You have probably heard more than once about how mobile devices are cutting into the traditional PC market. While it’s obvious that Android affects the PC world by attracting users away from conventional PCs, that’s not the only way that Android is messing with the status quo.
Recently we’ve seen a whole new breed of personal computer in the form of Android hybrid laptops and all-in-one desktop machines. These machines look quite a bit like typical Windows PCs, but instead have both touch mechanics and the power of Android baked in.
So what’s going on here, are we at the beginning of a new trend where Android competes directly with Windows, Mac OS and Linux? Maybe.
The bigger question is why is Google’s mobile OS finding its way into more “traditional” PC hardware all of a sudden? To answer this, we first need to look at where the PC market is right now with Windows 8, and how this is affecting the future of the traditional PC.
Microsoft’s gamble with Windows 8
Microsoft’s gamble with Windows 8 was a bold, daring move. Consumers were starting to move away from traditional PCs, and Microsoft felt that bringing mobile features to Windows could prove to be the solution to their problem.
Unfortunately, Microsoft’s strategy hasn’t paid off (at least yet). PC sales continue to slump. People continue to whine about Windows 8, even with Microsoft promising to rectify some of their mistakes with Windows 8.1.
We aren’t going to debate the reasons why Windows 8 isn’t an instant success. What’s important is that even if Microsoft turns things around, they have already opened up a door for change.
PC manufacturers understand that consumers are frustrated with PC options on the market right now, either due to dislike of Windows 8 or simply because they feel that current PCs are too expensive. This is why companies are looking for a solution that satisfies their customers and helps pick PC sales back up.
This has lead to at least four different methods of dealing with the “Windows problem”:
While Chrome OS is still a niche product, more manufacturers seem to be expressing interest in Google’s net-centric desktop OS. Chrome OS provides an experience that is similar to Windows in many ways, offering multi-tasking and a UI that is at least a little reminiscent of Microsoft’s OS.
On the other hand, most consumers aren’t all that familiar with it. There are also misconceptions about what Chrome OS can do, with many folks not realizing that the OS is capable of quite a bit more than just being a “web browser”.
I speculate that another problem with adoption by more manufacturers could be that putting Android on a device is just easier and less risky. Companies like Asus are already actively working with Android, and so there is nothing new to learn nor really any new hoops to jump through.
I have big hopes for Chrome OS and feel it ultimately could be a big rival to Windows, Linux and Mac OS – but that doesn’t mean that it is a solution for everyone.
Windows start-menu replacements
Companies like Samsung have already come up with their own pre-installed start button replacements and assistants that help make the changes in Windows 8 easier to deal with.
This solution doesn’t work so much for tablet hybrids, but it’s fine for more traditional PCs.
Windows & Android: A marriage of convenience
Just last week Samsung announced its Ativ Q hybrid tablet/laptop. While the idea of tablets that transform into a laptop with a dock are nothing new, the Ativ Q is one of a few such devices that manages to combine Windows and Android under one roof.
Windows allows the PC to work as a “true productivity” machine using Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office and other programs. At the same time, being able to quickly switch over to Android solves Microsoft’s lack of many of the most popular mobile apps.
On the downside, consumers already complain about Windows having two UIs: the desktop and the new Start Screen. With Windows 8/Android AIOs and convertibles you basically have to deal with three UIs.
A dual Windows/Android machine could be perfect from those that need more “power user” features but still want Android functionality. That said, it is really more of a band-aid solution to the PC market’s slump, not a cure.
Pure Android on the desktop
Going back to the original Transformer, there have been pure Android tablets that transform into laptop alternatives. On the desktop/AIO side of things however, nearly all of these Android devices also feature Windows. Things are about to change, thanks to the HP Slate 21 AIO.
Announced earlier today, HP’s unique AIO runs entirely on Android and utilizes an Nvidia Tegra 4 processor.
The device might not hold a candle to an Intel Core-powered All-in-One or have the more traditional desktop programs provided by Windows, but what it does have is an attractive, low-power design that is considerably cheaper than your typical AIO with a target price of just $359.
Are pure Android PCs the future?
Last Friday our team debated the question of whether or not Android could eventually become a dominant force in the PC world. The opinions on the matter were rather divided.
Personally I think that turning Android into a ‘hardcore’ PC operating system makes little sense, and really that’s more of the place for Chrome OS as it continues to evolve. But as a low-cost basic laptop, desktop or All-in-one platform for those that really have limited needs? Why not.
Some people like the idea of tablets and smartphones but would rather have a big-screen AIO. They also want something simple and affordable. For that purpose, Android-powered devices like the HP Slate 21 AIO could prove to be a huge success. Even if Windows 8 eventually becomes a big success story, not everyone wants or needs what Windows brings to the table – especially when Android OS is free to use for manufacturers, allowing them to keep the pricing down.
A pure Android laptop or desktop machine will never overtake Windows, Linux or Mac for power users, gamers or business users, but it could co-exist with other desktop platforms. This is why I suspect that the Slate 21 is just the beginning for “Android PCs”.
Google will probably never directly support or push Android devices (it’s future is Chrome OS), but they don’t need to. If there proves to be enough consumer interest, manufacturers will go ahead and build pure Android PCs anyhow. That’s part of the beauty of an open OS.
Are the Slate 21 AIO and other Android computers the beginning of a new trend or are they just another limited niche?