As iPad sales slow, hybrid PCs begin to find a foothold

As iPad sales slow, hybrid PCs begin to find a foothold

Summary: The line between tablet and PC used to be well defined. Increasingly, though, that distinction is being blurred as tablets become capable of more powerful business tasks and as PCs become more mobile. And then there's the fastest-growing category of all.

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TOPICS: Mobility, iPad, PCs, Windows 8
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If you’re in the iPad business, I have good news and bad news for you.

The good news is that consumers and business buyers are increasingly treating iPads as highly mobile PCs, capable of performing serious business tasks.

The bad news is that the market is also treating iPads just like PCs, which is why in the just-concluded quarter Apple’s iPad business dropped sharply, with shipments down 16 percent year over year. That was a nasty downside surprise even to the pros; in a survey by Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt, 33 of 34 analysts predicted sales that were higher than the actual total. On average, those analysts were off by more than 16 percent.

But there’s really nothing wrong with the iPad business, just as there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the PC business. What’s happening instead is that the definition of the PC – essentially any computing device that’s too big to fit in the pocket – is shifting to encompass more and more form factors.

I’ve criticized Gartner’s analyses before, but their PC sales numbers are generally solid, especially in the near term. And a Gartner report from last month has encouraging news for anyone who wants to adopt an expansive definition of PC that also includes tablets and hybrid devices.

device-share-gartner-2014-s-v2

These days, tablets are PCs. Microsoft endorsed the iPad as a serious business device with its introduction of Office for iPad, which has been, by all accounts, a tremendous success.

Of course, people are still buying hundreds of millions of conventional desktop and notebook PCs every year as well. The numbers have dipped slightly year over year, but there’s no evidence that PC sales are going to fall off a cliff anytime soon.

And, most fascinating of all, the market is finally beginning to awaken to the possibility that you can combine a tablet and a PC in the same hardware package. Microsoft calls these hybrid devices; Intel calls them “2-in-1s.” But whatever you call them, sales appear to be picking up.

Tablet sales are still growing, although the rate of growth is slowing. Conventional PC sales are still declining, although the rate of decline is modest.

But those hybrid and ultramobile devices, which are essentially PCs with detachable keyboards, are the fastest growing group of all, with sales poised to triple between 2013 and 2015.

These days, that slice in the middle is where most of the innovation is happening. Tablets have become fairly predictable, with Apple delivering increasingly refined versions of the same basic design in two different sizes, while Android makers are fighting to see who can make the cheapest, most generic designs. In the conventional PC market, the vast majority of devices sold are cookie-cutter images of the same designs that have been popular for a decade. Faster, lighter, thinner, but not really all that different.

Those hybrid designs, on the other hand, are genuinely different, with every PC maker (including Microsoft) experimenting with the form factor. And imagine what those sales numbers would look like if Microsoft hadn’t fumbled the launch of Windows 8 and then spent two years (and counting) making it right.

Given the growth curve, there’s no question that PC makers will keep iterating on these “now it’s a PC, now it’s a tablet” designs. That leaves a single big question: When will Apple combine a MacBook and an iPad into a single device? Judging by the number of Apple customers who carry both devices, you know the demand is there.

Topics: Mobility, iPad, PCs, Windows 8

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124 comments
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  • Hybrid Macbook....

    Only a matter of time. I will never by another non-touch laptop, ever again. And I hope they double down on Surface, I will also never give up the ability pop out that kickstand, unless they pull it away from me kicking and screaming. Now that the painful part of the Win 8 transition is mostly over, the fun can begin.
    JimmyFal
    • Toshiba 13"

      Or you can use a Chromebook. Toshiba 13.3" is a larger work area, and can be connected to huge monitor if needed. Great battery life, keyboard always there, and a trackpad. No kickstand required and infinite number of viewing angles. No antivirus to maintain - all updates are done by Google.
      mytake4this
      • If portability is critical...

        ...there are also 11.6" chromebooks available (and in fact there are more of them available than there are 13.3" or 14" chromebooks available). Most chromebooks are similar in size and weight as MacBook Air PCs and various Windows PCs, and cost roughly 20-35% as much as similar sized MacBook Air models as well as less than all similar-sized Windows PCs, including lower-cost models.
        CHIP72
      • How is a chomebook a hybrid device? It isn't even a computer

        It is an appliance that runs a browser dressed up to look like a laptop. Good for those that can manage to live within its capabilities, but it is not a tablet or hybrid replacement.
        Emacho
        • I suspect most people who have used chromebooks...

          ...which based on your various comments in response to other ZDNet articles does NOT include you, would say chromebooks can replace a desktop/laptop OS for 90+% of their computer uses and do so in a superior way to conventional desktop/laptop operating systems. I would also guess that many chromebook users would say that chromebooks are better casual internet devices than tablets, and that's important because I think most people use tablets primarily or even exclusively as casual internet devices.

          Regardless of what anyone's opinions are on the user experience quality on chromebooks relative to regular desktops or laptops, or to tablets, the reality is we're moving increasing towards a cloud-connected world. People want to access their electronic information, whether it is e-mail, work documents, sports scores, or games, anywhere and without fuss (i.e. very quickly). Most people also don't want to spend lots of money on devices, and they'd like those devices to maintain their performance for an extended period of time. If you look at that combination of parameters, which type of operating system best meets those criteria?

          *Desktop/laptop operating systems (Windows, MacOS) - they're too expensive, can take a little long to boot up, and suffer from degraded performance over time (especially lower cost models)

          *Mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, WP8, BB10) - they also suffer from degraded performance over time, in some cases can be too expensive (if their upfront costs aren't partially subsidized), and their internet browsing performance is also subpar relative to desktops/laptops (excluding built-in apps/elaborate shortcuts)

          *Cloud/internet-based operating systems (Chrome OS, Firefox OS) - they can have lower device requirements and therefore can cost less (while providing strong performance), offer desktop-class browsing performance (at least on desktop/laptop Chrome OS devices), and are less prone to degraded performance over time.

          It should also be noted that although the comments above are specific to chromebooks, cloud/browser-based operating systems are form factor agnostic; they can work across all form factors.

          Even if one doesn't agree with the above comparison of the three types of operating systems, no one can argue that most people increasingly desire the ability to be connected, or at least potentially connected, to the internet at all times, regardless of what operating system one prefers. Well, this desire addresses the biggest criticism of cloud/browser-based operating systems, that they have limited effectiveness without an internet connection. The world, especially the first world, is moving in that direction, and will continue to move in that direction because it provides something people want. Additionally, companies that can provide that constant internet connection will benefit directly themselves because they can charge higher rates for a highly desired feature.

          Now one can also argue that we'll never reach a time when all people can be connected to the internet 100% of the time. I agree with that. On the other hand, at previous times in the past technologies such as televisions, radios, and automobiles were introduced and became very widely used, yet a small number of people never became users or (in fewer cases) were in locations where such technologies had limited usefulness. Heck, just this morning I was reading a brief article that discussed how residents in one small town in Maryland between Baltimore and Washington didn't have indoor plumbing and relied on outhouses until 1984. 1984!!! That for a technology that had been widely available for decades that most people would consider even more necessary than televisions, radios, or automobiles. There will always be a small number of people who don't have access, either involuntarily or voluntarily, to widely adopted technologies, but that doesn't mean most people aren't benefitting from or don't want to benefit from that widely adopted technology.
          CHIP72
          • You said ... "I suspect most people who have used chromebooks ...

            ... which based on your various comments in response to other ZDNet articles does NOT include you, would say chromebooks can replace a desktop/laptop OS for 90+% of their computer uses and do so in a superior way to conventional desktop/laptop operating systems."

            This may very well be true but for the same money you can buy a device that "does not turn into a doorstop" when you are out of range of a WiFi or cellular connection.

            And, while you can make the argument that it is simpler to use than a PC or MacBook Air, it is NOT easier to use than an iPad or Android tablet - and, you do not find yourself tied to a single vendor's cloud-based applications - when you need them.
            M Wagner
          • Really?

            I have an iPad, which is great for a limited number of things. A Chromebook is easier to get work done however. With mouse and keyboard and a larger screen to work with, most tasks are easier and faster, unless you mean voice -- a quick question answered, or the rare times when dictation of an email gets all the words correct, then yes, tablet is easy. I have cable in the home and wireless so I doubt there is ever a problem about being connected. If the power goes down at my home, so what, do something else. I lose power all of a couple to three hours per year.

            When my cable is not working, I have wireless -- that being said, I can live quite well without using a computer 24/7 . There is always some downtime -- you know, the real world, taking a walk, getting the groceries, petting a dog, or feeding the cat.

            For the same money, you can not find a device equal to the performance of a Chromebook. Any Windows laptops with SSD for $199? Toshiba 13.3" only 3.3# with Haswell Celeron processor for $279. An 8 scound boot time -- not bad.
            mytake4this
          • If you can do all you need to do with a ChromeBook, more power to you.

            But I, and a lot of readers at ZDnet, are dependent upon software currently ported only to Windows (and perhaps Mac OS X). For instance, I know of no tax preparation software ported to Android or iOS and the web-based versions are often insufficient for many users's needs.

            It is the same story for financial software. Limited choices for people with real needs. Another good example is Creative Suite 6 (and Creative Cloud). These robust packages are not ported to Android or iOS (or even Linux).

            If all you care about is personal productivity, use whatever you like ...

            Google Apps, iCloud, MS Office On-Line. To use any of them, you do not need a ChromeBook. All you need is browser - available on any device you little heart desires.

            But, please don't try to convince anyone that a ChromeBook can do what a Windows notebook, an iMac, or Linux can do. It just cannot.
            M Wagner
          • What good is 90%

            What device do these people need to buy in order to get the last 10%. How is that superior or worth the $5 savings?

            I simply can't recommend a device that doesn't do everything someone needs unless there is a very serious benefit to doing so. Saving $5/year isn't it either. It is effectively telling someone to learn to live with less for no reason.


            As for your desktop claims:
            My Asus T100 cost $299, boots in under 10 seconds and has no performance degrade as you suggest with your blanket statements. Neither does my Yoga Ultrabook. Faster boot up, fast performance, etc.


            Things have changed tremendously since Windows XP and Vista. Perhaps you should let go of the past.

            See what I did there?
            Emacho
          • Really?

            No problems with updates not working? No worries about viruses? I will agree, the best deal in Windows is the ASUS T-100 if a person wants Windows + a little keyboard + a 1# tablet ... yea, it truly is the best thing in Windows these days. For the same bucks though you could have a larger keyboard, and screen with the Toshiba 13.3" for $279. Both are great deals in the computing world.

            There is no last 10% to buy to get things done. It is 80 to 90% can get it all done on a Chromebook. If you want some software program not available which you absolutely desire - so be it -- go buy it. The 80-90% people are not doing CAD or launching a missile to the moon.

            I think many people with Windows machines for work at home will get a ChromeOS device to use most of the time while on the Internet --- fast, simple and secure, it just works. Many - many people do have more than one computer. And yes, your ASUS T100 is a great second or third device.

            I think my second most desirable device is a smartphone with the iPad being third. And the two computers are first go-to devices. Tablets can be fun -- show photos and such -- portable. Limited however.
            mytake4this
          • Security via obscurity

            People STILL don't get it
            HypnoToad72
          • You never used a Windows Phone...

            If you think performance degrades over time. That's just wrong: it does not happen. Same goes with Windows RT. Period.
            deMaelstrom
          • I realize this is a very late response...

            ...but I have used two Windows Phones. I agree, they (like iPhones) maintain their performance very well. That doesn't mean their performance doesn't degrade to some degree over time though, based on my own personal experience.
            CHIP72
          • Ah, the return of the dumb terminal, only mobile this time!

            The problem, of course, with this model is when the mainframe (oops, the cloud) goes down for days, weeks or years!
            Ian Easson
          • At which time we all have a problem

            If Google goes down that long -- good grief, well all will be experiencing a load of problems -- may as well hit the beach or walk the dog, or go camping -- take a vacation perhaps.
            mytake4this
          • LOL, I recall when

            books written in the 1990s, were dissing sci-fi shows that had central mainframe systems because "distributed computing" was taking off, where people had the power to do anything.

            You are indeed correct, it is the return of the dumb tube and consolidation of power - ironically being sold as "democratization", which seems a poor term to use after one fathoms a certain level of detail about the devices and how they are being implemented. "Populization" (as in populism) might be a better term, again only to a point...
            HypnoToad72
          • Then it is not a solution.

            "...would say chromebooks can replace a desktop/laptop OS for 90+% of their computer uses..."

            If it does not meet 100% of your needs then it is not viable as a replacement.
            ye
          • You're missing the point - that chromebook meeting 90+% of user needs...

            ...represents where things stand in 2014. It DOESN'T represent where things will stand in 2030, or even 2020. I suspect chromebooks, or more accurately the leading cloud-based operating systems, will be meeting 99+% of user needs within 10 years. And if you don't think that's enough, I'll point out, to use one example, there are people who still buy vinyl records and refuse to buy CDs, much less MP3 files, today. People DO/DID give something up when they moved from vinyl to CDs and then MP3 files, but the vast majority of people thought what they gained outweighed what they lost. I think the cloud-based vs. device-based operating system comparison will follow a similar path.
            CHIP72
          • Same old argument. It works poorly.

            "I suspect most people who have used chromebooks... which based on your various comments in response to other ZDNet articles does NOT include you, would say chromebooks can replace a desktop/laptop OS for 90+% of their computer uses and do so in a superior way to conventional desktop/laptop operating systems."

            A generally horrible argument.

            Why is it you think that Chromebooks are not devastating the market for more conventional laptops? Its easy. Firstly the whole "90% of computer use" for most people is at least moderately inaccurate. Secondly, its not just that last 25%-30% of computer use a Chromebook cant handle that's the problem. Its where that last bit of computing comes up. Its not at all unusual for the things a Chromebook does poorly or not at all to be needed sportily throughout a computing session. Its like saying who needs a knife to eat with because a fork ends up doing 75% of the work. Its ridiculous. And further, a Chromebook is not driven by Windows. Its so nice to hear all these non-Windows advocates come up with non-Windows solutions but its as if they forget, or simply chose not to believe that most people want Windows solutions.

            And yes, sure, people are bound to say, well look at all the iPads sold, look at all the Android tablets sold, those are not Windows devices, surly its proved that people are accepting on non-Windows devices. And yes, people are quite accepting of non-Windows devices, as they should be. But hundreds of millions of iPads have been sold. We don't see even a small percentage of those that were sold in the workplace. We don't even see a large percentage at the coffee shops and on public transit or in the schools. Sure, SOME here and there, but where are the literal hundreds of millions sold sitting? Were are these iPads? Sitting at home, that's where.

            Sure, some make it to work. Some get pulled out at school or in the coffee shop, but most sit at home on the coffee table. People are quite accepting of other operating systems, at least NORMAL people, not necessarily some of the loonies around here who refuse to admit anything good about one OS or another.

            But we still never seem to want to deal with the fact that what most people really really want in a tablet is a full blown computer on a lightweight slate you can haul around with you that does everything your home and work PC does. Some do not. Some are fully satisfied with exactly what their chosen tablet does and they make it work for them the way they like. Its a plain simple fact that most do not.

            The industry sometime acts like as if the public is an endless well source of cash that should love technology so much they should have a new and different device for every purpose. What the industry probably knows fully well, and is far from pushing out that knowledge publicly so as not to admit anything that might stymie tablet sales in ANY way, is that people really don't like hauling around 2,3, even 4 devices to be able to do everything they need to do through out the day. After all, we are just talking common sense about average non-tech savvy millions on millions of people around the world. I don't think any of them somehow ever looked forward to a day in the future, which is now, where they could joyfully haul around a pack load of devices. Simply illogical and not for real.

            People don't inherently want a device that does only 805 or even only 90% of what they need to do. They really want 100% on one device. That doesn't weigh 10 pounds. And agreed, that's not EVERYBODY, its just the vast majority of the average people on the street. The hugest segment of the population. For most people, if the device weighs more than a smartphone and it dosnt do 100% of everything they want on a very familiar operating system, like Windows, the device can sit at home and wait for someone to pick it up there and mess around with it for a bit.

            People are not just some endless well source of cash that don't care how many "part way there" devices they purchase. They do. I know the majority of types around here may travel in circles where you don't see as much of the blatantly non-tech savvy population as I do, but let me assure you, people are starting to make some jokes. I think its the recent discussions about computer watches and of course Google glass, people are actually stating to say "how is this thing so important and complete that I need to spend more of my hard earned cash on this thing"?

            Yes, there are always SOME who will try and buy every new thing that comes out. There are many more who will say, "stop. Enough! Just give me one stupid device that does everything I need and want to do". I don't have enough money, time or strength to haul around all these devices.

            A Chromebook is just one more part way there solution. I for one, out of millions on millions, don't get why anyone with a limited budget and needing from time to time to do a wide variety of computing would ever buy a Chromebook. Its like having a limited amount of money to spend on a vehicle, and even though its not your job to haul groceries in a vehicle its something you MUST do at least once a week, its not your job to carry abound passengers, but its something you must do from time to time, its not your job to go on long road trips in lousy weather but its something you must do from time to time, like many things that require a decent sized car, you only do these thing about 10% of the time you spend driving but you do need to do them.

            So lets just purchase a Vespa right? Great solution, its cheap and covers off about 90% of the driving you do. No, rotten solution. You need a car. A Vespa in most cases is a waste, unless your either rich and can afford as many vehicles as you like, and Vespas are nice, or your so broke you cant afford any kind of real car and a Vespa is where your budget ends. So be it.

            Nothing wrong with offering up your suggestions of course. Its always going to apply to some sub group of people, and for those it is likely to be a great solution. Unfortunately, most of the time when these solutions like "You can always get a Chromebook!!" come up, its often much like someone suggesting purchasing a Vespa when someone is discussing the merits of one sub compact car over another subcompact car in relationship to drivers who properly recognize that they NEED at LEAST a subcompact car.

            Chromebooks for the vast majority will NEVER be the answer. It dosnt mean they are generally bad or inherently horrible devices, it just means they are inherently limited and in some areas ineffective so most people don't need one more half useful device hanging around their neck like an Albatross.

            Chromebooks Im afraid are mostly for those who have something against Windows and have been anxious to find ways to do computing without Windows, and well, there you go, give a Chromebook a shot. It might be 90% the way there according to some.

            But its not a reasonable solution for the countless millions who like Windows just fine and would prefer a 100% complete Windows solution.
            Cayble
      • Keyboard is always there???

        Is that suppose to be a plus? The point of a tablet is a highly mobile device that is thin, light, easy to hold with one hand and use with the other while standing or sitting. How does a ChromeBook even relate to the guy you responded to?

        ChromeBooks have their place but this is a story about tablets and hybrids not old school clamshells.
        Rann Xeroxx