At Computex in Taiwan last month, those at Intel’s keynote got a glimpse of what Intel thinks will be hot this holiday season. Although the company only showed a couple models of what we call convertibles or hybrids, we are just now starting to understand that for Intel, Microsoft and their partners, this type of product could be a game changer in the PC marketplace.
Intel’s official term for these products: two-in-ones. Intel has heard loud and clear that consumers and even some business users have been struggling with the question of whether they should buy a tablet or a new laptop. Studies have shown that for many consumers, a tablet can do as much as 80% of what they used to do on their laptop; the laptops in these cases are only used for things like managing photos and music or creating long emails, documents and spreadsheets — what we call heavy lifting tasks.
There is an important fallout from this decision process that has had a direct impact on the demand for PCs and laptops. Those who are using their tablets more and more as a primary computing device are either holding on to their current laptops longer, or if they are going to buy a new PC or laptop, they will buy a cheap one.
So to boost laptop sales in the second half of the year, Intel and its partners will be pushing two distinct designs. The first was made possible by the fact that Microsoft decided to deliver a version of Windows 8.1 to vendors for about $30 instead of the normal $60-$90 per computer license fee. But it comes with a catch: In order to get this discount, Windows 8.1 can only be used in laptops 12.1 inches and below, and they must all be touch-based. That means this version of the operating system can be used for 7-inch tablets up to 12.1-inch clamshells.
The good news for consumers is that starting around mid-August, we should begin seeing many touched-based clamshells coming out with 10.1-, 11.6- and 12.1-inch screens priced below $500. Many will be $399. Interestingly, they will look to consumers like ultrabooks but they don’t meet the Intel definition of Ultrabooks, which calls for more higher-end processors, security hooks and other features that normally keep these machines’ prices around $699 and up. Although Intel does not have an official name for these low-end clamshells, most of us researchers are referring to them as ultralights. They will be coming from all of the vendors this fall.
However, the more interesting of the two designs that will be pushed for the holidays are the various models coming out in the two-in-one category. We will see some that are like the Lenovo Yoga, where the screen does not detach but can be folded back to become a tablet or stood up like a tent for viewing presentations. But the ones that Intel and Microsoft think will be the bigger hits are the convertibles and hybrids where the screen detaches to become a standalone tablet.
They think that this solves the consumer dilemma of whether to buy a laptop or tablet. Now consumers can have the best of both worlds in a single package. There will be many of these types of two-in-ones coming to market over the next six months, giving consumers a lot of choices. In fact, we know that at least one of them will be priced at $349, and many of the others will have aggressive pricing as well.
My big concern about these products is that while I like the idea of a two-in-one’s versatility, for this to work I believe that they must deliver a superior experience in both modes for them to take off. That means that they must deliver a great laptop experience in laptop mode and a great tablet experience in tablet mode. It will be interesting to see if vendors can deliver this type of quality experience given the fact that they all want to bring these two-in-ones in at prices well below $500.
At a personal level, my wife has become a fan of her HP Envy X2, a Windows 8 convertible. What’s interesting about this is that she has been a very committed laptop user and to move to a smaller screen that works as a laptop and a tablet was something I would have never guessed she would be comfortable with. Yet, she finds its smaller size and the versatility of being a true laptop as well as a true tablet very useful, especially when she travels. I use the Lenovo Yoga, too, and also like its design, but because of my heavy lifting workload, a dedicated laptop is still my primary computing device.
Unlike last holiday season where Microsoft and its partners expected Windows 8 to give them a boost, this time around, vendors are actually innovating on the hardware side, too. They hope that these two new form factors will catch consumers’ attention. Along with Windows 8.1, these industry giants are crossing their fingers that there will be greater demand for new PCs in the latter part of the year, and clearly think two-in-ones will be hot this holiday season.
Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every Monday on TIME Tech.