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Computex, day one: the search for the perfect Windows 8 form factor

Computex, day one: the search for the perfect Windows 8 form factor


After day one of Computex Taipei, one glaring question remains — just what will be the best way to experience Windows 8?

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asus taichi
asus taichi

Day one of Computex Taipei is over, and the biggest news has been the extensive lineup of Windows 8 machines from local heroes Asus and Acer. It's a dizzying array of devices that we don't mind admitting has been more than a little tough to keep track of, and while several of them are impressive a glaring question remains — just what will be the best way to experience Windows 8?

it seems that Acer and Asus are pondering the same issue

Microsoft's latest OS leads a double life. The sleek, touch-friendly design of Metro is perfect for tablets, but untested for productivity — the classic desktop remains bubbling under the surface, ready to crank out a spreadsheet at the drop of a hat. A touch-only tablet might not cut it, then, with a physical interface likely to prove more comfortable for many. How about traditional laptops with touchscreens? Intel certainly likes the idea, though we have doubts over how natural constantly reaching out towards the display might feel, especially for extended sessions. So, could the solution be Asus Transformer-style detachable keyboard docks? Maybe, but keeping the keyboard as an optional extra isn't likely to drive adoption of the form factor. From what we've seen today, it seems that Acer and Asus are pondering the exact same issue.

So, let's take stock of exactly what we saw today. Acer's ideas are a mishmash of buzz products from around the industry, albeit with a little extra oomph. There's the touchscreen clamshell ultrabook that Intel admires, but now just 12mm thick, and a tablet with a detachable keyboard dock that comes across like a cross between the Asus Transformer Prime and the hinge-flipping IdeaPad Yoga that stole the show at CES.

Asus's product lineup suffers from an identity crisis

Meanwhile, Asus showed off devices in some of the most unusual form factors that we've ever seen, from a laptop with a double sided display to an all-in-one Windows PC that converts to an 18-inch Android tablet, while expanding on the Transformer concept it pioneered by introducing no less than three new products in that image. Most of these products seem to have been presented without a clear idea as to what they were designed for. Acer's President of PC global operations Campbell Kan used the words "this is all I need" to describe two or three different devices onstage, and Asus didn't do much better on the clarity front. We have the Tablet 600, a Transformer-style ARM tablet that turns into a laptop, but now there's the Transformer Book — a laptop that turns into a tablet. Add the Tablet 810, an Intel Atom-based transfomer, show them all running a variant of Windows 8, and see who can tell them apart. In reality, all three use different processors (Tegra 3, Ivy Bridge, Atom) and will likely enjoy different amounts of Windows 8 given their capabilities and battery life, but it's a confusing lineup nonetheless.

Of course, it's possible that we won't see all of these products in the market for quite some time, or even at all. We've seen this before — Asus announced the Padfone at this very show last year, and it still hasn't left Taiwan. Asus could well be riffing with this barrage of new devices, throwing them out into the ether simply to gauge reaction from the audience who may not know what they want yet either. Perhaps some of them will quietly disappear, or maybe Asus will take on board the products' reception and combine the ideas before launch.

We're one day into what should be a huge coming-out party for Windows 8 devices, and we're still none the wiser as to how we'll want to be using Microsoft's new OS at launch later this year. Some of the models we've seen today have shown some interesting ideas — the way Asus's Taichi doesn't compromise on the ultrabook form factor is impressive, and we like the Acer W510's hinge design — but neither company has shown a convincing or compelling vision for comprehensive Windows 8 supremacy in a single device, let alone agree on what that device might be. While one of the devices we've seen today could well hit the sweet spot for Windows 8 usability and comfort, it'll be unlikely to make a splash without confidence from its creators. Microsoft may tout the flexibility of its latest OS as a virtue, but it looks like making a purchasing decision could be a good deal more confusing this time around.

Sean Hollister and Nate Ralph contributed to this report.