CES 2014: Will Windows/Android Hybrid PCs Really Fly?

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With Microsoft absent from CES again this year, some of the most interesting software news came from chip makers Intel and AMD, in separate announcements of plans to work with OEM partners on producing PCs that will run both Android and Windows. Yet in reality, how much popularity are these Windows/Android hybrids likely to reach? Industry analysts are somewhat divided on the subject.

Intel mentioned its plans only in passing at an Intel press conference on Monday. AMD, on the other hand, put out a detailed press release proclaiming intentions to run Android within Windows on notebook and desktop PCs, 2-in-1s, and tablets. The AMD PCs will use BlueStacks virtualization software to run a “familiar Android user interface, including settings, configuration and customization controls,” according to AMD’s statement. Android apps will operate either within a window or at full-screen resolution. Users will be able to sync Android apps from a mobile device to a PC through a cloud-based service known as FoneLink.

Dual-OS PCs have been announced before, although they aren’t shipping yet. Last June, Samsung unveiled the ATIV Q, a tablet-slider device that runs both Windows 8 and Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean). However, release of the Q has since been delayed indefinitely, probably due to patent issues. Last week Asus introduced the Transformer Book Duet, a convertible notebook that runs Android 4.4 2. and Windows 8.1. Slated for U.S. release in March, the Book Duet uses an Asus-patented technology called Instant Switch aimed at letting you switch from one OS to the other in four seconds by pressing on a hardware or virtual button.

Yet will such gizmos ever capture widespread interest from consumers? On the plus side, users would get access to a much larger assortment of apps on their PCs. Fans of Android smartphones would be able to stay in that environment across platforms. Conversely, however, how well would the Android apps actually function on dual-OS PCs, given that some Android phone apps don’t even display well on Android tablets, for example?

Some Analysts Are Skeptical

Some analysts are skeptical about the prospects of the Windows/Android combos. “I think the hydrid devices will have very limited appeal to consumers. Consumers today have been looking to iOS or Android — and perhaps Chrome OS — because they want simplified, reliable experiences,” said Wes Miller, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.

“Mixing two operating systems on a single device is anything but simple for the end customer,” the analyst told NotebookReview.

Miller also conjectured that some app developers might forego creating Windows 8.1 apps in favor of using Android as the mechanism for delivering apps to PCs. “But I believe doing so is hardly going to result in happy users, as the apps won’t look or act like proper Windows Store apps — limiting their usability and appeal,” he noted.

Avi Greengart, research director for Consumer Platforms and Devices at Current Analysis, said he foresees some demand for dual-OS systems in emerging markets, along with “limited appeal” to some technology enthusiasts.

“Apple [has] highlighted the Mac’s ability to boot into Winodws or OS X as a way to assure consumers that they would have full access to key Windows applications,” he pointed out.

“But mainstream consumers do not want the complexity of managing more than one OS on a device, and the hardware and form factor are rarely optimized properly for more than one OS,” he told NotebookReview.

‘The Key Will Be a Seamless Experience’

Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, is somewhat more optimistic. “Users have traditionally avoided dual-boot products but with virtualization they might accept this,” he predicted. “The key will be a seamless experience, which the OEMs will have to deliver.”

It’s OEMs who are driving the hybrid PCs, anyway. Enderle observed. “[But] neither Google nor Microsoft like this idea, which could make reliability, user experience, and support problematic,” NotebookReview was told.

So why are OEMs so keen on the dual-OS PCs? “The arrival of the Surface tablet shifted Microsoft from devoted partner to partner and competitor,” Miller remarked.

“As a result, OEMs will continue to look at Android or Chrome OS in general. But whether that’s what customers will find value in has yet to be determined.”




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