Can Windows 8.1 devices close the door on Chromebooks?

Can Windows 8.1 devices close the door on Chromebooks?

Summary: A new generation of Windows PCs, with price points hovering around $300, is hitting the market with a vengeance this fall. Consumers stayed away from the last generation of high-priced touch notebooks. Will these new, cheaper devices turn the tide and reclaim the low-end market from Google's Chromebooks?

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TOPICS: PCs, Google, Windows 8
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The business of selling cheap PCs is brutal, with razor-thin margins and cutthroat competition.

For the past year or so, Google and its hardware partners have aggressively targeted this market with a handful of Chromebooks that typically sell for $299 or less. The #1 slot on Amazon’s best-selling laptops list, for example, has been occupied nonstop by Samsung’s $249 Chromebook for nearly a year.

Until this week, that is, when the new ASUS Transformer Book T100, running Windows 8.1, dislodged Samsung’s Chromebook from the top spot on that list.

What makes the T100 different from the previous crop of touch-enabled tablet/notebook hybrids? In a word, price. Those first-generation 2-in-1 devices were priced at a premium, typically in the $1000 range, which is too high for students and budget-conscious consumers to even consider.

The T100 is a full PC, with a 10.1-inch display that detaches from the keyboard to act as a tablet. It runs Windows 8.1 on a zippy new Atom Bay Trail Z3740 processor, has 64 GB of solid-state storage, and includes a copy of Office Home & Student 2013.

And its recommended retail price is $399, which means its street price is hovering around $350-380. That's close to the magic $300 number where PC sales are still growing.

Google has been promoting the Chromebook category heavily with TV ads and a marketing pitch that positions the devices as “a new type of computer with everything built in.” In the Laptops section at Walmart.com, traditionally the most budget-conscious of all online shopping destinations, the devices get prominent placement.

walmart-chromebooks

I stopped in at my local office superstore yesterday and saw the T100 prominently displayed for $350. Next to it was a new HP Pavilion 10 TouchSmart laptop, also equipped with a touchscreen, running Windows 8.1, and including Office Home & Student 2013, for $299.99.

That’s the magic price point that Windows PCs have to hit to begin reclaiming market share from extremely price-sensitive consumers.

There are more new Windows 8.1 devices in the sub-$300 category as well, including 8-inch tablets like the Dell Venue 8 Pro and Lenovo Miix 2 and the upcoming Toshiba Envoy.

These prices and device sizes are reminiscent of those that propelled the netbook category to success, briefly, a few years back. The trouble with netbooks is that they were sluggish and ultimately unsatisfying. The new generation of hardware, combined with Windows 8.1, means that these new devices start up in seconds and zip along on basic tasks, making them capable of doing everything a Chromebook can do, without sacrificing compatibility with conventional Windows desktop apps. There's still a price premium, but the gap has narrowed dramatically.

The latest research from NPD shows that touch-enabled notebooks struggled in the first half of 2013, selling 6.2 million units, equal to a 7 percent share of the overall notebook market. For the full year, NPD predicts that the market share of touch notebooks will rise to 11 percent and continue steadily climbing to reach nearly half of the notebook market by 2017.

I suspect those numbers may underestimate the growth in this category. There will, of course, continue to be a market for conventional business laptops, mostly running Windows 7. But touch capability is turning into a checklist item for new PCs. We won’t know until next year, when OEMs and analysts tally up their sales, whether the strategy was a success.

Topics: PCs, Google, Windows 8

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154 comments
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  • Touch was the compelling feature that finally sold my dad on a new PC

    Touch was the compelling feature along with higher resolution 1080p screen that finally sold my dad on a new PC to replace his XP machine. The backlit keyboard was also a must have.

    The PC market didn't bring enough change for too long and got stale at a time when tablets were emerging which proved to be a double whammy.
    greywolf7
    • Agree

      I completely agree with you and Ed. The demand for touchscreens, high resolution displays,and backlit keyboards, is going to explode once average people are aware that they are available at the current low prices.
      Sacr
      • Why?

        Why smudge your screen. The mouse is easier, more precise, and no shoulder or neck pain.
        As for lighted keyboard -- do you work in the dark?
        mytake4this
        • Why?

          Touch is quicker, and just as precise as a mouse. Seriously, we're not working with tiny UI controls anymore. Mouse "precision" is a fallacy.
          The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • Right now I'm sitting in front of three 24 inch monitors...

            ...If I sit far enough back to see them all properly, like I am now, and then reach out to touch them, if I lean forward a bit I can reach them. But I work at my computer all day. Am i supposed to sit here with my arms out-streached all day? Wonder how that would feel with my arthritic shoulders? Probably not too good? So at my desk with my big monitors, touch screens would be 100% useless to me.

            On my tablets (Have Android for entertainment and a Surface Pro from work) I like touch just fine. But lets face facts. On tablets and phones is just where it belongs...not on the desktop. So, I recently upgraded my desktop from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. Got myself a copy of Stardock's Start 8 and with a little tweaking my desktop looks like a desktop should i.e. like Windows 7.
            cornpie
          • 8.1 could handle mouse and keyboard

            For your case, mouse and keyboard input is what you want. So you should thank MS for not totally dump mouse away in favor of touch. One thing is clear that yours is a special case. Not many people use three 24" monitors at the same time.
            WillyThePooh
          • Mouse and keyboard

            I use Windows 8.1 with a mouse and keyboard all day long, sometimes 5 days a week. I like it this way and my productivity has not suffered, but, has improved over Windows 7. I used Windows 7 since it first came on the scene, but the look and feel and function of 8.1 is just beautiful, its won me over! Its fun to use, too. I do look forward to getting a touchscreen monitor when prices drop. I like and prefer the tiles to the desktop experience. I am getting either the Surface 2 or Nokia 2520 and only go for the total tiles experience along with my Window Phone 8. I do agree you should thank MS for not totally dumping the mouse (and keyboard) away in favor of touch!
            markld2013
          • Special case?

            I have *one* non-touch screen monitor. I never *touch* it except to dust it. I have never had any desire to. At work we *do* have touch screen monitors (XP-based post-op nursing data entry units) and four of our 11 staff have come down with RSI, requiring work-leave, cortisone injections and - in one case - an operation.
            The touch screens that are used most are becoming less responsive to touch commands. They lose calibration and "keyboarding" any text on them is a pain: too often the spacebar stroke didn't take, or the sensor double-typed, so you're correcting as much as you're typing.

            We uniformly hate the devices, but it's what we're given to work with. Oh, for a REAL keyboard!

            And this is the way of the future? Sitting at your desk, running Photoshop, arm outstretched for hours on end?

            Really? Really?!? MS?
            RobinHahn
          • You're trying too much.

            Just because you have touch doesn't mean your keyboard will suddenly disappear.

            Touchscreens require no more effort to use than clicking the button of your mouse. Your arms are stretched for no more than a few seconds at best.


            This is coming from someone who works with them daily. ;)
            The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • tablet

            I think we have to be talking about two different devices here. Oh wait, are we talking Win8 the tablet hybrid? Yes, I can see how touch works better on a tablet interface, but then again a proper GUI for a desktop with a large screen really isn't a tablet smacked on there as a GUI. With Linux, OS X, Win7 or ChromeOS mouse is great. Be sure to setup the mouse for FAST, and it covers the whole area with easy.
            mytake4this
          • Touch won't replace the mouse, just as mouse never replaced the keyboard.

            I have a tablet/laptop hybrid as a secondary device and most of the time I use a mouse, but for some lighter tasks touch is far easier. One common example of is when you're using keyboard with both hands and an alert comes up: it's a lot easier and faster just to reach to the screen than grab a mouse, look for cursor, move it to the proper spot and click.

            Both mouse and keyboard will continue to be quite useful for any intense work and a lot of other stuff, but touch is also great for a more intuitive manipulation. Even on desktop it can have its place, even though it clearly can't be relied on as often as with a tablet ("gorilla arms" and all that).
            Matjaž Miler
          • IF you read the article

            It was referring to laptops and notebooks. Along with tablets, laptops and notebooks is where touch belongs. Nobody said anything about a multi-monitor display setup for touch.
            gomigomijunk
          • just as precise

            When was the last time you tried picking individual data points in Excel charts with 50 or more data points with your fingers?

            No more fitfull attempts at marginal plausibility, eh?
            hrlngrv 
          • It's not an or, it's an AND (|| != &&)

            Touch and Mouse / Stylus is pretty useful - there are times where I am anchored to my mouse - coding / data / etc. , there are times I scroll or pinch to zoom. Windows 8 has me wishing OSX had touch support for those instances, but the choice is better than none.
            n0mad3
          • As long as this stays true, I'm happy

            The mouse is absolutely a superior form of input (and a WACOM tablet even more so) for certain graphic arts tasks. I'd hate to think we'd have to deal with sloppy touch screen inputs for fine motor control art tune ups.
            Mac_PC_FenceSitter
          • Choice.

            Windows 8.1 provides a choice for using multiple types of input: Touch, Keyboard, Mouse, Joystick, Pen, Voice, Gestures, Eye Tracking, Game Controllers, Remote Control, etc. Choose the best combination of input methods for the task.

            My complaint about Apple is that they choose for you.
            gomigomijunk
          • Touch, by nature, is *not* as precise as a mouse

            No, touch is not more precise than a mouse. Touch controls are by their very *nature* imprecise -- you use the glob of flesh on the tip of your finger, flatten it against the screen, and the computer estimates what you're intending to press based on the big disc it reads on the touch sensors. It cannot be precise. Compared to the mouse's precision of *a single pixel*, the touchscreen just doesn't stand a chance. The sacrifice of screen compactness that Windows 8 makes to compensate for the inherent imprecision of touch technology is also not an negligible loss.

            Furthermore, it's not necessarily as quick as a mouse either. The primary advantage of a touchscreen is that you can quickly access your pointer while barely removing your hands from the keyboard. In pointer-heavy work, however, keyboard use is less critical, and skilled use of a high-sensitivity mouse will allow you to work far more quickly than with a touchscreen. I can definitely see why a touchscreen would be advantageous if one did keyboard-centered work but was forced to endure a pointer-addict OS like Windows, though. I just prefer to use Linux, using a desktop environment designed for keyboard addicts.
            KiteX3
          • More work to touch screen

            In many instances using touch screen requires lifting your arm instead of using a mouse where your moving only your wrist. Is this better? I think not.
            JohnnyES-25227553276394558534412264934521
          • Precision of a mouse remains unmatched, and by no means a "fallacy".

            That said, it's not needed all the time. If applications don't rely on too small controls (aiming for which eventually gets tiresome even with a mouse), many people might not really need it at all.
            Matjaž Miler
          • Mouse plays second fiddle to Wacom digitizer and wireless pen.

            If you do intensive input for hours, like CAD, nothing beats a small Wacom Digitizer tablet and stylus. You can hold the pen while you touch type and the position of your hand is totally natural when you are selecting items on the screen.

            When I'm doing CAD work, I can feel the difference when I have to use a mouse vs. the pen. The mouse creates a lot of stress in your wrist and fingers vs. the pen.
            Joe.Smetona