The 2-in-1s People Might Want

Bob O'Donnell / January 21st, 2014

With the PC industry in the doldrums, there’s been a lot of attention focused on new ideas designed to reinvigorate customers’ interest as well as bring some excitement and new sales to the market. One of the most talked-about examples has been 2-in-1s, sometimes referred to as hybrids or convertibles. The basic idea behind these devices is to combine the capabilities of a notebook PC and a tablet into a single unit at an attractive price.

The argument goes that these devices give you the “best of both worlds” because they offer the productivity and familiarity of a notebook PC in conjunction with the flexibility and mobility of a tablet. To their credit, many PC OEMs have created some very intriguing new form factors based on this concept, including Lenovo’s Yoga line and Dell’s XPS12 “carousel” convertible notebook, among others. Unfortunately, with few exceptions, most of these devices have not been huge sellers—certainly not duds, but not enough to reignite PC sales on a wide scale basis. Part of the reason has been that price points for some of the more innovative 2-in-1s have been relatively high—in some cases more than the cost of a separate notebook and a tablet, which makes the value equation around 2-in-1s difficult for many consumers to accept. In addition, there are some challenges with finding the right size—getting a screen large enough for notebook use but small enough for mobility-focused tablet use has been tough. Many vendors are ending up with 11.6” screens but again, that tends to be pretty small for a notebook and pretty big for a tablet—a compromise that, for many, is far from ideal.

…combining 2-in-1s with dual boot and adding the Windows 7 twist, you end up with something that really could stand out”

Another challenge has been around the operating system. Windows 8.1 is starting to get a little traction on the PC side, but it’s still just not a great choice for a tablet. The choice of touch-focused Metro-style apps is still very limited, making tablet use on Windows-based 2-in-1s an unpopular option.

Given these challenges, it’s easy (and tempting) to write off the category as nothing more than a niche. However, I believe there is an option that I’ve yet to hear anyone discuss that could have some potential: a 2-in-1 that runs Windows 7 in notebook mode and Android in tablet mode.

Generally speaking, dual boot options have had even less success in the PC market than 2-in-1s, so some might argue that this combination just puts two questionable ideas together, but I would argue that the new form factor makes a critical difference. Think about it, a 2-in-1 that literally functions like two different devices—either a Windows PC or an Android tablet—offers a more compelling value to consumers than something that just gives you two versions of Windows 8.

A number of device vendors, as well as Intel, have been publicly discussing dual-booting Windows/Android devices lately, but they’ve all been focused on Windows 8 and Android and often on standard notebook or desktop form factors. I believe by combining 2-in-1s with dual boot and adding the Windows 7 twist, you end up with something that really could stand out. (Of course, this is all dependent on getting both Microsoft and Google to agree to this—which won’t be easy, particularly in Google’s case.)

It seems clear at this point that there is no single silver bullet to fix all that currently ails the PC industry, but if a number of smaller elements—like this idea and others—can sum together to at least turn the industry’s momentum around, then it could be a positive step forward.

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.
  • Bill Smith

    Good brainstorm, Bob. I would question whether additive improvement (e.g. it’s a waffle iron AND a toilet brush) often results in a popular product.

    First, such combinations create more purchase resistance. The product must now be a good Android tablet AND a good Windows PC, at a price that is less than buying one of each, but must also show some leverage or improvement as a result of the combination. I have yet to see a “great” Windows PC for Windows 7 or Windows 8, and haven’t been excited by a Windows PC since the Toshiba Portege M200 tablet PC, which also proved to be a great disappointment. Combining two mediocre things typically results in an even more mediocre product.

    Secondly, the combination adds complexity and more potential for failure. Your kid drops the tablet while playing “Perturbed Porcines” and the hard disk crashes, along with your presentation for work. Sometimes having separate devices is an advantage.

    Mind you, Apple seems to make its products through subtractive and tangential improvement.

    Where’s my “family” computer that allows my progeny access with any HDMI display and a Bluetooth keyboard rather than a separate computing unit? If I can have central AC, heat and vacuum, why can’t I have a central media server with storage for the whole family so that all our movies and photos are in the same place? Wouldn’t it be nice just to wirelessly use my 70″ TV to review that massive spreadsheet instead of scrolling a 15 inch viewport (yes, I know the Mac can AirPlay and I adore it).

    I can think of hundreds of computing products that I would love to purchase; I’ve never yearned for a combination Windows PC, Android tablet and steak knife. There’s tons of low-hanging fruit; must everyone stand around waiting for Apple or a similar organization to show the way? Hmmm… Maybe my car would be better if it were combined with a Weber gas grill, 2 in 1!!!

    • Bob O’Donnell

      Thanks Bill. Yeah, combination products can be tough to do, but the PC guys are in a tough spot and are looking for just about any angle they can. My basic issue is that we’ve seen only modest success with 2-in-1s as they are and dual booting is an even more questionable effort on its own, but if you put the two together (critically, at the right price point), you can at least make a better value statement because you could truly provide two products in one.
      Your comments on the home server are right in line with my own thoughts, but that’s a topic for another day….

      • Bill Smith

        Bob, I would question whether a combined Windows PC and Android tablet has more value than a well-done Windows PC *AND* a decent Android tablet. Having them as part of the same device, in my opinion, diminishes the value.

        Similarly, when I hear talk of an “iPad Pro” that runs OS X as well as iOS, I cringe. I can think of a few possible benefits, like sharing an LTE chip and a lower price compared to the separate devices, but…

        a tablet is instant-on…if I have to shut down the OS to get back into “tablet” mode, I’ve lost functionality
        tablets have very long battery life…if the desktop OS eats battery 3x as quickly and I can’t reserve battery for the tablet portion, I’ve lost utility.
        Tablet apps and data tend to be much smaller than desktop programs and files…if my tablet now needs to sport a 512GB SSD or (worse) a hard disk, everything suffers…reliability, weight, performance, price.

        The PC guys are in a tough spot because they’re still “PC guys.” They need to stop hawking PC’s and start creating and selling tools that solve problems people care about.

        I’ve seldom purchased a PC because I needed/wanted a PC. I’ve frequently purchased solutions that came in the form of a PC.

        • Bob O’Donnell

          Bill, good points. The one key potential benefit of single device is that you can theoretically make sure all your data is on the same device.
          Ultimately, I’m a believer in multiple devices per person (as other columns have suggested), but there are some people who prefer to keep their device count down and this represents one potential solution.

          • Bill Smith

            Sharing data between Android and Windows means file (and file system) compatibility. Theoretically possible, but it seems unlikely that Microsoft would support a GPL implementation of NTFS, much less the Office file formats that would make this work well.

            Alternately, Android could run in emulation mode under Windows, but again, you would lose many of the benefits of Android.

            I don’t mean to belabor the point; I genuinely want to understand how this might work in such a way that it’s not awkward.

            If you’ve used Microsoft’s sync services between Windows 8 and Windows Phone or Apple’s iCloud between multiple Macs, iPhones and iPads, it seems that having your data on all your devices is already possible, and it works quite well.

            I must concede that, in my limited understanding, it seems unlikely to succeed in the marketplace. That’s not to say that you’re wrong (or that I’m right), but that I don’t get it. For the sake of the PC guys who have bet the farm on 2-in-1’s, I hope I’m wrong.

          • Canuk Storm

            having a 2-in-1 like you described is like combining a truck and a car, which ends up looking something like the following;

            http://www.myunusual.com/Pix/Cars%20pix/cars%203-08/68%20Ford%20Ranch.JPG

            It looks like s**t, and works like s**t.

          • Bill Smith

            I so much wish you had Photoshopped in Windows and Android logos…

          • jfutral

            While the El Camino is considered a classic (not that your picture is an El Camino. I can’t figure out what that is), it certainly never won any popularity contests. However, maybe you’ve missed how trucks are becoming passenger vehicles over the last decade or so? Not that I disagree with you on the computer front, but vehicles aren’t necessarily the best analogy.

            Joe

          • qka

            For the record, it’s a Ford Ranchero (see the image file name provided by Canuck). The Ranchero was a contemporary of, and competitor to the El Camino

  • Mauryan

    Make tablets and sell keyboards separately. Develop the OS and processing power to match that of laptops. Apple might get there before anyone else. They might bring in all MacBook Air capability into the iPad in the future. Then it is all a tablet (may be a larger form factor would work). Surface Pro might be headed in that direction. Pricing is the only major issue. Surface Pro is almost as expensive or more than a laptop.

    • Bill Smith

      I believe Apple is already there…The 64-bit processor in the latest iPad compete favorably with desktop processors.

      Apple approached the problem from the opposite direction. The problem with the Surface devices is the dearth of applications where a Surface is the best solution.

      • Canuk Storm

        “The 64-bit processor in the latest iPad compete favorably with desktop processors.”

        Not really. It compares favorably with the performance of the 2010 Macbook Air.

        http://daringfireball.net/2013/10/the_ipad_air

        Apple is almost there in terms of making the iPad a truly mass market computer. The only The hardware is coming along great. iOS is the only achilles heel left to address. And like Mauryan said, maybe a larger, more powerful iPad that can tackle higher-end app like FCPX.

        • Bill Smith

          Your own link shows the iPad Air Geekbench at 2673 for multi-core while the MBA2010 multi-core benches at 1438. That means the iPad Air is just shy of twice as fast as the MBA2010. In fact, the iPhone 5S is in the same ballpark.

          iOS has the same UNIX underpinnings as OS X, and similar high-level API (Cocoa Touch vs Cocoa).

          Mind you, the processor in the MBA is laptop class, not really desktop class, but it still compares favorably, and we’re not even looking at the latent GPU power.

          Some of the apps my clients are working on make a typical PC seem like an antique.

          • Canuk Storm

            “iOS has the same UNIX underpinnings as OS X, and similar high-level API (Cocoa Touch vs Cocoa).”

            That’s true. It isn’t the underpinnings that are the problem, it’s the UI level. As of right now, the UI / workflow of iOS doesn’t cater to “pro” workflows. From a UI level, I’m not asking for iOS to be more complicated, but I do feel it needs to get more powerful. I’m confident Apple can pull it off.

          • Bill Smith

            @canukstorm:disqus I would love to hear how you feel it should be improved. There’s a lot coming down the pike for the next 2 years, but there are some avenues that Apple won’t venture into. Also, Apple recently added a few means of inter-app communication, but I have yet to see a developer take advantage of it.

          • jfutral

            I’d be curious about your definition if “pro”. I know lots of pros working with their iOS devices day in and day out. Or I really don’t know pros. So what pros?

            Joe

  • aardman

    The concept of a 2 in one 1 just eludes me. Given the popularity of the iPad Mini, I would think that the iPad’s 10 inch screen is the upper limit for a tablet, as it is used today. Given the demise of the netbook, I would infer that the 11″ MBA sets the lower limit on laptop screens, as laptops are used today. I just do not see how one product can bridge that gap without compromising the performance and usability of either side of the tablet-laptop-fusion.

    • Bill Smith

      @aardman:disqus I agree that a “2 in 1″ doesn’t send me running for the credit card. but I would seriously consider a 15” iPad Pro, weighing in at just over 1-1.5 pounds. That would be ideal for artwork and presentations, as well as 4K video editing.

  • Recision

    The problem with that theory is that while the customer might well like to buy that product, the tech companies don’t want to sell it.
    And there-in lies a dilemma that is endemic to the industry.
    Far too often, the interests of the Corporate’s override the interests of the consumer.
    “You’ll buy what we sell you…”

    • klahanas

      Great comment! They all do it, consumer manipulation and milking. Apple might actually be the most inflexible of the bunch.

    • jfutral

      Well, that works up until no one is buying.

      Joe

  • Albin

    Microsoft is developing software for Android, as are almost all the other big third party software vendors. I think the “answer” for 2 in 1 machines is eventually going to be an all-Android platform. I’ve been puzzled that Google is wasting so much effort on Chromebooks that block off Linux by forcing users into the browser, when it has its own OS that runs the same browser, a proprietary app store, and huge customer base familiar with it from their phones.

    MS’s only real sell with W8.1 is Office and some local networking aspects of Windows, and its gambit with W8 is to try to use Metro to build a proprietary “store” of its own with the kind of control and profit percentages from third-party sales that Google and Apple have. W8 is a temporary trojan horse with Metro inside W7, and MS won’t voluntarily give up its gambit to move all users to its closed system. Leaving the lucrative app market to Android would concede failure.

    • Bob O’Donnell

      While I think a lot of your argument makes sense, Google seems increasingly committed to Chrome and at some point, that could even impact their focus on Android. Remember, Chrome was built by Google and Android was purchased by Google–perhaps subtle, but ultimately very important difference.

      • Bill Smith

        Though both are small numbers compared to search advertising, Google revenue from ChromeOS > Google revenue from Android, not counting advertising revenues which they would get anyhow.

        • Joe_Winfield_IL

          Not only that, but Google can more easily track ALL user behavior on Chrome OS than on Android. It is the most “pure” Google experience available, and in theory should make users easier for Google to monetize.

          • steve_wildstrom

            Although the biggest customers for Chromebooks by far have been K-12 schools, not an easily monetized market.

          • Joe_Winfield_IL

            Hearts and minds. For this market, Chrome is a very powerful trojan horse, encouraging young children to develop familiarity and dependence on Google products and services. Long term, it’s an excellent strategy.

          • Bill Smith

            Don’t be deceived. There’s no power in the ‘verse stronger than someone’s progeny looking up with big, sad eyes and saying “But Daddy, please can I have one?”

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