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Are 2-in-1s and convertibles the new Next Big Thing?

I don’t think Microsoft or Intel are mad that Apple has finally agreed with them.

The Verge

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.

As all industry watchers know, "2-in-1s" hit the market about three years ago as the new Next Big Thing in the PC market, and were positioned as the successor to the traditional clamshell PCs. Intel and Microsoft led this charge with the help of their PC partners and started to brand 2-in-1s and convertibles as the most versatile PC a person could buy. However, that message fell on deaf ears and even today, 2-in-1s and convertibles represent less than 10 percent to 15 percent of all laptops sold.

One reason for this pushback has been the fact that in the first generation of 2-in-1s, there was a real push for its use as a tablet with a pen. But the current PC audience has spent decades becoming highly proficient with clamshells, and this new design really rocked their boats. It also introduced the touchscreen into the design, another thing that saw real pushback from users who loved their trackpads and the usability of a mouse.

Today, our research sees most laptop users still kicking the tires on 2-in-1s and trying to determine if their versatility makes them worth the extra expense to shift to a totally new design in laptops.

Apple’s blessing on this category has the potential of floating all 2-in-1 boats.

Of course, this has been very frustrating for Intel and Microsoft specifically. Windows 8 was designed to help push the 2-in-1 concept and get more people using a touchscreen. The good news is that with Windows 10 most laptops now support a touchscreen to utilize this new OS, but most of them are still clamshell in nature, and not 2-in-1s.

While that has helped push touchscreen laptops, it has not created what Intel and Microsoft had hoped: Serious change of laptop users’ mindsets and starting a major upgrade cycle that would drive laptop and PC sales. Instead, PC sales look like they will be down at least 6 percent to 8 percent over last year, and even that year saw a 10 percent decline in PC sales.

But there is something interesting going on that has come out of the blue that could finally make 2-in-1s much more interesting to a lot of users. It’s coming from one of Microsoft's and their OEM’s major competitors.

For the entire time that Intel, Microsoft and their PC partners pushed the 2-in-1s concept, Apple has gone on the record dismissing it. Tim Cook called them a toaster/fridge at one point, and while Apple was pushing its tablets into business, it really thought that the idea of 2-in-1s as a laptop replacement did not make sense.

However, as its overall iPad business has declined, Apple has now made a conscious decision to start positioning the iPad Pro 13.9-inch tablet as a laptop replacement. Microsoft and Intel should be mad that, after all this time saying that a product like Microsoft’s Surface or other vendors' detachables were toaster/fridges that didn’t make sense, Apple is now placing TV ads that basically have the same message Microsoft pushed when it launched the original Surface.

But I don’t sense Microsoft or Intel being mad that Apple has finally agreed with them. Instead, they have realized this is probably a good thing for the future of 2-in-1s and convertibles. Indeed, Apple’s blessing on this category has the potential of floating all 2-in-1 boats, as Apple’s marketing and overall industry position can only help people get more focused on the 2-in-1 convertible design.

From our research, as well as research done by most big OEMs, they know that if there is to be a resurgence of PC sales, it most likely will come through converting people to the 2-in-1 or convertible platforms that provide more computing flexibility. They are not opposed to getting help in achieving that goal, even if it is coming from one of their fiercest competitors.

Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

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