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Intel touts 2-in-1s, the 'new' reincarnation of convertibles

The mullet of mobile computing: business in front, party in back

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IDF13 To hear Intel tell it, the Next Big Thing™ in mobile computing will be the "2-in-1" (née "convertible"), which combines a traditional clamshell laptop form factor with a tablet that detaches from the keyboard, or flips, twists, or slides over it.

"The innovators at Intel and our partners have come up with the 2-in-1 – it's the best of both worlds," Intel CEO Brian Krzanich – or "BK" as he's referred to by his troops – said during his IDF keynote on Tuesday in San Francisco. "It's a PC when you want a PC; it's a tablet when you want a tablet."

On Wednesday, the general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, Kirk Skaugen, devoted a chunk of his keynote time to 2-in-1s as well – and he was equally effusive. "We are creating a new category that combines the best of a laptop and the best of a tablet in a single device."

Well, "new" is not exactly accurate. Dubbed "convertibles", such devices have been around for some time. A few examples:

  • August 2007: Fujitsu debuts the LifeBook T2010, which had a display that you'd swivel, then plop down over the keyboard.
  • December 2007: Dell releases its Latitude XT swivel-and-plop, then adds multi-touch capability the following year.
  • November 2008: HP launches its swivel-and-plop, the TX2.
  • January 2009: Asus demos its T91 convertible – a swivel-and-plop – at CES in January, releases it in June, and adds multi-touch in November.
  • September 2009: Dell demos its Inspiron Duo at IDF, introducing a new convertible form factor: the flip-over display-in-a-frame.
  • January 2011: Samsung's TX100 and Asus' Eee Pad Slider unveil another form factor – a display that slides down over the keyboard.
  • March 2011: Asus introduces the Eee Pad Transformer, which has a display that fully detachable from its keyboard, and is a precursor to the Microsoft Surface and many others.

For that matter, even Intel's own kid-friendly Classroom PC, which they demoed at CES in early 2009, had the swivel-and-plop laptop-to-tablet convertible 2-in-1 form factor.

There are many, many other examples of early 2-in-1s to be found – some that may have introduced new form factors before the examples we've listed – but if Intel's PC Client Group headman says that they're "a new category," well, who are we to argue?

What is unarguable, if Krzanich and Skaugen's statements that by the end of this year there will over 60 2-in-1 systems on the market priced as low as $349 are correct, is that the 2-in-1 form factor seems to be finding its sea legs. "When people talk about having a 2-in-1 device that can truly compete in this marketplace, these are the products that are going to do it," he said.

"This is where the PC is headed."

Perhaps, especially if this new wave of PC-tablet mashups are as capable as Skaugen claims. "We want to have all the sensors, all the responsiveness, the touch, and all-day battery life of a tablet," on devices running x86 Windows, and not the less-capable ARM-based RT version.

Skaugen characterized a typical 2-in-1 user running productivity apps running when in laptop mode and entertainment and content-consumption apps in tablet mode. Clearly, these not-new-but-renamed devices are the mullets of mobile computing: business in front, party in back. ®

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