New-generation laptops inventive products in battle for survival
LAS VEGAS — Pity the poor laptop.
The darling of the tech world just a couple of years ago, laptops have become one of the biggest casualties of the tablet phenomenon. For consumers enamored of touch-screen tablets, laptops suddenly seem like stale, clunky gadgets whose basic clamshell design hasn't changed all that much in two decades.
It opens. It shuts. Yawn.
But this week at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the laptop is attempting a comeback. The stodgy clamshell is being cast aside by manufacturers who are trying to build a category of device that combines the feel and functions of tablets and laptops.
Call them hybrids. Call them convertibles. These new computers fold. They twist. They slide. They detach.
And, more importantly, they are spawning like crazy. This wild burst of experimentation is being driven by a number of trends that suddenly converged: thinner designs, better touch screens and the arrival in October of Windows 8, Microsoft Corp.'s new operating system designed for touch screens.
But there's another crucial element: desperation. Industry insiders say laptops have to change quickly or face a long, slow decline.
“The impetus was the tablet,” said Nick Reynolds, Lenovo's executive director for worldwide consumer products. “Unless the personal computer becomes interesting and personal again, it's going to die.”
The explosion of these “multi-mode” laptop computers is the latest indicator of just how dramatically the computing industry has been turned upside down since Apple Inc.'s introduction of the first iPad almost three years ago.
Since then, sales of tablets have consistently exceeded even the most optimistic projections. Companies that were once leaders in selling personal computers and laptops, or the components such as chips and processors that go inside, were caught flat-footed by the turbocharged pace of change.
According to the Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts CES, tablets and smartphones, two categories that barely existed a few years ago, will account for 40 percent of global sales of all consumer electronic devices in the coming year.
Some companies have scrambled to build their own tablets, usually based on Google Inc.'s Android operating system, with some limited success.
Last year, Microsoft unveiled its own tablet, Surface, based on the new Windows 8 platform.
But many other companies are trying to reinvent the laptop.
Glimpses of some of these devices were seen at the last CES. But since the release of Windows 8 in October, a trickle has turned into a flood. By the end of 2013, chip maker Intel Corp., which is making big bets on these new devices, is estimating that there could be as many as 140 varieties of these multi-mode computers on the market.
These new forms offer consumers unprecedented choice. The risk is that they also create confusion.
For instance, a consumer might consider a convertible Toshiba Satellite. Open the top, and you have a laptop running Windows 8 with a touch screen. Open until both halves lie flat, then slide the screen over the keyboard to switch to a tablet.
Or check out Lenovo's Yoga, which the company calls a “flip and fold” because its hinges allow a user to open the screen and place it in four positions: tablet, laptop, tent or stand. The company also has the ThinkPad Twist, which opens and then lets the screen spin on an axle and close again so the screen faces up and hides the keyboard.
On Monday, Asus announced its 13-inch Transformer Book, a laptop with a detachable touch screen that can be used as a tablet.
As far as Intel is concerned, these devices are the future of computing. The chip giant, which dominates desktop computing, has struggled to get momentum in mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones.
During a news conference Monday, Intel executives spoke in front of a big display of these new-age laptops. The Santa Clara, Calif., company said it was moving up the release of the next version of its chips.
“We fundamentally believe that there's a convergence happening between tablets and notebook,” said Kirk Skaugen, vice president and general manager of Intel's Client Group.
The proliferation of designs reflects another uncomfortable truth: Laptop manufacturers don't really know what consumers want when it comes to hybrids, or even if they want them. And so the manufacturers are taking a see-what-sticks-to-the-wall approach.
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he believes that some versions of these multi-mode laptops could catch on with consumers. The ability to have one device that lets users do work that still requires a keyboard and then switch to a tablet might have some appeal. And businesses might like these devices as a way to appease the growing number of employees who are asking for tablets but worry that iPads pose a security risk.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Alcoa supplying parts for military jets under $1.1B pact with Lockheed Martin
- Rice, Gulfport team on Utica shale pipeline system
- Renewed Anheuser-Busch InBev bid for SABMiller ups stake in beer battle
- Bear sharpens claws on ‘old Pittsburgh’
- Consumers bureau targets mandatory arbitration
- Google is latest tech giant to claim space in mobile news
- Energy efficiency goes mainstream with help of regulations, demand
- AB InBev ups its offer for SABMiller to create beer giant
- Power plants challenged by carbon capture and storage
- PNC fined for paperwork errors on municipal bond offerings
- Credit bureau Experian keeps info on cellular firm’s customers