Notebooks That Seem Like Tablets

Asustek’s upcoming offering is a hybrid that could alter how notebook computers are made

Photo: ASUS

Two Faced: The Asus Taichi has is a hybrid of tablet and ultrathin notebook, with screens on both sides of the lid.

27 June 2012—Much has been made in the past week about Microsoft’s move into producing its own Windows 8–based tablets with Ultrabook-like features. But just two weeks prior, one of the big hits at Computex Taipei 2012—the largest information and communications trade show in Asia—seemed to show that superslim notebooks may be heading in a more tablet-like direction.

At a press event on 4 June, when Asustek chairman Jonney Shih turned a closed ultrathin notebook computer into a tablet with only a touch on the lid, the audience applauded and cheered. Shih described the Asus Taichi as “the perfect fusion of notebook and tablet” with “the best balance between technologies and aesthetics.”

The Asus Taichi, a Windows 8 machine running on an Intel Core processor, is equipped with an LED backlit screen on each side of the lid. While the two screens provide access to the same hardware, they are completely independent and can be used simultaneously. The external screen supports the multitouch features you’d expect from a tablet, and with the lid closed, that’s what you get.

It’s unclear how such a notebook/tablet combo would be made. To produce a notebook today, panel makers supply LCD modules—which incorporate backlight units—to the notebook makers, who then add the casing and hinges and connect the modules to the main body of the notebook. If the Taichi design becomes mainstream, module makers or makers of the panels’ backlight units (such as Coretronic Corp.) may become more involved in the notebook manufacturing process, perhaps finishing the whole notebook cover before passing it on to the notebook’s manufacturer, unnamed sources suggested to the Taiwanese publication DigiTimes.

“The trend could be possible,” says Nick S.R. Chen, a marketing product manager at Acer. But it’s too early to say whether or when such a shift would occur.

Brian Chen, an analyst at the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute, part of Taiwan’s quasi-official Institute for Information Industry, agrees, saying that it’s too early to predict whether display makers would get further involved in notebook manufacturing. “The Taichi laptop demonstrates the company’s R&D capability. However, we’re still not sure about its market potential due to the lack of information of the adoption of technologies and the performance stability,” Chen says. “And if Taichi could be eventually manufactured, the price would be another factor.” DigiTimes reported that the Taichi’s price could be higher than US $1300.

At Computex Taipei, Acer offered a competing hybrid concept, the new Aspire S7 notebook, with a single touch screen that folds back 180 degrees relative to the keyboard.

About the Author

Yu-Tzu Chiu is a Taipei correspondent for Bloomberg BNA. She has chronicled Taiwan’s tech policies for IEEE Spectrum since 2000. In April 2012 she reported on how Taiwan’s tech hubs were taking advantage of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and Thai floods.

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