Convertible notebooks will sell, but for how long?

The flashy new convertible notebooks being shown off with Windows 8 may attract buyers until reality sets in.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor on

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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