Why IT buyers are Excited About Convertibles and Hybrids

on December 7, 2012

[dc]W[/dc]hen Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, he went to great pains to emphasize that the iPad was mainly for content and media consumption. Interestingly, he never even suggested that it could also be used for any form of productivity. But in a subtle way, he did push its role in productivity. That came via a very short announcement handled by Apple’s Sr. VP of marketing, Phil Schiller when he stated that Apple would also create versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote for the iPad when it launched.

From the iPad’s entry into the marketplace, consumers immediately determined that they would like to have productivity apps and business related programs, along with their music, videos and basic email. Within two months of its launch, companies like SAP, Oracle, Salesforce.com and many others started to buy iPads and began writing business related apps as a part of their pilot programs. Also, many IT managers anticipated quite correctly that the iPad would be added to the list of consumer devices they would need to support based on the BYOD trends that started with smartphones.

Of course, the key to supporting smartphones and tablets in IT is MDM (mobile device management) software. Apple was smart enough to put hooks available for most 3rd party MDM programs thus making it possible to adopt iPads within IT programs relatively quickly. Surprisingly, Google and its Android OS did not architect these hooks in early releases of this OS and consequently, it missed the early stages of IT integration of tablets into their programs. Only recently has Google addressed this issue and we should see more Android tablets being modestly accepted into IT deployments in the future.

Once the iPad got into business settings, the work-flow of a user changed. In the past, they would take a laptop to meetings and use it to access information they might need for that meeting. But once the iPad came out, the laptop stayed on the desk and instead they took the iPad with them. This is especially true for companies who wrote their own programs so all of the key data a person might need in a meeting was available now on their iPad too.

But there is one technology developed for the iPad that I don’t think Apple anticipated. Almost from the beginning, Bluetooth keyboards designed specifically for the iPad started showing up. Over time, companies like Logitech created keyboards that even look like a cover for the iPad in its design as they did with their Logitech Ultrathin keyboard cover. In fact, the addition of a keyboard to an iPad virtually assured that an iPad could now be a real productivity tool in its own right.

But there is an 80%-20% rule that is in play here that makes life for IT managers more difficult. This rule states that 80% of what you can do on a laptop can now be done on a tablet. However, that 20% is tied to what we call heavy lifting tasks, such as graphic design, large spreadsheets, data management, creating major reports or documents, etc. The bottom line is that business users still need a laptop or desktop even if they have a tablet to supplement more of their mobile computing needs during the day.
This means that they now have to support a laptop, tablet and/or smartphone, and with many of these coming in the back door via BYOD (bring your own device).

New Corporate Hardware

In our research discussions with some IT managers, they have told us that they would like to minimize the amount of products that they support and are seriously eyeing what we call hybrids or convertibles that can do heavy lifting, yet serve as a truly mobile tablet in a single device. We define convertibles as a tablet/laptop combo where the screen does not detach, such as Lenovo’s Yoga. Hybrids we define as tablet/keyboard solutions where the screen does detach and serves by itself as a pure slate tablet. At the moment the industry interchanges these definitions but that should sort it self out in the near future.

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that the PC OEMs also saw this demand and consumer/IT interest in these types of products and are all moving forward with innovative designs. Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer and others all have solid offerings in place that give the IT directors an option to have a single device that works as a full PC as well as a stand alone tablet. Given IT managers desire to streamline the amount of products they have to support, we believe that hybrids and convertibles are a sleeper device that will be in great demand next year by business users of all types, including SMB. It would not surprise us if consumers who want to do more productivity on their laptops increase the demand for hybrids and convertibles as well.

The bad news for these OEMs is that this could impact demand for traditional laptops in the future. The PC market has declined this year and its growth going forward will be anemic at best. Tablets have been a major disruptor in many ways. For example, consumers tell us if they can do 80% of what they do on a laptop now on their tablet, they may just extend the life of their current PC or laptop since it mostly sits idle. Or, if they do buy a new laptop or PC, they will buy a cheap one with updated processors and memory knowing full well it will be used less and less as tablets meet most of their needs.

But for IT managers, merging the two into one has a lot of merit for them, especially if the hybrids and convertibles have enough power and battery life to handle the heavy lifting tasks that will continue to be important to a business user. The fact that these products will be serviced as a single device, instead of two, is a key reason that we believe hybrids and convertibles will become a major growth segment in IT sales. It would not surprise us if savvy consumers move in this direction too since a dual-purpose product in many ways can be attractive to them to for similar support and economic reasons.