A guide to 2-in-1 tablet devices

Surface pro 4Both the PC and tablet product categories have experienced declining sales in recent times following the emergence of an ever-expanding range of connected devices and, of course, amid the soaring popularity of the now omnipresent smartphone.

Desktops and laptops are no longer the go-to first option for internet access, while, following the initial tablet boom, sales have tapered off markedly over the last year or so in an increasingly saturated market which is also populated by large-screen smartphones.

However, there is one product segment that has emerged in recent times, occupying both the PC and tablet categories, which recorded strong growth in 2015, and which is set for further growth in the year ahead.

The products which make up this segment – which industry and media have variously labelled 2-in-1s, convertibles and detachables – are effectively a combination of tablets and PCs, via which manufacturers are seeking to provide consumers the best of both worlds in the one device.

Momentum building for the 2-in-1

It was not so long ago that desktops and laptops were requisite devices for accessing the internet, however the downward trend in the PC market has now become well established, with the last year seeing overall decline in the market.

Information technology and research company Gartner recently found that in 2015 worldwide PC shipments were down 8 per cent year-on-year, with the 2015 fourth quarter being the fifth consecutive quarter of shipment declines.

Meanwhile, market research firm the International Data Corporation (IDC), found that the worldwide tablet market had fallen 10.1 per cent year-on-year in 2015. Among its findings, the IDC did, however, additionally note that “the transition towards detachable devices appears to be in full swing”.

According to the IDC, while pure slate tablets had experienced their greatest annual decline to date of 21.1 per cent, detachable tablets had more than doubled their shipments since the fourth quarter of the previous year.

In November last year, technology analyst firm Telsyte had declared that “convertible 2-in-1 tablet-notebook devices are taking the personal computing market by storm” amid a declining tablet market. Telsyte forecast that Australian sales were poised to grow from more than 500,000 in 2015 to nearly 1.5 million in 2017.

The march of mobiles

The communications and online landscape has changed at pace over the last few years, with Australians increasingly using mobile devices as their first point of internet access and in doing so relying on these devices for a greater range of functionality.

Australians increasingly prize mobility in their devices, and this has been reflected in the move away from desktops, to laptops, tablets and smartphones. Devices that are mobile, versatile, and which can be used in a variety of environments, appeal to users, and the move to 2-in-1s can be seen as further evidence of this trend.

Major technology players including Microsoft, Apple and Samsung are currently active in the 2-in-1 category, and this year will see further releases and improvements on current-generation devices, with the indications being that the market is set to build further momentum.

Touchscreen convenience, PC functionality

So, what exactly is a 2-in-1? By basic definition, these devices are a combination of tablets and PCs, combining functions traditionally found in each separate product category. However, with the devices themselves coming in a variety of form factors, specific definitions vary.

Telsyte, for instance, defines a media tablet as being a computer with a 7 to 12-inch touchscreen, “including 2-in-1 devices with detachable or foldable keyboards that provide a tablet form factor experience”.

Touchscreen functionality, having been popularised by smartphones and tablets, has found its way to other devices, including product categories such as computer monitors and laptops, with 2-in-1s also often referred to as tablets with laptop functionality. For instance, Microsoft tags its Surface Pro 4 as: “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.

Across a range of media devices (and portable media devices in particular), there is a heavy emphasis on touchscreen functionality, and the combining of the touchscreen with the sort of processing power and storage capacity offered by PCs has been a logical progression for the market.

Different form factors

Within the 2-in-1 category, devices come in varying form factors, from providing laptop functionality to transforming into a standalone tablet device, at times functioning more like a laptop than a tablet, and at times more like a tablet than a laptop.

By way of example, Lenovo markets its Yoga 900 convertible laptop as featuring four usage modes: laptop, stand, tent and tablet, with the device employing a watchband hinge that allows the user to arrange it in its various modes.

Other devices, meanwhile, employ different machinations, which may involve the screen separating from the keyboard (rather than folding back, as with the Yoga 900) when transforming into a tablet.

For instance, the Asus Transformer Book line comes in both convertible (folding back) and detachable (separating) variants.

Of course, it is a matter of personal preference when choosing a 2-in-1 as to which form factor to go with, with both the convertible and detachable form factors offering their respective pros and cons and catering to different uses.

Tech heavy hitters are on board

Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Lenovo, Asus and Acer are some of the big name technology companies with product offerings in the 2-in-1 market.

Perhaps one of the most recognisable 2-in-1s, and one of the forerunners in the category, is Microsoft’s Surface line. Towards the end of last year, Microsoft introduced its most recent additions to the Surface family in the form of the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4.

Apple last year also introduced its iPad Pro (which measuring in at 12.9-inches is one of the larger 2-in-1s in the broader category, and which also ranks as Apple’s largest iPad ever), paired with its full-sized Smart Keyboard.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Samsung introduced its Galaxy TabPro S, running Microsoft Windows 10, providing “full notebook PC functionality in a lightweight tablet”, sporting a full-sized keyboard cover, which it has stated will be available globally, starting from February.

There are no shortage of options for consumers looking to purchase a 2-in-1, with Lenovo, Asus and Acer also having collectively released a range of different devices at varying price points, equipped with different functionalities.

The best of both worlds?

Whether or not a 2-in-1 is the right device to buy is entirely dependent on usage requirements along with personal preference.

From a purely usage standpoint, at the premium end of the category manufacturers are making this an easier decision by offering a best-of-both-worlds-type experience (however, of course, this also often comes with a more expensive price tag attached).

Before buying, consumers should consider their usage requirements – for instance:

  • Will a full-sized keyboard be required?
  • How much will a touchscreen be used?
  • What sort of processor power is required?
  • How much internal storage is needed?
  • What sort of inputs (USB, HDMI, mini-HDMI, audio input) are needed?
  • Will the device mainly be used at home or on the go, for work or for play?

Another factor to consider is what sort of operating system the device is running, and whether it will be compatible with other devices that the user already owns.

As with any purchase, consumers should do their research, find out as much as they can about the product that they have in mind via online reviews and forums, and, if possible, try the actual product itself out in-store before purchase.

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