sIf a good deal of the tech chatter in 2012 was about the slim and smart ultrabooks, in 2013 convertibles and hybrids are likely to capture hearts and minds. These are 'two-in-ones' - devices that can transform from tablet to notebook and vice-versa, enabling the user to take full advantage of the touch interface of the new Windows 8 operating system. Those wondering whether to buy either a tablet or a notebook may well opt for one of these devices which combine their conveniences.
"Tablet PCs are quickly becoming the primary consumption, and in some cases, content creation devices. Given the increasing demand from mobile professionals for devices which suit their onthe-go lifestyles, there is a need to create products which provide the portability of a tablet and the power of a laptop," says Shishir Singh, Director, Product Marketing, Dell India. "The new devices are built keeping in mind end-user expectations of a high quality computing experience, as well as the need for the device to fit into the existing technology infrastructure of organisations."
But will hybrids and convertibles find a ready market ? Companies like Dell and Microsoft hope these enterprise-ready devices will give them an advantage when firms start shifting work to tablets and other mobile devices. But Kiran Kumar, Senior Market Analyst - Client Devices, IDC India, does not think the market will suddenly shift to convertible personal computers. "The form factor has to offer compelling quality at affordable rates to drive end-user adoption," he says. "Currently, the market for devices priced at $1,000 (Rs 55,000) and above holds a shipment share of less than five per cent in India." Amit Goel, CEO of research firm Knowledgefaber, agrees adoption is likely to be initially sluggish.
"Adoption will be primarily driven by enterprise mobility and BYOD adoption in a bid to make anytime, anywhere access to business data and information possible for our increasingly mobile workforce," he says.
BYOD, or bring your own device, refers to the growing trend among companies to allow employees to access office data on personal devices. Dell's Singh, however, disagrees, maintaining the price range offered will not be a hindrance, since customers primarily want products which will help them manage their time and work well. But even if these new devices do not sell in large numbers they are likely to be all over the market soon. IDC's Kumar expects many new launches around March-April. Acer has already released what may be one of the most affordable hybrids, priced at Rs 46,000.
Actually, convertibles and hybrids are not a new concept
. The first tablets, launched almost a decade back, were Windows convertibles. "It is just that the launch of Windows 8 has given this form a new lease of life," says Kumar. Sunil Nayyar, Head, Sales, Sony India has no doubt that traditional desktops and laptops will continue to be the preferred choice of the masses. "The new devices will exist alongside the laptops, tablets and ultrabooks, also powered by the Windows 8 interface and having touch-enabled screens," he says. "But convertibles will widen the premium category."
ASUS, one of the pioneering companies in the convertible and hybrid segment, believes the new breed of devices will change the way people access the Internet, use apps and even make phone calls. Peter Chang, Regional Head - South Asia and Country Manager, ASUS India, sees the emergence of a 'super device' that will make device function differentiation obsolete. "The decline in cost and increase in computing power of devices are a signal to move to one, all-powerful, converged device," he says. But ASUS too is not betting only on the 'two-in-ones' - it recently released a Windows 8 touchscreen laptop priced below Rs 40,000. Only Acer has cheaper touch laptops, which were slaunched in February.
HP India's Category Manager Anurag Gupta underlines the need for balance in the design of devices. "If the device is too small, processing power suffers. If it is too large, it becomes hard to use for mobile professionals," he says.
Saji Kumar, Director, Product Management, Acer India, agrees the market needs to become a bit more evolved before hybrids and convertibles gain mass acceptance.
"Small and medium businesses and the education sector are also likely to be large growth segments for this particular form factor," he says. Manufacturers are also banking on Windows 8 becoming a trigger for Indian corporate houses to introduce BYOD, and thus help the sale of the new devices.
There are over a hundred designs of hybrids and convertibles in various stages of development, many of them aimed primarily at the enterprise segment. But ultimately, despite all the attention they got, ultrabooks accounted for just four per cent of 11 million PCs sold in India in 2012, according to Knowledgefaber. So too, it estimates just a one per cent market share for convertibles and hybrids if their prices stay at their current level.