by Aman Gupta | Photo credits: Microsoft, Apple, Google | 27 October 2015
Ever since the advent of Windows 8, the computer has been evolving into a hybrid machine: part Tablet, part Laptop. This decade has been about reinventing the laptop and in hindsight, it has been totally reinvented! A large proportion of laptops we see today are touch-enabled and even Apple, who ridiculed the Hybrid category only a few years ago, has made an entry into this segment with the iPad Pro. Is this really the way forward, or are these hybrid machines all hype?
In order to come to a conclusion, let us examine the products that fit this category and are present in the market today. Just a heads up: all of these machines have touch-screens and a detachable keyboard of some type; the hybrids discussed have the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously.
Surface Pro 4
Microsoft’s Surface Pro series has been well accepted as the leader of the hybrid segment. The just-announced Surface Pro 4 (which has been available in the US and Canada since yesterday) has configurations that beat those of a conventional desktop. With the option for a 1TB SSD, i7 Skylake Processors and a humongous 16 Gigs of RAM all attached to a display that packs five million pixels into a 12.3-inch screen. It is understandable that these high-end configurations are for a limited number of customers with very deep pockets, but even the basic configurations that come at a price of USD 900 are enough to get you through the day especially with a battery that lasts 12 hours. The Surface Pen that compliments the Surface Pro is engineered to give more precision than a mouse. It not only enables note taking but also gives the designers an edge to sketch and design directly on the screen.
Apple introduced in September its “Surface Killer”, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Although it isn’t out yet, it is believed that the iPad Pro packs a punch. It takes advantage of the fact that the Operating System is designed for the hardware (vis-a-vis Microsoft), and iOS9 is a highly-regarded mobile OS; the iPad Pro increases the productivity of the already efficient iPad with its larger form factor. Apple has also engineered a Surface like keyboard and pencil for the iPad Pro which I believe will be on-par with, if not better than, Microsoft’s. Moreover, Apple’s fan-base will make sure the product is a huge success. The iPad Pro is 78% larger than the iPad, retains Apple’s famous Retina Display and supposedly has an amazingly fast processor. All these features accompany the slew of applications and integrations that make Apple products unbeatable. However, it falls short on the number of different configurations available – but it is available in 3 colours.
The Surface Book is a glorious piece of engineering dressed in alumnium. It has specifications even higher than that of his younger brother Surface, and like the Surface, it also has a detachable keyboard. Microsoft has been able to create a “dynamic fulcrum hinge” for its keyboard, which makes the screen sit back when using the keyboard. The Surface Book has a “Muscle Wire Lock” which helps the screen attach and escape from its keyboard; a keyboard they claim is the best keyboard in the world. The best part about this machine is that the keyboard assembly also houses a dedicated NVidia Laptop class GPU that makes this hybrid like no other! It has all the USB ports one needs, however, they are only in the keyboard housing which makes it impossible to add a thumb drive when you are hopping around without it.
Google Pixel C
Google Pixel C is one of the most talked about Android Tablets. Although its specifications will make it look ridiculous in front of the iPad Pro or the Surface series, it can’t be ignored in this discussion. Android tablets were among the first hybrids, with the new Android Marshmallow software and the Pixel C- the Android tablets/hybrids have certainly raised the bar. Honestly speaking, the Pixel C is a great piece of machinery for its software but not for its hardware. It packs only 3GB of RAM (the Samsung Galaxy S6 phone has 4GB) and houses a NVidia Trega Quad-core Processor. It isn’t much when it comes to computation, speed or power, but it is wallet friendly. Even though Marshmallow has not been tested on tablets or large displays, it is a beautiful, material design OS that should function smoothly.
Since Microsoft has been toying with hybrid machines for a longer time, they will have more expertise and experience. Their Surface line-up surpasses Google’s and Apple’s when it comes to computation. I believe it is more because of the OS available to them; Windows machines run on the same native desktop class operating system, Windows 10, whereas the iPad Pro and the Pixel C run on Operating Systems better suited for and designed for mobile devices. The iOS and Android Marshmallow put both the tablets at an advantage in terms of the App-Gap. On the other hand, Microsoft significantly lacks on their part; however, Microsoft and their OEM’s offerings allow for native desktop apps to run fluidly on their hybrid machines; the App-Gap is compensated for even if the apps are not touch ready.
We live in a day and age where the Moore’s Law has been broken, yet we are getting smaller and faster chipsets simply because we are using power more efficiently. A mobile phone today has more computation power than all the processing it took to land a man on the moon! Obviously, a 8.2 mm-thick piece of machined aluminium can compensate for a fat overweight machine that we only use to browse 9GAG. The modern user has minimum requirements from a laptop: a word processor, a web browser, and a web browser– all of which can be satisfied by the hybrids we had yesterday. Today’s hybrids can do much more. They are beautifully crafted and are suitable for even someone like me, who needs the power for Adobe Software, high-end graphics for gaming, and portability to make notes in lectures.
I believe, and as every keynote speaker (be it Apple’s or Microsoft’s or Google’s) says, the finger and the touch screen are the most human way to interact with a machine (until dictation evolves from being more than a personal assistant). We may be able to remove the touchpad but because the keyboard is still the most important input device, we need a physical keyboard. That is why the Big Three offer physical keyboards for their tablets. However, at times and places where we can make do without, why not just walk around with a screen? In my opinion, it makes a lot of sense to have hybrids around. The hybrids we discussed are based on similar chains of thought.
I give a thumbs up to hybrids. They are not just substitutes to laptops anymore– they are the future of desktop computing.
Latest posts by Aman Gupta (see all)
- Blog: Final pitches at Startup Weekend HKU #3 - October 23, 2016
- Examining the Hybrid Theory and Microsoft’s Brand New Entry - October 27, 2015
- Geeking Out: Testing the Windows 10 Insider Preview - July 16, 2015
The opinion and views in this article are that of the authors and do not reflect the opinion or views of The HKU Journal of Technology, or the TecHKU Editorial Team. You can comment below to let the authors know what you think.
To submit an opinion piece of your own, send an email to email@example.com or use the contribute button on the top right of this site.