Are 2-in-1s and Convertibles the New Next Big Thing?

As all industry watchers know, “2-in-1s” hit the market about three years ago as the next new big thing in the PC market and were positioned as the successor to the traditional clamshell PCs. Intel and Microsoft lead this charge with the help of their PC partners and started to brand 2-in-1s and convertibles as the most versatile PC a person could buy. However, that message fell on deaf ears and even today, 2-in-1s and convertibles represent less than 10-15% of all laptops sold.

One reason for this pushback has been the fact that, in the first generation of 2-in-1s, there was a real push for its use as a tablet with a pen. But the current PC audience have spent decades becoming highly proficient with clamshells and this new design really rocked their boats. It also introduced the touch screen into the design, another thing that saw real pushback from users who loved their trackpads and the usability of a mouse.

Today, our research sees most laptop users still kicking the tires on 2-in-1s and trying to determine if their versatility makes them worth the extra expense to shift to a totally new design in laptops.

Of course, this has been very frustrating for Intel and Microsoft specifically. Windows 8 was designed to help push the 2-in-1 concept and get more people using a touch screen. The good news is, with Windows 10, most laptops now support a touch screen to utilize this new OS but most of them are still clamshell in nature and not 2-in-1s.

While that has helped push touch screen laptops, it has not created what Intel and Microsoft had hoped — serious change of laptop users’ mindset and start a major upgrade cycle that would drive laptop and PC sales. Instead, PC sales look like they will be down at least 6-8% over last year and even that year saw a 10% decline in PC sales.

But there is something interesting going on that has come out of the blue that could finally make 2-in-1s much more interesting to a lot of users. It is coming from one of Microsoft and their OEM’s major competitors.

For the entire time that Intel, Microsoft, and their PC partners pushed the 2-in-1s concept, Apple has gone on the record dismissing it. Tim Cook called them a toaster/fridge at one point and, while they were pushing their tablets into business, they really thought the idea of a 2-in-1s as a laptop replacement did not make sense.

However, as their overall iPad business has declined, Apple has now made a conscience decision to start positioning the iPad Pro 13.9″ tablet as a laptop replacement. Microsoft and Intel should be mad that, after all this time saying that a product like Microsoft’s Surface or other vendors detachables were toaster/fridges that did not make sense, Apple is now doing ads on TV that basically have the same message Microsoft pushed when they launched the original Surface.

But I don’t sense Microsoft or Intel being mad that Apple has finally agreed with them. Instead, they have realized this is probably a good thing for the future of 2-in-1s and convertibles. Indeed, Apple’s blessing on this category has the potential of floating all 2-in-1s boats as Apple’s marketing and overall industry position can only help people get more focused on the 2-in-1 convertible design.

From our research as well as research done by most big OEMs, they know that, if there is to be a resurgence of PC sales, it most likely will come through converting people to the 2-in-1 or convertible platforms that provide more computing flexibility. They are not opposed to getting help in achieving that goal, even if it is coming from one of their fiercest competitors.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

8 thoughts on “Are 2-in-1s and Convertibles the New Next Big Thing?”

  1. The toaster-fridge line was always idiotic: PC and Tablet use cases overlap a lot (toasters’ and fridges’ don’t); PC and tablet internals overwhelmingly overlap (toasters’ and fridge’ don’t). And ditto apps.
    I’m amazed that line not only worked, but that it got mantraed so brainlessly and widely. It’s no better than my “phones are handbags”. Tablets and laptops have always been microwaves and toaster ovens. It’s nice to see Apple doing a “designed for your hand” walkback on that one too. Would have been nicer to not spew crap to start with, or to have someone throw it back at them.

    What’s funny is that MS ends up with the right ecosystem, but no apps on the Mobile side, while Apple has the apps on both sides mostly, but not the right device nor ecosystem (poor HW support for the xtop use case, no Legacy apps support).

    Apart from the app & legacy issues, the Big Thing would be standard docks that’d do for 2-in-1s what ISA, ATA, PS/2 ports etc did for PCs: increases flexibility, lower costs, and perennize investment. We’re starting to see standard desktop thunderbolt/USB3.1b docks; for laptop mode it’s still proprietary stuff that’s mostly obsoleted at each generation.

    A friend of mine who’s very into ultralights keeps pointing out that a tablet+keyboard ends up heavier, thicker, more expensive and a lot less versatile than a midrange ultrabook . I went the other way and bought a couple of 2.5-in-1s: tablets that dual-boot Windows and Android, and offer meaningful I/O (HDMI, SD, 1 or 2 micro or regular USB). Hooking them up for desktop use is ugly though, with 3 wires going out of them (power, HDMI, USB hub), laptop use is much better when I go wireless, but as bad when I go wired (which I prefer, too many batteries to mind otherwise).
    Also, looking for the absolute cheapest full PC these days (say, for middle or high schoolers) returns a tablet $80 2GB/32GB Atom tablet, and a lot of wires. Not being able to game meaningfully on it is considered an advantage ^^

  2. If Apple wants to compete in the “2-in-1” arena they are going to have to loosen up a bit on their iOS for iPad restrictions. They do some things that are counterproductive and seem to have no real value for either Apple or their customers.

    For example, I have the latest Pythonista Python IDE for iOS. It is a very nice development environment. It meets my needs to have on the fly automation from my iPad Pro. This is the kind of professional software that Apple needs to promote for the iPad Pro even if it is a bit niche. But Apple places needless restrictions on Pythonista to the extent that the developer omz:software had to remove modern sharing features to get it approved. Specifically anything to do with opening a Python source file from a different application directly into Pythonista was forbidden. So Pythonista “Open in” is not allowed from dropbox or an alternative editor. I suspect that this is a misguided fear from Apple that it would be used as an unofficial app store.

    This is misguided because Pythonista is full-fledged development environment. It is beyond trivial to create a tool in Python that imports files from anywhere. Used in conjunction with something like the Workflow app, you can automate the solution. How does making a common operation like editing source code in alternative environment hurt Apple or their users? Apple needs to encourage more sharing of documents from professional tools but instead hinders users based on some outdated app store rules. For too many users, this kind of restriction will prevent the iPad from ever being seen as a replacement for a Mac or PC. It’s just dumb.

  3. “Indeed, Apple’s blessing on this category has the potential of floating all 2-in-1s boats”

    You seem to be under the mistaken impression that Apple’s marketing of the Ipad pro with its keyboard constitutes an about face on Apple’s position regarding 2 in 1s. You are mixing up form and function. The form of the ipad pro with a keyboard and a pen looks an awful lot like a Microsoft surface. But the function, ie, the OS and the app ecosystem, and thus the device’s suitability to tasks, is utterly different.

    The 2 in 1 is just Microsoft’s latest attempt to flog its decades old “tablet PC” concept. Dr Frankenstein succeeded in bringing his creature to life, but all of microsoft’s attempts to galvanize their creation over the years have failed miserably. The only difference with Surface and other contemporary tablet PC designs is that miniaturization and power efficiency have finally progressed to the point where some Tablet PCs make for an acceptable ultralight laptop with a screen that can be flipped or detached or whatever for presentation/demonstration purposes.

    The fundamental problem that Microsoft is constitutionally incapable of addressing is that they insist on slapping Windows, a non mobile desktop OS, onto their tablets. Asking a non mobile OS to do mobile tasks is doomed to failure.

    Meanwhile, Half a decade of Microsoft trying to wrangle developers into making touch centric, mobile first apps for the latest incarnation of their Tablet PC version of Windows (aka metro or whatever it’s called nowadays) has failed miserably. Which means that in order to get any use out of a 2in1, you need to use desktop, mouse/keyboard centric apps on it… Which pretty much defeats the purpose of having it be a 2in1.

    Apple, instead, took their touch based mobile OS and stuck it onto a great big touch centric tablet, then added the option of using it with a keyboard and pen. The result is the exact opposite of a 2 in 1 — a mobile device with a massive collection of mobile apps, that can do desktop-like tasks when called to do so.

    A key point of distinction – the ipad pro comes without a keyboard or a pen, these are optional extras. You don’t need them to use any of the vast library of existing Ipad apps on the device. They add functionality to an already fully capable gadget.

    Contrast to 2in1s, where keyboards come with, or to Surface, where while the keyboard is optional, there exist essentially no apps to speak of that don’t assume you have a keyboard and mouse.

    In short, classing the ipad pro as a 2 in 1 is like claiming that a motorcycle with an attached sidecar is the same as a convertible sedan.

    1. Windows has morphed in depth with Metro/Modern. MS used to want to slap the “regular” Windows UI on phones and tablets. Now they’ve done a full 180, and want the Metro UI, which is good for phones and tablets, used even for Desktops.

      That doesn’t solve the lack of Metro apps, but UI-wise your argument is about 5 years outdated.

      1. Metro is spray-on mobility*. A skin of ‘mobility’ wrapped around the same old desktop OS. And the part that matters is that the ecosystem is still stubbornly staying 99.99% non-mobile. As someone who’s remoted in to a desktop OS from a tablet, I can say with confidence that non mobile apps on a mobile device sucks really hard.

        Microsoft tried to spur the creation of a mobile app ecosystem, it didn’t work, they are now screwed because their competitors have native mobile OS’s with native mobile ecosystems.

        *google “spray on usability” ignore the apple centric source and consider tne parallels between trying to make command line based unix into a user friendly GUI and Microsoft’s current woes.

        1. Metro isn’t spray-on anything, not any more than Android is spray-on Mobility for Linux, nor iOS for BSD. All Mobile OSes are based on a not-specifically-Mobile OS kernel, rid of most of its Legacy accoutrements, and layered with a very strict managed API.

          Metro does miss a few features iOS or Android have, but also has its share of exclusive-ish features. If the apps were there, it would be a fine Mobile ecosystem; devs are not clamouring for features, but just for devices to run on.

          I glossed over the “spray-on usability” rant. I fully agree with it, and have given up on Linux on the desktop myself because of the learning cliff. I used to try and make a workable Linux config every other year, I skipped the last 3 rounds. Usability and documentation are unsexy things to nerds trying to show off the other nerds, only corps with users to satisfy have skin in this game, and the only Linux corps make their money on servers. I do chroot in Android once in a blue moon.

  4. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes which will make the most important changes. Thanks a lot for sharing!

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