Lenovo, Nvidia building convertible Windows RT tablets: Who will buy?

Lenovo, Nvidia building convertible Windows RT tablets: Who will buy?

Summary: Convertible devices will face a number of challenges, including compromises associated with convergence devices and price.

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Lenovo, not put off by Microsoft's Surface ambitions, is rumored to be working on an ARM-powered Windows RT tablet.

The Wall Street Journal reports that industry hard-hitting Chinese PC maker Lenovo -- soon to be the world's biggest PC maker by shipments -- has partnered with Nvidia to bring to market convertible Windows RT tablets.

Nvidia will supply ARM-based Tegra 3 mobile processors to Lenovo, according to the report. 

What's interesting here is not the fact that Lenovo has plans for Windows RT-based devices, or the fact that they will be powered by Nvidia processors, it's the fact that they it is rumored to be a convertible device "with a keyboard that flips around to turn the product into a tablet".

Convertible hardware is not new, but some expect that Windows 8, because of its heavy emphasis on touch, will allow OEMs to reimagine hardware and come out with new twists on old ideas (pun intended). The new twist that convertibles bring to the table is that they are a convergence of tablet and notebook, combining a touchscreen with a fold-away keyboard. The idea, it seems, is that Windows 8 will be the sales driver of these devices.

Problem is, there's never been a proven mass market for convertible devices, and there may never be one.

All of the ones I've seen -- or at least seen designs for -- come across as a clunky and awkward to use. Either the screen detaches from the keyboard completely -- making it more than likely that the keyboard is going to get left at home or the office when it's needed the most -- or you have to perform some complex origami-like maneuvers with the device to uncover or put away the keyboard.

Another problem facing these devices will come down to a single word -- compromise. It's hard to imagine how convertibles will bring the best of both a tablet and a notebook to a single device. OEMs can throw phases such as "no compromise experiences" about as much as they want, but every device and design I've seen reeks of compromise.

Another factor that no one is seriously addressing is what's going to drive sales of these devices. Will consumerization drive enterprise adoption, or will it work the other way? Given that consumers are spoilt for choice as to what to spend their money on -- iPads, iPhones, Kindle Fires, Nexus 7 tablets... and so on -- it's hard to see how these hybrid devices will get much of a look in.

Ultimately, pricing will play a massive role in determining whether Windows RT succeeds or fails, and given the rumors that licensing costs for Microsoft's ARM-based version will be between $50 and $65, it's going to be hard for these devices to compete on price next to devices such as the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 that have a $199 price tag.

Image sourceLenovo.

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Laptops, Lenovo, Microsoft

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61 comments
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  • It's 2012

    Convertible ARM tablets. Who could have thought that was a good idea?
    symbolset
    • Probably has great battery life

      So that might be a key sales point
      grayknight
      • Maybe. But nowhere near the apps and content ecosystem

        The iPad have all three and most likely will be cheaper than these Arm Windows 8 tablet. Tough sell.
        dave95.
  • Obviously people will buy it

    Even if it is more expensive than Nexus, Win RT convertibles will sell. There is a reason why iPad users buy separate keyboards. Just content consumption device is not what many people want to limit with. RT will also come with Office, USB and OS that is designed really well for the purpose. It provides something that people are waiting for.
    ninjacut
    • Where have we heard that before...

      ..Windows CE/Mobile vs. Palm - "A Windows compatible PDA with a familiar interface and office applications - obviously people will buy it." ... and they didn't..

      ..Windows Tablet computers - "A Windows laptop with excellent handwriting recognition, support for all the software a user needs, with Office Applications and a familiar interface - obviously people will buy it." ... and they didn't..

      ..Zune media player - "Finally, a device to compete with the iPod, with the backing of marketing giant Microsoft, with a social networking aspect not yet thought of by Apple - obviously people will buy it." .. and they didn't..

      Nothing is "obvious" in this world, it turns out. We'll have to wait and see... (and FWIW, I'm hoping Windows RT tablets succeed - I can see a lot of possibilities for my own clients and myself that the iPad just doesn't offer right now).
      daftkey
      • I love historical amnesia...

        Exhibit 1, WinCE: The OS was clunky, slow, and inconsistent. Early flavors required a serial cable. There was no multimedia playback, partially because of the lack of CPU, partially because there was no internal memory to speak of (64MB is about a dozen MP3s), and CF/SD cards that could hold even 2GB of data cost about as much as the device itself at the time. Data plans were rare and expensive, involved anywhere between 9600bps and later on EDGE/2G speeds, mobile websites were rare, mobile browsers - all of them - sucked. There was no Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to make it worth anyone's while to have one unless you needed 24/7 e-mail. Apps were sold on SD cards alongside Windows software in retail stores. In essence, take a first generation iPhone, gimp Safari, double its width, take out the media player, require a stylus, ditch the capacitive touch screen, and add entries to resolve Facebook and Twitter to 127.0.0.1 in the hosts file. Try selling those.

        Exhibit 2, Windows Tablet computers: They *did* have great handwriting recognition, they *did* support desktop software, and they *did* run bog standard Windows. Now I always said that they could have made a mint by targeting the graphic design crowd instead of the college student crowd. Even the Apple die-hards would have taken a solid look at a Windows tablet in 2005 if they put some decent guts into them. Consider too that software of that era was designed for a mouse, so 16x16 icons were standard practice and well accepted. Even though it ran every Windows title available, the whole platform effectively rested upon OneNote and Inkball, and some Franklin Covey variant of Outlook. All are great titles, but don't really NEED handwriting input, and for the price, if you could afford it, you could probably type as fast as you handwrote. On top of that, handwriting entry capable laptops cost anywhere between $1,000-$2,000 more than keyboard-only units, the specs were generally on par with a low-to-low-mid tier laptop, the swivel hinges rarely lasted more than a year and a half, and targeting the college demographic with a laptop whose price difference cost more than a semester or two of textbooks simply was doomed to flop. Conversely though, Fujitsu has made a pretty penny selling these kinds of devices wholesale to medical IT, and you'll still find tens of thousands of them in hospitals all over.

        Exhibit 3, Zune: This right here is the first case of Apple beating Microsoft at their own game. If the 5th generation iPod and the Zune both came out at the exact same time, with no iPods prior to it, the landscape might have been different. See, Apple had inertia. For several years prior to the release of the Zune, Apple had been spending its time dragging the RIAA, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century with per-song, $0.99 downloads, in an interface that made it much easier to buy and manage music than MusicMatch or Windows Media had done. Buying songs was very simple, ripping songs was simple, and syncing a media player was also considered to be very simple. On top of that, all the songs from Apple were DRM'd at the time, so anyone who had more than a handful of songs that didn't come from Kazaa were locked into the platform, as was anyone who had purchased video content. Zune's concept of 'social' was to allow users to share songs, but both users had to have a zune, had to be in range of each other to 'squirt' (a highly problematic term for a player whose colors were black, white, and turd brown) songs, and they'd only play three times. More than the iPod allowed? sure...but definitely not worth the tradeoff of batterly life for the wi-fi radio and having to lobotomize your meticulously curated iTunes library when half your library was locked out of playing on anything that didn't have an Apple logo.

        Now I'm not saying that convertible WinRT tablets are going to sell like masking tape in a hurricane, but I *am* saying that software has come a long way, hardware has come a long way, and the market drastically changed since then. There's good arguments on the side of WinRT convertibles gaining some level of traction in the market, and there's good arguments that "it doesn't run iPad software" will be a dealbreaker for most would-be buyers. However, that doesn't mean that the results of the past are clear indications of the present state of the market.

        Joey
        voyager529
        • Correction on Exhibit 1

          Sorry to respond to my own post, but technically early WinCE devices did have a mobile version of Windows Media Player, so it was literally possible to get songs onto your device and play them, but it was an exercise in patience and other challenges to do it because the interface was incredibly problematic, and again, storage space was extremely limited.

          Joey
          voyager529
          • also

            windows CE was very, very, very popular
            erikswanson
  • Really..

    "Ultimately, pricing will play a massive role in determining whether Windows RT succeeds or fails, and given the rumors that licensing costs for Microsoft's ARM-based version will be between $50 and $65, it's going to be hard for these devices to compete on price next to devices such as the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7 that have a $199 price tag."

    You are trying to compare a 7" tablet with limited use with a 10" tablet that can connect to scanners printers and other such devices. Come on let's be serious here.
    RF68
    • Today almost any device can be connected to everything

      @RF68 Most modern Android devices (phones and tablets) has the USB OTG function and others has bluetooth support and they support a wide spectrum of pheripherials OOTB.
      jsapaj
  • I have no interest

    in any device that's locking into one ecosystem or one OS
    theoilman
    • Enjoy your desktop or laptop then...

      ..because you should stay away from any smartphone, PDA, tablet, or anything else with the words "Apple", "Android", "Google", or "Windows RT" in them.
      daftkey
      • android

        android supports multiple app stores, and most devices (though it's pointless for the phones) can have linux distros loaded on to them. when it comes out next year, you will also be able to put firefox OS on any android device.

        and then of course there are desktops and laptops, and the upcoming x86 tablets and hybrid devices that will run windows 8 natively, but will be able to have other OSs loaded onto them.
        theoilman
        • Not all app stores are available on any Android tablet

          Unless you have a non Google approved tablet
          grayknight
          • I don't know what you're talking about

            I have had no problem putting any app store on my phone, and it's google approved. as long as you enable installing apk files from outside the google app store, which takes just a few clicks on any android device, you can load whatever app store you want.
            theoilman
          • Are you talking and responding to yourself?

            The entire thread has the username anonymous, while the comments look to be like different people responding to each other in a debate.

            A flaw in the web site coding?
            DontUseGoogleAtAll!
          • Something's screwed up here.

            I've posted several comments today, and now they are all signed as "anonymous".

            Zogg
            Zogg
        • Missing the point

          (Hardly a surprise.) It makes no difference how many app stores there are. They can still only run Android software, so they are locked into the Android ecosystem. Not that it matters, since, by your own admission, you are not going to install an alternate OS on your mobile device, which violates your second dictate, so you are right back to being stuck with your PC.
          .DeusExMachina.
  • Lenovo, Nvidia building convertible Windows RT tablets: Who will buy?

    A lot of companies will buy. It doesn't need a proven mass market, it just needs a market and there are plenty of examples. This is the case where Lenovo is providing a solution to a niche market. Just because you don't like convertibles doesn't mean they don't have their uses.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • I'm doubtful

      most companies will stick to windows 7. companies don't like to upgrade too often, they don't like change.

      for those companies who want to give employees something like an iPad but better for work, they might be interested in windows 8, but they will go for windows 8 pro. they will want legacy support for sure, and the API restrictions on windows RT are going to really limit its usefulness- something enterprise will likely care about more than the average consumer.
      theoilman