The 2-in-1s People Might Want

on January 21, 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. [pullquote]…combining 2-in-1s with dual boot and adding the Windows 7 twist, you end up with something that really could stand out”[/pullquote]

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.