Are hybrids and convertibles the future of computing, or destined to fail?

Lenovo Yoga hybrid tablet

The Yoga is Lenovo’s answer to the iPad, designed to exploit a very real weakness: Despite how wonderful the iPad is for entertainment, it sucks for real work. Adding a keyboard helps, explaining why a keyboard is one of the most popular accessories for the iPad. The best of them connect solidly to the tablet so you can use the whole thing in your lap, and some cases which hold both together, preventing the keyboard and tablet from beating each other to an ugly death in your computer bag or purse.

Lenovo recently snatched the number one PC vendor spot from HP, and it pulled out all of the stops to get there. The Yoga is only one of a number of innovative devices that Lenovo plans to release. But Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, blasted the effort as combining a “refrigerator with a toaster” in order to dull the effort on convertibles (Lenovo is only one of a number of vendors that will have convertibles and hybrids in market). Is he right, or is he full of just as much BS as Steve Jobs was when he said video was stupid on an iPod, eReaders would never sell (because people didn’t read and single purpose devices like say oh, the original iPod was, can’t be successful), or (ironically) tablets wouldn’t work because people required keyboards.

Convertibles vs. hybrids vs. iPads

What’s the difference between a convertible and a hybrid tablet? With a convertible, the screen remains attached to the tablet, while with a hybrid, the two can be disconnected. The iPad has been able to approach these two concepts successfully for some time with accessories. For instance, the iPad will hard dock with keyboards like the MiniSuit, so the combination can sit on your lap — this is a hybrid configuration. On the other hand the Trent Arcadia Airbender Case essentially turns the iPad into a laptop, and this is a convertible configuration.

To draw a car analogy, buying an iPad is like buying a convertible car without the top . You can get one, but you have to buy it on the aftermarket. (There have been a few low-run premium cars that have done this over the years, but generally you buy the car and the top together.) The Yoga is a convertible as you would typically buy one off the lot – top included.

Dell Inspiron hybrid tabletThe hybrid approach has the advantage of low weight; and with some designs, increased battery life and an office dock. If you don’t need the keyboard, you can leave it connected and leave it behind only taking the tablet. The keyboard can also provide a second battery (like the Asus Transformer Prime Android tablet) effectively doubling the battery life when connected. The disadvantage is you often have to buy this component separately, and the combined total can be both heavier and more complex.

The advantage of a convertible is that you always have the keyboard with you, and there is typically no connector to break. The hinge designs, because they don’t have to connect and disconnect, are simpler, cheaper and less likely to be damaged. The disadvantage is that convertibles can be more expensive initially, and are heavier in tablet mode. Both configurations work better on your lap than a separate (non-docked) tablet and keyboard, like the Windows 8 Samsung tablet I’m currently using.

With two separate components that don’t physically connect, you have to carry a stand for the tablet when you use it with the keyboard, and because the stand typically doesn’t work on your lap, you’ll also need a table or an empty chair to put the tablet on instead.

Betting on gullibility

Tim Cook knows that connecting a keyboard and a tablet to create a touch laptop computer isn’t like blending a refrigerator and toaster. He likely sees his own customer using iPads all the time with the keyboards Apple sells, and notebooks have clearly been successful (I’m pretty sure Apple sells these too). But he doesn’t want to embrace a design that could eliminate customers who are now buying both a MacBook and an iPad, which is the true value of a convertible or hybrid. You don’t need two products. If that were to happen, Apple’s revenues would fall. Regardless of whether customers want this as a choice, profit trumps customer need at most companies, including Apple. If Apple were in the car business, it would be selling a car without a top for sunny days, and a second, much larger car with a roof for cloudy days, because they’d want to sell you two cars.

That said, Apple is pretty damn successful at convincing us that we want what it uniquely sells, so maybe this says more about how gullible we are than it does about these designs. Did you actually think putting a tablet and a keyboard together was like melding a refrigerator and toaster, or more like a convertible car with a retractable roof?

Sadly, I imagine a lot of folks thought Cook was right. Ironically, many of them probably consumed Cook’s comments on an iPad in a case that wedded it to a keyboard. Yep, many of us are that gullible. The success of products like the Lenovo Yoga will depend of people seeing the products for what they are, not how Tim Cook wants them to be seen. I’ll grant you that a convertible tends to be more complex and problematic than a hard top, but I still think it is a hell of a lot more practical than a car without a top at all.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Smart Home

4 small appliances that have changed the way we cook food (for the better)

These are exciting times for home cooks seeking to advance or simplify their technique in the kitchen, thanks in part to four small appliances that have made a splash in the past few years. Here’s why you should consider buying them.
Deals

Here are the best Chromebook deals available in February 2019

Whether you want a compact laptop to enjoy some entertainment on the go, or you need a no-nonsense machine for school or work, we've smoked out the best cheap Chromebook deals -- from full-sized laptops to 2-in-1 convertibles -- that won't…
Mobile

Stop buying old tablets, says Samsung, buy the new Galaxy Tab S5e instead

Samsung has launched the Galaxy Tab S5e -- the E is for Essential -- a reasonably priced tablet that includes many of the features we like from the Tab A 10.5, and the Tab S4. Here's what you need to know.
Computing

Looking for a new laptop? These 5 notebooks are on sale through Presidents’ Day

If you're ready to ditch your aging notebook, you can score some fantastic Presidents' Day savings right now on Microsoft's Surface Pro 6, Dell's XPS 13, HP's Spectre x360, Lenovo's Yoga C930, and Dell's G5 15 Gaming laptops.
Web

Rid yourself of website notification requests in just a few easy steps

Wish you knew how to block browser and website notifications? You can do it on a case by case basis, but that can become dull after the 10th site has asked for your approval. Here's how to block them outright.
Computing

Don't take your provider's word for it. Here's how to test your internet speed

If you're worried that you aren't getting the most from your internet package, speed tests are a great way to find out what your real connection is capable of. Here are the best internet speed tests available today.
Computing

Decades-old Apple IIe computer found in dad’s attic, and it still works

A New York law professor went viral last weekend after he discovered an old Apple IIe computer sitting in his dad's attic. In a series of tweets, he showed that the vintage machine still works perfectly fine after 30 years.
Computing

Logitech’s G MX518 gaming mouse pairs classic looks with all-new tech

Logitech is relaunching one of its most popular classic gaming mice, the MX518. Now called the G MX518, it sports upgraded internals that give it a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and new and improved memory.
Computing

Microsoft could be planning a laptop with foldable screen, hints patent filing

Filed in late 2017 and titled "Bendable device with Display in Movable Connection With Body," the patent filing explains a new mechanism for laptops which can eliminate a hinge and allow the screen to fold shut from the inside,
Deals

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for February 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

Is AMD's Navi back on track for 2019? Here's everything you need to know

AMD's Navi graphics cards could be available as soon as July 2019 — as long as it's not delayed by stock problems. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 5.
Computing

RTX might be expensive, but the 16 series could have the best Nvidia Turing GPUs

Set to debut at a step below the RTX 2060 on the price and performance spectrums, the GTX 1660 Ti and its other 16-series brethren could be Nvidia's killer mid-range cards of 2019 — especially with Tensor Core-powered DLSS.
Computing

Ryzen 3000 chips will be powerful, and they might be launched as early as July

AMD's upcoming Ryzen 3000 generation of CPUs could be the most powerful processors we've ever seen, with higher core counts, greater clock speeds, and competitive pricing. Here's what we know so far, based on both leaks and the recent…
Computing

With no plans for merging operating systems, Apple opts to combine apps instead

Apple is working on combining all of the the apps it offers to iPhone, iPad, and Mac users by 2021. App developers will soon be able to build and submit one version of their apps to be used by Apple product users.