Would Android laptops have what it takes to invade Microsoft’s last bastion?
I’m not going to rehash the old “Android is better than Windows” arguments. Instead, I propose that Android is actually poised to steal Microsoft’s last remaining stronghold, the laptop market, and that it won’t even require consumers to think about their preferred operating system. We all know that Google has already tested the laptop waters with the Chromebook, but it’s not really taken off, and even so, Android and Chrome provide two clearly unique experiences, so let’s examine how Android might fair in the laptop market.
Intel has already announced a range of $200 Android powered notebooks, which will place Android on an even playing field with traditional Microsoft products in terms of hardware. Samsung and other manufacturers are expected to be bringing Android notebook and laptop products to market later this year.
We’ve also heard rumors that the next major version of Android (possibly 5.0) could include additional features for laptop users, rather than focusing on the traditional mobile features. This is a trend which started with the addition of multi-user support for tablets in the Jelly Bean update, and it seems likely that at some point Google will want to go after Apple and Microsoft when it comes to higher-end hardware. But we currently don’t know what new features will be included in the new version of Android, if the rumor turns out to be true, so it’s hard to tell whether or not Android will truly provide a superior experience on laptops than Windows 8.
There are definitely signs that Google is interested in testing the laptop market, so what does this mean for Google’s competitors? Would Android succeed in this market?
Hardware and performance
The laptop market has remained relatively stable despite the growth in the tablet market, mainly because it offers consumers a more powerful platform which is more suited to business than a tablet. Typing documents, for example, is perfect on a laptop, but touch screens and smaller displays prevent tablets from really being ideal for this. The days of OS specific software are over, but Android doesn’t yet compete with Microsoft at the hardware level. Tablet hardware is rather weak compared with mid-range and high-end laptops, they simply aren’t offering the level of processing powered needed for a work station, yet.
the days of OS specific software are over, but Android doesn't yet compete with Microsoft at the hardware level
Intel’s new Pentium and Celeron Silvermont processors, which have been announced for Android, will offer Android laptop manufacturers a range of flexible and performance competitive processors. Without the performance limitations of current mobile processors, Android will finally be able to take on Microsoft in the higher-end performance market, an area in which Microsoft hasn’t had any real competition in before, at least not in the same price bracket.
There’s also a large amount of interest surrounding 2-in-1 laptop and tablet combination devices, which Intel has indicated as a key product range that will be implementing its upcoming Bay Trail mobile processors.
We know that Bay Trail, which will be powering some of these hybrid laptops, will be making its way to Android devices, as well as Windows machines, just like the previous Clover Trail chips. This could be another product line-up which could put Android in the sights of business and power users. My suspicion here is that Android will provide a much better user experience, as it’s well established in the tablet market, and will also have a better start out of the gate in this market than Windows, due to its current dominance over Microsoft in the tablet market.
Microsoft is currently languishing behind Apple and Android with just 7.3% of the tablet market, which isn’t terrible considering how late the company was to the party. But Android’s market share could further increase when these new devices hit the market. That’s not to say that Microsoft won’t be competitive in this market, but I’m reluctant to back the underdog when Android already has a firm grip on tablets.
Intel is clearly keen to diversify away from the struggling Microsoft brand; it would be bad business-sense to tie the entire future of your business into a single company, see Nokia for example. This offers Android a good opportunity to capitalise on a new hardware market. If Android can start securing decent shares of these upcoming products, then it could signal the start of a gradual push into Microsoft’s territory.
It’s all about price
Price is another huge point. This is one of the major reasons why Apple’s Macs were never a huge threat to Microsoft, as they are massively expensive by comparison. Android on the other hand has no such qualms about “appearing cheap.” It simply competes based on the valuation of the hardware, and without licensing fees it stands to beat Microsoft at that game as well.
The $200 Intel notebooks, which are heading our way at some point later this year, represent a real threat to Microsoft’s tablets that are already a bit more expensive. If you’re looking for a computer for all the basic stuff, which tends to be the target audience for notebooks, then there’s very little reason not to choose an Android device, as consumers probably won’t be requiring any Windows-specific software.
Similarly the 2-in-1 tablet devices are expected to ship for somewhere around $399, which is a very competitive price in the laptop market. However, at slightly higher price points, Android will have to be able to compete with Microsoft on software. New operating system features would certainly help, but software-wise there’s not really much to chose between the two anymore, at least when it comes to the general consumer.