Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a laptop, PC, or a tablet? None of the above, apparently. We're talking of a new breed of form factors called hybrid PCs. A curious mix of the PC, the laptop and the tablet, hybrid form factors have, over the last two years, fundamentally transformed the ways we interact with our computing devices. As consumers are increasingly consuming and creating content on the move, hybrid PCs - also referred to as convertibles or two-in-ones - are fast gaining consumer acceptance.
Consider this. Toshiba recently launched a 'five-in-one' shape-shifting hybrid PC with a laptop mode that includes the traditional clamshell design and a convertible tablet mode. It comes in three parts, the screen, the keyboard and the kickstand, that can be detached or arranged into different usage models. A few years ago, such 'shape shifters' were unthinkable.
To fully understand the hybrid PC, one needs to look at two key parameters: the device (hardware and software) and the content possibilities. A hybrid PC is not dependent on the Chrome-based OS, unlike some laptops and Chromebooks. Hybrid PCs are fully operating in an app-driven environment and work mostly on the Windows 8 platform, like Lenovo, Microsoft Surface, Acer and Dell do. Such devices allow for a 'tile' structure on the home screen, where the entire arrangement of apps is created according to user needs. This kind of a system tends to cannibalise the browser.
The hybrid can be of use for content creation even in an offline mode, so monetisation in this case is slightly different than on a laptop or a PC. Hybrids attract more premium, sophisticated advertisers. "Our tablet network inventory is very different from, say, our mobile network inventory. It is now about a multi-screen strategy for the desktop, laptop, mobile and the tablet. Currently, hybrids are a tiny segment but this is only going to grow," says Preetesh Chouhan, vice-president (Asia Pacific) for mobile video ad firm Vdopia.
Hybrids, in terms of consumption, fill a need gap, too. Being on the move, one may require a device for content consumption which has to be slim, light, have a long battery life and touch enabled screen, to say the least. The PC has problems of size and mobility, and the tablet has its own limitations like capacity, memory, the absence of a keyboard or stand, a slow processor etc. Hybrids combine the best of both in terms of experience, with smarter processors, smaller chips etc. "It creates a different segment altogether," says Chouhan.
With the emergence of a hybrid PC, there is a spurt in tablets that want to be laptops and laptops that want to be tablets. By the end of 2014, the so-called convertibles can take up at least 3-5 per cent of the total notebook market, up from its current 1 per cent. The notebook market stands at 5 million-plus units a year.
When it comes to hybrids, the excitement for content developers is at two levels. First, the device is meant for enterprise use. So it is a great option for developers to come up with enterprise-oriented apps. Second, because of the larger screen, the gaming and viewing experience gets to be much better than a tablet.
Speaking in the Indian context, professionals in the 35-plus age category are early adopters of the hybrid. An evolved customer would typically use such devices and therefore it won't be used much by the first time buyer - the hybrid is more of an add-on device. "If students go for it, they will look for slightly larger screen sizes than the average 8-inch hybrid," says S Rajendran, chief marketing officer, Acer India.
Experts believe hybrids - with screens that fold, flip or rotate to convert to a flat laptop form factor - have led to the 'yogaism' of computing devices. Lenovo has gone so far as to name its convertible the IdeaPad Yoga 11s. Will convertibles change consumption behaviour and nudge their way into advertising on computing devices? Time will tell.