Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT ) Windows 8 is supposed to give its users the best of both worlds: a laptop PC environment when they need it, and a tablet environment when they don't. Unfortunately, when it comes to offering a tablet experience, Microsoft's operating system comes up short -- Windows 8 suffers from a serious lack of mobile apps.
Asus has a solution: the Transformer Book Trio. Using both Microsoft's Windows 8 and Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Android, Asus is able to offer the hybrid experience Microsoft was after. With such a hefty price tag -- 900 pounds, or about $1,440 -- it's unlikely to sell well. Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) investors need not worry. Still, its very existence is evidence of Microsoft's ineptitude.
Asus' new computer is unlike anything you've ever seen
The Transformer Book Trio is a radical device. In fact, it might be better to think of it as two devices. Consumers who purchase one will literally get two separate PCs, complete with separate processors, memory, hard drives, and, most notably, operating systems.
Installed on the keyboard dock is Microsoft's Windows 8; on the tablet is Google's Android. Attach the tablet to the keyboard, and it will serve as a touch-screen monitor, or give it to a friend and use the keyboard simultaneously by hooking it up to an external screen.
Why is the Android tablet necessary?
But why include a separate Android tablet? There are plenty of Windows tablets -- but sales have been terrible. In July, Microsoft took a $900 million writedown on the Surface, as demand for the tablet failed to live up to expectations. Then last week, IDC, reflecting on the tablet market in the third quarter, concluded that "Windows tablets continued to struggle to win over consumers." Clearly, Windows as a mobile platform isn't working.
Indeed, the very existence of Asus' Transformer Book Trio underscores that fact. If Microsoft's mobile strategy was working, there would be no point for Asus to include a tablet running Google's mobile operating system -- after all, the very point of Microsoft's Metro interface is to serve as an adequate tablet platform. Google's operating system offers the superior tablet experience, with access to key apps such as Pinterest, HBO Go, and LinkedIn.
Will Google and Microsoft team up to crush Apple?
The Transformer Book Trio may be the first of its kind, but it probably won't be the last. Though it looks as if it might never be released, Samsung's ATIV Q also boosts dual operating system functionality, and other manufacturers are likely to try their hand with similar devices.
Still, price will be a significant stumbling block. At $1,440, The Transformer Book Trio is an expensive machine; if Samsung ever releases the ATIV Q, based on some early pre-order information, it could cost more than $2,000.
A would-be owner could purchase one of those machines, or the combination of Apple's MacBook Air ($999) and a full-size iPad ($499) and get an extra screen in the process. Philosophically, Apple has stood by the PC/mobile divide, arguing repeatedly that they're two different computing environments.
Last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook likened Microsoft's attempts at a hybrid operating system to a toaster/refrigerator combo, remarking that any two devices could, in theory, be converged, though it often doesn't make sense to do so. Cook reaffirmed that belief at Apple's iPad event last month, calling Apple's competitors (read: Microsoft) "confused."
Apple clearly has no interest in hybrids, and as long as it continues to be the leading the tablet manufacturer, that's just fine. As long as these hybrid devices are offered at sky-high prices, they're unlikely to rob Apple of many customers.
The failure of the Metro interface
Yet if they were to ever become cheap enough, they might sell reasonably well. A tablet-laptop hybrid could be useful to some -- Microsoft obviously believes so. Still, it's ironic that Google's Android has to be brought in to complete the experience; after all, if Microsoft's mobile strategy was working, an Android tie-in wouldn't be necessary. For now, it seems Apple has the right idea.
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