Skip to main content

Computex’s overly complex convertibles show that PC makers still don’t get it

computexs overly complex convertibles show pc makers still dont get keep it simple
Image used with permission by copyright holder

On the PC front, two of the biggest announcements out of this year’s Computex show in Taipei provide proof that PC makers are still flailing wildly to find relevance in a world increasingly dominated by iPads, Android, and Chromebooks.

First up was the Asus Transformer Book V, a contraption that has a 5-inch Android smartphone sliding inside a 12.5-inch tablet that runs Android and Windows. Then that PadPhone-like device-in-a-device clicks into a keyboard dock with its own Intel Core processor and battery, making for one device that runs multiple separate operating systems. Just the thought of managing such a device makes me dizzy, and I do this for a living.

And that’s not even getting at the potential hardware issues with the Transformer Book V. If you’ve owned a TV/VCR/DVD combo, you probably remember why it’s a bad idea to conjoin three technologies together. The short version: If one part breaks, you’ll have to send your phone, tablet, and laptop in for repair. And one of the pieces (likely the phone) will become frustratingly obsolete before you’re ready to upgrade the rest.

Next up to the Computex crazy plate was Toshiba’s Kirabook L93, a convertible that’s a bit like Lenovo’s simple-to-understand Yoga, but with a removable keyboard, no touchpad, and a ridiculous amount of versatility that, really, no one is asking for. The thing folds and flips into seven different modes.

News flash to product designers: Once your device has gone beyond three modes, you’ve hopelessly lost the attention of the mainstream consumer. But then again, the Kirabook L93 isn’t aimed at the mainstream, anyway. It’s going to be Japan only, at least for now, and its price is said to be in the neighborhood of $2,600 US dollars. We’re sure there are a few executives out there willing to splurge on something like this. Beyond those few, I don’t know many people who are looking to buy a laptop or a convertible at even half that price.

Don’t expect the convertible craziness to stop anytime soon, either. According to Cnet’s coverage of Intel’s Computex keynote, there are “three times the volume of new [hybrid] designs in the pipeline compared with a year ago,” and half are expected “to hit mainstream price points below $700.” That’s good news on the pricing front.

But as our own Matt Smith recently pointed out, convertibles have fundamental flaws that PC makers don’t seem to be addressing. The ideal size for a laptop screen for productivity use is somewhere north of 12 inches (especially if the resolution is 1080p or higher). The ideal screen size for a tablet for media consumption and apps is somewhere between 7 and 10 inches. And while Samsung and others have made progress with flexible screens, we’re a long way from screens that can physically grow and shrink to fit changing needs.

So what should PC makers do to attract new customers? Stop chasing the myth of the perfect convertible. Decent Android tablets are now approaching the $100 mark. They’re approaching impulse-buy territory, and are showing no signs of slowing in their ability to get cheaper and better. So it’s becoming increasingly unclear why most consumers (if not nearly all of them) would want to pay extra for a convertible that’s, at best, pretty good as a laptop, and large and heavy as a tablet—to say nothing of the lack of good touch-centric Windows 8 apps and games.

Instead, I’d like to see PC makers seize on Intel’s announcement of the low-wattage Core M processor (which they showed off in a fanless tablet prototype tablet that’s thinner than an iPad Air) and put it in a really good, affordable laptop.

Imagine a fanless laptop with a 1080p, 13-inch screen, and enough CPU power to handle Photoshop and other medium-duty productivity tasks. Imagine that this laptop is close to half-an-inch thick, gets 12 hours of battery life, and comes in under the $700 mark that Intel is touting for upcoming convertibles. I’d take that, and the next Nexus tablet, over a 2-in-1 Windows device any day, and it should be possible with Intel’s new chips.

I also think there will be plenty of people who, after ditching their laptops for tablets and convertibles, will soon find themselves severely missing the much-better typing experience that a good laptop provides. And the Surface Pro 3, while much improved, is still a far cry from that, no matter what the Surface die-hards say.

Those customers who bought a tablet or an early convertible and found them disappointing may stick with them for a while—maybe even for a couple of years in this sluggish economy. But eventually, many are going to be looking to buy a traditional laptop again. If PC makers have truly compelling options that are affordable when that wave hits, they could recoup some of the customers that they lost to Android, iOS, and Chrome OS.

If not, the bulk of those potential customers will likely buy a Macbook Air. The Air’s design may be stale, but it’s getting cheaper and cheaper, while the best Ultrabooks are still north of $1,000.

Editors' Recommendations

Matt Safford
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Matt Safford began accumulating electronics experience as a child with his Mattel Aquarius and Tandy TRS-80 (Model 4)…
Best Chromebook deals: Get an HP Chromebook for $190 and more
Front view of Samsung Galaxy Chromebook over blue background.

If the laptop deals that you're seeing are still beyond your budget, you may want to check out Chromebooks, which are generally more affordable alternatives to Windows-based machines. Powered by Chrome OS, these devices are capable of running fast and smooth despite low-end components because of their operating system's web-based nature, so you don't have to install much software that slows down laptops. While a few Chromebooks are pushing the envelope with top-tier specifications, most of the Chromebook deals that we've gathered here are on the cheaper side -- if you see one that you like, proceed with the purchase immediately because there's no telling how much time is remaining on any of them.
Best Chromebook deals

While Chromebooks come in all shapes and sizes, one thing that they all have in common is the ease of using Chrome OS. The operating system grants quick access to Google's wide network of services, including Google Docs where you can create your reports, Google Play Store where you can download apps, and Google Drive where you can save your files. The best Chromebooks also promise decent displays and solid build quality, which make them excellent choices as work or school companions. Check out our favorite Chromebook deals below for the top bargains online.

Read more
How to convert MOV files to MP4
A woman using a MacBook Pro in a studio.

Today, most people consider MOV files to be an outdated format, and since it's more convenient to use MP4 files, you'll want to know how to convert MOV to MP4. If you still have an extensive collection of old MOV files taking up space on your Mac, you can convert them into an MP4 file format with a little bit of patience by following these step-by-step instructions.

Read more
Fake AI images are showing up in Google search — and it’s a problem
An AI-generated image of a famous Hawaiian singer.

Right now, if you type "Israel Kamakawiwoʻole" into Google search, you don't see one of the singer's famous album covers, or an image of him performing one of his songs on his iconic ukulele. What you see first is an image of a man sitting on a beach with a smile on his face -- but not a photo of the man himself taken with a camera. This is fake photo generated by AI. In fact, when you click on the image, it takes you to the Midjourney subreddit, where the series of images were initially posted.

I saw this first posted by Ethan Mollick on X (formerly known as Twitter), a professor at Wharton who is studying AI.

Read more