Tech Industry

Windows 8.1 vs. Apple: Twofer or tablet?

With Windows 8.1 comes scads of hybrids from PC makers eager to show the world that you really don't need to carry around that iPad anymore.

Steve Ballmer holds a Lenovo ThinkPad Helix hybrid tablet-laptop at the Build Conference on Wednesday.

Will new Windows 8.1 hybrids finally expose the iPad for what it really is, a mere tablet?

That's what Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested this week.

When speaking at the company's Build Conference on Wednesday, he described in colorful -- and maybe just a tad exaggerated -- terms how tablets don't measure up to laptops (or even pencil and paper).

Enter the "2-in-1," as Microsoft likes to call hybrids. During his keynote presentation, Ballmer brandished the Lenovo ThinkPad Helix as an example of a 2-in-1 he has used.

The Helix can be a pure tablet or can snap into a dedicated keyboard and become a full-fledged laptop, replete with a mainstream Core i5 processor and a 1,920x1,080 resolution 11.6-inch display.

That was essentially Ballmer's pitch at Build. The salient advantage Windows 8.1 devices have over Apple tablets is that you need only one hybrid, not two separate devices.

And Ballmer knows that a lot more Helix-like 2-in-1 devices are on the way, packing Intel's battery-life friendly Haswell and Bay Trail processors.

That's all good except that Apple's iPad 5 is coming too. The 2,048x1,536 pixel-density, 9.7-inch tablet is expected to be lighter/thinner and more powerful, sporting iOS 7 and next-gen Apple A7 silicon.

And there's a booming market for third-party keyboards that turn the iPad into a quasi-laptop.

Then there's the next-gen iPad Mini, which will likely be even more popular.

Not to mention the very-well-received 2013 MacBook Air, which no single Windows ultrabook even comes close to in sales.

Is Ballmer right? Will 2-in-1 devices running Windows 8.1 steer consumers away from the next iPad? Maybe even get them to jettison their MacBooks?

Hmm...I think we had this discussion last year when Windows 8 launched.