The Problem and Promise of PC+

Posted by renderle

This year's CES in Las Vegas should see hybrid Android and Windows devices which may be designed to give Microsoft a warning that changes need to be made. But, is this the right way to get Microsoft to wake up to the realities of the post-PC era?

I’ll be glad when we go back to simple names and have tired of Netbooks, Ultrabooks, Convertibles, Hybrids, but now here comes PC+. None of these names helps at all in telling you why you’d buy one over another and why you should have blends. For instance there is nothing preventing a PC+ Ultrabook or even a PC+ Hybrid Ultrabook.

Apple, who is still doing relatively well despite the competition, largely does so by keeping things simple, but the PC industry seems hell bent on making every PC purchase as complicated as it possibly can be.  With PC+ we are once again exploring dual boot machines by putting a Smartphone and Tablet OS on a Laptop, in addition to Windows, and blessing the result as a good thing.  

The Convertible Pick Up Truck

While I’m all for reducing the number of products you have to carry, when we started this exercise, Laptops were around 4 pounds and tablets were around 2.5 pounds. The combination with power supplies got us to an admittedly heavy 8 pound, or so, carry weight which I agree is too much.

But we’ve since come out with 7” and 8” tablets which are just fine at around a pound and a half and Ultrabooks took Laptops down below 3 pounds for a carry weight of both at just about where Laptops started.  

In addition we tend to find that holding a tablet over 3 pounds gets kind of heavy and while Laptop battery life has more than doubled it still falls short of a tablet.  If you have both, your combined battery life is substantially more than either but if you have one that is trying to be both you’ll likely find you need more battery than you have.

Granted with more and more power pulled to every airline seat this is becoming less of a problem. But yanking out the charging brick and feeling around for the plug, that still seems too often to be under the seat, and then untangling yourself to go to the bathroom, or to stand and let someone else go, isn’t exactly a walk in the park.  

So for me, it just seems easier and better to have a light tablet and a light Notebook without forcing one or the other to be both.  I don’t want to work off a tiny screen and I don’t want to read or hold for long something that has a 13” screen or better. 

Android and Windows

Dual boot machines have historically been problematic largely because the two OSs don’t talk to each other and if both are active they could do ugly things if they try to use the same ports, storage, or internal systems at the same time.

Google and Microsoft hate each other with a passion and this suggests neither is going to make it particularly easy for the two OSs to work together on the same machine. The OEMs can get around some of this now by having Android run on a virtual machine, with dedicated resources on top of Windows 8.1, which should eliminate some of the problem but you’ll still be switching UIs between modes and sweating OS updates that could badly damage your experience.

Either OS could see the other and conclude it was malware for instance as both Google and Microsoft increasingly move to secure their platforms separately.    

In addition Windows 8.1 already has a tablet mode with a different UI which effectively will give you 3 UIs on the same machine. Two of which may be new to a user coming from a Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 box. Learning one new UI is typically a pain but two on the same system could be a deal killer for some. 

Advantages

There are however some advantages. Because both OSs reside on the same machine. it should be easier to sync files between the environments than it would be if you had a laptop and tablet separate.

Say you are doing email while taking a break from a book and want to respond in depth. Switching to laptop mode even without a network should allow you to pick up in Windows where you left off in Android more easily because you don’t need to connect to a network to sync.

Price should be lower as the incremental cost of adding Android to Windows 8.1 should be far less than building another device. The support cost could offset this though because the combination will likely create unique problems. 

And, finally, you are down to one device and power supply to track and carry which is lighter and less complex.  

Wrapping Up:  I Doubt This Will Fly

Several folks believe this is being done to get Microsoft’s attention and it will certainly do that. But given Microsoft is getting a new CEO and going through a major reorg I doubt it will have the impact on that company it otherwise might.

Or to put it another way, Microsoft knows it has a problem and is already making massive changes to address it so, hitting them upside the head at this time might just piss them off which could get them to expand their own hardware offerings in response.

The successful product in this class will focus on the user experience and in hardware be a decent laptop and tablet while giving users something they both love and will talk about.

This last working across Microsoft and Google will be a bitch to get done and I doubt any vendor will go far enough to make this all work.  

In the end I think PC+ may end up backfiring but we’ll see because there is an opportunity here if an OEM is willing to go the extra mile and focuses more on making the product magical and less on pissing off Microsoft or Google.