be optimized for touch-screen PCs and tablets, various hardware manufacturers were experimenting with laptops that could convert to tablets (which mostly meant sliding the screen over the keyboard to create a somewhat-bulky portable).
Such devices constitute a very small share of the overall device market: research firm Gartner believes “ultramobiles” (which include hybrid devices, ultra-thin laptops, and Chromebooks) will ship 20 million units this year, compared to 305 million PCs (both desktops and laptops). But the firm also thinks that ultramobile shipments will double in 2014, even as PCs continue their steady decline; tablet shipments, meanwhile, will skyrocket on sales of Apple iPads, Amazon Kindles, and a variety of Google Android tablets:
This shift leaves Google Android in the prime position of running on the majority of devices shipped over the next few years, followed in distant second by Windows, then iOS/MacOS, Research In Motion, and undefined “Others”:
“Although the numbers seem to paint a clear picture of who the winner will be when it comes to operating systems (OS) in the device market (see Table 2), the reality is that today ecosystem owners are challenged in having the same relevance in all segments,” Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, wrote in a statement attached to the data. “Apple is currently the more homogeneous presence across all device segments, while 90 percent of Android sales are currently in the mobile phone market and 85 percent of Microsoft sales are in the PC market.”
The lines that divide hardware categories are getting fuzzier by the day. You can make a call from a tablet, use Android apps within a Windows environment on a laptop, and play games developed for consoles and gamers’ PCs on an iOS device. That’s not to say the lines between laptops, tablets and smartphones will collapse entirely. But at least with laptops and tablets, it may soon be harder and harder to tell the two form-factors apart in most cases.
(When Slashdot asked a Samsung representative how Microsoft felt about Android apps running in conjunction with Windows 8, they said that sort of information “isn’t shared with PR people.”)