CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

Summary: A few companies are showing off laptops that convert into tablets at the CES this week, a rebirth of the convertible notebook.

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The official CES hasn't kicked off yet but as is usual the pre-show hoopla gets things hopping with announcements and keynotes that try to amp the attendees up into a frenzy. This year was typical with major companies showing off not only products-to-be, but a rash of prototypes that will probably never see the light of day. These prototypes proved that for better or worse, the convertible notebook is back.

See also: CES 2012: ZDNet’s news and product coverage | CES 2012: CNET’s news and product coverage

It's important to remember that prototypes, no matter how innovative or well-done, are not real products. Most of them will never be produced for purchase, as companies make them to catch the attention of show-goers and journalists to get their 15 minutes of fame. They sort of throw the prototypes against the wall to see what will stick, if anything.

So far at CES we've seen a few companies try to bridge the upcoming Windows 8 tablet with the Ultrabook. These have included a couple of sliders shown by Intel and Sony, that have a touch tablet screen that slides down over the keyboard to turn a thin laptop into a slate. It's not clear how well this actually works, as the Sony prototype was shut away under a glass display and the Intel model was shown only briefly during the company's press keynote.

The slider type of convertible notebook is nothing new, you may remember the ill-fated HTC Shift that actually came to market. It was ahead of its time, with heavy, clunky hardware and size constraints that prevented it from being popular.

These new prototype sliders look really nice, with super thin laptops that become tablets, ready for Windows 8 to be released later this year. What isn't clear is how these might resonate with consumers, who have never latched onto the convertible notebook type of device in the past. It may be an effort to try to innovate in a largely undefined Windows touch tablet space, and one that won't go anywhere.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga may be the most interesting of the convertible notebooks coming out at CES, as the company actually announced it as a real product. It's not a slider, it uses a unique dual-hinge to allow 360 degree rotation of the laptop screen to be used in a number of configurations, including as a heavy slate.

Convertible notebooks have been around for almost a decade in the Tablet PC world, and have always been a niche product not generating a lot of sales. These new generation convertibles may be a big risk for the companies producing them, as there is no reason to think consumers will feel more warmly about them now than in the past. Maybe that these are thinner and lighter will give them a chance, but a big chance it is.

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Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility

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9 comments
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  • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

    Have tablet-PCs really been niche? I don't typically follow sales numbers. All I know is that every school I've seen (even the high schools), the teachers seem to be using tablet-PCs and a projector. I can't even imagine what a math class would be like without being taught with one would be like.
    Aerowind
    • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

      @Aerowind That would be the definition of a niche market.
      JamesKendrick
    • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

      @Aerowind A lot of people at my workplace have HP convertables. It's not so much a 'niche' computer as one that is perceived as being more expensive without enough value to justify the cost. Personally, I love them - I've had some kind of tablet PC since 2005, although now I'm on slates like the Samsung Series 7 Slate.

      But I do a lot of drawing and I also actually like handwriting when I'm taking notes.
      TheWerewolf
  • Price

    All other things being perfect, price alone would have been a deterrent in the past. If they can bring down the price, let's see. One thing I'd also like to see would be a more homogeneous feel after you've swiveled (bent over?) the screen. The Dell Latitude XT2 doesn't feel near as solid as a Motion slate when the Dell is swiveled. If they can make it without the wiggle and thickness, that would be quite an improvement. Now, pack a great digitizer and pen, and we may just be talking.
    WebSiteManager
    • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

      @WebSiteManager

      Yes exactly. People tend to forget that one of the main reasons (if not the main) was the price premium you had to pay for a convertible Tablet PC in the past. In the past this would usually run you at least $500 over a similarly spec'd laptop.

      Now with hardware prices coming down, it might no longer be an obstacle, and with Windows 8, touch (and stylus) software will hopefully become more common which will further justify the form factor.
      Qbt
    • More than just price...

      @WebSiteManager Price, battery life, bulk, and weight. They really have to hit the sweet spot in all 4 categories for convertibles to take off. Personally, I don't see that happening.
      BillDem
      • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

        @BillDem

        Really? you have no confidence the rapid growth of technology? All of those things have been solved or close to solved even today, give it another year, all is good. I think you lack vision, even just a year from now.
        spaulagain2
  • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

    I'd love to test one to compare to my Gateway M275...
    julifnash@...
  • RE: CES 2012: Convertible notebooks are back

    I think 3 things are different.
    1. Much thinner and lighter. Most of the ultrabooks are about as thin as the iPad 1
    2. Much better technology. If you compare the touch / pen experience of Win XP to the touch first experience of Win 8, it is a completely different experience.
    3. Consumer Awareness of Tablets. Most people know what a tablet if they do not own one already. Even people who own iPads may want to get one of these to replace the laptop that they needed to buy a year ago but did not because they got the iPad. They still need to replace that old thick clunky 10 minute to boot up laptop. Something like this may make some of them splurge.
    sharkboyjohn