By Barry Levine / Mobile Tech Today. Updated April 25, 2012.
Microsoft's coming Windows 8 operating system is focusing attention on the possibility of tablet-laptop hybrids. This week, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded to that idea in so many words, amounting to the equivalent of "Really?"
Cook told a conference call of analysts that "anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that the products are about tradeoffs." With a hybrid, he said, "you begin to make tradeoffs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn't please anyone."
'A Toaster and a Refrigerator'
He noted that one could "converge a toaster and a refrigerator," but that probably wouldn't satisfy fans of either appliance. In response, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Frank X. Shaw tweeted that the reported comment "must be a typo," because the comparison shouldn't be to a toaster/fridge, but to a toaster/oven. "Those seem pretty popular," he wrote.
Cook said that some companies might choose to try out hybrids, in which they will end up compromising for both and not pleasing users of either device. He added that his company, which turned the tablet category into what is arguably the hottest form factor for personal computing, is "not going to that party."
That party has already started. Earlier this month, Intel showed a product it is calling the Lexeco, which is a Windows tablet that has a kickstand and a keyboard to turn it into an Ultrabook laptop. Intel CEO Paul Otellini and other executives have been talking about hybrids for months, where the tablet is "consumption" mode and the laptop is "productivity" mode.
In January, Lenovo showed at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) its Windows 8-based IdeaPad Yoga prototype, in which a laptop's screen can fold down and turn the device into a tablet.
Asus has offered an Android tablet with optional keyboard dock for a year, and has expanded its so-called Transformer line with new versions using a quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3 chip running Android 4.0. The keyboard contains a second battery, additional ports and a trackpad, and when attached turns the entire device into an Android netbook.
Cook's position could mean that Apple would never, ever attempt such a Frankenstein of a product. Of course, Apple's track record in pooh-poohing certain combined product types, and then releasing to great acclaim its own line of those products, is legendary.
Apple Had 'No Plans' for a Tablet
As one example, Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs said in 2003 that his company had "no plans to make a tablet," because users want keyboards. And some observers had initially criticized the iPhone for combining too many functions into one device.
Windows 8, now showing in beta versions, is expected to be released in final form by the fall. Some manufacturers, such as Hewlett-Packard, had tried the standard Windows OS with a touch overlay on a tablet, but that product didn't even make it to launch. Reports indicated that HP was not happy with the integration of a touch-interface with traditional Windows.
In response to that problem, and to the fact that it is currently all but shut out of the tablet race, Microsoft has optimized its new Windows 8 OS for touch-screen tablets, in which the Metro, live-tile interface is the key innovation.
In 8, users can still use a traditional Windows interface in a "classic" mode. Many industry observers have wondered how the two, dramatically different ways of user interaction in Windows 8 might be merged into a single device, and the hybrid tablet-laptop, or a laptop with a touch screen, have been proposed.