Convertible Tablets – Can They Sell?

Asus EeePad Transformer

The earliest tablet PCs didn’t look much like what we use today. Some were pure slates, but most were hybrids of some sort, combining a keyboard and swivel screen for touch interface. Some of these devices were fantastic and allowed for full on-the-go productivity while others came up a little short.

With many of us naming Fujitsu as the benchmark for a great slate we also have Motion and TabletKiosk included with honourable mentions. Ironically however, more often I hear cries for HP’s TC11XX series, which for those of you not versed, is a hybrid clamshell tablet with detachable slate built-in. Today we see this resurgence through the ASUS eeeSlate Tablet device. The reality however is that through 5” to 12” there has been any number of Tablet scenarios launched – most however ran Windows as their Operating System of choice. What if there was a TCXX styled Tablet based on today’s Android or even iPad platforms; imagine detachable screens, pen features and full OS. Things could really start to heat up.

With the recent explosion in the tablet market focused largely on 10” tablets that weigh less than a pound and are thinner than a paperback book, convertibles have been largely forgotten. Dell launched the Inspiron Duo last fall to positive reviews but few sales and some people wondered if the iPad style tablet was the wave of the future.

For now, it appears the iPad will outsell pretty anything that hits the market for at least a couple years, but does that mean the convertible model is dead? I don’t think so. Just take a look at some of the fantastic things on the horizon from manufacturers like Samsung and Asus.

The Samsung Sliding PC 7 is a prime example – showcasing a tablet modified touch screen interface when closed and providing the complete Windows 7 desktop experience when in laptop mode. The convertible will be available soon for a base price of between $650 and $700 (pricing hasn’t been finalized yet) and will feature solid performance for a convertible.

Asus launched a convertible tablet a year ago in the Eee T101MT, but it didn’t catch on quite as strongly as was hoped. This year, Asus announced the EeePad Transformer and the Eee Slider – both convertible tablets with keyboards built in. The Eee Slate is their biggest push right now with Microsoft Windows 7. Being pushed heavily by Microsoft, the slate features a Core i5 processor, 4GB of DDR3 memory and a 12.1” capacitive touchscreen. Sales are brisk, but the price is high – it’s not meant for the mainstream, but will it be successful enough to drive further innovation in this field?

The Need for Convertibles

Until tablet PCs find a way to meld all of the technical features of a laptop PC including expanded battery life, a complete operating system, quick data entry, and access to familiar software, I see a market for convertible tablets. They offer multiple input methods, an easy way to switch between Windows 7 and a second operating system (or a more tablet friendly version of Windows) and in the right circumstances they can provide more power – as is the case with Eee Slate.

What do you think? Does a tablet PC need to have a keyboard and the power of a laptop or do convertibles act as a stopgap until the technology can advance to match what we need from our devices? For some people, these devices represent the perfect hybrid – for others an expensive middle ground. Where do you think they are headed?