Windows 8 convertible laptops: Who will get it right?
Atul and Mani, I would like to look at a rather different subject - the interesting shift Windows 8 is bringing in personal computing devices. With the new Metro-style interface, Windows 8 is uniquely poised to cater to both touch devices like tablets and devices with keyboard input like desktops and laptops. In fact, we are today witnessing an upheaval of laptop design to accommodate a tablet mode, which is bound to become an indispensible feature of Windows 8 laptops. Consumers are now demanding the best of both worlds - a laptop that can be dually used as a tablet (also called convertible laptops/tablets or as some people call it - "laplets"). There have been a few designs of this type earlier, but Windows 8 seems to have set this market alight.
Of late, we see the market abuzz with a host of competing designs, each one parading their benefits and stylish looks. One design, which got a lot of press at CES 2012 is the Lenovo Ideapad Yoga, an aptly named device as the touch-screen of the laptop flips 360 degrees all the way back to become a tablet. This device will be exclusively released with Windows 8 later this year (http://news.lenovo.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=1551, http://www.gizmag.com/lenovo-ideapad-yoga-13/21073/). Another model showcased at CES 2012 is the Toshiba Protege M930 - when in laptop mode the screen can be lifted up from its base and pulled forward to cover the keyboard. This device appears to be awaiting Windows 8 for its commercial launch as the demoed version having Windows 7 isn't available on retail. (http://www.theverge.com/2012/1/13/2705350/toshiba-portege-m930-a-windows-7-tablet-with-a-keyboard-and-rotating). One other contender, the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer is essentially a tablet with a detachable docking keyboard. An Android version is already available, with a Windows 8 model to be launched later this year - which is a very positive indication of the market outlook for Windows 8 going ahead (http://www.pcworld.com/article/230202/asus_may_put_windows_8_in_next_eee_pad_transformer_tablet.html). Dell Inspiron Duo has been around for some while now and features a flip-hinge design where the screen can be flipped 180 degrees on its horizontal axis so that when closed, it covers the keyboard with the screen facing upwards to work in tablet mode (http://www.dell.com/content/topics/topic.aspx/global/products/landing/en/inspiron?c=us&l=en). It is currently available with Windows 7, but users who have installed the developer preview of Windows 8 report a much improved user experience. Windows 8 is surely going to shake up the market.
With all these designs around, some are bound to gain popularity, while others will fade away. We saw a parallel in the evolution of mobile phone design; the once very popular flip mobile phones are now giving way to elegant slide-out keyboard designs. In the market for convertible laptops, style, substance (specifications and features) and robustness will play an important part. It is to be seen in the war of the laplets, which designs will prevail in the long run.