Tablets are here to stay no matter how you feel about them, and Windows 8 tablets will be appearing en masse later this year. We're already starting to see the return of the convertible notebook, with several models displayed at the CES that have the tablet screen slip down on top of the keyboard for dual duty as both a tablet and a laptop. Rather than revisit the convertible notebook that yields a heavy, thick tablet, I'd like to see the rebirth of the hybrid HP tc1100 with the detachable keyboard.
I used a tc1100 for several years as my Tablet PC, and the detachable screen let me use the tablet in as light a form as possible for the time. The keyboard with its innovative hinge let me have a laptop equivalent as needed, without adding excessive weight to the gear bag. It wasn't a thin and light solution as the tablet was thick and heavy by today's standards.
A hybrid design using today's hardware would be outstanding, and I believe it would be a popular for those needing a Windows tablet. Imagine a thin, one pound slate like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, with a light keyboard that could be attached when needed. The whole enchilada would be less than half an inch thick with the keyboard attached, and weigh maybe two pounds. This is entering the territory where you could leave the keyboard attached even while using it as a tablet with little penalty.
Look at the photo of the tc1100, and you can't help but appreciate the design of the keyboard unit. The screen of the tc1100 was a bit smaller than the widescreen display of today's 10.1-inch tablets, so the keyboard unit could be a little wider for an even more comfortable typing experience. Note the keys on the keyboard and you appreciate how thin it is while remaining as good as those bulky laptop docks.
The tc1100 tablet was thick and heavy (over 3 pounds), and this created an engineering challenge for the hybrid design. The keyboard needed to be thin and light, yet it needed to support the bulk and weight of the tablet in a variety of configurations. This challenge largely goes away with a tablet as light as the Galaxy Tab, so I believe HP or another OEM could make this design pretty easily.
Tablets available today are using a full keyboard dock, complete with second battery, and while that turns the tablet into more of a laptop than the hybrid solution I want it comes with a penalty in weight and bulk.
I have no problem carrying an iPad 2 with a light keyboard case, and this hybrid would weigh about the same and take up the same space in the bag. It would turn the Windows 8 tablet into a real laptop running Windows, and that would be appealing to both the enterprise and consumers.
HP could produce my hybrid using the same technology from the tc1100. It could use either an Intel tablet, or better an ARM-based tablet to keep the battery life and weight down. The lack of a battery in the keyboard unit would prohibit using a trackpad, but that should be OK with the touch screen tablet. It's just as precise to manipulate the screen directly, and the arrow keys on the keyboard add precision when needed. The trackstick on the tc1100 keyboard functioned flawlessly, and would work just fine.
I would buy one of these hybrid tablets and keyboards in a heartbeat. How about you?