With CES now wrapped up and all of us home or headed home, Anand has tasked each of us with putting together some thoughts on what we saw at CES and where the market is headed. I’ve discussed much of what I’m going to say here in our recent podcast, but with my area of focus being laptops I’ve got both good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news.

Last year at CES 2012, I gave my thoughts on some of the most exciting products of the show for me. Chief among these were the Lenovo Yoga, ThinkPad X220, and the Sony VAIO SE, both of which shared a common trait: IPS display panels. They were really the only two laptops I saw one year ago with IPS panels, and it was frustrating to see displays improving on other devices while the laptop languished in mediocrity. I read a book recently where the question was posed: what’s the opposite of success? If you answered failure like so many do, you’re only correct if we’re speaking in terms of the English language antonym. The author of that book posited—and I wholly support his position—that the opposite of success is mediocrity, and in fact if you want to succeed, your best bet is to increase your rate of failure. The people and companies that succeed don’t do so by accident; they do so by repeatedly trying, and in the process that might mean one, two, or many failures.

This year at CES 2013, not only have we reviewed several IPS equipped laptops over the past year, but there were numerous laptops on display where it’s apparent that the OEMs are finally starting to get the importance of display quality. The race to the bottom hasn’t finished, sadly, but with displays the OEMs are finally being forced into recognizing how critical the component that you stare at whenever you use a device really is. A walk through Intel’s booth for example had well over a dozen different Ultrabooks and laptops on display; many of these—and in particular the hybrid laptop/tablet devices—are now using IPS panels, or some other equally viable wide viewing angle technology (*VA or PLS). As such laptops begin to occupy retail space next to the budget TN panels, hopefully there will be enough uptake of the laptops with improved displays that we can finally halt the downward spiral we’ve been on in that area.

The bad news is that the reason we have this trend towards better displays is almost completely attributable to tablets. When consumers look at a $300-$400 tablet and see wide viewing angle displays with decent colors and good contrast and then they look at laptops with low-end TN panels, their eyes tell them all that they need to know about which looks better. The problem is that more and more people are shifting to tablets, and once they leave they’re basically gone for good. I said something similar to quite a few of the vendors that I met with, and the message bears repeating: if tablets offer better displays, better build quality, better features, and an overall better experience, for many people a $400 tablet (or $500 with a keyboard of some form) is the far more sensible choice.

I don’t think everyone will end up using tablets and smartphones in place of laptops, at least not in the near future, in part because many of us older folks just don’t have the vision to deal well with smaller screens. However, I also don’t think we’re anywhere near the final equilibrium in terms of tablets vs. laptops, and when we reach that point I suspect that tablets will be outselling laptops in the market just like laptops are outselling desktops today. The best way to stem the tide of departing laptop users is to improve the value of what they’re getting—not only by cutting the price of laptops, but also by offering better features and quality. Better displays, especially touchscreens, are a good way to keep people buying laptops. Better battery life and a more consistent user experience (e.g. good SSDs) also help. But mark my words: just as the netbook market has essentially imploded, going from dozens of netbooks from every conceivable manufacturer to essentially none at this CES, the budget laptop market is likely to do the same. Tablets are there to pick up the users, and the only real question is will those tablets be running Windows, Android, or iOS.

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  • bigrobsf - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Hi Jarred, you wrote "what’s the opposite of failure? If you answered failure like so many do," but I suspect you meant to write "what’s the opposite of success?" :-)

    Thanks for the overview!
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Thanks...this is what happens when you're tired and write on a plane! :-)
  • Lonyo - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    A failure in the editorial process!
  • BugblatterIII - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Well at least it wasn't mediocre.
  • karlostomy - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link


    You wrote "If you answered failure like so many do, you’re only correct if we’re speaking in terms of the English language antonym."

    Not sure what relevance the success antonym example has, if that is the case.
    This is, after all, an English speaking website with English articles and English readers.

    Perhaps you should rewrite the article in the other language where it makes more sense. Otherwise, what was the point?
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 14, 2013 - link

    Whoosh! You completely missed the point, but part of that was because I didn't give the lengthy explanation. So let me do that here:

    While success and failure are antonyms/opposites, if you change the way you think about failure then it's not actually a bad thing. If a company releases several new products this year that are trying to do something different, and all of them do poorly and essentially "fail", but in the process they come up with one new killer product that succeeds beyond what they could have expected... were the earlier ideas/iterations failure, or merely missteps on the way to success?

    On the other hand, another company can sit there playing it safe and making the same laptops (or pick another category) that they've always made. They don't end up having any runaway success products, because most of the other companies are also playing it safe, so they maintain the status quo. The result is that their market share drops slightly this year -- not a lot, and not enough to put them out of business (yet), but it drops -- probably because some other company took some risks, made a great product, and gained market share.

    From this second point of view, the opposite of success is mediocrity, treading water, not taking risks, etc. This is what the laptop market (and in general the entire PC market) has largely been doing for years. Along comes a new, unforeseen category of devices -- smartphones and tablets -- and the PC and laptop makers were wholly unprepared. So they then jump on the "me too" bandwagon and try to copy the initial successful products (iPhone and iPad), only they don't really copy them because they cut a few corners, don't invest the time in the overall experience, and they expect to come late and then charge as much as Apple. The tablets and smartphones that are succeeding are doing so by really trying to be better than Apple, at least on some level, without charging quite as much.
  • adambenton1000 - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Another Android tablet maker worth a look at in 2013 is Ainol Electronics - which recently introduced a number of impressive, well-priced Android tablets and is also
    noted for winning Runner-Up for "Best Tablet of the Year" at CES/CNET 2012 --

    One of the first U.S. resellers to carry Ainol - Novo brand tablets is a site called TabletSprint -- and this week the Novo 7 VENUS launched -- a 7 inch tablet with a
    QUAD CORE processor for only $149 that takes on the Google Nexus 7 and other competitors for a lot less and offers a lot more -- with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS, a high
    resolution 1280x800 IPS screen, 16GB memory, a 4000 mAH battery, both front and rear camera (2 MP) , a MicroSD memory card slot for unlimited storage, Google Play with access to 400K+ Apps, a MicroUSB port for connection to printers and other electronic devices, HDMI - to view personal videos and to download movies and watch in full 1080p (HD) on to a large screen TV, WiFi, Ethernet, and an option for 3G/4G connection. It's also a great gaming device with its high resolution screen and motion gaming sensor. The site TabletSprint also offers a 7" Compact Case with built-in Keyboard ($22) which easily transforms a tablet into a mini-laptop--

    TabletSprint offers a few other brand new models with most launching in January, including the Novo 10 Hero - a Full-Size 10-inch tablet packed with impressive
    features for only $219--

    TabletSprint also includes $25 in quality Bonus Apps with all tablets available through their site.... And both these new models and a few others available through
    their site are certainly worth checking out and comparing to other major brands.
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Do you get money from them? I don't see a lot of difference between Ainol and the other Chinese brand tablet makers. Cube, Onda, YuanDao/Window, Pipo, Sanei, Cube. They all pretty much source the same hardware (Rockchip or Allwinner SoCs), same displays (720p, 800p, 1080p, 1536p) that is found in competing Acer/Asus/Samsung/Apple.
    Ainol were the first on my radar because they were relatively easy to acquire here in Germany, but the other brands have caught up and are priced more competitively in my opinion.
  • zsero - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Is it just me who thinks that actually sometime (in a few years I guess) this process will reverse and people will realize that they need a real laptop and not a tablet? Or that there is no point of a having tablet if you can manage with a phone and an ultrabook?
  • Lonyo - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Or a phablet and an ultrabook.

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