Skip to main content

Will hybrids be the saviours of Windows 8?

I have been using Windows 8 on a variety of laptops, PCs, and hybrids. After struggling to use Windows 8 on multiple traditional laptops, however, it has become clear to me that this modern UI was designed for devices with a touchscreen. But with Microsoft's refusal to include the Start menu in desktop mode, hybrids just might actually have the chops to make a tablet into a solid laptop in its own right, and thus sustain Windows 8.

(At the moment, industry experts have not settled on exactly what they’ll call tablets with detachable keyboards, but for the sake of this article, I will use the term "hybrids;" we call tablets with keyboards that cannot be detached "convertibles.")

Intel believes that as much as 60 per cent of Ultrabooks shipped by the end of 2013 will be touch-enabled. While that may be overly optimistic, there is no question that the industry will build more touch-based laptops next year.

However, the real problem for consumers is that adding a touchscreen to an Ultrabook tacks on an extra £100 or more to the final cost. If you assume that consumers want lower-priced laptops, not higher-priced ones, then the majority of laptops shipped in 2013 will be non-touch-based laptops. Still, all new PCs and laptops will ship with Windows 8 loaded – regardless of whether the laptop or desktop has a touchscreen or not – because Microsoft is so far behind in touch that it wants all PCs to have its touch-based UI.

See the problem? The short-term solution is for the PC vendors to support trackpads, like Synaptics' new ForcePad, which can emulate some of the touch features.

There is a product, though, that could gain steam and perhaps be the Windows 8 hero product. For the last six months, I have been using an iPad with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. It has a magnetic hinge and, when coupled with the magnetic end of the iPad, it can be used as a cover. It looks like Apple made it since it blends perfectly with the iPad. The other side of the cover is a great keyboard. This accessory makes it extremely stable and in this mode, it acts like a laptop, albeit a small, 9.7in one.

Using the iPad with a keyboard, I can accomplish almost everything that I would normally use a laptop for. Now my dedicated laptop is used mostly for managing media, creating large docs, and writing client newsletters and sophisticated emails.

I think that this same concept could be Windows 8's best friend. A good example of this is the new HP Envy x2, an 11.6in tablet. Although I consider 11.6in screens a bit large for a tablet, it actually works since it is light and easy to handle. The device is bigger than an iPad or various 10.1in tablets on the market today and docks seamlessly into the attachable keyboard. When I first saw the Envy x2, I thought it was a laptop that was similar to Apple's 11in MacBook Air; while not quite as slim and sleek, its design makes it look like a normal laptop.

There will be a lot of competitors jumping into this hybrid space, including Microsoft with its Surface tablet. I really wonder, though, if the Surface will take off in its current design form. Hybrids that are designed to work and look like a true laptop, however, may be where the hybrid and Windows 8 action takes place.

The one concern I have for these crossover devices is that they will be too expensive initially. I am told that HP's Envy x2, which is slated to ship in October, will start at about $1,199 in the States, which translates to £740 over here, although rumours have pointed to £799 – and the simple truth is pricing had not been finalised when I saw the device earlier this month. However, even at this level, if you were to buy a work tablet and an Ultrabook, the combined price could possibly be even higher.

Since Windows 8 has not shipped and customers have not had a lot of time to use it outside of beta versions, it is really hard to speculate whether it will succeed or not. In my opinion, using this modern UI on non-touchscreen devices, no matter if they are laptops or desktops, will be problematic for many. Most users will default to the old-fashioned desktop mode more than Microsoft would like. Be that as it may, hybrids seem like the perfect product for Windows 8 if they are used both as a laptop and a dedicated tablet, which together really show off the virtues of Windows 8.