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Notebook makers turn to Android in face of Windows woes

Intel said to be leading push for Googly convertibles

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Dissatisfied with sales of Windows 8 notebook and tablets, major PC vendors have reportedly joined Intel in a new push to launch convertible fondleslabs based on Google's Android OS.

So sayeth the supply-chain sleuths at Taiwanese tech news site DigiTimes, which cites anonymous sources inside the notebook vendors.

Chinese ThinkPad maker Lenovo is reportedly leading the charge and is planning to release an Android-powered version of its 11-inch Yoga convertible slab in May. But Lenovo is far from alone; Acer, Asus, HP, and Toshiba are all said to be also readying Android models that will launch in the third quarter.

Sources say Intel has pinned the "sweet spot" for Android notebook pricing at around $500, which means these new devices should arrive priced about the same as Microsoft's entry-level Surface RT slab.

The new Android devices will apparently resemble Surface, too. According to sources, Intel has specified that they should accommodate detachable keyboards, allowing them to work as either  notebooks or tablets.

Although Microsoft has not released any sales figures for Surface, it's widely understood that sales have been disappointing, particularly for the ARM-based Surface RT version.

Presumably the PC makers are betting that Android, with its large installed base and well-developed app ecosystem, will appeal more to consumers than Windows RT, which has struggled to find an audience and has been criticized for the lackluster app offerings in the Windows Store.

Even Windows 8 has drawn fire lately for failing to revive the flagging PC market. In March, Samsung co-CEO J.K. Shin observed that Windows smartphones and tablets "aren't selling very well," while big-upping Android in the same breath. Then earlier this month, IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell said that not only has Windows 8 failed to boost the market, but it appears to have actually slowed it.

Microsoft fondleslabs still have one advantage over Android kit, however – namely, that Windows RT devices all come bundled with a version of Office 2013. Most Android devices to date have been touch-only and thus haven't been aimed at document creation and editing. Whether PC makers will ship their Android convertibles with a suitable Office alternative for Android remains to be seen.

There was also no mention of what kind of hardware might power these devices. Most Android kit so far has been based on ARM chips, but given that it's Intel organizing this effort, presumably these new convertibles will be based on Chipzilla's low-power Atom processors – possibly the "Clover Trail +" variants that were announced in February.

Don't expect Microsoft to take the threat lying down, though. The software giant is reportedly working with manufacturers to launch a new wave of Windows fondleslabs with smaller screens, which it hopes will be more competitive with such devices as Google's Nexus 7 and Apple's iPad Mini.

What's more, Redmond has been inking patent-licensing agreements with makers of Android devices from across the hardware industry – most recently with manufacturing titan Foxconn. The message to its shareholders? Whether customers buy Windows or Android, Microsoft still gets paid. ®

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