I’m going to start this extended blog off with a pretty controversial statement: Windows 8 Will Kill The Laptop. But perhaps I should qualify that by adding: as we know it (and it might take a while).
Thanks to laptops, we’ve seen a steady decline in desktop PC sales, to the extent that some are predicting its imminent demise too - though most of the PC gamers I know still buy expensive desktop rigs with powerful graphics cards, the likes of which you won’t find in a mobile or all-in-one machine for love nor money.
What we’re likely to see with Windows 8 is laptops being pushed down the same slippery slope of decline. The standard laptop as you and I know it - your classical netbook, ultrabook or desktop replacement - is gradually going to be replaced by a more flexible, more versatile beast known under various names, but commonly called the convertible tablet. And this is a good thing.
Essentially, Microsoft is saying: ‘the tablet is grown up enough to be a primary device now. And it’s possible thanks to Windows 8’.
The evolution towards a hybrid tablet-laptop has been a long time coming. Years before a certain fruity company would popularise the tablet with its iPad, the big names in PCs were producing interesting convertibles, which eventually led to models like the Lenovo ThinkPad X220, Acer Aspire 1825PTZ and HP’s tm2.
These were exciting products in their day, but they were part of an underrepresented niche sector. In a world where laptops were not the ultra-slim, minimalist affairs we have become used to today thanks to the MacBook Air and Intel’s Ultrabook movement, they were aberrations. You were unlikely to get one unless you really wanted specifically what it offered, and by then the iPad had already arrived to take some wind from their sails.
But now, thanks in part to the well-received Asus Transformer Prime, which showed that a no-compromise tablet with laptop-like battery/keyboard dock could be both slim and sexy, the convertible has finally come of age.
And Microsoft is capitalising on this hybridisation with Windows 8 - making it practically a standard for mobile devices using its new OS. As Steve Ballmer suggested in an interview with the Seattle Times: “[Windows 8] brings us into this world of much more mobile computing and more mobile form factors. I think it's going to be hard to tell what's a tablet and what is a PC."
The reasoning behind this unifying approach is simple. People like laptops. People also like tablets. But most folks won’t carry both at the same time if they don’t have to. So combine the two and everybody wins.
As Gordon Kelly said in his piece The Hybrid: Jack of All Trades Master of All?, these devices have reached a level of maturity that means they’re not only a genuine option, but potentially better than the things they replace. Even convertible Android tablets already have the potential to usurp the laptop, as Ed recently discovered when he was converted to the Asus Transformer way.
By now you’ll probably know that Microsoft is producing its own tablet. It’s called Surface. What truly differentiates Microsoft’s Surface from the efforts of the other mobile OS makers, Google’s Nexus 7 as the Android champion and Apple’s iPad 3 for iOS, is that Surface comes with a keyboard ‘cover’ as standard. And not just one either. There’s a ‘touch’ version and a cover with actual, physical keys. This is in addition to stylus support on the Surface Pro.
The difference is, essentially, that Microsoft is going after the same productivity-oriented crowd of people that currently use regular Windows laptops. If a thinner, lighter tablet gives you the same functionality and battery life plus the ‘couch convenience’, for which you would usually buy a tablet as a secondary device, why not get it, after all? Essentially, Microsoft is saying: ‘the tablet is grown up enough to be a primary device now. And it’s possible thanks to Windows 8’.