Ultrabook, tablet convertibles: I thought I wanted one but...

Ultrabook, tablet convertibles: I thought I wanted one but...

Summary: The PC industry is marketing ultrabook/tablet hybrids. The problem: "No compromise computing" has often meant compromises.

TOPICS: Tablets

The news out of Computex in Taiwan revolves around a bevy of Windows 8 and Intel form factors. Ultrabook hybrid tablets. Touch enabled laptops. It's a barrage of "no compromise experiences."

Why do I think there will be plenty of compromises?

Just weeks ago I was on the ultrabook/tablet hybrid bandwagon. I write a lot, need a keyboard and want a tablet/laptop convergence device. I'll grant you that I may be a small market wanting a convertible. Perhaps I'm a market of a handful of scribes. These hybrid tablet/ultrabooks could have real business uses.

And then I actually see a few being touted. Asus has a bevy of form factors. Touch ultrabooks are on the runway. Suddenly, I'm not sure I want one of these newfangled convergence devices.


Marketing. I see words like "no compromise" and think marketing. Enough with the marketing because few of us really believe it. Intel touted ultrabooks and touch at Computex:

Later this year, Intel and the industry will further evolve Ultrabook devices with the addition of touch-based experiences. Intel believes that touch capability is a key component to the Ultrabook experience and will be increasingly important across a wide range of devices. Touch will also help fuel even more innovation and new experiences, particularly for Ultrabook convertibles that offer a truly no-compromise computing experience.

I'm conditioned to think that no compromise in the Wintel context means there are compromises. Apple CEO Tim Cook is thinking the same way. He has repeatedly noted that you can combine tablets and laptops but that means you'll make design compromises.

Also: ASUS covering all Windows 8 bases: Predict confused market | CNET: Toshiba shows off Windows 8 prototypes at Computex | Dual-screen Taichi leads lineup of unique Asus Windows 8 PCs

Cook is hardly impartial. Apple isn't combining the MacBook and iPad.

But he has a point. In the end, I'm going to need to play with these hybrids, Windows 8 and touch enabled ultrabooks. I need a convergence device, but now realize my hurdle rate is a bit higher than initially projected. My reaction may prove to be a big hurdle for Windows 8 and newfangled devices if it turns out to be a widespread prosumer reaction.


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Topic: Tablets

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  • Ahh...

    True Tim Cook is hardly impartial, but it's not that he's not combining the MacBook and the iPad. He's actively CHOOSING not to combine them. Technically there is no reason he couldn't create a hybrid, after all, the iPad and MacBook Air aren't exactly huge PCBs. I would be easy (relatively speaking). No, Apple clearly don't think this is a good idea. Their position is the result of their thinking; their thinking isn't a result of their position.

    I can see Windows 8 being cool for a "console PC" (a gaming PC connected to a honkin' big TV). Gamers (self included) want to get to their content as quickly as possible, that content changes over time - but we usually run no more than three or four items regularly. Metro means we can "pin" this stuff 'front and centre', and have "Live Tiles" tell us useful information (friends currently 'in game', or 'new downloadable content available'). Assuming there will be Kinect integration (seems pretty likely) then we can speak or point to launch. Then "boom" we're 'in game', everything else disappears. Now (power permitting) we might even be able to run the game with a Metro sidebar for other content (maybe IM client, so we can see when 'John' comes on and we can message him to 'get in here'). Here Metro sounds pretty nice. Gamer's won't feel it 'jarring' as they disappear 'in app' for hours, never interacting with the OS until they 'quit the app'. The launcher seems perfect (You can imagine an "Xbox Live" Tile that'll let you see friends and launch the game they are playing to join them - sweet.

    On a Tablet, apps are what's needed. There don't seem to be much wrong with the OS, except that it's not iOS (where all the apps are). This is the classic "chicken and egg" problem all new platforms face, but this is Microsoft - so this will get better over time.

    On the desktop, I'm not at all sure about Metro. Navigating with a mouse is rather "suboptimal", very big targets widely spaced - the mouse feels like the wrong implement. If you open/close applications often then Metro is jarring, and if you have to use some "Metro" apps then the effect is worse. I've heard, if you have a multi-monitor setup, you can put Metro in one screen and "pin" desktop to the other - this seems like it might work, I think there is a market for small touch enabled desktop displays. But the traditional single monitor keyboard/mouse PC - I don't think Metro is going to be at its best on that.

    Hybrids seem to have a lot of the same disadvantages. Desktop stinks when you don't have a keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) and Metro isn't all that useful when you do. Perhaps when docked in a "desk dock" they'll be the most productive (if this "pinning desktop" is true) but a lot of the time they'll be a pain.

    I'm still quite agnostic on this. But anyone know where I can buy a 'touch enabled monitor' (I don't want anything huge)? Just in case I do decide to go for this?
  • Hybrid issues

    The only significant issue I see with hybrid ultrabooks, is that for many models, you will have to periodically attach the tablets to their keyboards, to switch between tablet and laptop modes. The hybrid solution however appears to be the best solution available. In Apple's world, you will have to carry around both an iPad and a Mac laptop, work in two different environments, with two different sets of apps, etc. Windows 8 gives you an overall seamless, integrated experience to cover your spectrum of computing needs, and all you have worry about, is attaching a keyboard to your tablet, or sliding out a keyboard - depending on the hybrid model you choose.
    P. Douglas
    • I think it could work

      The challenge will be what you mentioned, notably separating screens and all that. I want something easy and <3lbs. Would use tablet part to consume, laptop part for work. I just haven't seen anything that wows me so the hurdle rate is higher than I thought.
      Larry Dignan
      • Or... maybe you're looking at it the wrong way,...

        Or you're looking for the wrong things.

        But, here's a fluff reason.

        In class last week, I was called upon by the teacher to find a video on YouTube and show it to the class (this is a smallish French class). I did so, then proceeded to 'rip the display' off my Prime resulting in a most enjoyable gasp (and a couple of shrieks) - followed by sighs and laughter when they realised that the 'netbook' was actually a tablet.

        Worth every penny *right there*. :)
      • But why?

        Nice article, but you stop at least a hundred words too soon. What don't you like about these designs. I agree that "no compromises" is a marketing term, but what compromises do you see? What compromises would you accept, and what wouldn't you accept.

        Tablet computing is about intimacy, you hold it in your hand, rest it on your knees, or if you are like me, your belly. You rest it on a desk and bend over it. You and the tablet work together, changing positions. You aren't locked into the desk and chair that a lap requires.

        The convertible, whether it's a plug in keyboard like the transformers, or a bluetooth one, like all your iPad user writing buddies, puts you back in the desk and chair mode.

        Just tell us why you are more reluctant, what you are reluctant about.
  • Tons of choice

    Windows 8 hasn't even been released and I can't begin to tell you how many different versions of hybrids and convertibles I have seen. Some slide to reveal a keyboard. Some dock for a keyboard. Some wireless connect to a keyboard. Some have a keyboard that flips under the screen to become a tablet. Some have hinges where the screen flips 180 degrees. I'm sure I am missing some, too.

    It's fine... you can listen to a man that has tons of skills in supply chain and almost none in innovation. If it wasn't for Steve Jobs, are we even having this conversation? Steve Jobs is no longer alive and therefore I wouldn't listen to what Tim Cook is trying to spew. He's trying to keep his company making high margins on everything for as long as possible. Intel is pushing touchscreens on ultrabooks now. If those are priced the same as MacBook Airs, what do you think will sell more?

    One question for you- how do the margins of Wal-mart and Apple compare? Which stands more to lose by having more choices in computers and mobile devices? Just a thought...
    • Choice is a double edged sword

      It's great for the consumer, but not as great for business. For the buyers, it'll be great to choose whatever configuration of convertible you could imagine, but for businesses it'll make it harder for one to gain traction and thus increase the chances that they will fail in the market.
      • Choice...

        Choice is often bad, a lot of choice and consumers don't buy. They can't figure out the 'best' option. So they sit on their money and wait 'until it's clearer' - or they go for a 'safe-option'. Who hasn't "taken their money home" when they got to the store and the sales guy showed a bewildering array of different options? (I'm not raising my hand - I've done this)
      • @jeremychappell

        You forget two things.
        1) The "cool" factor. Ultimately people decided if they wanted an XBox, Wii, or PS3. People decided that palm pilots weren't cool, but palm pilots that could make phone calls were life's greatest necessity.

        2) Businesses are ultimately there to please the consumer. How many businesses in America alone fail every day? Ten years ago, what was a smartphone? Who was HTC? What was a facebook? What could knock off Kodak/Polaroid from the top (ten years ago that is)? The companies that can deal with change the best are the ones that survive. Depending on if you ask a priest or a scientist, you and I are here today because our species adapted well enough to change to avoid extinction...for now. Will that be true in another 10 years? 1,000 years? 1,000,000 years?
      • @kissfutebol

        What has that got to do with what I said?

        1) This is a crock. People (self included) decided if they wanted to play the games. There is nothing "cool" about a games console, nobody sees you with it, and a lot of people think you're a 'doofus' for playing games.

        2) If you're saying every empire falls eventually, yes.

        But what has either point got to do with too much choice being a bad thing as it tends to paralyse consumers?
  • Ultrabook, tablet convertibles: I thought I wanted one but...

    Convertibles can work for people in certain situations, but those are mostly business related. The average person sitting at home wouldn't need a convertible, just a laptop would be fine. Either way its good that manufacturers are building these options to suit everyone.

    [i]Marketing. I see words like ???no compromise??? and think marketing. Enough with the marketing because few of us really believe it.[/i]
    I know what you mean, I think the same thing when I see "magical" and "revolutionary."
    Loverock Davidson-
    • The main problem with the laptop

      is the clam shell design. You can't use it unless it's open. Especially now that Windows 8 is going to be touch oriented, I think the ability to use an unopened laptop is going to be more desirable.

      But if they change it to something like an EEE Slider, which is what I use, then you can check your e-mail of Facebook with a few quick swipes but still have the attached keyboard you can open up if needed. I don't know what the cost trade offs are compared to the clam shell, but if it's nominal I think it would be a more useable design, and would eliminate the need for a detachable keyboard in many cases.
      Michael Kelly
      • Err...

        Most convertibles from the older "Tablet PC" age had displays that flipped over (so you'd open it, flip the display, then close again). The downside was it was thick and heavy.

        The slider design suffers from the lack of tilt options for the display, the display swings up to a predetermined point (usually a very shallow angle). You can't adjust it.

        Neither is perfect.

        For me, the best industrial design of the Tablet PC era was the "Compaq TC-1000" (aka "HP TC-1100"). The machine was slow (the HP variant was faster) but case-wise - very cool. It also had a really nice docking station that allowed for a monitor and keyboard/mouse and wired network to be connected. The keyboard could detach (though was solidly connected if you didn't do that) and it had a zip cover that it snapped into and a flip cover that could be used with or without the keyboard. Google it, very nice design. I'd like HP to do a modern Windows 8 version of this classic design.
  • What are the compromises

    "Im conditioned to think that no compromise in the Wintel context means there are compromises"

    So please give us a list of the compromises instead of a one liner. Why has choice become such a bad thing? It use to be "It's better to have it and not need it" but all I am hearing is its bad to have something and not need it. I know plenty of people who have tablets and dont really need them but they feel its really nice having one and as long as they can afford it I dont have a problem with that.
    • That because these ifans live in a..

      world where they need to be told what's best for them and take what apple gives them they don't need choice because apple says this is all you need... it's this simple mind that brought apple to the brink of BK and it will be the same way of thinking that will bring them right back there...
      • No...

        The exact opposite of what you're saying is true. Apple during the "dark times" made all manner of different designs. Their problem was they were utterly clueless as to which would sell. So time and again they'd have warehouses stuffed with Macs that they couldn't sell and huge backorders for Macs they hadn't made enough of.

        I remember those days when they'd have systems where the differences were $10s of Cache that added $150 to the price. You couldn't add it later, and the performance was compromised without it. This "segmenting the product line" was killing them. Jobs came back and cut the line to the bone. They made the best product they could at specific price points.

        Now, ask yourself - why is identifying the price points and making the best single product you can at that price point a bad idea?

        If you manufacture only a few variants that's cheaper. This is part of Apple's success. Personally, I think the PC OEMs should learn this lesson. If we all went and voted on Dell's desktop cases, I think there would be a clear winner. So why make the others? Especially if not doing so would knock $50 off the price. What about the displays? Same story, right? Okay you'd make different sizes, but different stands and bezels? Sure we need the same price points - but multiple options at those price points? Why can't we just have the "best" one in each price point? If this could be cheaper for Dell to make (and logically it would be) then can we just keep the same prices and not have all the bloat and trailware? Give me a decent keyboard and recovery DVD?

        Oh, you still want 'choice'? Shame, I just wanted the nicest computer I could afford.
  • This article is long on speculation and short on examples.

    Let's put this in context.

    These transformers are a full PC tablet with a docking keyboard.

    When docked, I don't see *any* difference between it and an ultrabook with a touchscreen. Same keyboard. Same trackpad. If it has a solid latching system, the ONLY downside (if my Transformer Prime is a guide) is that the 'display' side will be a bit offbalanced. But in truth, it's never been a serious problem on the Prime.

    So - where is the compromise there?

    When it's detached, it's a Win8 tablet PC. Will Win8 work on tablets? This has yet to be seen - but it's better than Win7. But again - no obvious compromise here. It's a tablet. If you don't like it - it's going to be because Win 8 doesn't work well on tablets. The tablet itself will be much like any other tablet.

    Again, I can't see any compromise

    If you don't want to lug both parts around - leave the dock at home. You'll be no worse off than you would if you just bought a tablet. If you don't want to deal with a tablet - well, buy a ultrabook - but you could just dock it and leave it docked.

    Seriously - where's this 'compromise' that this causes in either of them because I don't see it.
  • This actually isn't the issue...

    The issue is pricing. Ultrabooks aren't selling because of pricing. Hybrid ultrabooks will be priced even higher.

    The whole "compromises" issue is plaguing the Windows 8 OS, not the hybrid form factor.

  • We had the TC-1XXX 10 years ago!

    This was the real deal in hybrids. It was great. I wish HP had stuck with the form factor and improved on it (battery life, weight, added touch, cameras, etc etc), all of which I think could have been minor progressive tweaks that today have proven to be feasible and cost-effective.

    My point is that this form factor with today's tech is viable and I think it would fill a void. I have owned two iPads (original and 2), and a couple of Android tablets (including the pen-enabled thinkpad), and none comes close to what I think a great hybrid (like a TC evolved to 2012) could do.

    The Samsung Slate 7 is OK, but it does not have a detachable keyboard; too bad...
    • I had a TC1000 over eight years ago

      The only problem with the platform was it did everything except run applications. I mean, they would load, they would actually do things like take input, but the experience was akin to watching paint dry between screen loads.

      Overall the platform worked well and I could easily see it happen again. There were things that broke down over time like the hinge was a bit twitchy. Other than that, I enjoyed the little laptop and it was my little web surfer.