The PC market has been having its share of troubles lately with declining sales and less innovation than in years past. The iPad has almost destroyed the low-end Netbook segment, while the Macbook Air competing Ultrabooks have failed to take off in any significant way. While the market is in no way in trouble just yet, these are just some of the signs that people are moving away from the traditional PC towards light and portable devices such as iPads and smartphones. We've seen this trend accelerate over the last few years, with smartphones sales overtaking PCs last year.
Well, according to analysts this trend might change somewhat in the coming year, due to Microsoft's brand new Windows 8. The new operating system is radically different than its predecessors, bringing the new Start Screen, Windows Store and the "touch first" frame of mind. Yes it's very clear that Microsoft designed this system with tablets and hybrid devices in mind, leaving the keyboard+mouse users in second place. And ever since its inception, Microsoft has touted that Windows 8 will shine on brand new form factors that move away from the traditional clam shell laptops into hybrid territory: laptops that can change aspect and be used as a tablet, or the other way around.
OEMs seem to have received the message loud and clear and in five days time we will see a large number of unique and truly innovative devices come to market alongside Windows 8. Devices such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist and IdeaPad Yoga, Dell's XPS 12 with its rotating screen (pictured above), and of course we can't forget Microsoft's own Surface Pro tablet with its Touch Cover that can easily double as a laptop.
All of these devices have people's attention and analysts say they might be the key to bring customers back to the PC market. Talking to Wired, IHS iSuppli analyst Craig Stice said, "I do believe the convertibles have the ability to draw consumer attention, the question of course will boil down to price with these new convertibles and how competitive they will be able to be versus the tablet."
And of course he is right. Companies have been pricing most of these hybrid devices in the $1000 range which might seem extremely steep if you're coming from a tablet point of view, but might also seem risky if you're looking for a traditional laptop. Gartner analyst Mikako Kitagwa says, "Hybrid devices will not drive the overall growth [of the PC market] as long as the price point is higher than the $700 range. When the price drops below $700, it will start picking up.” However these devices are so new that there's little hope of such a price drop in the short term.
But there is some good news on this front too. Intel ran its own poll in which the majority of people were interested in traditional laptops but another 44% said they would want, or at least consider, a hybrid device. This shows there is some real interest and demand for these new form factors. As a result Intel has said it will work with OEMs to lower the prices of the next wave of devices in 2013. This will definitely be good news for consumers and will most likely blur the lines between what we now consider the traditional PC market and the mobile space.
“We think that a convertible done right is going to give people a good blend of capabilities,” Intel’s director of ultrabook marketing Karen Regis told Wired. “What we’ve seen is that it’s very appealing to a lot of consumers, we think there’s a play for business as well."
Of course it still remains to be seen if the new line of devices will actually be successful. But as Gartner's Kitagawa said, even if these devices will not succeed it's good to finally see some real innovation come to a market that has been largely stagnant the last couple of years.