CES postscript: The touch laptop, like it or not

Touch is coming in a big way to Windows 8 laptops. And if Intel has its druthers, pretty much everything coming down the pike will be touch-capable.

Intel showing off touch laptops and desktops at CES.
Intel showing off touch laptops and desktops at CES. Brooke Crothers

The laptop was reinvented at CES.

Or maybe I should say there was a vigorous attempt to reinvent the laptop. Because we won't know how successful touch has been until next year this time.

Intel's CES booth -- still a large presence in the CES Central Hall -- had one basic unmistakable message: touch has arrived.

Windows 8 convertibles, detachables, touch-screen laptops, and just plain tablets from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Samsung, Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Toshiba, Sony, and others blanketed Intel's booth.

And just to make sure the touch message was crystal clear, Intel issued an edict to PC partners during its CES keynote: all next-generation ultrabooks based on its "Haswell" chip must be touch.

What does that mean to consumers? Your next laptop will likely be touch, whether you like it or not.

And based on what I saw at the Intel booth (and other booths, like Samsung's), this is how it will break down:

Convertible: Convertibles, like the HP EliteBook Revolve and Lenovo Yoga , have swivel touch screens that can't be detached from the unit.

The important thing to remember here is that the Intel processor and related electronics are still under the keyboard, so these systems will tend to be higher performance because the design affords more opportunity to keep the processor cool.

Detachable: These are essentially tablets with well-integrated keyboard docks. They would include the new Lenovo ThinkPad Helix , HP's Envy x2, and Samsung ATIV Smart PC.

Detachables put the processor electronics behind the screen. And that usually forces PC makers to use a lower-performance, more power efficient chip like Intel's "Clover Trail" Atom.

One of the few exceptions to that rule is the ThinkPad Helix, which manages to cram a mainstream Intel Ivy Bridge chip into a tablet.

And, by the way, Intel is now trying to get more PC makers to do this. It has just begun shipping a new Y series Ivy Bridge processor that is more power efficient than the one in the Helix.

Still, battery life won't be terrific, and Ivy Bridge chips -- even the most power-efficient ones -- still require fans to keep them cool.

Touch-screen laptop: This is a traditional clamshell laptop with a touch screen. There are already lots of these out there, including the Sony Vaio T13 Series, the Acer Aspire S7, the Asus VivoBook X202E, and the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart.

And expect a lot more. Maybe by this time next year, the preponderance of laptops on display at your local Best Buy will have touch screens.

Tablet: And then there are devices that are marketed as standalone Windows 8 tablets. These would include HP's ElitePad 900 and Dell's Latitude 10 tablet.

Tablets that can run the full version of Windows 8 (based on Intel chips) and Windows RT tablets (based on ARM chips) will offer good battery life and a lightweight, slim design but won't be very fast. That is, don't expect them to multitask Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and other demanding applications without bringing the device to its knees.

Not every laptop will go touch, of course. High-end gaming lappies and business portables will be available with non-touch screens for the foreseeable future. But I suspect that, eventually, even these will go touch.

Dell's XPS 10 Windows RT detachable, based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, was on display at Qualcomm's CES booth. Intel's edict that all future 4th Generation Core-based 'Haswell' Windows 8 laptops be touch is already an imperative on Windows RT.
Dell's XPS 10 Windows RT detachable, based on a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor, was on display at Qualcomm's CES booth. Intel's edict that all future 4th Generation Core-based 'Haswell' Windows 8 laptops be touch is already an imperative on Windows RT. Brooke Crothers
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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