I’ve been wondering how carefully Apple was taking notice that Asus’s Transformer Book T100 hybrid laptop/tablet was the second-best selling machine in the laptop category on Amazon.com over the recent holiday commerce season. Apple’s best-seller on Amazon over that interval was the 15-inch MacBook Pro back in fifteenth-place.
Two things: evidently, customers shop for less expensive Apple laptops elsewhere, and hybrid or “convertible” devices are in strong demand — at least ones selling for $349 (for the 32GB model; $399 for the 64GB model) like the T100. That’s $100 less than a second-generation Retina iPad mini. In case you’re not familiar, the T-100 is an ultraportable notebook with a touchscreen that detaches from its keyboard to become a 10.1-inch tablet. There’s also a larger, 13-inch version called the T-300.
The T-100 runs full Windows 8.1, is powered by an Intel Atom Bay Trail-T Quad Core Z3740 1.33 GHz Processor, with a claimed battery runtime of 11 hours — longer than Apple claims for either the iPad Air or the 11.6-inch MacBook Air. It has a 10.1″ 16:9 IPS HD (1366×768) Multi-Touch panel, offers USB 3.0 connectivity and HDMI 1.4 video output and supports a 100 Mb/s Ethernet connection between the two HDMI connected devices, as well as an Audio Return Channel. The 2-in-1 device weighs 2.36 lb. (1.07 kg), only a smidge heavier than the 11.6-inch MacBook Air’s 2.3 pounds (1.06 kg) despite the T-100 being detachable. The T-100’s tablet module is 1.2 lb. (55g) — heavier than the iPad Air’s 1 lb.(469g), but not by a whole lot. There’s a lot of value there for three hundred fifty bucks.
In any case, Intel certainly noticed the T100’s sales popularity on Amazon.
Intel iQ Editor-At-Large Ken Kaplan contends that hybrids fuse the best of both worlds, noting in a sponsored article on Quartz last week that the forecast from analysts at the International CES 2014 show earlier this month called for a “tsunami of new tablets, an avalanche of all-in-one touchscreen PCs, and a flood of new 2 in 1 devices.”
Kaplan contends that it’s 2 in 1 computers like the T-100 that have the greatest potential to redefine how people think of laptops.
These hybrid mobile devices transform from a laptop into a tablet by twisting or flipping and folding like Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro, or by detaching the screen-cum- tablet module from the keyboard like the Asus Transformers.
“Up to now, the big issue around these hybrid devices is that they’ve been considered “tweeners” — just average tablets and only okay in laptop mode,” Kaplan cites Creative Strategies Inc. president Tim Bajarin recently writing in Time Techland. “But the new breed of 2 in 1 that will come out next year is getting closer to being the best of both worlds.” He says Bajarin sees 2 in 1s as the future of laptop computing, and is anticipating more than 50 new models on the way this year.
Kaplan says Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, also expects to see mass production of 2 in 1 devices, commenting: “Once people see them for the first time, they get it instantaneously. People will be asking: ‘Why have you waited so long to do this? Of course you should be able to take the display off the device and use it as a tablet! It’s so logical and natural’.”
TechKnowledge Strategies principal analyst Mike Feibus perhaps a bit too optimistically tells Kaplan that 2 in 1s are a sign that “PC innovation is as alive and well as ever,” and that “some of the 2 in 1s are really cool, like the detachables or the convertibles such as the Yoga 2 Pro.” Feibus also allows that there are a lot of people ready to buy a new computer because their systems are getting long in the tooth (especially with the imminent demise of support for Windows XP), and they don’t want to live without a PC. Of course there are the other lot of people positively disposed to giving PCs the heave-ho and switching entirely to a tablet-based computing environment.
Feibus thinks “Most people don’t like the idea of having three different devices with them all the time. So if you can get by with your smartphone and a 2 in 1, which lets you use it as a PC or a tablet, that’s perfect.”
Or not. While I acknowledge that some folks enthusiastically embrace the idea of cutting back to one just one device, if that were practicably and workably possible, and indeed some do appear willing to live with a considerable degree of performance and versatility compromise in order to do so, even at the present stage of tablet development, for many of us, while we love the freedom and comfort of being able to use our tablets virtually wherever we happen to be, there are still too many things a tablet either just can’t do or does so poorly and inconveniently that we would be anywhere near ready to hustle our PCs out the door.
“Understanding the productivity capabilities is easily established, but the big challenge is getting consumers to think of Windows 8 as an application-centric tablet platform,” CCS Insight vice president of research Geoff Blaber tells Kaplan. Blaber is watching to see if dual operating system devices like the Asus Trio that runs Windows 8 and Android, will be a trend that catches on. “We’ll see lots of new examples testing how having two operating systems might work for consumers,” Blaber predicts, noting that “User experience to date has been very suspect.” Which is of course (other than its high price) why Microsoft’s Ultrabook in a tablet form factor Surface Pro has not caught on in a big way.
So far, Apple’s model of users having several more narrowly and specifically tasked devices — typically a smartphone, tablet, and PC tag-team is more successful than cutting down to just two more compromised devices + like perhaps a 2 in1 and a phablet — at least if profits are a reasonable benchmark of comparison.
In a blog posted Tuesday, Network World’s John Cox notes that the Mac, which celebrates its 30th birthday on Friday Jan. 24, is an anomaly wrapped in a paradox: the most successful personal computer ever with single-digit market share, from the company reinventing itself as the “post PC” leader, and likely to keep growing in the enterprise, even though Apple’s whole approach is consumer focused. Cox cites Jean-Louis Gassée, formerly president of the Apple’s Products Divison, observing recently that “Apple’s share of the PC market may only be 10% or less, but the Mac owns 90% of the $1000+ segment in the US and enjoys a 25% to 35% margin.”
It will be interesting to see if 2-in-1s and hybrids really will revolutionize personal computing space, or whether they’ll turn out to be just another netbook-like fad. If perchance the consuming public does embrace this form factor, will Apple flip-flop as they did in coming out with the iPad mini, thereby contradicting Steve Jobs’ energetic disdain and dismissal of smaller tablets than 9-10 inch?
Personally, I have mixed feelings about 2-in-1 and hybrid devices. Theoretically, the concept is appealing, and designs like the contortionist Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro are ingenious and truly innovative, but in a practical sense I’m doubtful that a machine with a detachable display module will be anywhere near as rugged and damage-resistant as an iPad or even Apple’s bank-vault-solid MacBook laptops. Screen hinges have historically been a durability problem with laptops. Apple seems to have largely licked it on the MacBooks in recent years, and the rigidity of the unibody chassis design would be my guess as a major contributor to the improvement. However, I can’t imagine a detachable joint that has to double as a hinge faring nearly as well over the medium to long haul. To say nothing of necessary quick-release video connectors.
It would be convenient, though, to at least be able to pare down to just a smartphone and one larger machine to replace my iPad and Laptop, and at least if Apple built a device with a detachable keyboard and OS X support, one could be fairly confident it would be done right.
But despite all the sunny projections from the PC commentariat, I’m not holding my breath in anticipation. I’m still far from convinced that Apple doesn’t have the right formula already.