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Why Windows 8 hybrids won’t survive the test of history

Loyd Case | Sept. 11, 2012
Hybrids sound appealing on paper-who wouldn't want a tablet that can turn into a laptop, and vice versa?-but don't get too comfy with this oddball product category.

Worse, detachable slate hybrids have docking mechanisms that introduce a potential mechanical point of failure. And because they include batteries in both the keyboard dock and the main system chassis, slate hybrids are bulkier than the new crop of extremely thin Ultrabooks.

Fold-over hybrids more closely resemble laptops; and in the long run, they may not present as many consumer caveats. Lenovo's Yoga easily satisfies the Ultrabook spec and carries a 13.1-inch, 1600-by-900-pixel display. The hinge design may be worrisome, but it's probably less problematic over the long haul than a detachable dock.

Caveats notwithstanding, you may still be committed to dipping your toe in hybrid waters. If so, you have to decide which of the two basic designs makes more sense for your needs. The short answer: Get a fold-over convertible if you're interested in serious productivity, and get a detachable slate-or even a pure tablet like the Microsoft Surface-if you envision a more touch-focused life ahead.

"In the short-term," says Forrester's Costa, "enterprises will likely hedge their bets and adopt keyboard-first tablets-hybrid laptops-like the HP Envy X2, which offer the possibility of tablet functionality without compromising traditional keyboard and mouse-centric enterprise productivity scenarios. Meanwhile, consumers will more strongly embrace touch-first tablets like the Microsoft Surface, which are more attuned to media consumption, Web browsing, and post-PC productivity scenarios."

Costa shares my belief that hybrids are transitional devices and that, as tablets become more powerful, business needs will bifurcate between two types of users. One breed of users will rely on a performance-packed tablet and accessory keyboard to get all of their work done. The other breed will have high-performance needs that require true mobile workstations. If this is the case, the long-term prognosis for traditional laptops (including Ultrabooks) looks bleak.

Bottom line: Tablets will ultimately dominate

In the end, today's hybrid laptops running Windows 8 will drive a long-term transition to pure tablets. Microsoft seems to be betting on this eventual outcome. The company's Surface Pro offers internal specs similar to those on many Ultrabooks, but it reduces the keyboard to a mere rubber mat that acts as a cover for the unit-this as opposed to a robust, laptop-style chassis. Given Microsoft's predilection for endless consumer research and testing, they may be onto something. (Though, granted, market failures like Zune might suggest otherwise!)


IDC's Mainelli says that next-generation tablets built on Intel's upcoming Haswell CPU, along with lower-cost solid-state drives, will lead to full-featured tablets that offer the battery life and performance users expect from today's laptops. In the context of this evolution, today's funky hybrids are merely a step along a winding path, enabling users to become more comfortable with Windows 8 and the touch experience.


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