Why tablet/laptop hybrids will be the next big thing in PCs.
I recently read a great piece by my friend Harry McCraken titled, "How the Ipad 2 Became My Favorite Computer." Like Harry, I carry my iPad 2 with me at all times as my second computing device, the first of which is my smartphone. Thanks to the ZaggMate Keyboard, which can also be used as a cover for my iPad, it is easy to carry around.
Sure, I still use a laptop for heavy lifting, especially if I am working on contracts and large complex documents or big reports, but that is only about a quarter of the time. The rest of the time, I can do pretty much everything I need to do, such as handle email and write my columns, on the iPad 2 using the Zagg keyboard.
This type of computing is called "hybrid" computing and has been around for some time. The first hybrid versions were called convertibles and were part of Microsoft's Tablet and Pen-Centric Computing initiative launched in 2000 at CES. Most of these convertibles had swivel screens that would rotate around and lay over the keyboard, transforming them into tablets. These were rather bulky laptops and, like most tablets before the iPad, typically used in vertical markets.
I believe that 2012 will be the year when the new hybrid takes off. In fact, I think it will be the hot product of the New Year. But unlike swivel-based laptop/tablet convertibles of the past, these devices will be ultra-thin laptops with tablet-based screens that pop off and turn into modern day tablets. To be fair, we have seen a couple of these already but they were poorly designed and had mixed operating systems; the laptop part used Windows but the tablet used Android. The dual operating systems communicated poorly unless the app was in the cloud.
So, what is different this time? The big change is going to come when Microsoft introduces Windows 8 for tablets and Windows 8 for Ultrabooks. The basic idea is that it will use Windows 8 when in notebook mode and Windows 8 tablet version in tablet mode. Both will have the Windows 8 Metro UI on them so that the user experience will be the same. If the apps are written for the Windows 8 tablet version's Metro UI, they will work the same on both, as well.
Another key to this design is that all Windows apps should work in each mode even if that apps are not written for the Metro UI. That means that there should be a default mode in which the apps would run as written. In the tablet mode, one could use a stylus for these programs and in the laptop mode, one could use a trackpad especially designed for this type of laptop.
I have seen some stunning early hybrid designs, convincing me that at the hardware level, the vendors could really nail the concept this time around. However, it is the software that will make or break this hybrid idea. In that case, it all rests on Microsoft's ability to deliver a solid Windows 8 tablet version and a powerful Windows 8 version for the laptop, too.
While I expect to see as many as five of these hybrids at CES in a few weeks, none of them can come out until Microsoft releases the commercial versions of Windows 8 on both platforms, which is currently slated for October 22, 2012.
Now, if this is a legitimate new product concept with serious business and consumer demand, I wonder if Apple would just sit back and let the WinTel guys go after these customers without a fight. Today, I am using an iPad 2 with iOS and a MacBook Air with OS X. Although I carry the iPad 2 with me a lot, the MacBook Air, which is also pretty portable, mostly sits at home or at the office. Having a Macbook Air hybrid that includes a detachable iPad would be of real interest to me.
Perhaps Apple could call it something like the "MacBookAir-Pad." Given Apple's ability to create really beautiful and elegant products, it could perhaps fashion a best-in-class device even before the WinTel guys could get theirs to market next fall.
Now, I have no clue if Apple is thinking of a design like this or even, given the way it thinks of the market, whether this makes sense to do. However, knowing what I do about a rather big assault by the WinTel folks to create some really great hybrids around Windows 8, I would certainly hope that this type of product would be on the radar.
Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.