Sexiest New Devices? PCs…

After narrowly escaping death (not really, but a lot of people sure tried to convince us of it), the PC industry is regaining some color in its face and starting to make bold moves forward. Yes, the road ahead will be challenging and nobody’s expecting any kind of magical return to the glory days, but at least we can all now agree there is indeed a road ahead.

Timed perfectly in conjunction with this sense of rebirth are the release of arguably some of the most innovative PC designs we’ve seen in a long time (I’m not even counting the widely expected new version of Apple’s MacBook Air). Yes, I’m going to say it—PCs are starting to look sexy again.

Most of the attention is rightfully focused on notebooks, but before I go there, I do want to give a quick shout out to HP’s Sprout desktop system. Even now, several months after its surprise launch, Sprout stands out as a remarkably innovative reimagining of what a PC can be and what it can do. It’s not the kind of product that will sell in big numbers—and to be fair, the first version has a few limitations I’m sure HP will address in future iterations—but Sprout has broken the mold on traditional PC designs. In so doing, it has given consumers—and the tech industry—a vision of where personal computing could go in the future. I think it deserves a tremendous amount of credit for doing so.

On the notebook side, the innovation has arguably been more of a continuous evolution, but the end result is a set of products that are remarkably cool and undeniably sexy. (When’s the last time you’ve been able to say that about a PC?) Dell’s new XPS13, for example, wraps together a magnificent, nearly bezel-free, ultra-high resolution 5 megapixel screen (on some models) with an ultraslim, light weight 2.8 pound body (2.6 pound on standard HD screen models) into a machine that is the first to really deserve the title “ultrabook”. Leveraging Intel’s new 14 nm Broadwell architecture design, the XPS13 features great performance and a claimed 11+ hours of battery life with the high resolution display. Best of all, it’s a 13” notebook packed into an 11”-size package that looks cool to carry around.

Not to be outdone, Lenovo has put together a wide range of innovative designs, leveraging both their ThinkPad heritage as well as their groundbreaking swivel screen Yoga products. My personal favorite is the 14” ThinkPad Carbon X1—which, like the XPS13, has been through several iterations. The latest version of this 2.9 pound device has been refined not only with performance and battery life boost from the addition of Intel’s fifth-generation Core-based CPUs and Broadwell architecture, but also comes with an improved touchpad. This is a classic design now taken to the nth degree.

For those who prefer the full wrap-around capabilities of their popular Yoga designs, Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 3 features a cool watchband-like hinge in a half-inch thick, 13.3” design that offers a similar resolution 5 megapixel screen to Dell’s XPS13. At 2.8 pounds, the company claims the Yoga Pro 3 is the lightest 2-in-1 available on the market. Having checked it out on several occasions, I can tell you it’s a very light weight, impressive machine.[pullquote]Seeing the kind of innovation now coming out of an industry many had given up for dead, you can’t help but be impressed.[/pullquote]

As light as the Yoga Pro 3 may be, however, it’s not the lightest notebook on the market. That honor now belongs to another Lenovo machine—the LaVie Z, a 13.3” notebook that, in its 180°-swivel design, comes in at an incredible 1.7 pounds. Designed by NEC of Japan (which was purchased by Lenovo in 2011), the LaVie Z is built from a special magnesium-lithium alloy that not only makes it light weight, but keeps the machine rigid.

In addition to these more mainstream designs, there’s also been PC innovations in more specialized areas. Microsoft’s HoloLens is, of course, one impressive example, but even in the field of education I’ve seen some interesting designs that have flown under the radar. One is Panasonic’s 3E, which in addition to offering a ruggedized, more kid-proof design in a 2-in-1 detachable device, adds a clever magnifying lens to the standard webcam, turning it into a mobile microscope for kids to explore the world.

Taken together, these devices, and many others like them, offer a surprisingly robust set of new PC choices that should make even the most jaded individuals take a second look at new PCs. Some might argue these are nothing more than a collection of incremental changes, but it’s this combination of improvements that really do make the difference. Just as people who haven’t seen friends or relatives in several years suddenly notice a big change when they do see them again, people who have been living with old PCs and haven’t really seen what new options are available are bound to be impressed. Most of these new PCs leverage the kind of technologies people have wanted in their notebooks for a long time: fast, reliable SSDs (solid state drives) leveraging flash memory technology, beautiful high resolution displays, and even the often-overlooked but critically important large touchpads. They’re the kind of PCs we dreamt about having several years ago and now they’re actually here.

Yes, it’s easy to get cynical about the PC market and how it often felt like it was looking backward instead of moving forward. But seeing the kind of innovation now coming out of an industry many had given up for dead, you can’t help but be impressed.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

21 thoughts on “Sexiest New Devices? PCs…”

  1. The article would be much better if it were accompanied by some photographs of the devices mentioned. Sexy design is in the eye of the beholder.

    1. Fair point. I did create a montage of them for the main page graphic, but probably should have inserted them in the piece as well. I did provide links to find out more where there are lots of photos….

  2. Many new PCs look nice, but when I turn them on it’s just Windows again. The shine wears off pretty fast after that, it feels like another long day in a cubicle, and none of the nice hardware fixes that dilemma. Too bad there aren’t better choices for all those OS-less OEMs. (Yes I know that Windows “does” plenty, I’ve used it for many years. That doesn’t make it nice.)

  3. But in today’s savvy market, a Windows PC can never be the best PC. After all, the best Windows PC you can buy remains an Apple Mac. That isn’t likely to change, until non-Apple PCs running OSX are on offer. And we’ve seen what happened to that story already, no?

  4. I agree that many of the current offerings look sexy, but if I’m not mistaken, high-end Wintel machines have always been quite shiny. I remember when Macs still only had matt-finish screens, and the glossy ones on PCs looked more attractive, at least in the stores. Wintel also has had ultrabooks or at least Macbook clone-ish products for quite some time. My experience has been that Wintel always looks sexy in the stores, that is unless you decide to look at the bottom or back of the case.

    It would seem that the sexiness of Wintel PCs does not significantly affect sales as a whole.

    Of course, marketing plays a big role here. It is marketing’s role to convert the sexiness of the hardware to customer lust. Then the question is, are the OEMs prepared to do this?

    Otherwise, I think that the acceptance of Windows 10 will still be the main driver of new Wintel sales. The sexiness may help to raise the average selling price somewhat, but I don’t see it driving customers to stores.

    1. I’m so getting that Dell XPS 13 once the i7 version comes out in a couple of weeks. Saw the i5, it’s very nice.

      1. Yes, I agree that it looks very good (I haven’t seen one, but the specs/features look very good).

        But do you think that Wintel offerings are suddenly getting better, or do you think they were pretty good even before? I think they have been pretty decent and often exceeded the Macbook Air, as long as you were willing to pay $1600.

        That’s why I’m not sure that any new sexiness alone is going to improve the situation. Windows 10, I understand…

        1. For a couple of years I went deep into Apple devices. Well over $10K. With the exception of the first MBA I got, I was disappointed. Yes, they “just worked”, but that was all they did. I was left “wanting”, which at that price was unacceptable.
          Speaking only for myself, a great deal of the value proposition is the latitude of the device. In the MBP realm, removal of Expresscard was deplorable, so I dumped them. Obviously, as time went on they only got more locked down. Thunderbolt partially alleviated that.
          But I digress…
          The main value proposition for Macs is OSX, a fine OS. Unix based, stable, the best Unix on Intel. But you know what? Since Win7, Windows has been a fine OS as well, with a broader hardware environment. Yes, the i7/256GB SSD/3K Touch display version is $1600, which is cheaper than the closest MBA, which also lacks the resolution. I’ve always found this trend to be true. Pick a budget and buy the most machine that budget will buy. It’s almost never a Mac.
          Moral of the story…”Just how much do you value OSX?”. To me, it’s neutral. They’re both good, but I prefer Window’s latitude.

          1. Yes, I know. Although the MacBook Air is a fine machine and it did set a trend, since most of the components are shared with Wintel PCs, Apple doesn’t really have a sustainable advantage in hardware alone.

            And I agree that Win 7 is a fine OS. I don’t use it because I need the Unix underpinnings for my line of work, but if your job mainly consists of web and MS-Office work, I can fully understand why a Windows machine would be better (although I hate the Japanese fonts).

            My question is, what is different this time? I don’t see anything really special in hardware, although I do see it in software (i.e. Windows 10 seems to have the potential to mop up the Windows 8 mess).

          2. To me the real advances in recent years has been broadband and SSD’s. Stability has greatly improved.

            Battery power is improving. To a far lesser degree of importance, display technologies are better. For me, pen input is important, as is upcoming 3d scanning and printing.

          3. I think the difference is in the sexiness. Windows has been on a par with MacOS for a while (and not just for “Office and Web work”), and features have been mostly more advanced on the high-end Windows side; but only Sony was making sexy machines, and they had their issues. Since you’re often using a laptop in public, having the right brand, or at least a nice looking machine, is important, as for clothes, cars…
            The new crop of Wintel laptops keeps the feature advantage, and adds cute designs.

          4. I hesitate to go into whether or not Wintel has a feature advantage, as that quickly gets subjective.

            What I would like to know though, is whether we can expect sexy machines to move the needle in terms of actual sales. As far as I am aware, there is very little reason to suggest that it will.

          5. And yet it’s the easiest demonstrable thing, this feature advantage. Over what has become a locked down system?

            Even discounting expandability (a mistake), there are simply more companies making more interoperable things, with different strengths and feature sets. Where’s the Mid Tower Mac?

          6. With sexy as the sole criterion, I agree with you. Totally subjective. What to one is Kate Upton, to another is a “slightly less feminine Bea Arthur”. 😉

  5. Apple’s influence is clear! Looks are important. Despite the higher price, Apple laptops are in big demand in the youth market (high school / college). PC industry is realizing it only now. But I welcome the change – light weight, cool looks, excellent performance, easy portability and of course, competitive pricing.

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