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07 Jun 12 Windows-Android hybrids: Beauties or beasts?

18-inch Asus AiO Android/Windows hybrid tablet

Since Microsoft first introduced the versatile Tablet PC over a decade ago, the idea of having a device that was effective as both a hand-holdable tablet and a full-on PC has been a siren’s song in tech. In the case of the Tablet PC, it was always a little too clunky, a little too expensive, and a generation behind in power — so it never sold well. Asus started nibbling at the space with its Transformer products, but until now they have been Android-only — so while they can look like a laptop, they can’t run PC software. Until this week. Asus claims its new AiO (All-in-One) will support both full-up Windows as a desktop and Android as a (huge 18-inch) tablet. Does the AiO mark the coming of age for hybrid devices, or is it another Frankenstein doomed to be relegated to the back pages of Wikipedia like the Tablet PC?

Why Android and Windows make sense together

Windows 8 tablets are attracting a lot of attention for their potential to run all the desktop applications we’ve come to rely on over the years in the trendy form of a tablet. Whether it’s needing Photoshop, Quicken, your favorite games, or just plain Microsoft Office, it isn’t easy to simply dump the PC and move to a tablet right now — even one with a keyboard like the Asus Transformer. A Windows 8 tablet — especially one using an x86 chip — could solve that problem nicely. Unfortunately, Windows 8 tablets won’t run many of the nifty tablet applications developed for Android and iOS. Sure, some top ones will be ported, and as Windows 8 becomes popular more will be moved over. But it will be years before Windows 8 catches up on tablet applications — if it ever does.

By running both Windows and Android, a hybrid device has the potential to support the best of both worlds. It would operate as a full-on desktop or laptop when assembled, or as an Android tablet when used as a hand-held device.

Android emulator or ARM chip?

HP Tablet PCHybrids are likely to be built in two very different ways. The first will simply be a version of the Asus Transformer with an x86 chip running an emulator like BlueStacks. Asus already has a deal for BlueStacks on its other PCs, so it makes sense to try something similar with its tablets. The big advantage of this design is simplicity: Only one processor to worry about, and a proven form factor for the product.

The other, more radical, way to build a hybrid is epitomized by the newly announced AiO. Specs are scant, but while it definitely will feature an x86 chip in the dock, it is likely that the “tablet-only” mode running Android will be accomplished using an ARM chip in the tablet portion. That allows for better battery life and for leaving the x86, along with all the other “PC” hardware, in the dock. It can also guarantee full Android compatibility and performance comparable to that of a dedicated tablet.

The downsides of the dual-processor approach will be cost and complexity. Adding an ARM chip by itself won’t cost much, but it’ll require its own memory and support chips. The device will also need to integrate the two operating systems enough that users can share files and not become too confused when switching back and forth — the prototype crashed during its maiden demo at E3 trying to do just that. So, while the concept is very appealing, the devil will be in the details. I don’t think I’d want to be the first one on my block to buy one.

Next page: An 18-inch tablet – are they serious?

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27 Apr 12 Kindle Fire taking over Android side of tablet market, report says

The Kindle Fire appears to be burning up its competition — on the Android side, anyway. Inc.’s tablet computer is catching on in a big way, having grabbed 54.4% of the Android tablet market by the end of February, the fourth month that it was on sale, according to new data from comScore Inc. That represented a near doubling of the Fire’s Android market share since December, when it was at 29.4%.

In a way, the Kindle Fire is gobbling up the small fish in the pond — far outpacing Samsung’s Galaxy Tab (15.4% of Android), Motorola Xoom (7%), the Asus Transformer (6.3%) and others by Dell, Lenovo and Sony. 

But the big fish remains Apple’s iPad, which, according to the market research firm IDC, controlled about 55% of the entire tablet market as of the fourth quarter of 2011, with Android tablets accounting for about 45%.  In its release Friday, comScore declined to offer more recent overall market share numbers, so we don’t yet have an up-to-date snapshot of the broader tablet battle.

However, if the iPad-Android market split has stayed close to 55%-45% in the last few months,  that would mean about 30% of tablets currently shipping are Kindle Fires, putting the Fire an increasingly close second to the iPad.

That may make dismissing the Kindle Fire more difficult for Apple, which sold close to 12 million of its new iPads in the device’s first quarter on the market, a strong showing but not a record for iPad sales. In February, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook dismissed tablets like the Kindle Fire as an inferior competitor.

“A cheap prod­uct might sell some units,” Cook said at the time. “But then [consumers] get it home and use it and the joy is gone. And the joy is gone ev­ery day that they use it and they wind up not us­ing it anymore.”

Whether or not they’re using the Kindle Fire after they take it home, however, consumers certainly appear to be buying it.


Amazon’s Kindle Fire grabs chunk of tablet market from Apple iPad

Survey of tablet users shows iPad on top, gives Microsoft hope

Apple profit beats expectations, led by strong iPhone, iPad sales

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