Rumored iPad Hybrid Fuels Laptop / Tablet Fight at CES

Is the laptop on its way out? With reports of tablet sales surging and laptop sales declining, you might think so. But between rumors from Apple and new product announcements at the International Consumer Electronics show (CES), laptop makers are beefing up their offerings with new hardware, software, and accessories to try and keep the laptop relevant.

Apple’s Hybrid Rumor

A slew of blogs are reporting that Apple may revolutionize the laptop by turning it into an iPad…. well kind of. The loosely dubbed iPad Pro could be a touchscreen iPad running the current mobile IOS operating system, but when docked into a keyboard it could run a full version of the OSX computer operating system that’s currently on Apple’s Macbooks. The idea is that instead of buying two devices, a laptop and an iPad, you could buy jut one.

This hybrid idea makes some sense. Apple wants you to belong to their ecosystem. Once you buy an iPhone, iPad, or AppleTV, Apple wants you to buy all your media and pay to store all your files within their family of services: iTunes and iCloud.

But many who own Apple’s mobile and media devices can’t afford the more expensive Apple computers. An Apple hybrid device like the rumored iPad Pro could cost a little more than a Windows PC but give you an iPad as an added bonus. In return for cannibalizing its high-end laptops a bit, Apple gets a larger percentage of the market completely unplugged from the Windows/Android ecosystem – and gets their iTunes and iCloud dollars for life.

Windows Android Hybrids

But Apple’s not the only company fighting for your business. Asus just announced a hybrid laptop running Windows that transforms into a tablet running Android. Using new Intel chips that can handle both operating systems simultaneously, the Asus Transformer Book Duet is a 13.3-inch laptop that will retail for $599. It looks like your standard Windows 8.1 touchscreen laptop, but when you undock it and hit an icon on the screen, it takes a second and becomes a very traditional (albeit large) Android tablet.

An Indian company called Micromax is also debuting a Windows Laptop/ Android Tablet hybrid called the LapTab, with a planned release in February, expected price $400-$500.

To be fair, Viewsonic released a very similar device back in 2011, but as my friend Chris Null found when he reviewed the product, it was not ready for primetime.

But will the hybrid concept really take off? Yahoo Tech’s new editor-in-chief David Pogue thinks probably not: “I’ve lived through the phase when they made hybrid laptops that have two screens and fold up – never seen one on a plane. People won’t buy those and people won’t buy hybrid operating system laptops either. It’s too much complexity.”

So while the idea of a 2-in-1 device sounds good, maybe Pogue is right. But then again, I want to see if Apple has something in mind here before I totally buy into what the new boss says.

Bonus Laptop/Tablet Finds

We saw a few other early innovations in laptops and tablets. Lenovo showed off a Windows 8.1 tablet/laptop hybrid. The Miix2 is designed for movie buffs: dock the screen backwards into the spine of the device which is a JBL speaker including sub-woofer for optimized sound that is closer to the viewer and louder than normal speakers in a laptop.

A dynamic row of function keys in the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon changes as you switch applications. Mute and volume are displayed boldly when using Skype, but navigation buttons and bookmark buttons switch in when using a web browser. It’s not a game changer, but I love finding smart improvements that help make everyday tasks easier.

High-resolution laptops are big at the show, and while I was impressed by the crisp images and beautiful colors of the 4K Toshiba Satellite P50t, it’s really meant for graphics professionals and video editors. I shudder to think of the price tag. And to be honest, it looked good, but was it THAT much better than existing screens?? Meh.

Finally, a bonus accessory for tablets that Lenovo showed me: The Quickshot cover for the Thinkpad 8 tablet has a little dog-ear where it covers the camera. You flip it down, and it automatically launches the camera app, even if the device was in sleep mode. Pretty smart.

We’ll be covering CES all week, so follow us on Twitter to hear all the latest news @pogue and @bworley.