CES: Phablets and table PCs break the PC mold

January 11, 2012 - The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has become a mecca for all things electronic and digital, from useful to cool to just plain bizarre. Among the technologies at the confluence of cool and useful were two things that aim to rethink the PC model. (And for the cool/bizarre side of the CES spectrum, behold eatART’s rideable robot Mondo Spider.)

This year’s CES emphasized "designs that defied or pushed the limits of convention," with two clear examples, points out DisplaySearch’s Richard Shim: size-defying "phablets," and even more size-defying "table PCs."

The phablet — a combination of phone and tablet — got its start with Samsung’s Galaxy Note, which offered an expanded 5-in. OLED screen; the Galaxy Note II was even bigger at 5.5-in. At this year’s CES, the phablet took another screen-size step up thanks to China’s Huawei, which unveiled its Ascend Mate ,which has a 6.1-in. 1280 × 720 screen. (Huawei also touted its Ascend D2 with a 5-in., 1920 × 1080 display.) The Ascend D2 will be available in China later this month, followed by the Ascend Mate in February.

The "table PC," meanwhile, is essentially a supersized tablet, with the screensize of a large computer monitor. Sony’s Vaio Tap 20 (20-in. display) is now joined by Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Horizon with a 27-in. resistive touch-based display, and the company has a prototype 39-in. version planned for later this summer. Each of these "table PCs" can stand upright like an all-in-one desktop PC, but also laid down flat, Shim notes.

"Both the phablet and the table PC categories represent the extreme end of a form factor trend that we expect to see throughout 2013," Shim explains. "The traditional lines that have been used to define, categorize, and track devices are expected to only become more difficult to maintain," and suppliers will increasingly tinker with formfactors to find what resonates with consumers. (In his own CES research note, Barclays analyst CJ Muse acknowledged the interest shown in phablets, and likely reverberations they should cause among suppliers, along with "large screen touch, Next Gen TVs, and the Internet of everything.") Shim doesn’t expect these design tinkerings will greatly impact shipment trends in the near-term (DisplaySearch still sees notebook PC shipments dipping 5% Y/Y in 2013), but "we anticipate that brands can score image points and credibility with consumers for willing to be bold with design. That has translated to good fortune for Apple so it should not be underestimated."

(photos via DisplaySearch; credit photo #1 to Lori Grunin/CNet)

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