PC vendors bet on convertibles but still room for others

Manufacturers are increasingly banking on the potential of hybrid tablets, but there will be still a preference for separate devices.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

For the year of 2013, PC vendors are pushing hybrid tablets which combine the laptop and touchscreen tablet form factors but users are unlikely to bite as the "perfect size" for such devices has not been found.

An analyst believes that users will still prefer to own separate device as the "perfect size" has yet to be found.
An analyst believes that users will still prefer to own separate device as the "perfect size" has yet to be found.

PC vendors who spoke to ZDNet Asia said they will be releasing hybrid tablets or convertible tablets, alongside thinner laptops, into the Asia-Pacific region this year.

Jessie Quek, country general manager for Lenovo Singapore, said the company is "betting big" on convertibles and Ultrabooks this year.

Quek said the convertible form factor which allows users to turn their device into a tablet or a laptop gives users more choice on how to use the device. "Enabled with touch capabilities, they open up a whole new world of possibilities for usage among consumers and PC makers alike," she said, adding that Ultrabooks, driven by Windows 8 touchscreens, will become more prominent in the coming months.

Nick Lazaridis, chief operating officer and vice president of Printing & Personal Systems Group at Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific and Japan, said has launched a convertible tablet which combines an ultrathin notebook and a touch-enabled tablet as well as a hybrid tablet which has a detachable screen that turns into a full tablet when separated from the keyboard. HP has also launched an ultrathin enterprise-ready tablet with Windows 8, he said. The products will be available in Asia-Pacific later in the year.

At Dell, Jeff Morris, director of end user computing for Asia-Pacific Japan, said the company showcased some new products during the CES in January, including a sub-US$500 Windows tablet targeted at school and small businesses as well as laptops with new designs which were thinner, lighter and offers "improved performance and longer battery life".

Potential hits

However, Enderle sees potential in a product that was launched at CES but did not receive much discussions.
"Perhaps the biggest innovation that few are talking about is the PC stick, either a USB or HDMI stick that provides much of the PC function and carries your PC personality conveniently in your pocket and can be plugged into, depending on configuration, either a PC or a TV or both to transform that device into your PC," he said.
Dell Wyse, which is part of Dell, unveiled such a device at CES called Project Ophelia

Despite PC vendors' enthusiasm for hybrid tablets, Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group, thinks that users will still prefer to own separate device as the "perfect size" has yet to be found.

"It is clear that the line between tablets and laptops will increasingly blur over the next 3 to 5 years but we have yet to identify the ideal size and form of a product that can replace both. Laptops under 13.3-inch have traditionally sold poorly and tablets over 11-inch haven't fared well either," said Enderle.

PC towers still rule for desktops
In a report published in mid-January, research firm Gartner reported the all-in-one PC was a "promising platform for the future" in view of the declining shipment of mobile PC and desktop PC shipments during the fourth quarter of 2012, where global shipments dropped 4.9 percent.

Lenovo's Quek believed sales of all-in-one PCs will increase with Windows 8 as the form factor "is a perfect fit" for the touch-friendly operating system".

Lazaridis added the allure of all-in-one PCs lay in the combination of performance, unique aesthetics, ergonomics and the space saving capabilities.

However, Quek noted the traditional tower PC was still the biggest segment in the emerging markets in the region even in markets such as Singapore where all-in-one PCs have seen a "fair bit of adoption".

HP's Lazaridis agreed. "We still see a substantial market segment of customers who require the affordability, flexibility and power of tower PCs. Whether you are in the game industry, or require them to help render of large amounts of data, tower PCs will be the majority of what is sold in the desktop PC segment for some time to come," he said.

Dell's Morris added all-in-one PCs are popular in the consumer space but not as popular in enterprise. He explained that monitors tend to have a longer lifecycle in the business space compared to the CPU. With a monitor and CPU combination, enterprise customers are able to upgrade their desktop performance at a lower cost than replacing the total system.

"For high performance users, the space constraint within an all-in-one means they will have to trade off CPU, disk, graphics capability due to the lack of expansion space," he said.

Users unswayed by new line-up
Two users whom ZDNet spoke to were not interested in the new products that are coming up. Instead, they were more interested in older line of devices.

Akemi Iwaya, a tech blogger, said she will not be replacing her desktop or laptop this year as the devices are perfectly fine. "The only desktop PC accessory that I could see myself getting is a different monitor larger than current one," she said.

While she would not be getting a new computer, Iwaya thinks that the Chromebook "would be rather awesome to own" in addition to her regular laptop. "Since I use Google's services for work-related activities every day, it would definitely be a great fit for me," she said.

For postgraduate student Chua Soon Hau, his next computer-related purchase will likely be the Apple Macbook Pro which will replace his 3-year-old Mac.

Asked why he was not considering Windows product, Chua explained that he switched from Windows to Mac three years ago and has since prefer Apple's computer because it is hassle free with "great hardware and software design".

Chua added that selects machines based on what they can do. "For Windows 8, it’s a bit nebulous at the moment in terms of developer support," he said.

However, Chua noted he would choose Windows 7 for PC games as "there is no substitute on the Mac".

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