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Intel's 'Bay Trail' Atom chip could blur the line between PCs, tablets

Mark Hachman | Aug. 12, 2013
Desktops, notebooks, tablets: Just five years ago, those three words defined three distinct classes of products. But now consumers are being asked to choose among all-in-ones, two-in-ones, convertibles, mini-tablets, ultraportables, and phablets. With Intel's new "Bay Trail" Atom chip, due this fall, you can expect the market to diversify even more.

But the real surprise was the Samsung Ativ Q, a 13-inch tablet-laptop hybrid that combines a 3200-by-1800-pixel display with a more traditional Core i5 processor. Users can swap between Android and Windows at the touch of a button, and the clamshell notebook folds back into a more traditional tablet shape. Asus took the same one-button, swappable approach with the Asus Transformer Book Trio, an 11.6-inch Android tablet that, when snapped into a keyboard dock (complete with its own Core i7 processor, by the way), can run Windows 8. Asus hasn't revealed a price or a ship date for the device (see the image at top), but it's most likely due by the end of the year.

According to IDC, Android is the mobile OS leader, owning 79.3 percent of the worldwide smartphone market and 62.6 percent of the tablet market. It's also killing Windows in the apps battle: While over 800,000 Android apps are available, the Windows 8 ecosystem claims just over 100,000. So dual-booting Bay Trail devices will allow customers to combine the best of both worlds, supporting productivity software such as Microsoft Office on Windows and more recreational apps on Android. The Ativ Q can even share data between the operating systems.

That doesn't mean that all OEMs will pursue the same approach, however.

"One thing I've learned: Dual boot means something different to every OEM," Intel's Wallace replied when asked whether other products would follow the Ativ Q's lead. "It can mean app virtualization, or it can mean dynamic switching between one OS and the other. Without saying too much, some are looking to [use Bay Trail] to configure build-to-order machines, or Windows and dedicated Android hardware using a common bill of materials and inventory. I can't comment on specific OEM plans, but it's an interesting question. Among all of those vendors we're working with, there's work going on" in many of those segments, he said.

Some experts still aren't excited about the prospect of running Android apps on large-screen devices, however. That group includes Pat Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy. "I think the Android/Windows dual-boot capabilities are a really bad idea on any devices above 7 inches," Moorhead said in an email. "There are less than 5,000 Android apps that are optimized for devices above 7 inches and therefore I think it delivers a lousy experience."

Wallace is quick to back Windows, citing Strategy Analytics numbers that put Windows tablets at about 8 percent of the market. And the growth rate of Windows apps is strong--combine that with the existing Android app market, and "it bodes well for the future," he says.

It's true that the Windows tablet market needs a kick in the pants. IDC puts it at just 0.8 percent of the total market. To parse the numbers in a different way, just 2 million Windows tablets shipped during the second quarter, according to Ryan Reith, who runs the Mobile Device Tracker program for IDC. Of those, about 300,000 were Microsoft's Surface.


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