Convertible notebooks will sell, but for how long?

Convertible notebooks will sell, but for how long?

Summary: The flashy new convertible notebooks being shown off with Windows 8 may attract buyers until reality sets in.

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TOPICS: Tablets
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Intel, Microsoft, and PC makers are at Computex this week showing off a raft of new convertible notebooks they hope will take the world by keyboard. They have touch tablets, the market everyone desperately wants to break into, and some form of a keyboard to turn them into pseudo-laptops.

The hope is that by offering multiple configurations these new hybrids can appeal to everyone. The novelty factor will see these things sell at first, but the question is for how long before reality sets in?

Larry Dignan penned an excellent article about these flashy new convertibles. At first he was excited about grabbing one and having the best of both worlds (tablet and notebook). The more he thinks about it the more hesitant he is getting, as he fears the attempt to do everything means there might be compromises doing everything.

Larry is a smart man, as I think the hesitation he's already experiencing will hit a lot of folks. While he is having second thoughts prior to purchasing one of these whiz-bang hybrids, a lot of folks will excitedly buy one first. Then reality will set in and remorse will be the result.

I predict that many hybrid purchasers will come to experience one of two realities. Some will come to realize that a good tablet is all they need almost all the time. Through actual usage they'll find the keyboard is something they don't reach for very often. The tablet alone is all this group will need most of the time.

The other group will find over time that they end up using the hybrid as a laptop all of the time. The nice tablet screen is there, but will end up serving primarily as a display for the laptop. They will rarely use the tablet as a tablet, instead reverting back to the familiar laptop form almost all of the time.

While these new convertible notebooks being shown will serve these folks, as Dignan points out there will be compromises. Why have a keyboard and the resultant cost increases and usability sacrifices if all you end up using is a simple tablet function? The same for the tablet functions if you only use the notebook functions?

These convertibles will be more expensive than conventional tablets or notebooks. They require more engineering and special components than either basic form. They add complexity to the manufacturing, and create the potential for more parts to fail during normal usage.

The inevitable increased failure rate will be a support cost that someone has to absorb, either the enterprise or the individual buyer in BYOD environments. The reality will set in soon enough, why be exposed to higher costs and maintenance if the convertibles end up getting used as either a tablet or a laptop all of the time?

The PC industry is throwing itself behind the convertible in the hopes that the brand new Windows 8 will ignite a buying spree for those wanting something new. I believe that will happen to a degree until the reality sets in. Then there will be something else that the industry doesn't want to see -- buyer's remorse.

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Topic: Tablets

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206 comments
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  • problem is...

    ...tablets are consumption devices and laptops are content-creation devices and it's a rare person who wants both.

    Personally I can't stand cramped laptop keyboards with keys that have minimal travel. As for tablets--they have no keyboards. Period. An onscreen keyboard is not a keyboard, it's a pathetic cry for help.

    At least the hybrids approach laptop capabilities. But you're right, who really needs a hybrid? An ultra-book/Mac Air type laptop serves the same purpose--and is probably more capable.

    But then again, tablets just suck for anything except consumption. And no, if you have to use an actual keyboard for a tablet, it's not a tablet anymore.
    wolf_z
    • Metro apps will include productivity apps

      All Windows 8 PCs, including tablets, will be able to do productivity type work. See below for an example:

      http://windowsphonenetwork.com/2012/03/microsoft-dynamics-a-metro-style-windows-8-app/

      You don't seem to get it that the world is moving towards touch computing, and hybrids form an important bridge between the old and new worlds. For many, hybrids will allow them to work with classic Windows apps, until suitable Metro apps become available. They will at the same time get to enjoy this new, emerging form of touch computing Metro apps provide. Eventually most computing will be done without physical keyboards, though apps which require heavy typing may cause many to cling to their physical keyboards, in the new touch computing world.
      P. Douglas
      • Not the Apps that Make Tablets Unproductive

        It's not the lack of apps that makes tablets unproductive; it's the lack of a separate keyboard and pointing device. The tablet form factor is not good at productivity; that's not its strength. I fail to see any movement in the direction of making it good for productivity (other than finding ways to connect a keyboard/pointing device). Putting productivity apps on tablets won't make them good at productivity.

        The world may be "moving towards touch computing" in a way, but, make no mistake, the world is not 'moving away from keyboard/mouse computing.' Until there is something that makes computing without a keyboard and mouse productive, the keyboard and mouse are here to stay. Tablets with "productivity apps" are not that something.
        CFWhitman
      • The vast majority of productivity apps do not require a physical keyboard

        @CFWhitman,

        The overwhelming majority of productivity apps do not require a keyboard. Also productivity apps which require precise interaction, can use a stylus in lieu of a mouse. Beyond apps which require heavy typing, a keyboard is really not necessary. E.g. utility apps; Photoshop, Autocad, and similarly creative apps; video processing; browsing; emailing; calendaring; instant messaging; trading station apps used in financial markets; browsing; etc. do not require a physical keyboard. In fact I believe the amount of productivity apps that require heavy typing is less than 10%. (I think it could be even less than 1%.)
        P. Douglas
      • The Vast Majority of Productivity Happens with a Keyboard/Mouse

        It doesn't really matter how many productivity apps are available that work without a keyboard and mouse (or similar pointing device). It matters how much productivity actually happens without a keyboard and mouse.

        A stylus on a capacitive touchscreen is not precise. You at least need to have an additional method for a stylus to work for it to become a practical pointing device for more precise work (even then the pointer still tends to get in the way of seeing the screen).

        A tablet cannot compete with a desktop for serious work in Photoshop, AutoCAD, or video processing because of both screen size and input efficiency. It's nice to have apps like these available for small, quick changes on the go or collaboration during a meeting, but not for serious work.

        Software for browsing, emailing, calendaring, and instant messaging is not productivity software. I'm not terribly familiar with trading station apps, but I suspect they are not productivity apps either.

        It's not productivity apps that require a mouse, external pointer, and a larger screen. It's just productivity itself that requires those things.
        CFWhitman
      • Nope, it does not

        @CFWhitman,

        [i]It doesn't really matter how many productivity apps are available that work without a keyboard and mouse (or similar pointing device). It matters how much productivity actually happens without a keyboard and mouse.

        A stylus on a capacitive touchscreen is not precise. You at least need to have an additional method for a stylus to work for it to become a practical pointing device for more precise work (even then the pointer still tends to get in the way of seeing the screen).

        A tablet can cannot compete with a desktop for serious work in Photoshop, AutoCAD, or video processing because of both screen size and input efficiency. It's nice to have apps like these available for small, quick changes on the go or collaboration during a meeting, but not for serious work.[/i]

        You need to tell the guys in the following video. Apparently they did not receive the memo with the information you claim. Because they are using a large touch screen and stylus, and claiming to gain a significant amount of productivity. Also they are claiming to gain increased accuracy over the mouse, when using the stylus.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWuvW27c29E

        As for needing a desktop PC, I've read where high end laptops can now do video editing work which before required desktops. Also all-in-ones (AIOs) and desktop PCs with touch screens using Windows 8 Metro apps, can still use physical keyboards in the event users have to do heavy typing.

        All of this do not detract from the point that the overwhelming majority of productivity apps do not require a physical keyboard, because you do not need to do heavy typing to use them. Also bringing touch computing to AIOs and desktop PCs, does not take away the mouse and keyboard, because they will remain, with touch merely being an additional form of input.

        [i]Software for browsing, emailing, calendaring, and instant messaging is not productivity software. I'm not terribly familiar with trading station apps, but I suspect they are not productivity apps either.

        It's not productivity apps that require a mouse, external pointer, and a larger screen. It's just productivity itself that requires those things. [/i]

        All the software activities you listed above are used by businesses to conduct business, and as a result, are productivity type activities. The bottom line is that the physical keyboard is not needed for the vast majority of productivity oriented apps. These apps can be done in tablet mode with the aid of a stylus and soft keyboard. Hybrid PCs allow users to switch to laptop mode to address the rest of their business software activities. As for AIOs and desktops, touch based computing does not take away mouse and keyboard input, as you still can use these forms of input in tandem with touch.
        P. Douglas
      • That's a Digitizer

        The video you point to is about a product that is not a touchscreen, but a digitizer (that is, it doesn't respond to touch by anything other than the stylus). That is a great thing for art applications, and something improving rapidly, though it is not as new as the tablet craze.

        With that particular technology, it is turning out to be nice to have the screen and the digitizer together (there are also digitizers that are not overlayed atop a screen). This is a very special purpose and very expensive product. As I said, it does not rely on the capacitive or resistive touchscreen technology that most tablets are based on, and in fact, relies on regular touches [i]not[/i] activating it in order to be practical for its purpose. If you look deeper, this type of stylus technology is not the same thing as a touchscreen at all.

        Not every piece of software used in business is productivity software. Business also relies on communication and organizational/management software. That type of software is necessary to keep things running smoothly, but it's not where the actual work takes place.
        CFWhitman
      • Many hybrids will come with touch + digitizer pen input

        @CFWhitman,

        My point is that there will be tablets / hybrids sold in which you can use both touch and a pen (for precise input) - something which many current day Windows 7 Tablet PCs have. On these devices, you will be able to do a lot of productivity type work, without having to use physical keyboards, in tablet mode.

        I believe most people would agree, that activity which contributes to the running of a business, is productive activity. Business communication is therefore productive activity. Most knowledge workers do not type all day. Only data entry workers do so. If you are suggesting that only typing constitutes real work, then that means America and most economies, are extremely inefficient.
        P. Douglas
      • Stylus?

        Don't get me wrong. I love EMR digitizers. They are way way way more precise than capacitive digitizers. I have one in my Windows tablet circa 2001. They didn't go anywhere. As much as I loved it, (I created a web form I could use to fill out patient forms for the research grant I was working on.) aside from that 5% of epic perfection, 95% of its use was connected to a keyboard and mouse. We stopped relying on the stylus for productivity over a hundred years before we started digitizing data. Think about it.
        tkejlboom
      • Deleted

        .
        P. Douglas
      • Yes, the stylus

        @tkejlboom,

        The pen didn't go far on the Tablet PC, because the Tablet PC didn't go far. Period. But digitizer pens are more accurate than mice, make doing graphical work on the PC more natural and fast, allow for free form note taking, and can be used for precise manipulation of screen elements in lieu of the mouse.

        Now that the Tablet PC main issues are being addressed (user experience and apps) along with other issues, there is no reason to believe that the pen input device won't take off. The Samsung Note smartphone is doing well after all by incorporating a stylus.
        P. Douglas
      • Says who?

        You don't seem to get that a lot of users are just fed up with "Forget your work, be reasonable and do it our way - sStop moaning and pay up 'till it hurts - then pay some more - and more - and more....". Repeat after me "we do not want dumbed down touch screens".
        peter@...
      • Wrong, CFWhitman; it's the users who refuse to even try.

        Too many naysayers have said, "It can't do A,B or Z" when people all over the world have proven that it can do almost (but not quite) anything a lightweight laptop can do, with certain, usually enterprise-level exceptions. The apps most definitely make tablets productive and imaginative use by tens of millions of users have made tablets the single most important technology innovation this century.

        Rather than making such blanket statements that are so patently false, take a look at how tablets are already making work easier in so many different fields from retail to construction, medical to art. It's people, not any lack of components.
        Vulpinemac
      • Really?

        Maybe if all you do is email. You need a real keyboard to touch type. Have you ever typed board meeting minutes with a tablet? Worked on large spreadsheets? Get real. The whole world is not moving towards touch computing. And we are not all 'clinging' to keyboards - they are a necessity in the business world.
        Coyoteaz
      • Bah!

        Photoshop on a tablet? Don't think so.
        Coyoteaz
      • Change isn't always for the better, or successful

        Gadget companies keep trying to force touch computing on us, but it's a misnomer...touch-social-networking would be a better description. Touch computing is awkward, inaccurate, and in no way an improvement over a mouse/keyboard for all but the simple tasks.

        Ever tried to do an accurate selection in Photoshop of a subject, using touch computing? You'd have to expand the pixels to 10mm square to be as accurate as with a mouse. Getting an accurate crop or rotation, fine curves adjustments, none of that is easily done with a poking/sliding finger. And keyboard shortcuts, which allow experienced Photoshop users to quickly choose tools and options they want? Locating and poking at menu items on a screen is very awkward in comparison, and slow. Sure, for the Facebook user who wants to lighten his pic, just poke a button or two and you're good, and another button unloads it to Facebook or whatever. For the social networker who only wants to type hi jo how r u omg, poking at a screen is OK, but for a business letter, or even a literate message of any sort? Awkward and slow.

        The whole touch-screen idea is being hyped and pushed by marketers and those who want to sell things, not anyone who cares if it's an improvement; it just has to be different, so we'll all switch and buy new stuff.

        I have a high-end camera that has a touch screen in addition to buttons and normal controls. The touch screen looks nice and at first use appears to be handy, but in real life use, where you need to get something done, it's slower and less precise for most everything. I finally flipped the screen over so I am not even tempted to try using it, as it is hard to control anywhere near as quickly and accurately as normal dials, menus, and buttons once you know your way around the camera. No doubt a total novice would like the touch screen, but that's because it's monkey-simple and requires no learning, and accuracy or speed doesn't matter. And paging through the photos by wiping your finger across the screen, or expanding them by spreading the fingers is silly, when a simple button press scrolls in either direction, a flick of the zoom lever expands. Gee, that's really neat technology, who cares if it's useless for anything other than marveling at technology.

        It amounts to the usefulness of computers being reduced to facebookers and tweeters, and those with a near-zero attention span so they can't learn to do anything but poke a finger. Some of us use computers for more complex or important tasks, and will resist the awkward change they're trying to force in the guise of progress.
        garyleroy@...
      • "cling to their physical keyboards"

        You write in a way that is disdainful and rude to anyone who might actually know how to type, and prefer to use a real keyboard to do it. Yes the world is definitely going touch in many aspects, but it is not the end all, be all yet and I don't see it in the foreseeable future. You can drink the Koolaide and pretend the keyboard will die soon, but it ain't gonna happen.
        slammer55
      • I guarantee

        That I can create and edit a spreadsheet, word document, database, etc MUCH faster with a keyboard and mouse. You would be very hard pressed to find a normal business activity that can be done faster on a touchscreen than it can with a keyboard and mouse. Sure, some things may work on a touchscreen, but they usually don't work BETTER.
        dsa791
    • If only we could pair a Bluetooth keyboard with a tablet

      They might even come up with a docking station. Oh well, maybe one day;-)
      Richard Flude
      • Careful Richard, you are exposing James as a hypocrite

        After all, his iPad + bluetooth keyboard is a convertible, the exact same thing he just spent an entire blog article pointing out is a fail. Also, don't ask him how he feels about gorilla arms reaching over a keyboard to touch a touchscreen. Again, you would expose him as a hypocrite. Then again, you know exactly where he is coming from.
        toddbottom3