At IFA, Convertible PCs Give Hope to Intel, Microsoft, Others

Lenovo, Toshiba and other PC makers unveil two-in-one systems at the show powered by Intel chips and running Windows 8.

PC makers from Lenovo and Toshiba to Asus and Sony at the IFA 2013 show in Berlin this week showed off new convertible systems that feature processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices and Microsoft's Windows 8.1 operating system.

Such two-in-one systems, which can be used as traditional laptops or as tablets, offer consumers and business users an alternative to the usual notebooks and the growing numbers of tablets, and are seen by some vendors and analysts as a way to halt the decline in worldwide PC sales, which have suffered in the wake of the rise of mobile devices.

It also gives vendors that have fallen behind the mobility trend—in this case, chip makers Intel and AMD as well as Microsoft—a chance to gain some traction in a mobile market where most devices are powered by energy-efficient systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) designed by ARM and made by Samsung, Qualcomm and others, and run Google's Android operating system or Apple's iOS.

Intel and others are putting a lot of time, effort and money to create the technology that will encourage OEMs to build these new convertible form factors, and if the product rollouts at IFA were any indication, system makers are giving it a shot. Lenovo at IFA unveiled new Yoga and Flex systems, all of which run on Intel chips and support Windows, while one of Toshiba's new offerings, the Satellite Click, is powered by AMD's A4 Elite Mobility chips. Like those offerings from Sony, Asus and others, these convertibles can be quickly transformed from notebooks to tablets and back.

"People around the world have told us they love the flexibility of Yoga and Horizon's multimodes," Tom Shell, vice president and general manager of Lenovo's Business Group PC Division, said in a statement from the show. "Our new Flex products represent this multimode future of PC design."

Intel officials have said over the past few months that the company's new Core chips based on the "Haswell" architecture and the upcoming "Bay Trail" Atom SoC based on the new "Silvermont" microarchitecture are helping fuel a range of new ultramobile form factors, including more than 50 two-in-one designs that CEO Brian Krzanich told analysts and journalists in July are "in the pipeline."

AMD is looking for similar responses to its recently released power-efficient "Kabini" and "Temash" low-cost chips. Microsoft officials are pushing Windows 8.1 for PCs and tablets alike.

However, it still remains to be seen whether consumers will gravitate to these systems—which offer better flexibility, pricing and power efficiency than traditional laptops—or will continue to spend their technology dollars on iPads and other tablets running iOS or Android and are powered by ARM-designed SoCs. As the new systems begin hitting the market and the holiday shopping season gets under way, vendors and analysts will get a better view of how things will shake out over the coming months.

"We view … the broadening of the tablet market as important," Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's global business units, said Sept. 4 during a presentation at the Citi 2013 Global Technology Conference. "I will also say, though, the blurring of the new form factor is something that we should pay attention to as a market. So the difference between a tablet and a convertible and a hybrid in terms of technology is not so much, and you will see this holiday season a number of new form factors coming out from the OEMs that will test the hypothesis around hybrid, how big is that market is going to be. You can see that they really start blurring with peer tablets and clam shelves. So I think that the key for me is to really see the new form factors and their adoption in the market."