Convergence. That’s the word most often used to describe the computing industry’s shift away from discrete product categories like smartphones, tablets, and laptops in favor of devices that can serve all of those functions at the same time. If announcements from Dell, Asus, and other manufacturers at the Computex technology conference are any indication, the word is going to become quite popular in coming years as these companies rush to release “hybrid” products.
These products have become increasingly popular among manufacturers in the last few years. It seems like every laptop manufacturer is trying to prove that there’s still some life in the old keyboard-and-trackpad device category by adding touchscreens meant to placate consumers without requiring the creation of a brand new tablet. That these products are often hard to use and more expensive than their single-purpose counterparts is irrelevant; most manufacturers are nothing if not wagon jumpers, and this trend is the bandwagon to end all bandwagons.
But that doesn’t mean that these companies are wrong. The idea that someone would need to purchase three devices to serve similar functions might soon seem quaint — especially when the processors used in smartphones and tablets continue to rival those found in traditional computers. In that instance, the only differences between product categories are the size of the display and whether they’re controlled by tapping touchscreens or click-clacking on keyboards.
The problem is that there have been no decent examples of this convergence despite the best efforts of several large hardware manufacturers. Their hybrid products have been largely dismissed for trying to do too much and failing to do anything particularly well, as the quintessential jacks of all trades and masters of none. These products are getting better, but they’re not yet the products that this concept will need to become the industry-changers many think they will be.
The announcements from Computex — which include the awfully named Asus Transformer Book V and cheap Android tablets-turned-laptops from Dell — don’t seem like they will change that. But they do show that these manufacturers aren’t yet willing to give up on the idea of a future where smartphones, tablets, and laptops are sold together instead of as separate pieces.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]