This week at IFA in Berlin PC manufacturers have been showing off their shiny new Windows 8 tablets. Vendors are competing for who has the cleverest way of combining touch-screen, tablet, trackpad and keyboard into a single portable device. Here is the HP Envy:
or take a look at this PC Pro preview of the Toshiba Satellite U920T:
Ratchets stretch up and down the panel’s rear, with a central puck keeping the action light and smooth, and the screen flips up and back with a fluid action.
Sony has a Surf Slider, Dell XPS Duo slots into a keyboard dock.
I do understand the reason for all these gimmicks. Sometimes you want a tablet, sometimes you want a laptop, and the idea is to combine them into a hybrid device, just as Windows 8 itself lets you flip between Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and Desktop.
At the same time though, there is a risk that these vendors are not learning from the past. Two things in particular:
- The failure of Microsoft’s first Tablet PC. Most models had twist screens and keyboards and styluses. The styluses were prone to getting lost, the twist screens and keyboards were expensive, and tablets became premium-priced devices that were inconvenient to use. Faced with the choice between Tablet PCs and cheaper, simpler laptops, most customers chose laptops.
- The success of Apple’s iPad. A keyboard is an optional extra, but most manage without it. The screen has a single button, there are a couple of switches and a volume control on the side, it has a dock connector, and that is it. Nor is it premium-priced, at least, not in the context of Apple’s range.
Looking at the effort Microsoft has put into the touch-friendly Modern UI it is obvious that Microsoft has made provision for tablet-only users. Start screen, big icons, easy install and removal of apps, most of the frequently used settings available without going to the Desktop. It is also obvious that Microsoft intends Windows to go further in this direction. Office 2013 just has OneNote MX in the Modern UI, but more is coming.
Where then are the devices that focus on the simplicity of a single slate, with a wireless keyboard on offer if needed, priced to compete sensibly with Apple and Android tablets?
Maybe there will be some of these; but the messaging coming out of IFA is all wrong and I predict that once again many customers will opt for “just a laptop” once again and for the same reasons as before.
This of course will do nothing to disrupt the tablet/iPad market.
One other thing. The IFA unveilings make Microsoft’s forthcoming Surface look better than ever. This does have an optional keyboard, but it is built into a touch cover, and from what I can tell Microsoft has successfully avoided rachets and gears.
If Surface succeeds and flipping hybrids fail, you can be sure there will be a ton of Surface-a-likes at the 2013 IFA.