by January 30, 2013 0 comments

The arrival of iPad was a revelation for PC users, as it not only reduced their dependence on laptops, but also opened an entirely new world of touch-based computing. They are primarily used for lighter tasks such as simple browsing, watching movies, checking mails, reading, using social networking, etc. Over the years, profusion of tablets has negatively impacted laptop sales. Despite that, tablets continue to play second fiddle to laptops at workplace. The advocates of tablets feel that they have the potential for more and if your applications can run on a tablet, why can’t they be used more extensively at office as a primary device?

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The latest phenomenon to galvanise this debate further is Hybrid/Convertible PCs. Let’s understand these devices in more detail and then analyze how they could fit into the whole eco-system.

So what are Hybrid PCs anyway?

Hybrid PCs intend to bridge the laptop-tablet gulf by combining the powerful and professional set of features of a traditional notebook with those of a touch-screen based tablet. This new segment of devices can be classified as hybrids and convertibles. Hybrids are basically two separate units which, when together, can be used as a laptop, and can be separated to take the screen as a tablet. Then the tablet part becomes lighter to carry.

What about Convertibles?

In convertibles, you can turn around the screen to lie flat on the keyboard, but never detach it completely. Convertibles are of three different types. There is one in which the screen part can be rotated 180 degrees so that the display would face outwards and can be used as a tablet, like Lenovo’s Yoga. In this case, the keyboard would awkwardly fall on the backside.

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The second form of convertible is a slider, where the screen primarily behaves like a tablet and, upon requirement as a PC, would slide upwards to give way to a keyboard, as in Sony Viao Duo 11.

The third type is swivel based, like Dell XPS 12, where the display rotates 360 degrees in the frame itself to become a tablet.

What about their hardware specs?

Convertibles, like laptops support 64-bit apps, whereas most tablets are slower and support only 32-bit apps. Compared to convertibles, which are too heavy and unsteady to be used as a tablet, hybrids with Intel’s Atom or Nvidia’s Tegra processors appear a more ideal substitute for tablets. With a similar form factor, the detachability option, longer battery back-up and presence of laptop like ports and connectivity, hybrids can emerge as a possible alternative to tablets. However, they’re constrained by their hardware specs, so they can’t really replace regular laptops. Convertibles on the other hand could be considered in place of powerful laptops, because their hardware specs are as good as high-end laptops.

So will Hybrids/Convertibles kill laptops and tablets?

We don’t think so. For one, hybrids and convertibles are too expensive as of now, with prices starting at around 60k. Second, it depends upon the kind of user you are-consumer, enterprise, or developer.

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In the enterprise, if you’re a frequent traveler, then you’re better off either with a convertible or a standalone tablet. But if you’re a desk employee, then either a laptop or even a desktop PC would be fine. Moreover, if your work involves heavy duty graphics and multimedia, then a powerful PC might be a better option.

For consumers, choice is largely defined by aspirational value or budget. If you aspire to buy the latest and greatest, then a hybrid or a convertible could be a great option. But those on a tight budget might find buying the cheaper sub-10K tablets more lucrative.

As a developer, the choice would be mixed. If you’re into mobile app development, then you might need all devices just to test your apps’ functionality. Since software development can be a compute intensive task, you would require a powerful machine for the job, in which case, either a laptop or convertible would be fine, depending upon your budget.

Can a tablet be used as a primary device instead?

Is it possible to use a tablet as a primary device at one’s workplace? In case of iPad, the biggest advantage is its battery back-up and its light form factor, two essential elements for a professional on the move. Today professionals work a lot over the Internet and most good tablets have in-built cellular support, which means they can work anytime and from anywhere. Also, a tablet takes 2-3 sec to wake up. Since, tablets are capable of creating content, what do you require to convert a tablet into a hybrid? Can it be done by using a Bluetooth-based keyboard, trackpad and mouse?

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Microsoft’s Surface tablet is doing just that. It is a tablet that has a keyboard for creative purposes, but the only limitation is that Windows has fewer apps compared to an iPad or an Android tablet.

Touchscreen keyboard will do for typing short emails, or editing documents, but when one has to type for several hours an external keyboard is the best away to work. You might ask, why use an external keyboard; why not get a laptop or an ultra-book? The answer is that in a laptop or an ultra-book the keyboard will always remain with it, while in an iPad you can simply take it off when you don’t need it. A tablet can be easily passed around, in case you simply need to show something to others.

The only limitation here is that the keyboard will only be an accessory to a tablet, whereas in hybrids, the base is a vital component with several ports and its own battery life of more than 4-5 hours. Take Acer Iconia W510, a detachable hybrid, where both the dock and the tablet have batteries and putting them together can enhance the battery backup upto 18 hours.

Who will buy it?

Anyone who travels a lot, and has to do plenty of content creation will find hybrids/convertibles useful. It will appeal to professionals on the move, since a convertible can trim down some weight off their bags by replacing a tablet and laptop.

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