There used to be only three basic types of personal computers: Desktops, laptops, and tablets. There are different classes of laptops, to be sure; but weight and size variances aside, they all look and function as laptops are supposed to. Ultimately, knowing the differences between the aforementioned basic types were all any casual consumer really needed to go by.
The Instrument of Change
With this in mind, Microsoft sought to decrease this need even further by developing an operating system that bridged the gap between all three; and for the most part, the company’s Windows 8 OS delivered. Inadvertently, however, because of the particular brand of interface fusion championed by the OS, the types of PCs just increased in number, and differentiating between them just got murkier.
This murkiness is largely due to the fact that computer manufacturers took a cue from Microsoft and began making PCs that didn’t stick to just one basic type. That is, in the same way that Windows 8 is essentially a hybrid OS, so these new machines are hybrid computers. Since different companies have different ideas about the gradients of hybridization, the distinctions between these so-called hybrids (a catch-all term, although it is also used for one specific PC type) are many. Along with the three principal types, the computer market suddenly got crowded.
Covering the Basics
In point of fact, though, the befuddlement isn’t as complicated as it seems; at least, not once you really determine the key characteristics of each type of computer.
We all already know about desktops (computers that favor high performance over mobility), laptops (computers with less power than desktops but whose single-body design allows for portability), and tablets (computers that eschew the keyboard and incorporate touch-centric controls for maximum portability). It should also be noted that since Windows 8 was announced, some desktops and laptops have also been endowed with touch capability.
Things get interesting with the hybrids. First up, we have the (what else?) hybrid laptops; in the more specified sense of the term, that is.
Hybrids are laptops whose keyboards are detachable. Separating the display assemblies from the keyboards turns them into tablets, and reattaching them to said laptop parts transforms the machines back.
Their keyboards are equipped with ports and connectors to accommodate additional peripherals and functions. They also have their own batteries, which effectively prolong their overall battery life.
Most hybrids are powered by ARM-based processors (that can only run mobile OSes which are weaker than full-fledged ones). Many hybrids that contain Intel CPUs have been coming out recently, though.
There is also a small subclass of hybrids dubbed the “hybrid lite,” whose keyboards are bereft of ports and batteries. A good example would be Microsoft’s own Surface.
Another PC class is the convertible. Think of them as hybrids whose keyboards aren’t detachable, making the laptop parts essential to the chassis as a whole.
The designs of convertibles differ by company, often in very amusing and/or technically impressive ways. Take, for example, Lenovo’s Yoga, whose display half can bend all the way backwards; Dell’s XPS 12, whose screen swivels via two hinges positioned lengthwise to it; and ASUS’s Taichi, whose back-to-back dual screen setup potentially promises interesting future uses for Windows 8.
All-in-ones are desktops whose inner hardware are all housed inside the displays themselves, making them like laptops in the sense that hardware configurations are pre-determined and for the most part unchangeable.
Technically, AIOs have been around even before Windows 8 was even a rumor. However, more have been coming out of the woodwork ever since the advent of Microsoft’s latest OS; probably due to the PC type’s sharing of the OS’s philosophy of having a physically and functionally fluid design more than anything else.
Finally, we have the Sony Vaio Tap 20, which is in a division all its own (for now, at least). Quite simply, what Sony did was install a battery into an AIO, turning the computer into a highly portable desktop; or a giant tablet, depending on who you’re asking.
Is This All?
Many used to think that design innovations would stop with laptop hybrids, until the Tap 20 came out. It’s a good thing that it did, though. If Microsoft jumpstarted anything, it’s the notion that there are still frontiers beyond increasing hardware specs that companies can venture into; and computer manufacturers following Microsoft’s lead is just the beginning.