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CES reveals the four new rules of PC simplicity

Loyd Case | Jan. 10, 2013
Behold the PCs of CES 2013. They are simpler, smarter, easier to use, and more portable than their now ever-so-clunky predecessors. No mice or keyboards are required. Indeed, these are not your daddy's computers. And let's not even call them PCs. How about: Tablets, hybrids, all-in-ones, and even Table PCs.

Intel has always supplied reference designs to hardware manufacturers, but those have rarely seen the light of day. However, Intel's reference designs have gotten slicker over time, and such is the case with North Cape. So now PC makers can more easily take those reference designs, and with just a few modifications go right to market.

We can debate the success of Ultrabooks with consumers, but one thing you can't deny is how Intel has helped PC makers, from Dell to smaller manufacturers, go to market faster.

Simplicity via experiments: Lenovo

Few families huddle around the PC or tablet to play games with one another in the living room like they would with an old-time board game. Digital lifestyles can isolate people, but Lenovo's 27-inch IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC could redefine family time.

Lenovo blasted into CES with a slew of new PC products. But Lenovo's most interesting (if not daring) piece of hardware was the IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC. The Horizon uses mobile PC components plus a big battery to create a semi-portable all-in-one PC that a family can place on a table for games and other face-to-face activities. Lenovo says it will offer furniture designed to mount the Horizon. The personal computer as furniture is fully realized.

Simplicity with design: Vizio

Design simplicity is something we associate with Apple and its designer Jonathan Ive, not PC makers. Don't tell that to electronics maker Vizio. In my review of the Vizio CT14-A2 laptop, I compared the design aesthetic to the Bauhaus school of design, which emphasized the intersection of minimalism and functionality. The entire lineup of Vizio laptops look similar, have similar keyboards, and offer minimal, uncluttered Windows 8 installations. Vizio's desktops, HDTVs, and home theater equipment at CES are similarly simple and elegant.

Great industrial design doesn't automatically equal ease of use. But for a long time PC makers bucked Apple's notion of simple design and function. Instead, PC vendors seemed to think the more drives, buttons, ports, and fold-out screens you could cram into a laptop, the better.

Bottom line: Usability without compromise

The PC industry's past attempts at building simple, easy-to-use products tended to ape the classic consumer electronics industry. In the last couple of years, however, PCs have created their own aesthetic, embracing simplicity by taking advantage of the capabilities of modern components, cloud computing, and better software.

If anything, the PC business has overtaken the classic CE business with better functionality that's more usable than ever. PCs aren't PCs, in the traditional sense. This year, as Windows finds its way into tablets, hybrids, and living room all-in-ones, the PC has become a rock star-caliber attraction here at CES. The PC is on a roll.


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